The Medici villa said l’Ambrogiana in Montelupo Fiorentino (FI) - ArTeSalVa

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The Ambrogiana villa in Montelupo (FI)

A treasure to be recovered

The Ambrogiana villa was built in the 16th century by Grand Duke Ferdinand I of the Medici family and in the 19th century it was transformed into a criminal insane asylum.

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The Medici villa said l’Ambrogiana in Montelupo Fiorentino (FI)

A treasure to be recovered

The Medici Ambrogiana villa stands on the left bank of the Arno river in Montelupo Fiorentino near Florence. At the end of the 16th century, the Grand Duke Ferdinand ordered its reconstruction. The principal architect involved in this work was Raffaello Pagni, pupil of Bernardo Buontalenti. In the 17th century the building was connected by a long corridor to the convent of S. Peter of Alcantara. In the second half of the 19th century the villa and its outer buildings were converted into a mental hospital and later into a criminal insane asylum, which is how these structures are currently being used.


The Villa Ambrogiana is located on the left bank of the Arno along the river route from Florence to Livorno. Once a flourishing Medici hunting lodge, it now houses a psychiatric hospital directed by the Italian Ministry of Justice. Subject to misuse for over a century, the villa’s current state of decline in no way detracts from its sober, grandiose appearance which attests to the judicious policy and planning of the Dukes of Tuscany. Like other Medici suburban residences, the Villa Ambrogiana once formed part of a system of “villa-farms” designed to celebrate the power of the Medici dynasty, but changed its function over time, becoming a self-sufficient production center that played an essential role in supplying provisions for the townhouses of the Grand Dukes.

The Villa Ambrogiana’s farm became property of the Medici in 1573. The villa was commissioned by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, the Roman cardinal who would become Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587, on the site of an existing mansion. The new building was equipped with four corner towers as well as a central cloister with a cistern. In 1574 Giovanni Antonio Dosio was involved in the design of the villa’s external staircase. The main structural changes, however, were conducted between 1587 and 1590 when a plan for the garden was completed and the riverside entrance of the villa was furnished with a grotto decorated with stones, fossils, and bas-reliefs according to the design of Giovan Battista Ferrucci del Tadda. During this phase of construction, renovations and additions were performed by the foremost architects employed by the Grand Duchy. The presence of Raffaello Pagni, who served as foreman of the site beginning in 1588, might plausibly suggest that Bernardo Buontalenti—who frequently contributed to the design of Medici buildings—may have served as the site’s supervisor before leaving the completion of the project to his students and collaborators. During the years that followed, Buontalenti’s influence was continued through the involvement of the engineer and architect Gherardo Mechini.

As suggested by the lunette painted by Giusto Utens and dedicated to the Ambrogiana sometime between 1599 and 1602, the construction of the building could be considered complete by the end of the 16th century. Due to its strategic location and proximity to the river and woodlands, the Villa Ambrosiana became a favorite leisure-time destination for members of the court as well as a comfortable resting place for travelers and guests of the Grand Dukes as they made their way between Florence and Livorno. The poor and temporary nature of the furnishings found at the villa—which consisted primarily of hunting weapons and accoutrements and easily removable decorations such as hanging textiles and tapestries—suggest that the building was used infrequently by the Medici rulers during the second half of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. The furnishings were greatly enriched, however, during the rule of Cosimo III which began in the second half of the 17th century. The new decorations, which were designed reflected Cosimo’s interest in the study of nature, included still-life nature scenes, landscapes, compositions featuring fruits and flowers, as well as depictions of animals and hunting scenes. During the 1670’s, Cosimo commissioned Ferdinando Tacca to design the decorations for the villa and began the construction for the convent of San Pietro d’Alcantara, a monastery complex built near the Villa Ambrogiana between 1678 and 1681 by the architect Pier Maria Baldi. The convent was connected to the villa by a long covered passageway that the Duke could use to reach the church in order to attend mass.

With the end of the Medici dynasty in 1737, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed to the Lorraine dynasty of Austria. Under the governance of Francesco Stefano the Villa Ambrogiana was restored by the architect Jean Jadot Nicholas (1738-1740), although reports dating from around the middle of the 17th century portray a building in a progressive state of decline due to infrequent use by the Lorraine rulers. Although he did assure that it received periodic maintenance, Pietro Leopoldo (who became Grand Duke in 1765) rarely visited the villa. The succession of his son Ferdinand III in 1791 ushered in a period of revitalization for the Ambrogiana, including the repainting of doors and walls on the second floor and the creation of the Vedute paesaggistiche in the grand hall by Niccolò Constabile. In addition, the royal gardener of the Boboli, Leopoldo Prucher, was also commissioned to renovate the gardens and the architect Giuseppe Del Rosso (later succeeded by Pasquale Poccianti) completed the design for new stables as well as other buildings between 1795 and 1796.

The years of Napoleonic rule (1799-1814) constituted a phase of stasis for the Villa Ambrosiana, which was subject to a progressive loss of interest. Its most interesting artistic works were removed and the villa was put up for rent after a failed attempt to find a buyer. During the Bourbon Restoration, the villa was returned to the Lorraine rulers who, thanks to the efforts of Ferdinand III, launched an immediate restoration project under the direction of the architect Pasquale Poccianti (1815-1822). In 1824, the last Grad Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, decided to convert the Alcantarini convent (which had been shut down as a result of reforms instituted by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo) into a women’s prison. The stables were also converted into a penitentiary for men. These choices were a sign of things to come for the Ambrosiana. In fact, the uninhabited complex was transformed into a mental hospital beginning in 1850 under the direction of Livorno’s Giuseppe Cappellini. Francesco Mazzei, who had also been commissioned to transform the villa into a prison, took over for Cappellini in 1853.

The Villa Ambrogiana became the property of the Italian government in 1860. It was originally assigned to the Ministry of the Interior but then transferred to the Ministry of Justice. In 1884, the Villa was permanently converted into a psychiatric prison, resulting in the loss of the gardens and the beginning of a period of decline for the structure. Detention facilities spread from the stable to occupy the corridor which once connected the villa to the church of San Pietro d’Alcantara. Some rooms from the building’s interior were converted into storage and others were structurally altered to their current form as administrative offices for the psychiatric prison.


Villa Medicea L'Ambrogiana

Viale Umberto I, 42 - 50056 Montelupo Fiorentino (FI)

GPS coordinates: 43.730778,11.014416

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This section provides guidance on the archives that have been examined and the available archival sources gathered during the project.

  • The Medici villa said l’Ambrogiana in Montelupo Fiorentino (FI)

    • Contratto di affidamento della manutenzione della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Descrizione della Regia Villa dell'Ambrogiana
    • Descrizione della Villa L'Ambrogiana trasformata in manicomio
    • Descrizione della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Descrizione e stima della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Dizionario geografico fisico storico della Toscana
    • Elenco dei lavori da compiersi alla villa Ambrogiana nel 1792
    • Elenco dei pittori attivi nella villa l'Ambrogiana nel XVIII secolo.
    • Elenco dei pittori incaricati a dipingere le sale della villa l'Ambrogiana nell'anno 1792
    • Indicatore topografico della Toscana granducale
    • Lavorazione di riparazione ai tetti del complesso demaniale del Manicomio giudiziario di Montelupo
    • Lavori di manutenzione e allestimento della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera del Direttore Nardi all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del Ministero dei Lavori Pubblici all'Ufficio del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del Ministero dei Lavori Pubblici all'Ufficio del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del Prefetto al Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del Soprintendente Barbacci relativa ai restauri urgenti alla Villa
    • Lettera del Soprintendente Rossi al Genio Civile di Firenze e alla Direzione del Manicomio
    • Lettera del direttore Coppola relativa ai laboratori del manicomio
    • Lettera del direttore Coppola relativa al salone della Villa
    • Lettera del direttore Coppola relativa al salone della Villa
    • Lettera del direttore Coppola relativa al soffitto del salone nobile della Villa L'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera del direttore Nardi all'Ufficio del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore Nardi all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore Nardi all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore Nardi all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore del manicomio al capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore del manicomio all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera del direttore del manicomio relativa ai nuovi laboratori
    • Lettera dell'architetto Giuseppe Ruggieri al sovrano lorenese
    • Lettera della Direzione del Manicomio all'ingegnere capo del Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera della Segreteria della Corona in rapporto ai lavori di rinnovo dell'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera della Società Moglia di Milano al Genio Civile di Firenze
    • Lettera di Cappellini a Gargiolli
    • Lettera di Cappellini a Gargiolli
    • Lettera di Claudio Segardi a Ferdinando III in riferimento alle scuderie dell'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera di Gargiolli a Cappellini
    • Lettera di Gargiolli a Cappellini
    • Lettera di Gargiolli all'architetto Giuseppe Cappellini
    • Lettera di Giovanbattista Baldelli a Tommaso Puccini
    • Lettera di Giuseppe Ruggieri relativa allo stato dei condotti d'acqua che portano alla villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera di Giuseppe del Rosso a Onofrio Boni in riferimento alle scuderie dell'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera di Leopoldo Prucher al Direttore dello Scrittoio delle Fortezze e Fabbriche
    • Lettera di Onofrio Boni a Ferdinando III Asburgo-Lorena in riferimento alle scuderie dell'Ambrogiana
    • Lettera di Tommaso Puccini a Giovanbattista Baldelli
    • Lettera di accompagnamento alla perizia di Pasquale Poccianti sui lavori all'Ambrogiana
    • Nota dei camini portati alla villa Ambrogiana in sostituzione di quelli presentiin villa e destinati ad altri siti
    • Nota delle carte e disegni dell'architetto Cappellini per la Villa L'Ambrogiana
    • Nota di spesa dei lavori compiuti alla villa l'Ambrogiana l'anno 1780
    • Nota di spesa del fornaciaio Corradini per materiali inviati alla villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Nota di spese per lavori di manutenzione alla villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Notazione delle opere da compiere alla villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Notizie del Real Convento di S. Pietro d'Alcantara all'Ambrogiana
    • Osservazioni del professor Francesco Bini al progetto dell'architetto Cappellini
    • Perizia di Poccianti relativa ai lavori di restauro della villa e ampliamento di alcuni annessi
    • Perizia di spesa per l'abitazione del medico primario del Manicomio
    • Perizia di spesa per la sistemazione del padiglione della Pallacorda
    • Perizia di spesa per la sistemazione del salone granducale
    • Perizia di spesa per sistemare i locali della Pallacorda
    • Perizia di spesa per sistemare l'accesso al padiglione dell'infermeria
    • Perizia per la costruzione di un pozzo artesiano
    • Permesso di costruzione di una infermaria presso il convento di S. Pietro d'Alcantara
    • Piano di sistemazione del Manicomio redatto dal direttore Nardi
    • Programma dei lavori da eseguirsi nel manicomio giudiziario
    • Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scultura ed architettura
    • Relazione
    • Relazione a corredo del calcolo particolarizzato
    • Relazione dei lavori da eseguire alla Villa L'Ambrogiana
    • Relazione dei lavori di sistemazioni necessari per l'accesso al padiglione dell'infermeria
    • Relazione del Genio Civile per i lavori da eseguirsi in seguito a un nubifragio
    • Relazione dell'Intendenza di Finanza circa l'acquisto di alcuni terreni
    • Relazione dell'architetto Giuseppe Cappellini per la trasformazione della villa in manicomio
    • Relazione dell'ingegnere capo relativa ai lavori alle finestre della lavanderia e degli uffici della direzione
    • Relazione dello stato della villa l'Ambrogiana all'anno 1761
    • Relazione dello stato di manutenzione e conservazione della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Relazione sugli annessi e pertinenze della villa l'Ambrogiana
    • Relazione sullo stato della villa l'Ambrogiana al 1745
    • Scheda di catalogo: Manicomio Giudiziario dell’Ambrogiana (FI)
    • Scheda di catalogo: Villa L'Ambrogiana (FI)
    • Scheda di catalogo: Villa L'Ambrogiana (FI)
    • Supplica dei padri del convento di S. Pietro d'Alcantara
    • Viaggio pittorico della Toscana
  • Chronology

    In this section you can see a brief history of the most significant phases of construction, transformation and restoration of the buildings.


    • 1573 cardinal Fernando I of Medici buys the villa and farm of Ambrogiana at Montelupo Fiorentino
    • 1574 Giovanni Antonio Dosio, under the supervision of Bartolomeo Ammannati, designs some changes to rehabilitate the villa
    • 1587 the villa is rebuilt probably based on a project by Bernardo Buontalenti and directed by Raffaello Pagni. Giovan Battista Ferrucci known as “il Tadda” reorganises the garden and builds the grotto on the river Arno. Engineer Buonaventura da Orvieto works on the fountains and the gardens
    • 1589 barbicans are added to the new grotto
    • 1592-1602 Ferdinando I buys some land to make the access road to the villa
    • 1599 Giusto Utens reproduces the villa Ambrogiana in one of the lunettes of the cycle of paintings of the “Medicean villas” made to be displayed in the reception hall of the Artimino villa
    • 1599 Engineer Gherardo Mechini makes a survey of the villa in order to decide on the measures to be taken to contain possible floods of the Pesa river
    • 1602 engineer Gherardo Mechini designs the reconstruction of the sustaining wall of the garden’s reservoir
    • 1627 architect Giulio Parigi designs the deviation of the Pesa river to avoid damages to the stables. The project, decided in every detail by engineer Alessandro Bartolotti, is never carried out, but protective walls are built around the stables
    • 1671-1675 Ferdinando Tacca is commisioned by Cosimo III of Medici to embellish the villa
    • 1677 engineer Pier Maria Baldi builds the church and convent of the St. Peter of Alcantara near the villa. The buildings are connected to the villa by a long corridor
    • 1681 new stables and a wine cellar are added to the villa
    • 1691 Antonio Ferri works on the Ambrogiana
    • 1692 a loggia is built on top of the door of the shed
    • 1699-1700 engineer Giovan Battista Foggini checks the state of conservation of the Ambrogiana
    • 1738-1740 Granduke Francesco Stefano of Lorena commissions architect Jean Nicholas Jadot, general director of the Scrittoio delle Regie Fabbriche, to do restoration work on the villa
    • 1742-1757 architect Giuseppe Ruggeri makes a series of drawings of the villa
    • 1745-1746 two floods damage the villa, architect Ruggeri suggests to elevate the ammunition room
    • 1757, 1760, 1761 the villa suffers damages due to an earthquake
    • 1789 the convent of the Monks of Alcantara is supressed. The maintenance of the villa is done by Gaspeto Paoletti and Zanobi Filippo del Rosso
    • 1791 the conduit that brings water from Petrognano to the villa Ambrogiana is redone
    • 1792 architect Giuseppe Ruggieri does some restoration work on the villa
    • 1793 Leopoldo Prucher, royal gardener at Boboli, restyles the villa’s gardens
    • 1795-1796 architect Giuseppe Del Rosso, then replaced by Pasquale Poccianti, designs new stables and other annexes of the villa
    • 1810 the villa is handed over to the State. The minister of the Empoli courthouse takes over the villa in the name of the Imperial Crown
    • 1810-1812 the French government tries to sell the villa to Baron Rinuccini, but the sale is never concluded due to disagreements over price
    • 1815-1822 architect Pasquale Poccianti restores the villa, gardens and roads
    • 1824 Leopoldo II of Lorena decides to adapt the old convent into a correctional facility for women and the stables into a penitentiary for men
    • 1846 a railway is built next to the villa based on a project by architect Pasquale Poccianti
    • 1849 the granducal government decides to transfer some patients with mental illnesses to the Ambrogiana
    • 1850 a commission is created to decide how convenient it would be to transform the villa in a mental asylum. The War Ministry asks the Finance Ministry to use the villa for military purposes. The Livorno architect Giuseppe Cappellini is entrusted with the design of the conversion of the villa into a mental asylum
    • 1853 architect Cappellini’s project is definitely rejected and architect Mazzei is asked to make a new design for the conversion of the villa into a prison
    • 1855 architect Mazzei, in collaboration with architect Carlo Chirici, draws up a project to transform the villa into a correctional facility for women and the stables into a correctional facility for men
    • 1860 the villa and annexes pass to the Italian government (first assigned the the Home Ministry and then to the Ministry of Justice)
    • 1863 architect Mazzei sends a report on the Ambrogiana to the Direction of State Property and Taxes of Florence
    • 1884 under the supervision of director Ponticelli, engineer Bulgarini transform the Ambrogiana complex into a mental asylum for criminals. The gardens are completely lost. The structure starts falling apart

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