He was an important Florentine artist, reputedly ‘discovered’ and encouraged by Louise, the Countess of Albany, estranged wife* of the erstwhile Scottish Pretender to the English throne, “Bonnie” Prince Charlie,* and her second partner, the poet Vittorio Alfieri.
Santarelli was a self-taught artist, supported by the Countess, and in later life, he also helped author Vernon Lee with her biography of Countess of Albany Luisa of Stolberg-Gedern by providing her with copies of their correspondence.
As a young man, in 1828 Santorelli worked in the Basilica of Santa Croce, where François-Xavier Fabre entrusted him with the construction of the monument to the Countess of Albany Luisa of Stolberg-Gedern
But Santarelli‘s importance in this Blog is not just about his art, although his studio, where he sculpted his Michelangelo, was in this garden after he purchased the property in 1838!
Keen gardeners may now recognise his name from the beautiful camellias he cultivated in the garden of his palazzo. He was passionate about this particular breed and developed two special hybrid camellias in his garden, part of which is now known as the Nidiaci garden.
The Santerelli Camelia – named after himself
Bella d Ardiglione – named after the pretty little Florentine street running past the garden. One of my own personal favourite streets in the whole city.
Santarelli‘s name as been largely forgotten amongst the plethora of artists and sculptors spawned and nourished in this great city, but his name is having its own Renaissance as part of a totally different project – protecting the heritage of his garden itself, and trying to save this important green ‘lung’ of the city of Florence from becoming another housing development.
The residents of the Oltrarno are trying to protect the future of the play and learning area in the garden behind the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in which he bred these two special camellias shown above.
The Associazione Amici del Nidiaci in Oltrarno L’Ardiglione provides a safe place for young children to play, and also to learn to paint and play the violin, in the grounds of the Palazzo Nidiaci.
In 1920, after seeing scores of displaced, and often orphaned, children playing in the back streets of Florence, a compassionate General Carlo-Matteo Girard, who was probably himself born in Florence in 1876 .worked together with the American Red Cross and made funds available to turn the garden into an institution dedicated to “popular education, with special attention to children”.
The mediator of the operation was the lawyer Umberto Nidiaci, after whom the complex is named today – and despite his efforts to ensure that this facility was available for children to learn and play in safety in perpetuity the continuity of this beneficial garden space is now threatened.
It seems that the city authorities believed that the garden had been left to the City – and not to the “entity” that Nidiaci had set up to protect the space and the rights of the children to play there and the land has been claimed by real-estate speculators.
The campaigning local residents, with the aid of Daria Girard, the grand-daughter of the original benefactor, General Carlo-Matteo Girard, have discovered the original document in which he, and the Amercian Red Cross, having seen the plight of displaced children playing in the street without any supervision or security, had given funds to in 1920, to ensure that the children had a safe place to learn and play.
In 2011, the mayor of Florence was persuaded, by Oltrarno folks public protests, petitions and other demonstrations, to allow the park to continue to be used for the children.
Their activities are many and various; – there is a self-managed soccer team, a Portuguese musician gives free violin lessons, a British writer teaches English, and an American film-maker teaches acting. Families organise out-grown clothes donations and there is general concern about dealing with pollution, and litter, both in and outside the Nidiaci park space.
All in all, this is an important part of the Oltrarno heritage and one that we are most anxious to maintain, to teach and educate with passion, for the health and welfare of the local children, and to maintain the all important green space within a crowded city.
*Another curious connection between Florence and the UK – The City became a refuge for a would-be King and his young bride, who married in 1772, in the hope of an heir, after the disaster of Culloden in 1746 had ensured that poor Charles Stuart would not be able to make a second attempt on his throne!
After his defeat, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to France and then to Italy, where he married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. She was of royal stock but orphaned aged 4, she had no money and the marriage was brokered and financially supported by The Duke of Berwick’s uncle, the duc de Fitz-James, who began negotiations with Louise’s mother for a marriage between Louise and Charles Edward Stuart, the Jacobite claimant to the English and Scottish thrones.
Although King Louis XV of France officially recognised the succession of the House of Hanover, he also hoped that the Catholic legitimate Stuart line would not die out and would be an ongoing threat to the Hanoverians.
The negotiations were delicate since Louise’s family had no money of its own and relied totally on the goodwill of the Empress Maria Theresa (who was allied to the Hanoverians!)
The newly wed couple lived happily enough in Rome for two years, despite the difference in their ages (he was fifty-two and she was only twenty) but their relationship deteriorated when she failed to produce the expected heir and the no-longer bonnie Prince Charlie returned to the bottle! Louise turned to Florentine Poet Alfieri for comfort & when their affair became public knowledge they lived openly together in Florence.