Arnolfini family – an unlucky love affair in Lucca

Following on from my Blog about Lucchese merchant Niccolo Arnolfini and his wife, Costanza Trenta who died in childbirth – I was saddened to learn this week that future generations of the Arnolfini family have also, famously, been unlucky in love.

In this case, it wasn’t the bride that died, but the would-be bride that wasn’t able to marry the man of her choice.

In 1593, twenty-year-old Lucrezia Malpigli, had been deeply in love with a young boy from Lucca, Massimigliano Arnolfini, for some years and he reciprocated her feelings, but unfortunately for them, Lucrezia’s family had pre-arranged a marriage between her and Antonio, the eldest son of the Marchese Buonvisi. In fact, this meant she was marrying back into her mother’s wealthy family, whilst the family of the Arnolfini were mere merchants, as opposed to being amongst the highest of Italian nobility.

The Buonvisi were a rich and powerful family, who, as well as being Bankers, were making money in the silk trade. Lucrezia’s family wanted her to live in the style to which she was accustomed. 

Antonio, as the eldest son was due to inherit one of the family villas, then known as the Villa Camigliano, now renamed Villa Torrigiani. However, he died unexpectedly before the marriage was due to take place.  

Lucrezia was subsequently offered to the next son Buonviso, then aged 32, but he, as the second son of the family, was already promised to the Catholic Church, no marriage for him but his career prospects were good and he rose to the rank of Cardinal.

This still left two sons for Lucrezia to marry, and next in line was the unfortunate Lelio. He did manage to get his bride to the Altar, but very soon afterwards, on June 1st, 1593 he was attacked in the Piazza de Servi as they made their way home after taking Mass in the Cathedral of Lucca. The killer, hired to do a thorough job, stabbed Lelio 19 times, thus ensuring that he was well and truly dead.  

The new Marchesa, Lucrezia Buonvisi, now widowed, evidently hoped that her husband’s death would leave her free to marry her Arnolfini lover, but her family had no intention of letting the lovers find happiness together.                                                                                          

Lucrezia was tried and condemned to enter the Convent of the St Clarisse in Lucca on June 5th, only four days after the murder of her husband.

Massimiliano Arnolfini was condemned to death, but he managed to remain “at large” for some time before he was caught whilst sadly wandering in the cypress alley of the Villa Camigliano. He had risked capture by visiting the villa to remember his happier days shared with his lover in the sunshine – and there is a belief that the pair re-unite in the cypress alley in ghostly form every year on the night of June 1st!

Once captured, Arnolfini was incarcerated in the Tower of Matilde in Viareggio, where he died not long after being imprisoned.

The Villa Camigliano was gifted to the order of the St Clarrise, which meant that they had money from the income made from the Villa to live on, at least until Lucrezia Buonvisi died.

Now renamed Suor Umilia, she lived until she was 90 years old, at which point the family bought the villa back and sold it to the Santini family!

My thanks to Vittoria Colonna di Stigliano, who told us this story when we visited the beautiful gardens of Villa Torrigiani, with garden historian Dr Katie Campbell last week.

In her role as Presidenza AVPL – Associazione delle Ville e dei Palazzi Lucchesi the Contessa is promoting two beautiful books on the Villa and Gardens in the region of Lucca. The one on the Villas is already available for sale – and indeed I bought one for myself and Katie to use when preparing for future garden tours. It has stunning photographs of these beautiful Country Palaces that are being maintained under the auspices of this “Not for Profit” Organisation. I am looking forward to the Promotion of the Garden of Lucca book when it is published next year.

The Villa Torrigiani was first mentioned in 1593, as per the story above, when it belonged to the Buonvisi family.

Dramatic changes came when Nicola Santini bought the Villa in 1650, and rebuilt the south facade in the Baroque style at the end of the seventeenth century, probably in imitation of the architecture of Versailles where he was ambassador to the Republic of Lucca. Statues, including those shown below depicting the Four Seasons, were added to embellish the new front of the house when the entrance was changed around.

He also laid out new gardens. including the fountains at the new entrance. They were redesigned in the 17th Century by under the influence of French Garden designer La Notre. At the rear, a fountain was built as the focus of the garden, and a sunken ‘garden of Flora’ was laid out to the east.



The Garden of Flora, shown above, has an entrance to a grotto, where 17th-century ladies in silks would have been encouraged to enter, only to be drenched with water from the strategically placed “Giochi del aqua” inside the Grotto!  A Baroque Ice- Bucket challenge!

These days the villa is owned by Fabio Colonna di Stigliano and is available to visit almost every day.

Check the website for opening times of all the Villas and Palazzi of the region on