Unusual Places in Italy: The Buontalenti Grotto


Luoghi insoliti in Italia: La Grotta del Buontalenti
Buontalenti grotto
Entrance of the Buontalenti Grotto in Boboli Gardens

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The famous Boboli Gardens in Florence house a masterpiece of Mannerist architecture and culture that is sure to leave an impression on the visitor who sees it: the so-called Buontalenti Grotto, a unique blend of architecture, painting and sculpture.

The grotto (also called ‘Grotta Grande’ in Italian) is located in the far north of the Boboli Gardens alongside the entrance to the Vasari Corridor. 

It takes its name from Bernardo Buontalenti, who oversaw the construction of its three rooms between 1582 and 1593, commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici. Giorgio Vasari before him had begun working on the grotto, having created the lower part of the exterior façade, itself an anticipation of the bizarre interior..

Grottos were a common architectural feature of noble places in 16th-century Tuscany; they represented an inventive reproduction of natural caves, with sculptures, paintings, water games, and real limestone concretions that were often removed from real caves and reused by artists.

The first room of the Buontalenti Grotto is much larger than the others and features a decoration where pictorial, sculptural and architectural elements blend together to convey a sense of wonder and bewilderment.

The theme is shapeless matter, or chaos, which, through metamorphosis, transforms into order and harmony, a main focus of alchemy, a subject that was dear to Francesco I. From the walls, the rocks, stalactites, sponges, and shells seem to come to life, taking on anthropomorphic and animal features.  

The first room was adapted to house Michelangelo's four Prigioni (a group of statues), set to support the grottos' walls as telamons; they are now replaced by casts, while the originals are on display at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

In the second room, there are similar decorations with stalactites, shells and frescoes. 

The third and last room is also set up as a cave, with a fictitious sky where  birds fly. The room is dominated by the fountain of Venus by Giambologna.

You can take a virtual tour of Buontalenti Grotto here


I famosi Giardini di Boboli a Firenze ospitano un capolavoro di architettura e cultura manierista che senza dubbio stupirà il visitatore che lo vede: la cosiddetta Grotta del Buontalenti, un connubio unico di architettura, pittura e scultura.

La grotta (chiamata anche ‘Grotta Grande’ in italiano) si trova nell'estremo nord del Giardino di Boboli, accanto all'ingresso del Corridoio Vasariano.

Prende il nome da Bernardo Buontalenti, che curò la costruzione delle sue tre sale

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