Palazzo Portinari

Around 1285 Folco Portinari, the father of the Beatrice immortalised by Dante, founded the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. He had built, in Via del Corso (in the past known as "Corso di Por San Piero"), Palazzo Portinari which, in 1546, was bought by the Salviati family and then remodeled. Here also lived Giovanni delle Bande Nere, father of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. The family had close ties with Flanders, as shown by the position of directors of the Medici Bank in Bruges held by several of its members. The Portinari family's interest in the Flemish world was not commercial alone, as demonstrated by a masterpiece of Hugo van der Goes (1435-c.1482), the famous Portinari Triptych, brought to Florence in the late 1470s. This work, now in the Uffizi, was destined to exert a powerful influence on the contemporary generation of Florentine artists, among whom were Leonardo, Botticelli and Filippino Lippi. Expressly due to his thorough knowledge of the customs of the people of northern Europe, Leonardo turned to one of the Portinari to find information on ice-skating. In the Codex Atlanticus (f. 611a-r) in fact, Leonardo, notes, «Ask Benedetto Portinari in what way they run about on the ice in Flanders». Moreover, Leonardo had always been especially interested in the laws of physics and motion, including inertia, that find expression in all sports and games. As concerns ice-skating in particular, he wrote, «As on the ice-bound river man runs without alteration in his feet, so it is possible that a cart could run by itself» (Ms. Ash. 2037, c. 1487-90).

Texts by
Alessandro Vezzosi, in collaboration with Agnese Sabato / English translation by Catherine Frost