Beautiful View

The picture I chose for this blog masthead is the view from Woolson’s villa where she lived for three years in the late 1880s. Can you imagine waking up to that view every day?

I took the picture last October. I was in Florence visiting some of the galleries and other sites Woolson loved. One afternoon (when it finally stopped raining), I took a taxi up to the top of Bellosguardo, a hill just outside of Florence. Bellosguardo means “beautiful view,” and Woolson’s Villa Brichieri-Colombi had the best view up there. Nearby is the Villa La Colombaia (where Florence Nightingale was born), and up the hill are Hawthorne’s Villa Montauto, as well as the Villa Castellani (now called the Villa Mercedes) where Henry James often stayed and set his novel Portrait of a Lady. James also stayed in Woolson’s villa, once for three months in the apartment beneath hers. (That’s a story for a whole other post.)

Decades earlier the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning had visited Villa Brichieri-Colombi, home to her friend the actress Isa Blagdon, and decided to put in Aurora Leigh (1856):
I found a house at Florence on the hill
Of Bellosguardo. ‘Tis a tower which keeps
A post of double observation o’er
That valley of Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
And Mount Morello and the setting sun,
The Vallombrosan mountains opposite,
Which sunrise fills as full as crystal cups
Turned red to the brim because their wine is red.
No sun could die nor yet be born, unseen
By dwellers at my villa . . .

I love those last two lines. It’s true. The villa’s terrace, perched at the top of the hill, looks out on the valley of the Arno from East to West. When I was there I wondered if Woolson set her desk at the window looking out on this view. Sometime I will write about meeting the woman who lived there and having lunch with her. To discover than an artist has lived there for the last 30 years was sheer serendipity. (Thanks to Stephanie McCoy for connecting me with her!)

7 Comments

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  1. I LOVE this blog! I love the description of this Beautiful View and all the literary and artistic connections here. Would that I could see it for myself, but this is the next best thing.
    I am now fascinated by this “lost” nineteenth-century writer and can’t wait to learn more.
    Thank you, Anne Boyd Rioux, for starting this blog.
    I’m going to read Woolson now.

  2. I cannot believe that Woolson would not have put her desk at the window — unless it would have been too bright, too hot, too distracting. Maybe she moved the desk around according to the season. Oh, Anne: how much additional context you are bringing all of us through this blog. Thank you so much for sharing so generously.

  3. I had to smile at the first few lines of this post – I watch House Hunters International all the time on HGTV (my way of traveling the world) and it sounded just like what the narrator would say at the beginning of the show about some town in Italy. :-) It is a gorgeous view!

  4. I look forward to hearing the story of the artist who lives here now. This was my grandfathers house so I love to here stories about it.

    1. Hi Rachel–The artist who lives there now has lived there for a few decades. It is a beautiful house. I would be interested in hearing more about your grandfather and your knowledge about the house, if you care to e-mail me. Thanks for commenting on my blog!

    2. I should also mention, Rachel, that I recently changed the picture at the head of the blog. The new one is of the Casa Semitecolo in Venice. The old one was of the Villa Brichieri-Colombi in Florence. Is that the one your grandfather lived in?

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