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!)