We are still talking about the Tuscan farmhouse drawing on a short essay by prof. Italo Moretti of the University of Siena. The farmhouse is at the origin of the tourist revival of the Tuscany Region. Without a Tuscan farmhouse today there would be no agritourisms of which Mugello is also rich.
Bear in mind, however, that the villa and the farm could rightly also be included in rural buildings. Moreover, in Tuscany, the villa, farm and Tuscan farmhouse belong to the same world. This is the world of the sharecropping system. Mugello & Tuscany is committed to enhancing the glorious history of the Tuscan farmhouse as a vacation spot.
A world that has disappeared today and which, already in the late Middle Ages, closely linked the city and the countryside. A world that appeared as the result and basis of existence of the municipal civilization in its most advanced stage.
How was the Tuscan farmhouse structured?
The central core of the farm, not necessarily consisting of a single piece of land, included various buildings. There was the the “worker’s house”, the stable and the hut for the cattle and shreds, the oven, the barnyard. Often also the occasional residence of the master, when he went to the “villa” to control the sharecropper and enjoy the pleasures of the countryside.
These buildings and the promiscuous cultivation system were the basis of the “beautiful Tuscan landscape” described by H. Desplanques. Made “like a work of art by a refined people”. That same “people who ordered paintings and frescoes in the fifteenth century”. Over the centuries, it ended up being reflected “in the design of the fields, in the architecture of Tuscan farmhouses”.
The worker’s home closely linked to the farm is therefore one of its identifying elements. The “Tuscan farmhouse”, after sharecropping disappeared, remained the most significant testimony of the Tuscan agricultural heritage.
The first depictions of “workers’ houses”, made significant by the political and celebratory nature of the painting, are in the humanized campaign. The first illustrious example is the campaign depicted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Buon Governo frescoed in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena in 1338.
Substantially similar data also emerge in Florentine representations of the second half of the fifteenth century. For example, in the landscape that is the backdrop to the Nativity, frescoed around 1460 by Alessio Baldovinetti. The nativity is found in the cloister (also called “Chiostrino of the Vows”) that precedes the basilica of the Santissima Annunziata of Florence.
The landscape that is the background of the sacred scene depicts a plain crossed by a winding river. Probably the Arno, while the two distant cities, surrounded by walls, would be Prato and Pistoia. The inspiration is the Florentine countryside dotted with very modest houses. There are also houses with more complex volumes in which a tower structure emerges.
What emerges on the workers’ houses from these representations is their substantial modesty in size and structure. In fact, these are buildings organized on two low levels, with few and small openings.
On the ground floor the stable and the wine cellar and the upper one the kitchen (the “house” of the Tuscan farmer) and the bedrooms. The building materials were also poor: earth, clay and straw. Only from the late fourteenth century, the use of local stone, bricks and timber seems to have been introduced.
The minimal structure of this type of housing is confirmed by the term of “Capanna Habitatoria” (habitation hut). This term appears in a Florentine estimation of 1269. It is a report of the damage caused by the Ghibellines to the Guelphs after the battle of Montaperti.
To this organization of the rural house on two levels, later will be added also the pigeon house, perhaps heir of the medieval tower-house. To this must be added the external space of the “resede” (farmyard, vegetable garden, chicken coop, etc.).
So the Tuscan farmhouse, is both the home of the worker’s family and the site of rural work activities. In this it is perhaps to be found some analogy with the house and the laboratory of the artisan of the city or the village.
Certainly these are aspects that characterise the rural dwelling. They will remain until the end of the sharecropping era of the early 1960s. Of the medieval “worker’s house”, due to its inherent fragility, material evidence has practically disappeared. In fact, only the concept of essentiality has survived the Middle Ages.
In practice, the medieval buildings that can be seen in many farmhouses are actually the remains of “gentrified houses”. These stately homes were downgraded after the great demographic crisis of the mid-fourteenth century. This crisis allowed “to make a choice within the building stock that had now become over-abundant with respect to necessities”.
However, there is no lack of opportunities to reuse the “cassero” of a castle or medieval buildings of other origin, but architecturally similar in constructive characters. At the same time there are cases in which the “gentrified house” has maintained its original function over time, having been transformed into a villa. Just as many palaces in the city have incorporated the medieval towers that belonged to the family.
It may seem a paradox, that it was the “gentrified house” and not the “worker’s house” to become “the generating nucleus of the rural dwelling”. Around this nucleus, other buildings were added over time. This was dictated by the needs of the sharecropping family, generating valuable examples of spontaneous architecture ».
This slow transformation over time of the rural dwelling is widely documented by numerous views of the 16th and 17th centuries. They have been left by industrious artists in Florence, such as Francesco d ‘Ubertino, from Mugello known as il Bachiacca (1494-1557).
These artistic views are often referable to the immediate surroundings of Florence. There is often a tower around which new bodies have been formed and often also a loggia. This is a component that, together with the pigeon house (upper part of the tower) will become distinctive elements of the rural dwelling.
The becoming of these houses could be called “organic”. They have reached their final form through suggestive structural changes. These additions were gradually dictated by the contingent needs of the sharecropping family of the moment. This type of rural dwelling led in the eighteenth century to a type of architecture dictated by principles of rationality.
These are the principles that belonged to every branch of knowledge of this century. In agriculture, they led to the birth of academies such as the Georgofili, founded in 1753. It was the first and most important of its kind in Italy and among the most illustrious in Europe.
The revival of agriculture led to a necessary construction of new rural houses on new bases of agrarian rationality. The formation of new farms led to greater attention to the architectural features of the Tuscan farmhouse.
In this respect, the treatise on the “houses of the peasants”, published by Ferdinando Morozzi in 1770, stands out. He was an architect and cartographer born in Siena. He was also a partner and collaborator of the Georgofili Academy.
It will be enough to remember that Morozzi distinguishes the houses according to its location. In the mountains, plain or hill. In any case, the organization of the premises is always distributed on two levels, except for a possible pigeon house. The attention is directed not only to the orientation of the house, but, in detail, to each of its components.
It can be said that Morozzi’s is «a project that foresees a remarkable complex of environments. Each of them according to the complete series of domestic and rural operations to be carried out by the farmhouse family ». He then adds that it is “a project, the realization of which would guarantee the production unit the most absolute productive autonomy”.
We live in a season of new interests for agriculture and for the sharecropping house. The ex novo construction of the Tuscan farmhouse then assumed an unknown architectural awareness.
An awareness of building something meaningful that reached the point of leaving the memory of the initiative. Date and maybe the name of the clients and the builder, as in important buildings.
Finally, it is worthwhile to mention the formal characteristics or, better, the models, albeit remote, of this rural architecture. It took place principally between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sometimes with appendices even in the early twentieth century.
It has rightly been pointed out that if great architecture is art, minor architecture can be good craftsmanship.
This architecture is usually inspired by courtly and hauty models. This happens especially in the case of the large Tuscan farmhouses in the Upper Valdarno and Valdichiana. It can also be seen in other parts of Tuscany from the Mugello, the Chianti and the Valdelsa. In all these instances the reference goes to the model of “rusticity” created by Bernardo Buontalenti starting from the paggeria of the villa of Artimino.
This is particularly evident in the clarity of the volumes, in the symmetry of the openings. In the arcades superimposed on the main front and in the symmetrical pigeon towers and in the architectural furnishings.
In the Sienese area, on the other hand, the model springs from certain classic features. Baldassarre Peruzzi introduced them in some villas of the countryside around Siena. For example, the incomplete Villa of the Apparita and that of Monticello, in addition to the “Peruzziana” Venturi in Santa Regina.
As already observed on another occasion, these are rural buildings with two rows of terracotta arches. They are sometimes arranged within a framework of pilasters and entablatures. This arrangement according to a model that, in the Sienese countryside, boasts examples up to the early twentieth century.
Let us try to summarize these few considerations on the identifying characteristics of the Tuscan rural dwelling. A great variety of types presents the Tuscan farmhouse in the various regional areas.
However, they can be summarized in four fundamental directions.
1) The close connection with the farm to be worked
2) Its essentiality
3) The organization of the house on two levels.
4) In the connection of architectural features with the city culture. However, this link with the city goes back to its medieval origins.