mercoledì 1 luglio 2015

Elizabeth Barrett Browning Created a Community for Foreigners in Florence

by Laura Tressel

The 19th century saw the blossoming of the British expat community in Florence. The Grand Tour played a big role in introducing British noblemen and scholars to Italy and most importantly to Florence. During the tour, travelers would stop in Florence for a few months to study art and culture, and many people found it so enticing that they came to stay. Once the initial British residents settled into their homes here, others began to visit too. Something about the architecture and the freedom of artistic expression that couldn't be found in England drew this community to Florence. 

Perhaps the most famous British residents of Florence were Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband, Robert Browning. The Brownings came to Florence after they fell in love through written correspondence and decided to get married. They purchased Casa Guidi, located close to Palazzo Pitti, where they lived and wrote some of their most famous works. Today, you can visit the residence during the week and explore the chambers where the Brownings spent many productive years. The city of Florence has placed a special plaque above the door in honor of Elizabeth, and her work that created a "marriage" between England and Italy. Elizabeth was enamored with the city's beauty as well as with it's people. She was a great advocate for the unification of Italy, and wrote about the politics of Florence in her poems as well. 

The Drawing Room of Casa Guidi, paired with the colors of the Italian Flag. 

Besides writing poetry and raising their son, Pen, the Brownings spent their years in Florence expanding their circle of friends. They brought British and American visitors to the city, and expanded the English speaking community in the city. Some other notable expats of this time were Savage Landor, George Nassau, John Singer Sargent, and Margaret Fuller. In Elizabeth Browning's poem, Casa Guidi Windows, she writes of her love for the city, 

I can but muse upon the shore
Of golden Arno as it shoots away
Straight through the heart of Florence, `neath the four
Bent bridges, seeming to strain off like bows,
And tremble, while the arrowy underside
Shoots on and cleaves the marble as it goes,
And strikes up palace-walls on either side (49-59)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.
These beautiful words set the scene of Florence that welcomed others to come and stay. Now, there is a huge community of English speakers living in Florence. They come for many different reasons: work, studying, love, or simply the desire to be a part of the culture. Florence has grown to accommodate these expats by offering English theaters, groups and clubs for the community, and language schools all over the city. In return, the English community, formed mainly by former residents of the UK and America, has found ways to give back to the city. This community contributes greatly to the promotion of Florence through art and especially through writing (just as Elizabeth Barrett browning did so many years ago), as well as organizing volunteer organizations and working to make the city a better place for people to visit and live in. 

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