The villa at Vignamaggio was built by the Gherardini family in the XIV century. If this family name sounds familiar, it is probably because of the famous Monna Lisa Gherardini, the “Gioconda” painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506.
It is uncertain which parts constituted the original nucleus of the villa, but we assume that it may have been on the southern side of the internal courtyard. The thickness of the walls and the barbicans in the cellars appear to be remnants of its earliest construction.
The villa and its admirers
The villa blends in harmoniously with the landscape surrounding it; its structure and distinctive pale pink walls never overpowering. In a letter in 1665, Valerio Chimentelli describes the Villa at Vignamaggio as “an imperious lady” gazing down over the fields around her.
A typical Renaissance court lady, the villa charms us, with ease.
Mysterious and serene, she disregards us, as she does all other passers by seeking her attention.
It seems that a sense of tranquillity emanating from her thick walls is sagely warning us about the futility of the restless and careworn way in which we live our lives.
Vignamaggio’s numerous owners over the centuries seem now like forgotten admirers, merely indulged by her for a couple of decades before being replaced, with the indifference of an unfeeling femme fatale.
To refer to “owners” of Vignamaggio, may not be incorrect but is definitely relative: there were often intense love stories to speak of, painful loves at first sight, challenging, long (century old) and difficult relationships. Every one of these former admirers left something at Vignamaggio though and, not one to return gifts, she is what she is today due also to their contribution.
1302 – 1421
Submerged in debt in 1421, the Gherardinis had to sell the property to their own creditors, the Gherardi family.
1421 – 1832
These were the estate’s most enduring owners, administering the property for over four centuries, with the estate passing on to various family heirs.
In the course of the 1400’s, the Gherardis built the S.Maria della Neve Oratory on the hill of the Montagliari castle ruins.
In 600 Andrea Gherardi took the estate to new heights, purchasing new farmland and extending the buildings.
In addition to the rooms, the villa was already equipped with a school, an aviary, various cellars, a stable, a grain mill, an olive mill, the bread room and many other areas dedicated to the preserving or processing of farm produce.
The thorough description by Valerio Chimentelli, enthusiastically describing the estate to his friend Alessandro Strozzi in a letter in 1656, reveals that what he saw then doesn’t differ much from what we see here today.
1832 – 1849
In 1832, after over 400 years of prosperity and growth, the Gherardis fell victim to the agricultural crisis, so badly that the farm was no longer economically viable.
Tommaso, the last descendant of the Gherardis and still a minor, was forced to sell it to his guardians – the marquise Uguccioni.
1849 – 1926
In 1849 the marchioness left the estate to the marquise Niccolini, who eventually sold the property 30 years later to antique dealer Vincenzo Ciampolini. It was this eccentric collector who decorated the buildings with paintings, tapestries, ammunition and medieval style antique furniture, until he ceded the estate to the Sanminiatellis in 1926.
1926 – 1987
The Sanminiatellis restored the villa to its ancient splendour, thanks to well thought out renovations, the creation to the new Italian Garden and their hosting of illustrious personalities like Berenson, Marc Chagall and Graham Greene.
Count Bino Sanminiatelli, a writer and journalist, wrote about the projects and the fondness he felt that connected him to the place.
1987 – 2013
The couple remained owners of the villa until Bino’s death, in 1984.
A few years later Gianni Nunziante became the new owner and opened the villa to the public, as one of Tuscany’s first agritourism establishments.
2014 – Today
25 Years later, the Nunziante family decided to sell the estate and the architect Patrice Taravella takes over the management of Vignamaggio.