At the Bernini Palace, if you pay attention to the details, you’ll find out a lot about the city’s past. Sniff out the “clues” and you’ll come across fascinating little stories and curiosities. Today, for example, we intend to find out more about the extravagant female heads on display in the lounge. It’s the start of a journey back in time through a flurry of hats, a traditional product of Florence.
A nineteenth-century cult accessory: the hat
Once upon a time there were Florentine hats, locally manufactured straw boaters like the ones we can see in the paintings of Renoir – such as the celebrated Luncheon of the Boating Party – and other Impressionists, and the fashionable headgear of Paris and Vienna, a source of inspiration for fashionable milliners. They were cult accessories for the city’s burgeoning middle classes. The Florentine straw hat is the symbol of a craft typical of the local area. At the start of the eighteenth century, the small farmers of the surrounding countryside used to grow a special kind of wheat that produced high-quality straw, which was then woven by an army of braiders (at least 80,000 in the golden years). In the windows of the workshops of the city centre, straw boaters were displayed alongside fashionable men’s and women’s hats. Remember that Florence was a city that had a centuries-old artisan tradition of guilds and trade associations: in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the hatters of Florence belonged to the Arte della Seta, or Silk Guild, together with silk weavers, bonnet makers, doublet makers, cap makers, mattress makers and the like.