The Altoviti family is of Lombard origin. From the 13th Century, they owned houses and towers in the Parione, via Tornabuoni and Borgo Santi Apostoli areas of Florence. The family became bankers and incurred the hostility of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder, to the point where, in the second half of the 15th Century, Antonio Altoviti decided to leave Florence for Rome, where he married his cousin, daughter of the sister of the Pope of the time, Innocent VIII - Giovan Battista Cibo from Genoa.
Relations with the Medici were always strained, although masked by skilled diplomacy on both sides. And in fact, in the disastrous times of the successive Medici Popes in the 16th Century, Antonio’s son, Bindo Altoviti, continued to administer the Vatican’s finances and the large incomes from the sale of “Indulgences”, and was even Florentine Consul in Rome, in practical terms the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s representative in the city.
The Altoviti were important patrons of the arts, with palaces and villas frescoed by Vasari, medals and busts by Benvenuto Cellini, portraits by Raphael, etc. Their houses and villas in Rome and Florence were almost all submerged by the growth of the cities over the ages, and especially in the 19th Century, when Italian unification was the spur to the building of new districts, new Ministries, the Tiber Embankment, and so on.
In 1850, my great grandmother Vittoria Altoviti Avila married Giuseppe Toscanelli, a nobleman from Pisa and a big landowner, who had fought bravely for Italian independence as a young man; in fact, when the country achieved unity in 1860 he was immediately elected a member of Parliament, first in Turin, then in Florence, and finally in Rome.
However, as a dedicated agriculturalist and maker of fine wines, he continued to take a passionate interest in his estates around Pisa.
His wife Vittoria was an energetic woman of considerable culture.
Very aware of her lineage, she no longer had her ancestors’ opportunity to cultivate artists of the calibre of Raphael, Vasari or Michelangelo, but she took a keen interest in the arts and befriended intellectuals and artists, welcoming them to her home on the Lungarno Toscanelli in Pisa or in Florence, in the famous salon of Emilia Peruzzi Toscanelli, her sister-in-law.
Habitués included the writers and poets Giuseppe Giusti, Edmondo De Amicis and Renato Fucini, the painter Antonio Ciseri and the Macchiaioli artists Telemaco Signorini, Eugenio Cecconi, and so on.
Her daughter Angelina married her cousin Corbizzo Altoviti, allowing Vittoria to hope that her family’s surname would regain some of its splendour.
Unfortunately, she had the misfortune of seeing the couple’s beloved, handsome son Giovan Battista, known to the family as Bistino, fall ill with tuberculosis, and following the advice of the doctors of the time, who ordered sea air, she immediately chose a fine piece of land on the then wild, remote island of Elba.
Without delay, she commissioned an architect from Livorno – whose name I have not been able to find in any of the family papers – to build a fine, large mansion where Bistino would be able to regain his strength by the sea.
Bistino came to Ottone in 1875 and initially his condition really did improve considerably. And so, being intelligent and responsive to the sufferings of his fellow men, he threw himself into the problems of the local area and Elba’s people to such an extent that, in spite of his extreme youth, he was offered the post of Mayor of Portoferraio.
However, he refused this offer on the grounds of ill health. In spite of his infirmity, he did become Chairman of the local Charitable Fund, and also Inspector of Elba’s schools.
Bistino fulfilled all these appointments with immense dedication, and was held in great affection by the local people and authorities, a feeling reflected in the speech made by the Mayor of Portoferraio, Pietro Traditi, on his death in November of 1882. He was 25 years old!
After this Vittoria, who had been widowed, retired to Villa Ottonella, leaving the large house by the sea to my grandmother Angelina and my mother Clarice. However, at the very beginning of the 1920s they agreed to sell the property. The “Belle Époque” had come to an end, the First World War had drastically changed the lifestyle of the aristocracy, and they had to cut back and economise. And so… You are now able to enjoy this splendid Villa, which over the years you have transformed into an “Hôtel de charme”.
Antonia Altoviti, Easter 1998