One of the most unexpected museums in Florence is the Museo Stibbert, which houses the eclectic collection of Frederick Stibbert (1838 - 1906), an Anglo-Italian collector with a passion for -- among other things -- Japanese Samurai traditions:
Stibbert came from a wealthy British military family, and his father married a Florentine woman from the Cafaggi family, so he divided his time between Italy and the U.K. He eventually took over his mother's estate near Florence and began to fill it with his art collections from around the world, with special interest in arms and armor from Europe to Japan.
The second floor has an astounding life-size display of Samurai warriors, complete with leather, wood and metal armor and masks for their horses, which transform them into fierce but cartoon-like beasts (click on each photo individually if you're viewing on a computer):
He wanted his displays to be as realistic as possible, and his first purchase for the Japanese collection was an iki-ningyō, or realistic mannequin, complete with glass eyes and human hair (see first photo, above). It was made by Japanese craftsman Kisaburo Matsumoto in 1871 and depicts a warrior in full 17th c. armor. I love the detail, even down to the horses' hooves, which don't have metal horseshoes but are wrapped in woven straw or jute!
There's also a wild and fun collection of Samurai warrior helmets:
Imagine seeing one of those charging towards you! 😮😄
The museum is housed in a gorgeous villa in the Montughi "suburb" of Florence, just a few kms from the northwestern edge of the old town. It has 64 rooms spread over two floors and covers some 5,000 m2 (54,000 sq ft).
It's a beautiful building also from the outside:
The façade is covered with various coats of arms that he collected:
Once inside, you are greeted by the European Armory, in formation and ready to engage you in battle:
I'd love to wander through here on a moonlit night and imagine myself in another time...
Some of them are just downright cute! (the one on the left looks like C-3P0 from Star Wars 😄
The detail is amazing:
... from the "pony tail" to the little smiley face 🙂
The main room is full of paintings and other artworks that Stibbert acquired over the years:
The ceiling is decorated with colorful coats of arms:
Among the paintings is this festive Brueghel (the Younger) from 1616. The Flemish painter shows a Carnival celebration, and the participants seem to be having a grand time!
There's also a panel from 1501 which depicts the (true) story of a Florentine named Antonio Rinaldeschi who lost at dice so got angry and threw dung at an imagine of the Virgin Mary. He fled the city but was caught, brought back, imprisoned in the Bargello (then a prison, now a museum), and subsequently hung. So remember: no dung-slinging! (at least not towards the Virgin Mary 😉)
I love the nasty little devil who is clearly behind the shenanigans:
There's also an "Islamic Armory" room, featuring pieces from the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and Moghul India!
They used mostly chain mail, for both horse and man. I like the padded face flap, below left!
The style of the room was based on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain:
And don't worry ladies, you have a place in the museum too! You get to be one of the brides of a noble Pasha with your own melon-bra and beads! 🙄
Or a noble Chinese woman with bound feet... 🙁 This is from 19th c. China.
(okay, so Stibbert never married and dedicated his life to his collections, and he was known to have fancy dress-up parties where his friends would come over and play knight or samurai or what have you, so I think there wasn't much room in his life for women's lib 😉)
Here's the man himself!
His private apartments were pretty faaaaahncy...
He didn't spend much time at the villa so most of it felt like a museum anyway:
But it DID have a loo!
I love the shimmery mother-of-pearl ceiling on this garden-side room:
It has a nice spiral stairway -- nothing like the eye-popping one from the Palazzo Farnese in my last post, but still...
There's also a cape that was designed for and worn by Napoleon! (from 1805 when he was crowned King of Italy, shortly before Tuscany became the French Département de l'Arno).
All in all, it's a fascinating visit, and you'll probably have the place mostly to yourself (unless you're there when there's a visiting group of Japanese)
Getting There: the museum is located on Via Federigo Stibbert no. 26, about 2.5 km (1.5 mi) from the main Firenze "Santa Maria Novella" train station. So you can walk there in ~30 mins (passing through a number of linked gardens -- you can see the green areas on the map):
Or you can take the Tram, line 1, and get off at the Muratori stop and then walk 1 km (.6 mi):
Or of course you can also take a taxi, which shouldn't be very expensive.
Mon-Tues-Wed 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Fri-Sat-Sun 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Closed January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, August 15th, December 25th
I hope you enjoyed your trip to this unusual museum. It was so full of interesting things I'll have to go back to examine in more detail. There's also a lovely garden with some interesting architectural elements, like small Greek and Egyptian temples, and there's a café at the end of the visit where you can re-energize with a drink or snack.
I'm enjoying some welcome down-time in Florence now after a lovely trip to see family in the U.S., and I have another few weeks before attacking the Fall season. Things are looking good for 2023 and I'm already hard at work planning tours in Sicily, Puglia, Greece, Portugal, Amalfi and beyond, so let me know if you'd like in on any of the action! Otherwise, enjoy these monthly travel postings, and feel free to toss some yen ¥ into my Samurai helmet if you'd like to support my museum addiction (tip your guide here).
Grazie, どうもありがとう, thanks, and see you next time!