How a Design Residency is Shaking Up Florence’s Art Scene

“We forget that the masters of the Renaissance were contemporary artists, too,” says Alessandro Modestino Ricciardelli when we reach the top floor of Palazzo Galli Tassi, a former syrup factory in the heart of Florence that’s now home to the multidisciplinary design residency Numeroventi. “We want to find our generation’s Michelangelo.” As ambitious as this duomo-sized order sounds, it feels within their reach.

Since opening in 2016, Numeroventi, the brainchild of now-former venue manager Modestino Ricciardelli and one-time graphic designer Martino di Napoli Rampolla, has invited artists and designers from all over the world to live and collaborate together under one roof. (The roster of past residents includes Blood Orange musical genius Dev Hynes, Cereal magazine creative director Rich Stapleton and artist Ana Kraš.) The palazzo houses a photo studio, a co-working space, two kitchens and guest apartments where travellers can stay while visiting the city. With a carefully curated collection of mid-century furniture set against 16th- and 17th-century frescoes, its design, heavy in contrasts, channels the rule-breaking spirit of the Renaissance.

February 6, 2020
A bedroom at the Palazzo Galli Tassi
A male artist stacks pebbles on top of each other
A sun-filled room at Numeroventi with furniture in cream and red accents

Despite its beauty (or because of it), the birthplace of one of the most revolutionary and intellectually rebellious eras in human history now comes across as safe and settled – it’s packed with tourists looking to tick some of the best-known Renaissance artworks off their bucket list. But it wasn’t always this way. Florence during the Renaissance was electrifying. Picture a city that’s undergoing the architectural boom of Dubai and the tech frenzy of Silicon Valley, blended with New York’s vibrant art scene and the progressive social thinking of Scandinavian countries. The Renaissance created a seismic shift in culture, politics, science and philosophical thinking. And Florence was the epicentre.

A woman cuts from a coil of wire on the floor

Numeroventi is a hub for wild ideas. Leonardo da Vinci and Olafur Eliasson could walk in together and it wouldn’t be weird.

An electric shiver pulses through my body as Modestino Ricciardelli leads me into sculptor Lorenzo Brinati’s studio. I’m quick to blame it on the AeroPress coffee I chugged minutes earlier and the excitement of finally being here (I’ve been obsessively scrolling through Numeroventi’s Instagram feed for weeks). It’s not until he shows me his latest piece – part of a series of sculptures that will move through vibrations – that I begin to make sense of what I’m feeling.

“All objects and people have a natural frequency or set of frequencies at which they vibrate,” Brinati explains. With his strong, rugged hands (marble carving requires incredible upper body strength), Brinati spins his geometric marble sculpture to demonstrate, bridging the gap between science and art like his Florentine predecessors did centuries ago. I’m convinced the jitter isn’t induced by caffeine – I’m simply picking up Numeroventi’s good vibrations.

Portrait of a middle-aged man in a protective white suit
A single wooden workstation in a sunlit room
A male artist sits at a desk and draws with an ink pen

Over the last three years Numeroventi has welcomed a slew of artists from various backgrounds, some of whom have explored the frequencies of the space in more literal ways than Brinati –through music. Dev Hynes composed a beautiful, 20-minute suite while working on his album Negro Swan and Barcelona-based sister duo Marta and Carla Cascales explored the link between sculpture and classical music.

One thing that becomes clear after examining the work coming out of the residency is that channelling the city’s invisible force means acknowledging its past and building upon it. Nobody at Numeroventi claims to have created Florence’s new art scene, but just like a sculptor, the venture is helping chip away to reveal it.

A large blue inkblot on a white canvas
Three youths on various levels of a ladder and a boy sitting on the floor sketching
A sculpture at the end of a corridor matches the artwork hanging on the wall

During his stay, Stapleton took a deep dive into the world of Michelangelo through photography. Studying the relationship between the body and classical sculptures, he tried to distill the grandeur of the Renaissance by following Michelangelo’s methods, and visiting Carrara, the marble quarry where the sculptor fetched the stone for some of his most famous works, including David and Pietà. The result is a gentle conversation with the past.

Back on the ground floor of the palazzo, I find the bedroom of my dreams complete with a platform bed, original pastel-coloured frescoes and a flower-covered mesh veil hanging overhead, left behind by artists Ksenia Tokmakova and Marinika Sadgyan. Before he opens the next door, Modestino Ricciardelli mentions that the kitchen’s design is a work in progress and points to objects that have either been moved or recently added. In the hallway, there is a piece by South African 3-D artist Alexis Christodoulou, who created a series of futuristic-looking, imaginary architectural renderings and then collaborated with Duccio Maria Gambi, a Florence furniture designer with a soft spot for concrete, on making the geometrical structures a reality.

An abstract sculpture painted in yellow, white and a partial grid in front of a yellow sofa
Brass and colourful marble stools and end tables
A white rock sculpture sits atop a wooden pillar

Although Numeroventi is constantly evolving, the contrast between the old and the new within the palazzo’s walls, and the simplicity of the design, transcends time and space and blends genres. It’s a hub for wild ideas. Leonardo da Vinci and Olafur Eliasson could walk in together and it wouldn’t be weird.

My tour of Numeroventi ends in Loft 3, a bright room with a mezzanine. I let out an audible chuckle in front of the bent-metal sign by Berlin-based artist Kasia Fudakowski that hangs above the mustard-coloured sofa. It reads: “Lower Your Ambitions.” With plans for an upcoming expansion featuring three new lofts, fine dining pop-ups and a private club for creatives that will include a café and wine bar (à la Soho House), the one thing that the folks at Numeroventi don’t seem to be doing is lowering their ambitions. Instead, they’ve got the dial turned all the way up.

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