In walking to Fiesole one follows the high walls of the Villa Palmieri, which is now very private American property, but is famous for ever as the first refuge of Boccaccio’s seven young women and three young men when they fled from plague-stricken Florence in 1348 and told tales for ten halcyon days. It is now generally agreed that if Boccaccio had any particular house in his mind it was this. It used to be thought that the Villa Poggio Gherardo, Mrs. Ross’s beautiful home on the way to Settignano, was the first refuge, and the Villa Palmieri the second, but the latest researches have it that the Palmieri was the first and the Podere della Fonte, or Villa di Boccaccio, as it is called, near Camerata, a little village below S. Domenico, the other. The Villa Palmieri has another and somewhat different historical association, for it was there that Queen Victoria resided for a while in 1888. But the most interesting thing of all about it is the circumstance that it was the home of Matteo Palmieri, the poet, and Botticelli’s friend and fellow-speculator on the riddle of life. Palmieri was the author of a remarkable poem called “La Citta della Vita” (The City of Life) which developed a scheme of theology that had many attractions to Botticelli’s curious mind. The poem was banned by Rome, although not until after its author’s death. In our National Gallery is a picture which used to be considered Botticelli’s—No. 1126, “The Assumption of the Virgin”—especially as it is mentioned with some particularity by Vasari, together with the circumstance that the poet and painter devised it in collaboration, in which the poem is translated into pigment. As to the theology, I say nothing, nor as to its new ascription to Botticini; but the picture has a greater interest for us in that it contains a view of Florence with its wall of towers around it in about 1475. The exact spot where the painter sat has been identified by Miss Stokes in “Six Months in the Apennines”. On the left immediately below the painter’s vantage-ground is the Mugnone, with a bridge over it. On the bank in front is the Villa Palmieri, and on the picture’s extreme left is the Badia of Fiesole.
On leaving S. Domenico, if still bent on walking, one should keep straight on and not follow the tram lines to the right. This is the old and terribly steep road which Lorenzo the Magnificent and his friends Politian and Pico della Mirandola had to travel whenever they visited the Medici villa, just under Fiesole, with its drive lined with cypresses. Here must have been great talk and much conviviality. It is now called the Villa McCalmont.