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Handwritten letter from Vernon Lee inviting friends to her home

Past Visitors

The unpretentious charisma and domestic harmony of Il Palmerino has always been appealing to visitors. When writer Vernon Lee and her family lived on the property, its vocation for hospitality would find its greatest form of expression. 

Lee would host a literary salon at Il Palmerino every Thursday afternoon, which brought together the leading international intellectual figures visiting Florence. At the turn of the twentieth century, the house was a regular stop for those travelling through Italy on their Grand Tour revivals, during which people preferred to stay in the villas of friends, rather than frequent anonymous guesthouses for foreigners. Vernon Lee, who could speak five languages fluently (English, Italian, French, German and Polish), was undoubtedly the right person to present guests to the Italian community, introducing them to the leading figures that populated the city’s cultural life.

The friendships Lee cultivated with families living in the area, whose homes dotted the hills of Fiesole, gave rise to a network of cultural exchanges and opportunities that helped the cosmopolitan culture of the time to thrive. It is not uncommon to find some of Vernon Lee’s most frequent visitors inside the pages of her novels and novellas, which would spark a fair amount criticism from those directly involved, who were not always happy to find themselves described in her literary works.

World-renowned celebrities of the day were among Lee’s guests, such as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Edith Wharton,  John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. Yet, the less prominent figures who frequented the house or with whom Lee corresponded copiously are equally interesting in their own right. In short, the lives of these men and women intertwine and reconstruct a historical period of great change, profound transformations and political conflicts, leaving their mark on posterity and impacting the history of Italy, Europe, and farther afield. ​

Among her many guests, several are worthy of mention, including Mario Praz, an internationally renowned Italian Anglicist, whose early works were forged in Lee’s shadow and with the English writer’s staunch encouragement. Another important figure who sojourned at Il Palmerino for almost a year and a half was the young Maria Waser, poet and psychologist. She came to Il Palmerino to receive artistic and cultural training from Vernon Lee. A very young Gaetano Salvemini frequented Il Palmerino, starting in 1896, the year he earned his degree in Literature.


In early 1925, the young artist couple André and Berthe Noufflard would visit Il Palmerino for the first time. Amy (Emily) Turton came to Il Palmerino in February 1895, and would later play a leading role in founding Italy’s first nursing schools. The arrival of poet Sibilla Aleramo, together with writer Giovanni Cena, who was also editor-in-chief of the magazine Nuova Antologia, is documented in this period. American writers and artists visited Il Palmerino as well, including Alice Eliot, Annie Adams Field and illustrator and painter Joseph Pennel. Notable Italians include the likes of Carlo Placci, Francesco Protonotari, Telemaco Signorini and Enrico Nencioni.

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