Insider Guide to Florence

Walled Gardens and Hidden Paintings:Temple St. Clair’s Insider Guide to Florence

By Kristen Bateman

Temple St. Clair is one of the last remaining jewelers in the world who still works with the disappearing goldsmiths and artisans of Florence. Over 30 years ago, the Virginia native came to the city as a student and began building relationships before making her debut at Barneys in 1986. Today, you can find her ornate, colorful jewelry at Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale’s—she even exhibited some of her pieces at The Louvre.

“I basically grew up in Florence,” said St. Clair, just a few days before preparing to fly out to the city she knows so well. “It’s so funny because so many people say to me, ‘It’s my favorite city.’ And I sort of know the ins and outs, and even the underbelly of Florence.” The jeweler lived in Florence from age 19 to 30, and travels there every six weeks to connect with the group of artisans she works with. “I had my first car there, I had my first apartment there. I learned to cook there. I love it and I hate it. It is very much a part of me, even though I have not one drop of Italian blood.” Here, the designer shares her favorite spots:

Libreria Brac. Photo: Courtesy of Libreria Brac.

Libreria Brac

“There are very traditional Florentine restaurants I still go to and love. They’ve been there sort of all of my lifetime in Florence and they all still have the same waiters. I could certainly name those, but then, there are also these places I’m really loving lately, particularly Brac. They’re changing it up a little bit. They’re run by younger Italians. In a way, it’s happening in Paris, too. I hate to say it, but it’s a little bit of that Brooklyn influence. They’re true foodies, and they’re taking the classical, traditional ingredients, but they’re mixing it up a bit and presenting it in a refreshing, newer way. Brac happens to be vegetarian and I tend toward vegetarian. It also doubles as an artist’s bookstore.”

5 e Cinque. Photo: Courtesy of 5 e Cinque

5 e Cinque

“Outwardly, it could look and seem a little more traditional, in a way. But they have certain specialties, like a chickpea bread that they make. There’s also a little more Asian or Indian experimentation with the dishes, where you’ll have a little cumin or a little more spice variation than you might get in the very traditional Italian restaurant.”

Osteria delle Belle Donne

“It’s traditional but not traditional. It’s where a lot of people working in town slip in for lunch or dinner. It’s a small, fun place. The people who are there have been working there for years. They have very creative cuisine.”

Villa Gamberaia. Photo: Alamy.

Villa Gamberaia

“I used to live on the grounds in a cottage that was an old olive press. The Villa Gamberaia is just one of those perfect representations of Italian gardens. Italian gardens, as opposed to English gardens, are about a sort of mastery of the land. There’s a very certain formality to it and the Villa Gamberaia is perched up with this incredible view of downtown Florence. I love the way it’s removed from the city, and yet the view is incredible.”

Temple St. Clair at Bardini Gardens.

Bardini Gardens

“The Bardini Gardens are very interesting in that it’s a more urban garden. It’s behind the palazzo downtown. You go in through the palazzo and realize the whole garden is built up into the hill behind it. It, too, has this amazing experience of being in the city where you’re completely in a private garden, yet you have this very close, intimate view of the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria. For me, part of my studies when I was in college and graduate school in Florence were around urban design and how you experience a garden. Both of these gardens are special because they’re sort of opposite ends of the spectrum.”

La Specola. Photo: Alamy.

La Specola

“It’s probably the most unusual place on my list. It is a little collection within the medical school in Florence. It has scientific jars of strange things and taxidermy, but it’s most famous for 18th century anatomical wax figures. At the time, it was against the law to dig up cadavers to study anatomy, so it was actually model-makers and goldsmiths in town who were [given] permission to make wax models to illustrate different parts of the anatomy. They’re really odd and bizarre—there will be a full-sized body of a woman showing the circulatory system, and then on her head she’ll have a little pearl necklace and hair.”

The Stibbert Museum. Photo: Courtesy of The Stibbert Museum.

Stibbert Museum

“It’s Fredrick Stibbert’s house on a hill towards Bologna. Stibbert was an Italophile and a collector. He has this amazing collection of armory and ceramics and it’s just fun to see this villa in the hills. That place has always been really special to me, and I used to always take my sons up there when they were little because they loved the armory.”

Pazzi Chapel. Photo: Alamy.

Pazzi Chapel

“It is a gem. It was built by the Pazzi family as their personal chapel. They commissioned the architect Filippo Brunelleschi to build it. The chapel is just this pure cube and circle—incredibly pure and modern. I often will take friends or family there to just show this pure example of what came out of the Renaissance. There’s something just so clean and modern about the perfection of it and [its] proportions. It always stays as one of my favorite stops.”

Jacopo Pontormo’s Deposition from the Cross, 1525-1528. Photo: Public Domain.

Santa Felicita

“I take my whole company from New York to Florence, and sometimes I take them to goldsmiths or my favorite places. Often, we’ll do a walking tour of Santa Felicita and other chapels. Santa Felicita is a church just on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio. There is a Jacopo Pontormo painting just inside the door of the church and to me, it’s worth the stop. You pop in and you can put your euro in and it will illuminate it. The painting is shockingly modern and one of those best-kept secrets.”

Benozzo Gozzoli’s The Procession of the Three Kings at the Chapel of the Magi. Photo: Alamy.

Cappella dei Magi

“That’s in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. There is a fresco there by Benozzo Gozzoli. It has an incredible amount of gold leaf, and it’s very exotic in its depiction of characters that show adoration of Magi, or king. There are leopards and horses and animals. There’s even a giraffe. It’s the whole depiction of the Silk Road and all this trade and travel that was going through Florence at the time. There’s also these amazing depictions of Florentine faces, that, if you look around Florence today, you’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, they look like faces from the Renaissance paintings.’”

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