Friday, May 17, 2013

Leonetto Mugelli, the building contractor who played a vanishing trick on the Carmine church

"On the façades or other parts of buildings visible from the street, it is forbidden to hang laundry or place objects on window sills and balconies which disturb the public decorum of the building.”

(extract from the regulations of the Municipal Police of Florence)

In the historical center of Florence, you can pick up a variety of anecdotes about objections made by the local authorities to even the slightest change in the appearance or the use of buildings in the historic center.

The Florentine artisans who work in the building trade are allowed to make only very minor changes to the interior of buildings - or they can clean the façades – but are never permitted to construct new buildings!

This is why the term “builder in Oltarno” sounds vaguely like “baker in the church.” (or: merchant in the temple)

Mr. Leonetto Mugelli is an exception. He distinguished himself long ago for arriving in the 197th position in an automobile race (though it is not clear just how this remarkable record was calculated).

In reality, he does not call himself a “builder in the Oltrarno”. To the English speaking world, he presents himself as follows:

But this is how he presents himself to Oltrarno:

In Via della Chiesa, until a few years ago, there was a carpentry workshop, with a large open courtyard where children played when they came out of the Torrigiani Elementary School, located across the street.

There was also one ancient stone and brick building that had survived the centuries, with mosaics and frescoes on the walls and an enormous fireplace in pietra serena, the elegant local gray stone used for architectural details such as stairways and window ledges.

But, above all, it was the one and only place where one could enjoy the back view of the apses of the Carmine Church. (The front of the church looks onto the piazza of the same name - precisely where the city intends to build a gigantic underground parking garage) in front of the entrance to the Brancacci Chapel, visited each year by thousands of discerning tourists.)

Anyway, this musty old stone construction in the courtyard behind the church has since disappeared, replaced by a modern three-storey building, the work of none other than Mr. Leonetto Mugelli.

This is the view at the back of the church that residents in Via della Chiesa previously enjoyed:

Until the summer of 2011.

That’s when the residents, on their return from summer holidays, suddenly found a totally new and more modern sight when they looked into the walled garden:

Mr. Leonetti Mugelli was busy constructing two more buildings in the courtyard behind the Carmine church.

A shining example of entrepreneurship in a time of crisis!! We can’t even question the legality of what was done, for the following reasons:

In the first place, Mr. Leonetto Mugelli "“is the owner of a construction company with specialized builders who has, for the past three generations, been at the service of the Superintendency of Fine Arts.”". Anyone who works for the Soprintendenza must by definition have great respect for the decorum of our city, as the municipal police regulations like to call it.

When Leonetto Mugelli was brought to court in 1994 for having supposedly paid off those in the Superintendency (the kickback was 10% of the total cost of the job), he denied the charges, claiming that, in any case, the court acknowledged that he was a victim of the system
"Six contractors, among whom Leonetto Mugelli, who has long been the preferred builder for the Fine Arts Department, are accused of aiding and abetting a crime: The judge recognized that they were victims of the system, but they were found guilty of perjury for having sworn that this was false.”

Not only, but also the fact that Leonetto Mugelli was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Unione Vittoria, that owed allegiance to Palazzo Giustiniani (as did Bruno Pacciani, who was accused of requesting bribes), makes one think he must have been particular respectful toward the old stonemasons who constructed the palaces of Florence. Even more, if we think that it was Delfo Biagiotti who denounced the bribes – a venerable Master of the Nuova Vita Lodge that owed obedience to Grand Orient Freemasonry.

Our information comes from an article published in the daily Repubblica, and we do not know the outcome of this case, but we would be happy to be able to report that our Contractor has come out clean.

But then, we don't know how another court case, in 1987,turned out, when Leonetto Mugelli and others were brought to court, accused of paying officials of the Superintendency to cover up false accounts - including non existent workmen - to get extra money from the State for restoration work on Florentine monuments.

But it must have turned out well, if we remember that Leonetto Mugelli was one of the contractors called on by the Florence Museum administration to work on the Medici Chapel

We would be glad to publish any reply by Mr Mugelli to this article, and promise to put it into decent English for free.

This is a slightly modified version of an article which first came out in Italian