Stories, memory and silence of the former Benedictine monastery located in the heart of Florence.
by Daniela Tartaglia
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Project Description

Photographs from a Monastery

With a text by Tomaso Montanari
Contributions by Alberto Breschi, Amos Cecchi, Marion d’Amburgo, Liana Di Giorgi Sossi, Sergio Givone, Silvana Li, Andrea Macaluso, Donatella Masini/Maurizio Bertelli, Gianfranco Romandetti, Goffredo Serrini, Stefania Zampiga.

S.Orsola Firenze / Daniela Tartaglia - Crowdbooks Publishing

For several years I have been taking photographs of Sant’Orsola, a 14th c. Benedictine monastery located in the historic quarter of San Lorenzo in Florence, two steps away from the Medici Chapels and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The convent was transformed at the beginning of the 19th century into a tobacco factory for the production of Toscano cigars.S.Orsola Firenze / Daniela Tartaglia - Crowdbooks Publishing

I photograph moved by an intimate urgency, almost irrational, which perhaps derives from the fascination that a place is able to trigger in me, a space that once was a place of meditation and that today, although disfigured and wounded, keeps this aura alive.

The first time I entered the former female convent – several years ago – I felt that this concealed place was holding a secret and that, as a photographer, I could use the suggestions that James Hillmann, in his essay “The spirit of places”, addresses to architects, urging them to get in touch with the genius loci: take care of the place and bring the concealed to the surface, acknowledge the wound and make it sprout, bring it back to life.

A holy place, walled and concealed, Sant’Orsola represents an anomaly compared to the “cooperative of masterpieces’ (Giorgio Manganelli) in Florence, a dissonance compared to today’s logic of affectation and the ostentations of the urban system. This is what makes Sant’Orsola so interesting and precious.

S.Orsola Firenze / Daniela Tartaglia - Crowdbooks Publishing     S.Orsola Firenze / Daniela Tartaglia - Crowdbooks Publishing

Its state of degradation, deriving from the neglect in which the property was left for decades, contains, unpredictably, great potential for contemplation and for the exercise of liberty. Its forced exclusion from the flow of modernity made of Sant’Orsola a place where pace could be slowed down, where experience, time and nature were establishing a dialogue with the living, to understand that nature can still be free to grow in a spontaneous and wild manner.

Sant’Orsola. 2The abandoned monastery has been for me an extraordinary opportunity, a theatre of silence, of exercising my sight, of measurement, of consciousness; but it has also been a tool to travel through history, to bring life back to the place though memories and testimonies, discovering – as the character of a novel set in the convent – “The sense of the things that happen there, disconnected, obscure bonds and analogies that hold  them together.”(Sergio Givone).

Convento di Sant'Orsola in via Guelfa_Pasqua 1947
Sant’Orsola, Firenze, Centro di accoglienza degli esuli istriani, fiumani e dalmati, Pasqua 1947 (archivio Liana Di Giorgi Sossi)

The history of the building – where it is said that Lisa Gherardini, the famous Monna Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci, is buried– is intertwined with the testimony of the people who lived there in the 1950-1970s, when Sant’Orsola was transformed into housing for Istrian and Dalmatian refugees, and later into a centre for evicted families. However, it also leaves room for the plans that a local committee is proposing for the future destination of the complex, and for the reflections of poets, writers and architects pondering the future of the city and its people.  And it has nourished and accompanied me in the making of this work.

Convento di Sant'Orsola in via Guelfa_marzo 1948
Sant’Orsola, Firenze, Centro esuli istriani, 1947 (archivio Liana Di Giorgi Sossi)
Sant'Orsola - 1971
Sant’Orsola, Firenze, Centro sfrattati, 1971 (Fotografia di Massimo Agus)
S'Orsola Aperta - 2014
S’Orsola Aperta, La città dentro San Lorenzo, 2014 a cura di Santorsolaproject (fotografia di Pietro Viti)
Sant’Orsola rivoltata
St’O aperta, Sant’Orsola rivoltata, 2014, a cura di Fondazione Studio Marangoni, Firenze (fotografia di Goffredo Serrini)
Sant’Orsola. 3
2017, Sant’Orsola. Giusi Merli nei panni di Maria Salviati de’ Medici nello spettacolo “Consorte dilettissimo” a cura di Andrea Macaluso. (fotografia di Enrico Gallina)
Ecco Sant’Orsola
Franco Spina, Scraps, Ecco Sant’Orsola, 2015 a cura di V. Bruni, P. Bitelli, E. Malagigi / Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (fotografia di Franco Spina )

Book Specifications

Cover:Hard Cover

Author Informations

NameDaniela Tartaglia
Country Italia


Forte dei Marmi (Italy),1954

Following her graduation in Political Sciences (University of Florence, 1978)  Daniela Tartaglia  took up photography  developing  her own artistic experimentation as well as organizing cultural events. She collaborated with some of  Italy’s leading publishers (Alinari, Sansoni, RCS Libri, B. Mondadori), whilst teaching History of Photography  at the R. Bauer Professional Formation Centre,  the European Institute of Design in Milan, and the Marangoni  Foundation School of Photography in Florence. 

In collaboration  with  “Fratelli Alinari  Museum of Photographic History”, Florence, she edited  the “Alinari 2000 – Save our memory” project.

In the years 2006/2015 she has taught Photography at the Academies of Fine Arts in Florence, Bologna, Palermo. 

Daniela Tartaglia has carried out photographic assignments for Unicoop Firenze, the Pergola Theatre, the Municipality of Florence. She has  been widely exhibited in Italy and abroad.

Selected publications and writings on photography :

 “Appartenenze”(Art&, Udine,1998), foreword by Jean – Claude Lemagny and Lella Ravasi Bellocchio.

Assoluto Naturale. Le forme del marmo.” (Arti Grafiche Friulane, Udine, 2005), a ten year research on the aesthetic of the marble stone. 

Diventa fiume (Polistampa, Firenze , 2018  ) a photographic research on the river Arno natural and cultural landscape, Tuscany

La fotografia in archivio” (Sansoni, Milano, 2000), in collaboration with historian and photographer Italo Zannier. The book addresses the issues of the management, preservation, storage, and classification of photographic prints.

Il corpo in posa” (Bononia University Press, 2011), a research on the photographic  portrait in family albums and in literature.

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