Villa ball

DEFINITION

The home of American sculptor Thomas Ball (1819-1911) in Florence, Italy, it was on a hill outside the city wall on the south side of the Arno River. The land, purchased in 1868, was near the Porta Romana along the Viale Poggio Imperiale and had a sweeping view of the city of Florence. Adjacent was property purchased at the same time by sculptor Hiram Powers, (1805-1873) close friend of Ball. The Powers family was large and occupied several villas, but Thomas Ball, with only a wife and one child, built one villa that was large, two stories and had his studio of seven rooms and enough space for another sculptor. Behind this structure was a small, two-story house and a separate studio, where his staff could live and work. In a letter from Powers when Ball was in America during the building, Powers wrote that he had looked at the construction progress at Balls and marveled at the size. "I could hardly imagine what you, your wife, and little 'tow head' are to do with all this room---you will be like mice in the great cave of Kentucky." (120). During the building, Thomas Ball went to America and bought many seeds and plants for his property and for Powers. The finished villa had a large garden with the studio rooms and offices on the first floor and the second floor as living quarters. A large lower level had the kitchen and storage areas, and in the back was a small two-story garden house with greenhouse of tropical plants and exotic birds. This structure was often used for entertaining and housing guests. Many of the rooms had Pompeii-style designs, and the studio had sculpture ranging from portrait busts to large allegorical statues. Villa Ball became the destination for many American visitors including singer Jenny Lind; authors Louisa May Alcott, Henry W. Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson; composer Richard Wagner; capitalist John D. Rockefeller; and Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sculptors Daniel Chester French and William Couper, who married Thomas Ball's daughter, spent long periods of time in residence at Villa Ball. Frank Duveneck occupied studio space to complete a memorial sculpture for his wife's gravesite in Florence at Allori Cemetery. The Ball-Couper family left Villa Ball in 1897 and rented out the property, which remained in the family until 1919. New owner, Signora Fenci, converted the Villa into a Pensione named Villa Albertina. In 1956, a businessman bought it and leased the land to the city of Florence for a school, which preserved the original buildings. In 1986, it was restored to a private home. Source: Greta Elena Couper, "An American Sculptor on the Grand Tour"

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