Palazzo Pitti Celebrates “The Elegance of Speed”

A new exhibition exploring the 20th century fascination with speed and the automobile in Tuscany and Florence comes to Palazzo Pitti’s Andito degli Angiolini this week. The show, titled The Elegance of Speed, is predominantly comprised of 90 shots, dated 1934 – 1965, selected from the Foto Locchi archive.

A graceful touch of Italian fashion permeates every photograph, from the beautiful grayscale composition to the tasteful curvature of the vehicles themselves. The evolution of the automobile’s design is evident in the photographs as well, as the later models become increasingly slender and more calculated in their beauty, as if in direct dialogue with contemporary art and sculpture.

Directed by Alessandra Griffo, and curated by Alessandro Bruni, Erika Ghilardi, and Matteo Parigi Bini, the exhibit is divided into three interconnected sections, each with a different tie to the themes of Italian speed, elegance, and the automobile.

The first part focuses on the network of automobile races born in Tuscany like the Circuito del Mugello, Coppa della Consuma, Circuito delle Cascine, and the Circuito di Firenze. In the first room of the exhibition, there is a striking juxtaposition in the photos of the most cutting edge machinery of the time against the black and white serenity of the Tuscan landscape.

The second section of The Elegance of Speed focuses on the drivers themselves and their love for the raw velocity and power of the automobile, featuring a collection of racing suits and helmets, in addition to a miniature, cherry-red car Enzo Ferrari commissioned for his son.

The final section is dedicated to fashion and the automobile. Florence is the perfect stage for this confluence of art and engineering, not only being the birthplace of the combustion engine, but a showground for the handsome automobile exteriors as well. In June of 1948, I Concorso d’Eleganza per Automobili was held in the Boboli Gardens of Palazzo Pitti.

In the shots of this event on display, the sleek cars become art in their own right, glistening next to the timeless sculptures and dramatic, cyprus-lined slopes of the gardens. Well-dressed Italians try out the steering of these luxurious status symbols, a perfect example of the vehicle’s potential for both speed and artistic elegance.  (tyler bunton)