An Art Benefactor: Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda

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Simonetta Brandolini D’Adda

A winning combination of American know-how and Italian charm is the secret of Countess Simonetta Brandolini D’Adda’s success as founder and head of Friends of Florence.

Born in Georgia to an American father and a Roman mother, the bilingual Simonetta spent most of her childhood and young adulthood moving back and forth between the U.S. and Italy. Five years spent in France as a young child add to her international background. She was a teenager in Verona during the time her dad, an officer in the U.S. military, was stationed there with NATO.

Later, Simonetta attended Tufts University in Massachusetts, graduating with a double degree in Art History and Architecture. Her first experience living in Florence was during her junior year abroad with the Smith Program, during which she took a Caravaggio class at Florence University with Mina Gregori. While in Italy she met her husband, whose family are half Venetian and half Sienese. Together they founded “The Best in Italy” in 1982, the very first agency to rent luxury homes, an innovative idea at the time.

Because of her Venetian connections, Simonetta became involved with “Save Venice,” the organization responsible for raising funds to restore and protect many of Venice’s chief monuments and art treasures. At the beginning of the ‘90s, Simonetta became aware that no such organization existed in Florence, where it was sorely needed.

Being a practical American, Simonetta decided to do something about this situation, and she used her fundraising experience and her network of contacts to make her dream a reality. Her sister in Washington D.C. helped with the paperwork of getting 501/C3 charitable status, and in 1998 “Friends of Florence” was born.

Their first project was the two-year restoration of all of the sculptures in the Loggia de’ Lanzi, including the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. Their next project was the restoration of the 22 large panel paintings by Tuscan artists of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, which hang in the Accademia near the statue of Michelangelo’s David. Friends of Florence were also able to fund the David’s sprucing up, just in time for his 500th birthday in 2004.

Since its founding, Friends of Florence has completed hundreds of restoration projects and organized numerous educational programs. When asked whether she has a favorite restoration, Simonetta says diplomatically, “I fall in love with all of my projects.” Among her rich and famous “The Best in Italy” clients, Simonetta mentions Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler and Sting, who have become generous donors to Friends of Florence projects.

Looking toward the future for Friends of Florence, this attractive and dynamic woman is optimistic. She mentions both a growing awareness by Italians that their monuments need help from the private sector to survive, combined with the new “art bonus” the government has created to allow for tax deductible gifts.

What does Simonetta love about Tuscany? She replies, “Everything… I love the history, art, architecture, landscapes, culture, foods, wines and my life here. I founded Friends of Florence to give back to this glorious city and region of Tuscany.” (elizabeth wicks)