Santa Maddalena lies outside the village of Donnini, half an hour from Florence and within easy reach of Arezzo and Siena. The house is perched above one of the great wooded ravines that slice through this part of Tuscany and form a natural, protective barricade to development. In summertime, you can make your way across the stone terrace of the house, past Gregor von Rezzori’s writing studio, along flower-covered walls and through quiet groves of oak and chestnut trees above the swimming pool, to a signal tower that was built in the times of Dante and Petrarc, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.
As for myself, I have tried to write in such places as an African mud hut (with a wet towel tied on my head), an Athonite monastery, a writers’ colony, a moorland cottage, even a tent. But whenever the dust storms come, the rainy season sets in, or a pneumatic drill destroys all hope of concentration, I curse myself and ask: what am I doing here? Why am I not at the Tower?”
– Bruce Chatwin
The tower, where Bruce Chatwin loved to write. Two fellows stay in the tower during each residency period.
When the Rezzoris discovered Santa Maddalena in 1967 it was more or less a ruin. Beatrice Monti della Corte, the founder and, for many years, the director of the renowned Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan, which introduced American pop artists such as Jim Dine, Sam Francis and Rauschenberg to Europe, set about restoring the house and the tower (the writer and traveler Bruce Chatwin described her as “having a flair for putting fantasies into action”). The Rezzoris became known for their hospitality; visiting writers – who included Bruce Chatwin, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Hughes and Bernardo Bertolucci – found Santa Maddalena an irresistible place to work, and tended to return to it again and again.
Since this time, writers such as Zadie Smith, Michael Cunningham, Edmund White, John Banville and many others, have likewise found Santa Maddalena a place that draws them back time and again, and inspires significant periods of work.
Edmund White in the tower bathroom.
Gregor von Rezzori was born in the Bukovina in 1914. He studied at the University of Vienna, and for a time lived in Bucharest. In Germany, after World War II, he began his career as a writer and worked in radio broadcasting and filmmaking. He also lived in Paris and in Rome. In 1967, when he married Beatrice Monti della Corte, Tuscany became his home until he died there in 1998.
He wrote over twenty novels and autobiographical works which reveal the sweep of European history through two world wars and beyond. Elegant, irreverent, ironic, involved, beloved by those who knew him, Rezzori was internationally celebrated for the prismatic brilliance of his writing. Today his legacy and exuberance for literature survive in the Santa Maddalena Foundation.
Beatrice Monti della Corte was born to an Italian father from Lombardy and an Armenian mother from Constantinople. She grew up in Capri where, since adolescence, she befriended the writers and artists who were the habitués of the island: amongst them Curzio Mapalarte, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Norman Douglas and Graham Greene.
At a very young age, in 1955, she opened the Galleria Dell’Ariete in Milan, which played a vital role in actively promoting American contemporary art. During the 50’s she exhibited artists such as Francis Bacon, Antoni Tàpies, Lucio Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg, Sam Francis, Castellani and Manzoni. Very soon, the gallery became a meeting point for cultural figures from all over the world.
In 1967 she married Gregor von Rezzori. The same year they found a forlorn cluster of buildings in Tuscany which they lovingly restored. It became Santa Maddalena, and was soon legendary for its hospitality. Rezzori worked there until his death in 1998. In 2000 it became what it is now, The Santa Maddalena Foundation, a place where established writers as well as young talents come to work. Above all else, Santa Maddalena becomes their home while they are there. So far, it has hosted 170 writers.
Festival Degli Scrittori | Premio Gregor Von Rezzori
The Foundation organizes the Festival Degli Scrittori, a three day celebration of international literature that takes place in Florence each June. The centerpiece of the festival is the Premio Gregor von Rezzori-Città di Firenze, a prize that is awarded to the best work of fiction translated into Italian the previous year. Past winners include Enrique Vila-Matas, Jhumpa Lahiri and Hisham Matar.
Michael Cunningham at the Luca Giordano Room for the Lectio Magistralis, an address given by a major writer at the festival each year.