The Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi was a little hard to find. If I was expecting a large, lavish, can’t-be-missed palatial facade — and I was — I was in for a disappointment. What you see from the dark, narrow alley that they call a road is a plain stone wall with a small carriage entrance. Duck into that carriage entrance and a courtyard opens up beyond. We didn’t get to the courtyard. We went into the carriage house, where they sold the tickets, then back to the carriage entrance to wait for the beginning of the tour.
What’s now the Palazzo Mansi was originally a simple, Renaissance town house built in the 16th century. In 1616, it was acquired by a wealthy merchant family, the Mansi, and over the years, the family turned it into a lavish Baroque palace. The Mansi family sold it to the provence of Lucca in the 1960s, and Lucca turned it into an art museum.
We bought our tickets and waited, with three French women, for the tour to start. As it turned out, it wasn’t exactly a tour. The docent opened the door to the museum and followed us through the rooms, but didn’t say a word. Perhaps she was more security than docent. Or she realized that neither the Frenchwomen nor Patricia and I spoke Italian.
There was a dress in each of the rooms. I haven’t been able to find any information about them on line, but they seemed to make up a late 20th century fashion exhibit. I’m familiar enough with romance languages to figure out, based on the information on the Italian display text for white dress below, that it was made in America circa 1950 and is from the collection of Renata Frediani, a local antiques dealer. It was worn to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England in London on June 2, 1953.
Patricia likes to read every exhibit label. Carefully. I move pretty quickly through museums, so we generally come to some mutual understanding about the length of time we spend together in a museum. In Palazzo Manzi, she couldn’t read any of the Italian descriptions, so it was a pretty fast trot for both of us. But as fast as we were, the French women were even faster. They ran through the galleries like it was a race, and the poor docent couldn’t decide who to stick with — us or them. In the end, she floated somewhere between us.
We got back to the Porta San Pietro about 30 minutes before we had to meet at the bus, so we decided to take a walk on the wall. “Be careful on the wall,” Silvana had said to us before we left her. “A tourist fell off a couple of years ago, and died.”
I don’t see how he could have fallen off unless he was actively trying. The top of the wall is as wide — probably wider — than most Italian roads. It was lined with trees and benches and had a path that could take a walker all the way around center city. We walked as far as the closest bastion, where we sat on a bench and contemplated a large statue there. It was a statue in honor of opera composer Alfredo Catalani. I know I said that I wasn’t an opera fan, but I’m familiar with his most famous work, La Wally, because I once dated a guy who was into opera. Which may be the reason that I’m not.