The Onions of the Caparra

Before Palazzo Strozzi was built, the adjacent piazza was called “Piazza delle Cipolle” (Piazza of the Onions).  This housed the fruit and vegetable marget where onions wer the main produce, together with watermelons, rock melons, and various other vegetables.

However, even during the construction works of the splendid palazzo that had been erected in true 15th century style at the orders of Messe Filippo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano and Giuliano da Sangallo, onions were still sold in the square.

One of the original lanterns by Niccolò Grosso

One day, to his great surprise, Messer Filippo noted the famous caster and ironmonger Niccolò Grosso, amidst the vegetable sellers.  Grosso was also known as “Il Caparra” (down payment) due to his habit of neer beginning a job without first having received a conspicuous down payment.

Messer Filippo Strozzi obviously thought that Il Caparra probably wasn’t having much luck with his trade if he was forced to sell onions on the stone benches around the palazzo like all the other peasants.

Whether this need was real on Il Caparra’s part or just a trick to try and procure work, nobody really knows.  The fact is that Filippo Strozzi took pity on him and commissioned several works in wrought Iron from the artist, including doors, torch holders, and four large lanterns to be positioned on the four corners of the palazzo (obviously not before having made a down payment!).

Despite everything Il Caparra was not insensitive to the circumstances surrounding this episode and in forging his four lanterns he drew inspiration from the piazza itself and made the four torch holders in the shape of onion with long stems.

The four lanterns that now enhance the courners of Palazzo Strozzi today are only copies.  However, one of the originals still remains and can be seen on the corner between Via Strozzi and Via dei Pescioni, right in front of Piazza delle Cipolle.

Ciarleglio, Franco. “The Onions of the Caparra.” Strolling through Florence (Discovering the City’s Hidden Secrets). Trans. Susan Mary Cadby Berardi. Florence: Edizioni Tipografia Bertelli, 2003. 17-18. Print.