Palazzo Datini: a treasure trove of memory, which guards within its walls not only the structure of a late-medieval dewelling envisaged by Francesco Datini to ornament his life and his city, but also the documents and letters produced by the merchant over the course of more than 40 years of commercial activity. At his bequest a charitable foundation was established: ‘the New Ceppo’, adding further documents to the archives present in the building. The two Ceppi foundations of Prato: ‘the Old Ceppo’ and ‘the New Ceppo’ were then united under the same roof and still exist to this day: “Casa Pia dei Ceppi-ONLUS“.
The palazzo, which was recently the subject of a publication: Palazzo Datini in Prato. “Una casa fatta per durare mille anni” (A house made to last one thousand years), edited by J. Hayez and D. Toccafondi (Florence, Polistampa 2012 – Palazzo Datini Volume 1 and Palazzo Datini Volume 2) was imagined by Francesco di Marco Datini from the earliest years of his stay at Avignon, where he began his career as a merchant.
On his return to Prato, Datini put his hand to constructing the eminent dwelling between 1386 and 1409. It is a surprising early example of an “already renaissance” palazzo, which became a private residence of great prestige. It features a large loggia and courtyard embellished with a series of murals dedicated to the “illustrious men” and “virtue” of which there are still some important examples. In the two large bedrooms that complete the ground floor, the original decorations with depictions of “animals in the wood” (beyond the kitchen) are almost untouched by time. Datini entrusted the commission to a group of skilled decorators and painters from Florence, among which included Piero Gerini, Tommaso del Mazza, Arrigo di Niccolò, Bartolomeo di Bertozzo and Agnolo (not be to confused with Agnolo Gaddi).
Upon his death, the Palazzo became the premises of the “New Ceppo” of the poor, a foundation intended by Francesco di Marco to relieve the poverty suffered by his fellow citizens.
The entryway to Casa Datini, which today is the entry to the Museum of Casa Datini, has endured reshuffling and changes in the distribution of the spaces in the course of the numerous centuries, but the structures remain uncompromised and the paintings endured decline only due to the passing of time. Between 1956 and 1957 a radical restoration was carried out under the direction of Nello Bemporad of the ‘Superintendence for Architectural Heritage’, and it was possible to restore the ancient beauty of the palazzo and its rooms.
The spaces occupied by the Foundation of the “Ceppi”, were then reorganised, and Palazzo Datini was destined to become the premises of the State Archives of Prato, established in 1957 and formally inaugurated the following year.
Further restorations and functional renovations have returned the building to the primitive splendour of its rooms and the loggia on the ground floor (which in the meantime has become the Museum of Casa Datini, managed by the Foundation “Casa Pia dei Ceppi ONLUS” ) and the floor above assigned to the State Archives of Prato (established as an autonomous institution since 1997). To the cellar—, where the ancient wine cellar and storeroom were situated at the times of the Datini, which then became the warehouse of the “Ceppi” foundation, and is now fitted with modern shelves to accommodate the historic archives of the city.
Today Palazzo Datini is also the premises of another two important cultural institutions, that contribute to its position as the cultural center of Prato: from 1982 the Istituto di Studi Storici Postali (Institute of Historical Postal Studies) the only Italian center of postal studies, and from 2012 the Foundation “Istituto Internazionale di Storia economica“, (International Institute for Economic History ) which from 1969 has organised important seminars on the subject of economic history in Prato.
In 2005, the “Case della Memoria” association was founded, adopting as its logo a representation of the spiral staircase where the Datini Archive remained hidden for centuries.