Simonetta Kortum met her future husband in the 1970s, when she was an American college kid studying in Florence and he was a widower with a noble lineage. Simonetta’s surname may now be Brandolini d’Adda, but her story is about much more than her fairytale wedding to an Italian count.
Since 1998, the countess—along with her sister, Renée Gardner—has run a Washington nonprofit tasked with preserving Florentine art. With a donor list that includes Mel Gibson, Sting, and DC philanthropist Connie Milstein, Friends of Florence raises cash in the US to restore masterpieces in and around Tuscany’s capital city, such as Michelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Italians don’t receive tax deductions for donations, which is partly why Friends of Florence lures wealthy American donors. “The art is not only for the Florentines,” Brandolini d’Adda says. “The art of Italy is for the world.” Though most of its donor pool resides stateside, the nonprofit has managed to raise more than $10 million without generating much media attention here. Until now.
After stints at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, “Power and Pathos” arrives in DC with a stunning selection of bronzes from the ancient world. Among the portraits of gods, boys, and curly-haired men lies one expressive animal figure: a muscular horse head with flared nostrils and pulsing veins from about 350 BC (above). The sculpture belonged to Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 1400s and was admired by Renaissance artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Donatello. After the sculpture fell into disrepair, Friends of Florence funded its restoration. Now the horse head, along with the nonprofit and its blue-blood lineage, is finally ready for its DC debut. See “Power and Pathos” at the National Gallery through March 20.
This article appears in our December 2015 issue of Washingtonian.