High-end luxury stores like Gucci and Ferragamo line Florence's ritzy Via Tornabuoni, but one addition boasts more than the latest spring fashions. Renovations for the new MaxMara boutique, housed in the 15th century Palazzo Corsi, uncovered a series of elaborate frescoes dating to the 1590s. They are believed to be the creation of well-known 16th century artist Agostino Ciampelli, who worked for the powerful Medici family. MaxMara has also maintained decorations from the 19th century as well as the original bookshelves from the famous bookstore that had occupied the building for more than 100 years.
Hidden for decades by layers of paint, the frescoes have been relatively well preserved and are being restored by an expert team. Andrea Fedeli, head of the restoration project, is relaxed about the unusual situation. "I've found frescoes unexpectedly before," he says. "When we look under layers of paint, there's always something there."
Most Italians would hardly be fazed by a fresco, but unearthing antiquity in a major shopping center is quite another story. Although locals initially lamented the loss of their beloved independent bookstore, the discovery of the frescoes has given this MaxMara location a helpful dose of historical credibility. With a characteristically European casual attitude toward art history, cashiers and customers mingle freely with those working on the restoration project. --Melia Marden