Queer Places:
Palazzo Rucellai, Via della Vigna Nuova, 18, 50123 Firenze FI

Alvise Nicolis di Robilant (February 9, 1925 - January 15, 1997) was the son of Andrea Nicolis, Conte di Robilanti e Cereaglio (1899-1977) and Gabriela, Contessa di Bosdari (1900-1999). In 1956 he married Elizabeth Stokes (born 1931), daughter of William Miles Stokes, of Virginia. They had 3 children: Andrea Nicolis di Robilant (born 1957), who married Alessandra Mattirolo; Filippo Nicolis di Robilant (born 1959), who married in 1992 Moira Anastagi; Tristano Nicolis di Robilant (born 1964), who married in 2001, Alessandra Bonomo.

The murder of Count Alvise di Robilant is an unsolved case that matured in the milieu of the Florentine aristocracy. It was Wednesday, January 15, 1997. Florence was going through a particularly harsh winter. The cold streets at 8pm were already deserted. Via della Vigna Nuova is a street a few steps from the Arno and the Ponte alla Carraia. A street full of boutiques and designer shops, but even here, in this elegant street, on the evening of January 15, 1997, passers-by could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In via della Vigna Nuova, at number 18, there is a noble palace, Palazzo Rucellai. The house was built between 1446 and 1451 by the wealthy merchant Giovanni Rucellai; it was built by the sculptor Bernardo Rossellino. Count Alvise Nicolis di Robilant lived in an apartment on the third floor of the building. The man was 72 years old, he loved art, music, antiques and culture. A noble from another time. Alvise di Robilant was born in 1925, participated in the Second World War and later married an American model, Elisabeth, with whom he had three children. When the two divorced, the count began to associate with many women without getting married anymore, and to devote himself more and more to art and culture, his greatest passions. Until the 1980s he was also the Italian director of Sotheby's, a British auction house. On the evening of January 15, 1997, he was at home playing the piano and the notes of the instrument spread in the cold outside his window. Around 4.30 pm the next day Rosa Ingrisei went up to the third floor for the usual cleaning. She rang the bell, but noticed that the door was already open. She entered, she called the count but no one answers. She walked through the lighted corridor until she entered the living room. There, at the foot of the sofa, covered by a light blue quilt, was the body of Alvise di Robilant. Rosa couldn't help but notice a patch of congealed blood starting from the nobleman's head, hidden under the blanket, and spreading across the carpet. Then other purple stains, on the paintings, on the walls, which are more splashes than stains. The count was murdered in an animalistic way, with sticks, by someone who was standing in front of him. The carabinieri who intervened on the spot said ten blows were struck. Someone hit him with a long metal object until it shattered his skull and then ran away. Whoever did it left many signs of his fatal passage: in the house there was a check for one million and four hundred thousand lire, a rag thrown into the toilet, credit cards; then again a laptop with a broken screen and a 17th century painting, depicting Saint Jerome, placed in the victim's bedroom, scarred in the central part. But it was another detail that perplexed the investigators: on the curtains of a window there were the bloody footprints of four fingers. An open window on the third floor from which it was impossible to escape. At first glance it looked like a theft, but an in-depth analysis revealed that nothing was missing from the poor count's house. But perhaps something was missing, something that could have compromised the killer's impunity: a document, a paper of which no one was aware. The idea that arised from the carabinieri who were dealing with the case was that the victim and his executioner knew each other. There were no signs of burglary either on the door or on the windows, and therefore the count must have opened of his own free will to the person who would then have slaughtered him with a bar. That evening the nobleman was expected to have a dinner with other members of the good society of Florence, but witnesses of Palazzo Rucellai affirmed that they clearly heard Di Robilant at home, intent on playing the piano. In fact, a tenant claimed she was also struck by the unusual way the count played that night, in a bad style by his standards, like a novice amateur.

The interest of the investigators concentrated on the instrument, and a circumstance that aroused bewilderment emerged: on the keyboard there were no fingerprints, neither those of the count, nor those of anyone else, as if it had not been touched by anyone. Yet the witnesses were certain: that evening the Count of Robilant (or someone else) played, badly, very badly, but he did. The mystery deepened. The track of the undergrowth of antiques was beaten, the black trade in paintings that couldn't be sold, and the sentimental one. The count was in fact both a mediator of exchanges between connoisseurs and sellers of works of art, and a man with many relationships with various women. At the same time, however, another path was followed: that of homosexual encounters. The count had always had relations with women, as confirmed by friends and acquaintances, but to give credence to a homosexual hypothesis was the fact that the man was found completely naked under the dressing gown that covered him at the time of the murder. The noble was in his own house, true, but perhaps he was too little dressed to be a mid-January evening. Maybe he was expecting someone; someone who, given the force with which the victim was hit, could be a man. A throat swab was therefore carried out on the corpse of Count Alvise, from which signs of seminal fluid emerged. Perhaps it was the turning point: it was a crime of passion. But the subsequent DNA test says that the liquid belongs to the earl himself. The case got into a dead end from which it would never come out. A mysterious crime: the Count of Robilant received a person, perhaps two, certainly of his acquaintance. This subject, after a quarrel with the count, hit him violently, to the point of killing him; then coldly cleaned all the keys of the piano, broke the computer, scarred the painting, rummaged around the house in search of who knows what or just to make believe a robbery, looked out from the window leaving the marks of the bloody fingers on the curtain and then vanished into thin air. In the times immediately following its completion, Robilant's crime was related to two others that took place in Rome and one in Perugia, all in similar ways to those of the count. All three victims of the subsequent crimes were men of culture, and all were stunned and then killed with a long blunt object. Above all with the unsolved case of Perugia, in which a 50-year-old restorer of the Superintendence, Piero Nottani, who perished violently, the case of Robiliant finds many and disturbing analogies: both dealt with works of art, both were hit in the head by someone of their knowledge and both the count's and the restorer's corpse were concealed as if in a gesture of pity by the murderer towards his victim. After 21 years, the crime of Count Alvise di Robilant is still unsolved.


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