The Road To Lviv & To Ruin – Roberta Bandinelli & The Iron Laws Of Character (Lviv: The History of One City Part 27)

The novelist Sandor Marai once wrote, “It is not true that fate slips silently into our lives. It steps in through the door that we have opened, and we invite it to enter. No one is strong enough or cunning enough to avert by word or deed the misfortune that is rooted in the iron laws of his character and his life.” And so it was with Roberto Bandenelli, the first postmaster of Lviv. When he purchased the building at 2 Rynok Square in 1634 he was unwittingly beginning to move toward his ultimate fate, opening a door into a world that both physically and metaphorically led to his ruin. Ironically, several carved dolphins adorn the lower part of the façade at what has become known as the Bandenelli Palace. In the 17th century these were seen as a symbol of good luck, but Bandenelli’s luck ran out here. Yet it was more than just bad luck, it was also his poor moral character that brought him down. His fall from wealth and prominence was rooted in the “iron laws of his character.”

Lower facade of the Bandinelli Palace

Decorative carved dolphins are noticeable in this photo of the lower facade of the Bandinelli Palace (Credit: Kugel)

The Escape Artist At Home & Abroad  
Roberto Bandinelli was born into a famous Florentine family. Both his father and grandfather were noted artists, but Roberto did not follow in their footsteps. Instead he became a trader, a career choice that time and again revealed flaws in his character. In 1618, he made a dramatic career move from Florence to Krakow. Plenty of Italian traders came to Krakow for the economic opportunities offered in this eastern entrepôt. Bandenelli had other reasons as well. Rumors abounded that he was trying to escape lawsuits in Italy due to his nefarious business practices. It was also said that he feared for his life, as personal enemies were seeking revenge for his part in a duel. Bandenelli soon proved the truth of many of these rumors. He made a name for himself in Krakow and it was not a good one. Though he managed to make huge profits in the textile trade, his wealth was the product of illegal, underhanded deals. He was soon confronted with multiple lawsuits. Once again Bandenelli was forced to move, this time to Lviv, where he set himself up for ultimate failure.

He soon married. His new wife’s family connections helped him to acquire a royal license to run postal services from the city. Bandenelli also used his wife’s marriage dowry to turn what had been a Gothic style townhouse at Rynok 2 into a late Renaissance palace par excellence. He seemed to have finally found his place, but his personal and professional life was under the spell of his own flawed moral character. This first marriage was nothing more than a means to a business end. It was not long before he divorced and married another woman. As for Bandenelli’s foray into the postal business, it did not go well at first. His enterprise threatened the city’s existing messenger services. This in turn led to several legal actions against him. It was not a coincidence that wherever Bandenelli set up business he ran into problems. There was one constant in all of these business disputes and that was Bandenelli. He was neither trustworthy nor honest. No matter where he lived, Florence, Krakow or Lviv trouble soon followed. For much of his life Bandenelli was something of an escape artist. He was able to sidestep financial scandals and legal woes up until the point that he finally trapped himself. He could never really escape his own duplicitous dishonesty.

The Bandinelli Palace in Lviv

The Bandinelli Palace in Lviv at 2 Rynok Square (Credit: Константинъ)

Going Postal – Bandinelli In Lviv
During the 1630’s Bandenelli worked to gain a monopoly over postal services in Lviv and the wider region of Ruthenia. He was able to convince the Polish king to issue patents in his favor. These were badly needed, as Bandenelli struggled to make money in the postal business. The search for revenue led him to charge exorbitant rates. For example, to send a six ounce letter from Lviv to northern Poland cost the equivalent of a day’s wages for a skilled laborer. Bandenelli may have held the title of Royal Postmaster, but this meant nothing without a reasonable profit. The city’s merchants and burghers were not going to pay such expensive fees for mail service. Business declined and Bandenelli was overextended. Skirting the law would do him no good this time. His influence in Lviv business circles waned. No one wanted to invest in a losing proposition, especially with a man whose business dealings and character were highly questionable. Instead of cutting his losses, Bandenelli kept sinking ever greater sums of money into what had become a financial abyss.

The death blow to Bandenelli’s postal service was dealt by the Lviv city council when they voted to close down the post office. Its services were way too expensive for the locals. If a city as wealthy and prosperous as Lviv could not support the business, then Bandenelli, self-absorbed and greedy, must have raised prices to extortionate levels. There is little doubt that running couriers with fragile paper messages by horseback over hundreds of kilometers of Ruthenia and greater Poland was a costly undertaking. Bandenelli had made other ventures work in the past, so why not this one? A combination of bad business decisions, ego, greed and a city leadership that would no longer put up with him sent Bandenelli into bankruptcy. This was a financial situation from which he never recovered. Bandenelli bluffed and cheated his way out of many situations, but in Lviv he finally got himself into an impossible situation.

The Bandanelli Palace at night

Character illuminated – The Bandanelli Palace at night (Credit: Yarema Dukh)

A Prisoner To Himself
The seeds of Bandenelli’s decline and fall were based in “the iron laws of his character.” At every twist and turn of his life he obeyed them. This brought him great wealth at everyone else’s expense. It also led him to Lviv, where he brought about his own ruin. All of Bandinelli’s successes ultimately led to his final demise. Bandenelli could escape Florence, he could escape Krakow and he even ended up escaping Lviv. He fled abroad once again, this time to Vienna in search of another postal contract. His efforts were futile. Vienna is where he would die, away from everyone he had done wrong. The only person he was left with was the one he could never escape, himself.

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