In Via Giuseppe Giusti, a short distance to the north of Piazza Santissima Annunziata, stands a small house which sports a rather bizarre facade.. It was built by the Mannerist artist Federico Zuccari (1542-1609), who, in 1576, was called to Florence to complete the frescoes in the cupola of the Duomo, which had been begun by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74).
In the design of the facade Zuccari made reference to both his profession and his name. The three reliefs (above the door and windows) depict the tools of his trade, while the wrought-iron pan di zucchero (a sugar cone used in confectionery), which forms part of the window-gratings, is a play on his name.
When Bartolomeo Ammannati's statue of Neptune was first unveiled in the Piazza della Signoria, the good people of Florence were less than impressed by what they saw, if the following ditty is anything to go by, "Ammannato, Ammannato, che bel marmo hai rovinato!"(Ammannato, Ammannato, what beautiful marble you have ruined!).
The year was 1565 and the statue, which was soon nicknamed Il Biancone (the white giant), stood on a high pedestal in the centre of the Fontana del Nettuno, the first major public fountain to be erected in Florence.
To add insult to injury, the public promptly used the fountain as a washbasin for its dirty laundry! In 1720 a plaque was attached to the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio forbidding such use. The plaque is still there.
In her book The Stones of Florence, Mary McCarthy recounts the tale that Neptune, who was the god of the river Arno, had been turned into a statue because, like Michelangelo, he had spurned the love of women.
On January 6th 1537, following the assassination of Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-74) became the city's second duke. Cosimo il Primo was the first member of the cadet branch of the Medici family to rule Florence.
Renaissance dukes liked to have maxims and the young Cosimo (he was only seventeen years old when he came to power) was no different. He chose festina lente (hasten slowly), which had been one of the favourite maxims of ancient Rome's first emperor, Augustus. In Cosimo's case, the maxim was given visual form - a tortoise bearing on its shell a wind-filled sail.
The Palazzo Vecchio, where the young duke and his family once lived (when it was known as the Palazzo Ducale), is full of images of sailing tortoises. However, there are many other examples to be seen elsewhere in the city.
Between 1826 and 1830 the Florentine architect Gaetano Baccani (1792-1867) knocked down several old buildings to the south of the duomo and, in their place, built three carefully aligned palaces for the canons of the cathedral.
The central palace was provided with a terrace which is supported by four columns. The columns frame two niches in which were placed statues of the cathedral's two principal architects, Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1232/40-c.1302/10) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). The statues (1830) are the work of the Florentine sculptor Luigi Pampaloni (1791-1847).
Arnolfo di Cambio looks across at the cathedral, which was begun in 1296 under his direction, while Filippo Brunelleschi stares up at his famous cupolone (cupola), which he built between 1420 and 1436.
A house in Via Sant' Antonino (once Via dell'Amore) bears a striking tribute to the great scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). It was created by Vincenzo Viviani (1622-1703), Galileo's devoted disciple and biographer.
Viviani, mathematician and astronomer, had the architect Giovanni Battista Nelli transform part of the facade of his own house into a memorial to his master. In addition to the bronze bust over the door, the work of Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1725), there are two long stone tablets. The tablet on the left (with its opening appeal to the "passerby of upright and generous mind") is inscribed with details of Galileo's many achievements in the fields of astronomy, mechanics and natural philosophy, while the tablet on the right is inscribed with the major events of Galileo's life.
The facade of Palazzo Viviani, which is more commonly known as Palazzo dei Cartelloni (on account of the tablets/cartelloni), thus became the first publicly visible memorial to Galileo in the city of Florence.
There are fountains aplenty in the Boboli Garden, but surely one of the most curious is the so-called Fontana del Bacchino (Fountain of Bacchus).
The fountain, which takes the form of a naked man sitting astride a tortoise, is also known as the Fontanella di Nano Morgante, for the chubby chap is not the god of wine, but Morgante, the most celebrated and popular dwarf (nano) at the court of Cosimo I de' Medici (r. 1537-74).
The dwarf's real name was Braccio di Bartolo, but he was nicknamed, somewhat ironically, after the eponymous giant in Morgante (1483), an epic poem by Luigi Pulci (1432-84).
The fountain (1560) is the work of Valerio Cioli (1529-99).
Anyone leaving or arriving in Florence, via the Porta Romana, may well raise an eyebrow at the modern marble statue, which stands outside the medieval gate. The Porta Romana was built in 1326 and formed part of the most southerly stretch of the city's last set of walls. As its name suggests, the gate marked the start of the road to Rome.
The statue, which is called Dietrofront (About-face, 1981-84), is not quite as old as the gate. It is the work of Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933) and consists of two female figures, one balanced, somewhat incongruously, on the head of the other. The vertical figure faces the Via Senese, while the horizontal figure looks back to Florence.
When the statue was placed outside the Porta Romana in 1984 there was an immediate protest. Demonstrations were held, petitions were signed. All, alas, to no avail.
In 1857 Leopold II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, presented Queen Victoria with a life-size plaster cast of Michelangelo's statue of David.
Queen Victoria immediately gave the statue to the fledgling Victoria and Albert Museum. However, when she later visited the museum to see her gift, it is said that she was shocked by its nudity. A large, detachable, plaster fig leaf was promptly cast, which was hung on two strategically-placed hooks during royal visits to the museum "to spare the blushes of visiting female dignitaries."
The earliest photographs of Michelangelo's statue, which until 1873 stood outside the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, show David sporting a fig leaf. The fig leaf remained in place after the statue had been moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia. It was finally removed circa 1890.
When the so-called 'Third David' was carved in 1910 a debate raged as to whether it, too, should sport a fig leaf. It was argued that a garland of twenty-eight gilded copper leaves had originally protected the modesty of Michelangelo's own statue. However, it should be stated that this had not been the intention of the artist himself.
It was eventually decided that nothing would be added to the 'Third David' (the work of Luigi Arrighetti and his team) and the statue was duly placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio in the exact spot where the original work had once stood.
Copyright © David Lown 2001-2017. All rights reserved.