Since Via Tornabuoni was 'pedestrianised', the base of the Colonna della Giustizia (Column of Justice) has become a popular place for people to sit and watch the world go by.
The column, which stands in Piazza Santa Trinita, was presented to Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (b. 1519/ r. 1537-74) by Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-65).
The 11-metre high monolithic granite column, which came from the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla, arrived in Florence in 1563 and was placed on its pedestal in 1565.
The column marks the victory of Florence against Siena at the Battle of Marciano (August 2nd 1554). It was erected on the spot where the duke first heard news of the triumph.
In 1580 the statue of Justice was added to the top of the column. The statue, which is made from three blocks of porphyry, one of the hardest stones to work, took Francesco del Tadda (and his son Romolo) almost 11 years to complete.
On May 15th, 1865, to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the birth of Florence's most famous son, a statue of Durante degli Alighieri (1265-1321) was unveiled to the public.
The sculptor was Enrico Pazzi (1818-99), who hailed from Ravenna (where Dante is buried), and for little over a century the statue of Italy's greatest poet graced the centre of Piazza Santa Croce.
However, in 1968 the powers-that-be decided that the piazza should once again host the annual calcio storico (historical football) and so the statue was relegated to its present position.
Crowned with a coronet of laurel leaves, Dante holds the Divina Commedia in his right hand. An eagle (symbol of divine justice), its wings half unfurled, perches at his feet.
At the base of the pedestal stand four shield-bearing Marzocchi (the Marzocco is the heraldic lion of Florence). On each of the shields is written the title of one of the poet's works.
In Piazza Santissima Annunziata stands a grand bronze equestrian statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (b. 1549/ r. 1587-1609). It is the work of Giambologna (1529-1608) and his star pupil, Pietro Tacca (1577-1640).
The grand duke sits astride his horse, baton in one hand reins in the other. His horse stares straight ahead, but Ferdinand turns to the right and looks across at the 16th century Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai. Why?
In his poem 'The Statue and the Bust' Robert Browning (1812-89) relates the legend of how Ferdinand, while riding through the piazza, caught the eye of a young woman as she was staring out of a window of the palazzo.
The two fell in love at first sight, but there was a snag; both were married. And so nothing happened. However, many years later the unrequited lovers decided to mark that special moment by the creation of two statues, he on horseback in the piazza, while she had a bust of herself placed in the room in which she had been standing when she espied the grand duke.
The first stanza of the poem reads:
There's a palace in Florence, the world knows well,
And a statue watches it from the square,
And this story of both do our townsmen tell.
Robert Browning lived in Florence with his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning from 1846 until her death in 1861.
The two rather bizarre bronze fountains, which grace Piazza Santissima Annunziata, should, by rights, be in Livorno. The fountains (c. 1629) were commissioned from Pietro Tacca (1577-1640) and were intended as a gift for the city of Livorno, the major port in Tuscany. However, the fountains proved to be so popular in Florence that they never left the city.
Each fountain takes the form of two sea monsters, which sit back-to-back atop a basin adorned with all manner of sea life. Over time the fountains acquired the nickname the Fontane del Cacciucco after a type of fish soup, which is a speciality in Livorno.
During the second world war the fountains finally made their way to Livorno, but only in the form of copies, which were financed by the city itself!
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.
The exquisitely beautiful bas-relief (1414-21), which gives the Porta della Mandorla its name, is the work of the Florentine sculptor Giovanni di Antonio di Banco (c.1380/90-1421), better known as Nanni di Banco.
The door is located on the north side of the Duomo and the almond-shaped motif, in the centre of the relief, depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Her ascension to Heaven). Mandorla is the Italian word for almond.
The Madonna hands down her girdle to Saint Thomas (the apostle who doubted Christ's resurrection), as proof of her Assumption into Heaven. The actual girdle, which was first made of silk and then of copper, has long since disappeared.
According to extra-biblical tradition, Thomas arrived too late to see the Assumption. The Virgin, therefore, offered her girdle to the incredulous apostle as tangible proof of her departure.
This scene is common in Tuscan art, because what is believed to be the actual relic of the Holy Girdle, known as the Sacra Cintola, is kept in Prato Cathedral.
In addition to Saint Thomas, there is, in the lower-right corner, a curious image of a bear shaking an oak tree. This strange image has always perplexed scholars. One explanation is that in the medieval belief system bear cubs were thought to be born shapeless, their form was given to them by the licking of their mother. This act became a symbol of Christianity, which, it was held, reforms and regenerates non-Christians.
However, this theory doesn't explain the presence of the oak tree!
After a long and costly restoration the so-called Cosimo Panel (Pannello di Cosimo) is back on display in the Palazzo Pitti.
The panel is a lime-wood relief by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), who is widely regarded to be the finest wood carver ever to have wielded a chisel in England.
The panel, which measures some five feet by three and a half feet (1.5 metres by 1 metre), was commissioned by King Charles II and sent as a gift to Cosimo III de' Medici. It left London on August 3rd 1682 and was presented to the grand duke on December 16th of the same year.
The intricately-carved relief is a tribute to the friendship between the courts of England and Tuscany (note the two crowns), which is sealed by the two billing doves at the top of the panel.
In the central part of the panel war is worsted by peace and prosperity: a time in which music, painting and architecture flourish.
In the place of honour, dangling from the trumpet of fame, is a medallion-portrait of Pietro Berrettini (1596-1669), architect-painter-decorator-designer. Better known as Pietro da Cortona, he was responsible for many of the ceiling frescoes in the grand-ducal apartments in Palazzo Pitti.
Gibbons signed the panel, throwing in, for good measure, his goose-quill!
The Cosimo panel is on display in the Sala di Grotticina, a small room in the Museo degli Argenti.
The equestrian statue of Italy's first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II, originally stood in the centre of the city, in Piazza della Repubblica. However, in 1932 it was relegated to a spot near the Parco delle Cascine, where it still stands, forlorn and forgotten.
The statue, which is the work of the Florentine sculptor Emilio Zocchi (1835-1913). was unveiled on September 20th 1890 in what was then Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (today's Piazza della Repubblica).
Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878) was King of Sardinia from 1849 until March 17th 1861, when he assumed the title King of Italy.
Benvenuto Cellini's sculpture of Perseus and Medusa, which stands under the left arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi, is one of the most beautiful works of art in Florence. Its creator was justly proud of the work and inscribed his name and nationality on the band, which runs across the hero's chest.
Cellini also left a less obvious 'signature' at the rear of Perseus's helmet, which takes the form of his face complete with bushy beard.
One of the quirkiest fountains in Florence can be found in the Piazza Vasari, which lies a short walk north of the 'English' Cemetery. The Fontana dei Puttini (1952) is made up of a column of four small children and a tortoise and is the work of Mario Moschi (1896-1971).
There is no arcane symbolism in the design; Moschi was simply inspired by the sight of his energetic little granddaughter crawling around the house on all-fours in pursuit of the family tortoise. She was, he thought, as lively as four little children put together ('fare per quattro').
In a small garden, at the back of the church of San Lorenzo, sits a statue of a woman to whom the city of Florence (and in particular all of its residents who work in the tourist industry) owes a huge debt of gratitude.
Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici (1667-1743) was the sister of Gian Gastone de' Medici (r. 1723-37), the seventh and final Medicean Grand Duke of Tuscany, who died childless. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed to the House of Lorraine and the Medici family's fabulous collection of paintings, sculptures, precious books, jewels etc, may have gone the same way, had it not been for the famous 'Patto di Famiglia' (Family Pact).
On October 31st 1737, Anna Maria Luisa, made a will which ensured that all of her family's art and treasures, which had been collected over nearly three centuries, remained in Florence 'per ornamento dello Stato, per utilità del Pubblico e per attirare la curiosità dei Forestieri' (for the ornament of the State, the use of the public and to attract the curiosity of foreigners).
The last scion of the House of Medici died on February 18th, 1743.
When the goldsmiths (orafi) of Florence decided to honour the 400th anniversary of the birth of their great predecessor and fellow Florentine, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71), where better to place the monument than on the Ponte Vecchio, where the orafi had been doing business for centuries.
The shops on Florence's oldest bridge (1345) haven't always been occupied by goldsmiths. Until the end of the 16th century they were home to a much less refined set of professionals, the city's butchers. All this changed in 1593 when Grand Duke Ferdinand I de' Medici (r. 1587-1609) issued an edict ordering the butchers to be replaced by goldsmiths.
The monument takes the form of a fountain, which is surmounted by a magnificent bronze bust of Cellini. It was created by locally-born sculptor Raffaello Romanelli (1856-1928).
Although all three of the original bronze doors have been permanently removed from the Baptistery, the beautiful bronze door jambs and lintels remain in situ.
In 1423 the workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) produced a bronze frame for the lintel and jambs of the north portal, which is decorated with reliefs of creeping foliage strewn with flowers, fruits and animals.
The two fictive rings at the corners of the lintel, which appear to support the festoons of foliage, recall the popular custom, during festive celebrations, of hanging wreaths of flowers and fruits above doors.
Ghiberti and his son Vittore fashioned the frame of the east portal between 1449 and 1452, employing a similar scheme to the one they employed on the north portal. The vine creepers on the door jambs climb out of a vases. At the centre of the lintel, we see an eagle, symbol of the Arte di Calimala (the guild which took care of the Baptistery), between two bunches of grapes, symbols of the Eucharist.
In 1452 the guild immediately commissioned Ghiberti to design a frame for the south portal, which was completed in 1466 by his son Vittore. Giorgio Vasari described it as 'the rarest and most beautiful thing that one can see in bronze.'
Ghiberti junior added a number of new elements, such as heads and figures, to his father's decorative scheme. The floral decoration on the jambs sprouts from vases, which are held up by the almost naked figures of Adam and Eve. The lithe beauty of Eve seems to foreshadow the elegance of Mannerist bronzes.
It is one of the most famous Etruscan statues ever unearthed and one of the highlights of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze.
The bronze statue was discovered in Arezzo in 1553 and was quickly claimed for the collection of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who had it brought to Florence. The creature was at first taken to be a lion, but was soon identified as the mythical chimera from Greek mythology.
According to the ancient Greeks, the chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid, a lion which had the head of a goat springing from its back, and a tail that often took the form of a snake.
There is an inscription on the right foreleg, which, most scholars agree, reads TINSCVIL. The statue was therefore a votive object dedicated to the supreme Etruscan god of day, Tin or Tinia. The statue is thought to have been created around 400 BCE. The tail is an 18th-century addition.
One of the most exquisite objects in a city full of exquisite objects is an onyx cameo of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici and his family.
The cameo, which is some six by seven inches, was carved by Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi (1517-after 1575) and depicts Cosimo, his wife Eleonora da Toledo, and five of their sons (Francesco, Giovanni, Garzia, Ferdinando and Pietro). Towering above the group is a personification of Fame, winged and blowing his trumpet.
The tondo was once filled by a medallion (now lost), containing an allegorical image of Florence or Tuscany.
The cameo was commissioned by Cosimo I in 1557 and expresses the duke's triple pride as ruler, husband and father.
The cameo, which can be found in the Museo degli Argenti in the Palazzo Pitti, seems incomplete, since the bottom edge is clearly broken.
I have long been interested in the twenty-eight marble statues, which grace the niches of the Loggiato degli Uffizi. Although the loggiato was built in the 16th century, the statues weren't added until the middle of the 19th century.
The statues are 'portraits' of famous Tuscans from the worlds of art, literature, science, politics etc. and we see the usual suspects: Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli.
However, there is, in my opinion, one glaring omission, that of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Leon Battista Alberti, a fellow practitioner, is there, but the creator of the iconic dome of Florence's cathedral is absent!
The statues were the brainchild of Vincenzo Battelli (1786-1858), a local printer, who thought the empty niches of the loggiato were crying out to be filled.
In addition to their names, the statues have other identifying details. Alberti (1404-72), for instance, is holding a piece of paper on which is inscribed the facade of Santa Maria Novella, the top half of which he designed.
Francesco Redi (1627-98), a much less familiar figure to most people, has four identifying details: a lyre, a caduceus, a bunch of grapes and a book. The multi-talented Signor Redi was a physician, biologist and poet. His poem Bacco in Toscana, which was published posthumously, is a paean to Tuscan wines and is still read to this day.
To modern eyes the 28 statues make up a curious collection, the hyper-famous rubbing shoulders with much less familiar figures. However, the selection is simply a reflection of the times (the middle of the 19th century) in which they were made.
When, in 1410, Baldassare Cossa was elected Pope John XXIII, there was only one small problem, the church already had a pontiff (Pope Gregory XII).
In fact, it had two, as Pedro Martinez de Luna claimed to be Pope Benedict XIII. This was the time of the Western Schism, a spilt within the Roman Catholic Church, which lasted from 1378 until 1417.
Cossa took the name John in honour of Saint John the Baptist, a reliquary of one of whose fingers he possessed. He only remained 'pope' for five years; he was deposed in 1415 and tried for a number of crimes. Baldassare died in Florence in 1419 and is buried in the Baptistery.
Although the Catholic Church regards him as an antipope, the inscription on his tomb (the work of Donatello and Michelozzo) proclaims: 'JOANNES QUONDAM PAPA XXIII'.
When, in 1958, Angelo Roncalli was elected pope, he chose the name John XXIII, thus affirming the anti-papal status of Baldassare Cossa.
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