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!
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.
Embedded into the grey paving stones of the Piazza del Duomo, a few metres beyond the east end of the cathedral, is a large circular slab of white marble. However, the marble has no inscription to explain why it is there!
The explanation lies in an event which took place one stormy winter's night in the month of January 1601. While a thunderstorm was raging over the city, lightning struck the lantern, the twenty-metre high structure, which sits atop the cathedral's dome. The gilded copper orb and cross, which crowns the lantern, came crashing to the ground along with large chunks of the lantern itself.
The orb had been added to the cathedral in 1468 by Andrea del Verrocchio. This was no mean feat, given that it is 2.5 metres wide, weighs two tons and had to be hoisted to a height of 107 metres (350 feet).
The Grand Duke Ferdinando I entrusted the reconstruction of the lantern to Alessandro Allori, Bernardo Buontalenti and Gherardo Mechini, specifying that it was to be rebuilt exactly as it was before.
The lantern was duly repaired and the orb and cross were replaced on October 21st 1602. The spot where they had hit the ground was marked by the white marble disc that we see today. However, for some reason, no inscription was added.
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.
Copyright © David Lown 2001-2017. All rights reserved.