Friday, 26 April 2013

Self-Guided Tour of the statues in the main square Piazza della Signoria of Florence, Tuscany, Italy

The Piazza della Signoria is a must see experience in Florence as it holds numerous famous and artistically significant statues. Even though many of the originals have been moved from their original settings in the Piazza della Signoria and replaced with copies the grandeur is still present. However the originals can be viewed in the various museums in Florence.

The most famous statue is located at the entrance, on the left, of the Palazzo Vecchio, is a copy of David. David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture sculpted by Michelangelo from 1501 to 1504. Unlike previous depictions of David, which portray the hero after his victory over Goliath, Michelangelo chose to represent David before the fight contemplating the battle yet to come. It came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic, an independent city state which was threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici themselves. This interpretation was also encouraged by the original setting of the sculpture outside the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence. The completed sculpture was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The original is being kept at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts.

"Hercules and Cacus", by Bandinelli (1533), to the right of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, depicts the demi-god, Hercules, who killed the fire-belching monster Cacus during his tenth labor, is the symbol of physical strength, which juxtaposed nicely with David as a symbol of spiritual strength, both symbols desired by the Medici. This marble group shows the basic theme of the victor (the Medici) and the vanquished (the republicans). The pause suggests the leniency of the Medici to those who would concede to their rule, and served as a warning to those who would not, as this pause can be indefinite or simply temporary.

Taking a step back from the Palazzo Vecchio, at the far northern end of the Piazza della Signoria, stands the Equestrian Duke Cosimo I by Giambologna (1594-1598). Designed to resemble the equestrian statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which stands in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, it draws parallels between the power and might of Rome to that of Medician Florence. The three bronze relief’s on the base commemorate the key events of Cosimo’s life in Florence: the Florentine government granting him title of duke in 1537; his entering the conquered city of Siena in triumph in 1555; the bestowing of the title Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569 by Pope Pius V

The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575). This work by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1563–1565) and some assistants, such as Giambologna, was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565.
The Neptune figure, whose face resembles that of Cosimo I de' Medici, was meant to be an allusion to the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. The figure stands on a high pedestal in the middle of an octagonal fountain. The pedestal in the middle is decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis. The statue of Neptune is a copy made in the nineteenth century, while the original is in the National Museum.

"The Lion", referred to as "il Marzocco" with a copy of the "Florentine Lily". The il Marzocco is the heraldic lion, sculpted by Donatello in 1418–20, and is the symbol of Florence. The lion is seated and with one paw supports the coat-of-arms of Florence; the fleur de lys called il giglio, the lily. Donatello’s original, sculpted in the fine-grained gray sandstone of Tuscany called pietra serena, has been conserved in the Bargello since 1855. The version still exposed to weather, to the right of the fountain, in the Piazza della Signoria is a copy.

"Judith and Holofernes", by Donatello is a bronze sculpture created at the end of his career (1460). A copy stands in the sculpture's original positions between David and “the Lion”, in the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It depicts the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith. Judith is considered the symbol of liberty, virtue and victory of the weak over the strong in a just cause. She stands powerfully with a raised sword, holding the head of Holofernes by his hair. The statue was originally gilded. To facilitate the gilding the bronze was cast in 11 parts and is remarkable for being one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round, with its four distinct faces.
It stood in its place together with David, both depicting tyrant slayers. These two statues are among the earliest freestanding Italian Renaissance statues. The original can be seen in the Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli), in the Palazzo Vecchio

Loggia della Signoria, or the Loggia dei Lanzi as it was where lanced Swiss guards were stationed, is a three arched open space that is filled with some minor and two major sculpted works. The most important works are those that face into the Piazza della Signoria.

In the left arch is the bronze "Perseus with the Head of Medusa", by Cellini (1554) and is Cellini’s attempt to surpass Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes. The statue was cast as a single piece and as such caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety because of the size involved. It was said while it was being cast Cellini through every bit of available metal from his house into it, including all the forks, spoons and pewter mugs. The result was the fully complete cast piece, except for three toes, which were added later. As a result it was hailed as a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. Cosimo I, who chose to represent himself and his rule with the figure of Perseus the classic Greek hero who defeated chaos and restored peace, commissioned the statue.

"The Rape of the Sabine Women", in the right arch, by Giambologna, is an episode in the legendary history of Rome in which the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families. (In this context, rape means "kidnapping" [raptio] rather than its prevalent modern meaning of sexual violation.)
The sculpture by Giambologna (1579–1583) depicts three figures (a man lifting a woman into the air while a second man crouches) and was carved from a single block of marble. This sculpture is considered Giambolona's masterpiece. Originally intended as nothing more than a demonstration of the artist's ability to create a complex sculptural group, its subject matter, the legendary rape of the Sabines, had to be invented after Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that it be put on public display in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria, Florence.

Each of these statues is considered a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art and seeing all of them within one hundred feet of each other is truly a must see experience.

Here are the locations of each statue from Google Maps.  click on each icon to see where each statue is located

View Self-Guided Tour of the Statues of the Piazza della Signoria, Florence Italy in a larger map

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