[Previous: Piazzale Michelangelo]
June 3rd, 2009
As we meander through the labyrinths of Firenze, we suddenly find us staring into Hercules’ enormous butt crack.
Unknowingly, we have tumbled into Piazza della Signoria.
If Florence is the heart of renaissance, Piazza della Signoria is the heart of Florence. The hair at the back of my neck bristle. Like they did when I stepped into the Sun temple at Machu Picchu. When I touched Khufu’s sarcophagus on the Giza Plateau. When I peeped into a back room of an Anasazi shelter in Mesa Verde…
This is the best open air museum in the world. Not just because it is awash with the finest of art, but the history it can tell.
The L Shaped piazza is dominated by Palazzo Vecchio. The Medicis ran their vast financial empire from this cubical stone building in the 14th and 15th century.
We sit down under the cool shade of the Loggia de Lanzi, for a moment ignoring priceless sculptures behind us. The place reeks of power struggle. Revolution. Hegemony. Corruption. Justice. This is where Florence revolted against the Medici and succeeded in sending them to exile – thrice. This is where Michelangelo proudly unveiled the nude marble statue of David and was promptly pelted by angry citizens. This is where the heretic Savanarola raised his voice against the luxuries of worldly goods leading to massive bonfires that swallowed paintings, frescoes and ancient texts. Ironically, this is where he was torched alive and left to die in horrific pain.
Like all piazzas we had seen so far, the place is teeming with tourists, locals and the ubiquitous pigeons
Yet it is strangely noiseless. Must be the awe it demands and deserves. Even Rhea does not feel like running after the pigeons.
We walk around the periphery of the piazza. Michelangelo’s David, on the left of the entrance to the Palazzo, we decide to skip. Probably because this is a copy and we are slated to be in Academia in two days to watch the original. Why watch Viru while Sachin is still around?
BTW, IN 504 CE, having seen Michelangelo turn a block of unwanted marble into a giant, the Florentines called a committee to find a suitable spot for David. A 75 year old Leonardo Da Vinci was present. Da Vinci recommended the statue be placed in the Loggia against a darkened wall. On hearing this, the 22 year old Michelangelo flew into a rage not wanting a “niche, blacked behind like some miserable chapel” He finally got what he wanted, as was to be the case in his life, and was placed in front of the Palazzo.
We then turn to Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune, the first public fountain in modern Florence. Romans seem to have a fetish for juxtaposing marble and water.
Ammannati was more an architect than a sculptor. Yet it was fairly common in those times to take Jack of one trade and get him to master another. (Brunelleschi the sculptor was allowed to build an unprecedented dome. Vasari the author built the tunnel over Ponte Vecchio. Michelangelo the sculptor was given a chapel to Fresco)
While rendering the the marble colossus, Ammannati modeled the face on Cosimo I de’Medici’s and used the theme of Florentine dominance on sea.
His effort unfortunately did not pay him dividends. Michelangelo disdainfully accused him of wasting a good block of marble. Michelangelo’s words, “Ammannato, Ammannato, quanto marmo hai sciupato” became folklore and Ammannati could never wash off the stigma.
My jaw drops as I look at the statue though I am in no mood to argue with Michelangelo.
We then turn 60 degrees to ogle at Cosimo I de’Medici commandeering his steed.
Of all of Cosimo’s achievements, nothing can beat building the Uffizi, literally a stone’s throw away from the spot we stand. In 1587 the commission for the statue was given to Giambologna, who had earlier worked on the Fountain of Neptune with Ammannati.
Giambologna build a foundry and a workshop nearby and "rapidly churned out” the first equestrian statue in Italy. The statue became so famous that the horse’s cast was used for a Henry IV of Bourbon monument.
This awe-inspiring statue does not compare with another one of his work kept inside the Loggia della Signoria. The Loggia (a three arched building with huge open bay windows in a corner of Piazza della Signoria) houses The Rape of the Sabines.
Giambologna twists three figures into a macabre dance of death using one marble piece. The tight intertwining mandates that the viewer walk around the statue inventing viewpoints. It is no wonder that this sculpture marks the epitome of the mannerist artist’s career.
It is after this, that we walk towards Uffizi.