Rise of the Brave Shepherd

Continuation of: M as in Michelangelo

Work is love made visible – Kahlil Gibran

From September 13, 1501 until the first half of 1504, Michelangelo was industriously engaged in sculptural works related to his Gothic treatment of David, the young shepherd from the tribe of Judah who rose to become a hero of Israel. It was also during the autumn of 1504 when the traditional trinity of great masters of that period: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520), were all present in Firenze. Think of that!

During the above span of time, three popes reigned over the Catholic Church in Rome. Following the death of Pope Alexander VI (Roderic/Rodrigo de Borja, 1431-1503, pope from 1492), Pius III (Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, 1439-1503) took over the pontificate on September 22, 1503. Sadly, his untimely death on October 18, 1503 marked his reign as the shortest papacy in the history of the Church. Thereafter, the ten year pontificate of Julius II (Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, 1443-1513) commenced on November 1, 1503 following the shortest conclave in the papal history.

Even as Michelangelo worked to create David in a specially constructed wooden shed expressly erected to shield his work from prying eyes, he was sporadically attending to prearranged contract works agreed in 1501 with (pope-to-be) Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini to execute fifteen small size marble statues of male saints, over a period of three years, to decorate the Piccolomini Chapel in the Duomo di Siena, the city where Cardinal Francesco was born.

Besides other works, Michelangelo was also preparing to work on Tondo Doni (Doni Madonna), his first panel painting, ordered by the wealthy Florentine Agnolo Doni (1474-1539) either for his wedding in 1504 to noblewoman Maddalena (1489-1540) of the powerful Strozzi family or for the birth of his first daughter in 1507.

Historically, the biblical hero David (c. 1035-970 BC) in the face of all odds had defended his people and governed justly as a king who helped found the eternal throne of God. He has been much honoured in the history of the Jewish people ever since his duel with Goliath which is narrated briefly in 1 Samuel 17 of the Old Testament. Erecting a statue of this heroic personality was considered as a bringer of good omen for the future of Firenze. David would also symbolize the reality that the rulers of Firenze would defend the Republic with courage and govern it conscientiously.

As the narration in 1 Samuel 17 goes, when war again broke out between the Israelites and the Philistines and they were confronting each other across a valley between Shochoh and Azekah in Ephesdammim, shepherd David, the twenty-three year old youngest son of the Bethlehemite Jesse had come forward and dared to accept the challenge of Goliath (the Philistine of Gath) to any one from the Israelite ranks to come out and fight him. In the encounter which followed, the giant Goliath of six cubits and a span in height encased in complete armour and wielding weapons fell to the earth after having been hit on his forehead by a smooth stone shot from the sling of David after which he had quickly severed Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword.

Michelangelo’s preference for muscular young men evidently dominates his art since they appears to be his ideal for beauty. The initial sketch Michelangelo prepared depicted the brave shepherd David standing with his foot planted on the head of Goliath. This was found unsuitable owing to the inadequate size and quality imperfections of the block of marble which was already worked upon on by earlier sculptors.

To that end, the design and composition, proportion and orientation Michelangelo had in his mind for his David had to be remodelled which prompted him to prepare another wax model which became the catalyst for the profile of his sculpture of David which he created at the wooden shed at the courtyard of the workshops belonging to Opera del Duomo.

Given that David was part of a dozen of statues of prominent Old Testament characters originally intended for placement along the borderline surrounding the outside of the dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, it has to be viewed from below. And so, some parts of the body featured in disproportionate size apparently don’t hang together.

I could imagine the attention given for the articulation and balance based on the classical contrapposto pose David should adopt and of the clothes he should wear or not. To suit the shape of the block of marble, the left arm has been bent to touch the sling on the shoulder as against the originally extended arm Michelangelo envisaged.

Here he has adhered to his life-long theory of ruling out add-ons to the block of marble. By making the slingshot barely visible over David’s shoulder, Michelangelo has implied that cleverness underlined the young shepherd’s victory rather than sheer force.

In February 1503, when the sculpture was half finished, the Consuls decided that Michelangelo be paid in all 400 golden florins, including the stipulated salary. A major concern then was the ambiguity in the location chosen to install the sculpture. The intended location had to be ruled out considering the feasibility of lifting such a mammoth figure to the height of the buttresses of the Cattedrale. Nevertheless, at a headlong pace, Michelangelo brought David to perfection and almost had the sculpture completed before the learned Consuls met on January 25, 1504 to finalize where David would be best installed.

Follow on: The Crown at the Piazza

Note: For close study, some images featured above pertain to the replica at Piazza della Signoria.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

M as in Michelangelo

Continuation of: The Florentine Mystique

Memory is the guardian of all things – Cicero

A lifetime of passion for art had intensely taken root in Michelangelo (Michelagniolo, March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564) since he entered the sculpture garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, January 1, 1449 – April 8, 1492). Noting his talents, Lorenzo saw in the teenager a promising student of sculpture who would one day bring honour to Firenze.

Born to Ludovico di Leonardo Buonarotti Simoni and his wife Francesca at Castello di Caprese, Michelangelo’s desire for art had grown in him long before 1488 when he was nurtured among the stone quarries of Settignano in the care of a stonemason and his wife. Undoubtedly, his allure for art had kept on its steadfast progress during his apprenticeship as a painter with Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) who had returned from Rome only few years ago after painting in the Sistine Chapel between 1482 and 1484 for Pope Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere, 1414-1484, pope from 1471).

Young Michelangelo’s first two marble works, Madonna (Madonna della Scala) and the Battle of the Centaurs, were executed during his formative years under Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1420-1491), Donatello’s pupil and keeper of the statues and sculpture in the Medici gardens of San Marco.

It was here Il Magnifico Lorenzo maintained many fine art treasures he collected for the good school of Painters and Sculptors he founded – similar to the “Accademia Leonardi Vinci”, the school of arts (1) connected with Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) established during his Milanese stay from 1482 until the fall of Duke Lodovico (Il Moro) Sforza (1451-1508) in 1499.

What a marvellous idea to spread all those priceless collections of antiques out where Michelangelo could look around with child-like wonder and delight. It was here that his fellow-pupil young Pietro Torrigiano (ca. 1472-1522/8), moved by envy or driven by pride, broke Michelangelo’s nose and was obliged to flee from Firenze having earned the hatred of the Florentines (2). 

Taken into Lorenzo’s household, Michelangelo enjoyed the privilege of a room, a place at Lorenzo’s dining table with his sons and swathed in the opportunities to absorb culture from the Medicean circle until Lorenzo’s untimely death at his country Villa at Careggi in April, 1492 – which almost brought to an end the true golden age of the Italian Renaissance.

Sometime after Michelangelo’s return to his father’s house following the death of Lorenzo, a problem become apparent after Piero de’ Medici (1471-1503), the eldest son of the deceased Lorenzo, took over leadership of the Signoria. Young, haughty, chivalrous, and rather despotic in his views, interest in the affairs of the State which even in an abbreviated form seldom came out of Piero. Successively, for reasons attributed to the political developments, in 1494, the Medici was expelled from Firenze – declaring them traitors and rebels. The efforts of the Medici to regain their power in Firenze would succeed only in 1512 when Giuliano de’ Lorenzi de’ Medici (Giuliano II, 1478-1516) was brought in from Venice to head the Signoria, but shortly thereafter, Firenze would turn into a papal dependency.

Unable to remain neutral in the above developments, Michelangelo left Firenze and stayed at Bologna, after a brief stint at Venice. Upon his return to Firenze in 1495 when the political climate has improved, he was among those who were consulted vis-à-vis the Sala del Maggior Consiglio of Palazzo della Signoria which Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) proposed to enlarge to accommodate the new government of the people following the expulsion of Piero de’ Medici from Firenze.

A marble Sleeping Cupid Michelangelo fashioned during this time was eventually sold to Cardinal Raffaele Riario of San Giorgio which paved the way for him to proceed to Rome in June, 1496. In there, following the creation of the life-size drunken Bacchus, on August 26, 1498, he earned the commission to execute a Pietà for Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas (Cardinal di San Dionigi), the French ambassador at Rome who desired a suitable monument for himself in Rome by the hand of the famous Michelangelo.  

This classic work in marble, when finished was placed in the circular chapel dedicated to Santa Maria della Febbre (Our Lady of the Fever) of the old Basilica di San Pietro (3) which was at that time still standing.

The future spacious Piazza San Pietro surrounded by vast semi-circular colonnades which the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, designed in front of the Basilica (1656-1667) was then covered with a cluster of small constructions and pathways. La Pietà,as the Italians call the group,earned Michelangelo great fame and fortified his reputation as “Il Divinio” (The Divine One) among the artists of his lifetime.

With the completion of La Pietà (1498-1499), the world had witnessed the creation of two classic masterpieces within the span of a few years – the other being The Last Supper (Cenacolo), the marvellous wall-painting Leonardo da Vinci probably begun in c. 1495 on the refectory wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the monastery of Dominican friars in Milan and finished in 1498.

At the age of twenty-six, Michelangelo returned to Firenze where he would be a resident till 1504. By then, many changes had taken place in Firenze – it was now devoid of the divinely ordained preaching of Girolamo Savonarola who had eventually faced excommunication followed by implementation of his death sentence when he was hanged and burned on May 23, 1498 – bringing to an end the story of medieval Firenze.

Michelangelo was now ready to take on the offer of the powerful Consuls of the Arte della Lana, the Operai of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore of Firenze. They proposed to him to fashion, complete and finish to perfection a colossal male statue out of a huge block of marble conveyed from Carrara to Firenze many years ago.

The Arte della Lana who owned this block of marble had once offered it in vain to Donatello, the favoured architect of the Medici.  Afterwards, a certain Maestro Simone da Fiesole had commenced work of a huge figure on it but left his work unfinished. Even though Giorgio Vasari was misinformed to name “Maestro Simone” as the sculptor who spoiled that block of marble, it was Agostino di Duccio (1418-81) who upon his return to Firenze from Perugia in 1463, entered the Guild and commenced work on this block of marble which he shortly quit for unknown reasons. A decade later, Antonio Rossellino (1427-c.1479), best known for his Madonna reliefs, gave it a try which didn’t reach anywhere.

Sculptor Andrea Contucci (Andrea dal Monte Sansovino, ca. 1467-1529) who had entered into the guild in 1491 had sought to secure this block to carve a statue by augmenting it with additional pieces of stone. (4) But Arte della Lana preferred to hear Michelangelo’s stance in the matter before they acceded to Contucci’s request. 

Furthermore,they had also consulted with Leonardo da Vinci when he returned back from Milan in the summer-time of 1500. But curiously enough, their efforts to rope him in were in vain, although Leonardo had retired to Firenze in quest of better fortune and finding little or no work of interest to engage him here was seeking employment in the service of Cesare Borgia (1476-1507) who was then cherishing reconstruction of a kingdom of Central Italy under his headship.

As for Michelangelo, this block of marble quarried years before his birth, was just the sort of thing he was aiming at. He was only pleased to accept the commission which was first signed on August 16, 1501: to undertake the Contractual work from September 1501, and complete it within the term of the next two years.   

Michelangelo’s acceptance of the commission gave an atmosphere of hope to Arte della Lana which also guaranteed a good monumental sculpture out of the block without the addition of several pieces.

Follow on: Rise of the Brave Shepherd

Notes:

  1. In 1531, Baccio Bandinelli founded a school of arts in the quarters granted to him in the Vatican besides another in Florence in c. 1550. Then again, it is Giorgio Vasari who founded the first proper Academy of Fine Arts in Firenze in 1563.
  2. In 1519, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) refused Pietro Torrigiano’s invitation to accompany him to England for the one reason that the impolitic Torrigiano had broken Michelangelo’s nose. During 1511-18, Torrigiano had worked on the double tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and the tomb of Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, in Westminster Abbey in England.
  3. The ancient chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre (St. Mary of the Fever), older than the Constantinian Basilica,  was originally built as a mausoleum which was converted into the sacristy south of the new Basilica di San Pietro Rome in 1506.
  4. Andrea Sansovino (Andrea Contucci) would in turn obtained commission for the Baptism of Christ for the Battistero di San Giovanni of Firenze by 1500 but left it unfinished by leaving for Rome in 1505 to work on the marble wall-tombs (1506-09) of Cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza (1455-1505) and Cardinal Girolamo Basso della Rovere (1434-1507) at Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Florentine Mystique

Continuation of: The Greek Connection

Wherever you go, there you are – Confucius

Mindful walking during daytime is a pursuit we engage in whilst we are in Firenze. Such legwork on days of less tourist frenzy not only helps to face fewer hustle and gearbox but also inspires to look around through the eyes of Love. Getting out and about here would reward one the opportunity to reflect on the barometers of a community that was fashioned by this architecture of mediaeval characteristics – originated from the various strange phases of Florentine history.

Unlike passeggiata, the Italian tradition of taking an after-sumptuous-meal leisurely stroll for fun, socializing or for health reasons, an observant visitor on easy-going walks around the streets and piazzas of this City of Flowers proffer a distinctive Italian atmosphere and colour.

Since olden Italy was divided into small States and constantly at war with each other.  On that note, the dwellings of great families were generally composed of a double wall of strong stone masonry to turn them into strongholds. And so, some of the greatest architectural achievements in Firenze of that period were houses so outsize they were considered as palaces.

The mediaeval characteristics are much evident in Firenze’s piazzas, courtyards, gardens, open arcades, etc. Distinctive features of the buildings reveal deep-set windows protected by heavy iron grills, arches, porches, and curves that express feeling in design.

While the roof line below the terracotta is adorned with heavy, ornamental cornice, the walls are divided into sections with vertical pilasters and horizontal strips of mouldings. The street front has the popular round-headed windows while the ground floor windows, smaller in size, are appropriately defended with barred grills.

In the photographic viewpoint, there are fabulous shots of varied angles all around which includes after-rain puddle reflections and curious modern day sights.

There are numerous Tuscan Romanesque arches, frescoes on the walls, decorative street lamps, old horse tethering wrought iron rings on the walls, bas-reliefs on lintels, iron holders on the walls for torches to illuminate the street, etc (1).

In the architectural point-of-view, the kind of marbles, including Carrara marble, and other materials for construction and architectural adornment used all around here are of varying characteristics.

Of the two main types of sandstones, pietra forte, the fine-grained, brownish-yellow sandstone of considerable resilience is the primary material and used widely as well as in the construction of prominent edifices such as Basilica di Santa Croce, Palazzo Pitti, Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Vecchio, etc.

At Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, pull focus and take another look up at the Cupola of Filippo Brunelleschi (1379-1446). Pietra serena, the silvery grey sandstone much favoured by Brunelleschi, is used widely there – particularly at the three girdling belts of the Cupola.

All this may seem rather nostalgic pictorials of old architecture and ornate details and may seem looking backwards. Better still, we understand Città di Firenze clearer as our perspectives evolve to the realisation that the splendour and flair of the past goes with you at every step in Firenze, which the illustrious Dante Alighieri praised as ‘La bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma’ (3).

Follow on: M as in Michelangelo

Notes:

  1. Some of the cast iron piazza/park bench supports, lamp-posts, sewer covers, are still marked with Fonderia delle Cure – Giovanni Berta in Firenze (likewise in Rome), relates to the earlier century.
  2. Pietra serena: Mainly used as ornamental, art, architectural decorations, etc, pietra serena or pietra di macigno is an elegant variety of calcareous sandstone composed of sedimentary layers of different colour. Because of its good mechanical strength it is used also at Cappella dei Pazzi and Cappelle Medicee. The archives of the Opera del Duomo will be of much use to those interested more on this subject.
  3. La bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma: Beautiful and famous daughter of Rome.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Greek Connection

Continuation of: A Procession of One

Each day is a little bit of history – José Saramago

Firenze, the name Florentines love to call their city in Italian is used by us only during our visits and in our writings. Like the ancient Florentines did, between my wife and I, we call it in its older and most beautiful form: FIORENZA, because she flourished exceedingly and was the Flower of all Italian graces. Fiorenza has music to it for those who listen in the pleasantness of old tradition. 

The imposing sculpture of Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus at Piazza della Signoria depicts Hercules holding the hair of Cacus, the giant kneeling in defeat before him, while he held a club in his right hand, the famous weapon he had cut for himself in the forest of Nemea.

I have always looked at this Renaissance sculpture in a wholesome way – certainly not in awe of it. Short of any pretention as a scientific expert on Arts or scholarly expert of Greek antiquity, I prefer to merit it as nothing less than an admirable work although it can be said that the artist’s projection of strength is mere bulk.

Conversely, in what I have scrutinized and thought of this sculpture aside from the comments and reactions of its onlookers I came across at the Piazza della Signoria, one can hardly disregard the many serious, biased, cultivated kind of art-writings from Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) down to our modern day scientific art critics which strengthen one’s conviction that the sculpture lacked that exceptional magnetism that could turn the heads of onlookers and fixate their attention on it. 

Although Hercules clad in the skin of the Nemean lion is a popular image; he is often represented naked as he is portrayed here by Bandinelli: a powerful upper body with rigid set of shoulders, short necked, head smaller in proportion to full muscular limbs, a curling beard which does not mar the serious expression from the general area of his face. One could note a similarity of those features on sculptor Giambologna’s (Giovanni da Bologna, ca. 1529-1608) Hercules slaying the Centaur Nessus (1599) displayed few feet away under the right-hand arch of the noble Loggia dei Lanzi (1).

Installed as a pendent to Michelangelo’s biblical hero David (popularly called Il Giganté), the naked Hercules parallels the stark nakedness of David who stood with his body’s weight resting on right leg, his gaze divulging an inner anticipation for the next course of action to take. Taken together, the nudity depicted here bespoke of the period when nude studies of male figures was the norm for gods, heroes and even renowned mortals.

Very early on, nude and partially nude artworks based on antique characters have shown their presence in Italy. It took wider popularity with the rediscovery of art of ancient Greece and Rome. In effect, the Greek sculptors’ main interest was to portray man at his idealized best since man was particularly considered as the noblest measure of all things to them – undifferentiated from the gods they conceived in man’s likeness. The representation of Gods, warriors and mortals in heroic nudity was the sculptors’ open admiration for the perfectly formed male body which is hardly a sensual aspect in the society of a time where athletes openly workout in scant clothes for events like Olympics.

Hercules being a favourite hero and symbol of the Florentine Republic, it’s hardly surprising to come across many such representations in Firenze. One cannot ignore the Trecento Florentine Seal which bore the image of Hercules since about 1281, as a testimony to the familiarity of Hercules in the Florentine culture.

Since we usually rent apartments for our Florentine visits in the vicinity of Piazza del Duomo or in the area between Il Duomo and Piazza S. Marco, we cannot avoid touching upon Piazza del Duomo almost every day of our stay in Firenze.

The group of ecclesiastical buildings which form the center of Firenze comprise of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Il Duomo); the octagonal Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni) (2) and Campanile di Giotto (belfry tower).

Il Duomo was named Santa Maria del Fiore in reference to the lily (the emblem of Virgin Mary) in the red shield of the Republic, which indicates the tradition that Firenze was founded in a field of flowers. This edifice was built on the site of the cathedral dedicated to S. Reparata who, at the tender age of 12, had undergone martyrdom in Cappadocia during the persecution of Roman Emperor Decius in 3rd century AD. From 680 to 1298, she was the primary patroness of Firenze, following which the city was placed under the tutelage of Virgin Mary and S. John the Baptist. According to a legend, Santa Reparata itself was erected on the ground occupied by the parish church of San Salvador. Subsequently, when Santa Reparata was raised as the parish church, the Baptistery became pro tempore the Cathedral for a few years.

At Piazza di S. Giovanni, it’s delightful to remember Lorenzo Ghiberti’s (1378-1455) artistic works on the gilded doors of the Baptistery situated across from Il Duomo. Ghiberti most likely cast it in a process the French called, encirage, using the same enormous furnace in his workshop in Via Sant’Egidio, nearly opposite Santa Maria Nuova, where he had created the Northern Gates. Taking in the astonishing beauty of these celebrated doors of the Eastern Gates, Michelangelo once praised them as fit to be “the Gates of Paradise.”

On the southern side of the Baptistery was a representation of Hercules amongst the eight depictions of virtues belonging to the 28 gilded bronze reliefs on Andrea Pisano’s (ca. 1270-1348/9) bronze door, probably the earliest in Firenze (3). Another representation from the workshop of Andrea Pisano is the relief of Hercules and Cacus (Lower register No 2: Social Justice) on the eastern side of the Campanile di Giotto which supposedly occupy the site of a small oratory of S. Zenobius, the first bishop of Firenze. 

Follow-on: The Florentine Mystique

Notes:

  1. Loggia de’ Lanzi is so called from the Swiss lancers who were placed here by Grand Duke Cosimo I.
  2. Although the date of Baptistery is lost in uncertainty, legend has it that theedificewas supposedly erected in 589 by German-born Theodelinda (Theudolinde, 570-627), daughter of King Garibald of Bavaria and queen of the Lombards who was devoted to the Christian faith of the Catholics. In about 1229, works under Jacopo de’ Lapi took place to level the ground around Baptistery and replace the old brick pavement with stone. A book relates the occasion as: “At that time the Baptistery stood at a higher elevation than afterwards, and at the base were steps. Around the building were ranged Roman sarcophagi, which were used by Florentine families of distinction for internment, as well as for monuments, when the entire Piazza between the Cathedral and Baptistery constituted the cemetery of Florence.”
  3. Since December 2019, all three sets of bronze and gold doors of the Baptistery are displayed next to one another at the Sala del Paradiso of the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore after completion of the restoration project began in 1978 by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Firenze.

 (© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

A Procession of One

Continuation of: Distant Fire, Delightful Gleams

There are certain things in life one feels to be good and beautiful and must hunger after them. Throughout the 15th century Italy (1), it had become fashionable for men of wealth, influence and of the church to decorate their premises with fine arts of those derived from the classical Greco-Roman cultural heritage – collections primarily of Greek art from finds in mainland Italy and Sicily.

It is no small matter how much the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient Greeks have set its effects on the Western culture in general. The renewed interest in the classical past and in the grammar of Greek architecture came not only with the progress in trade and banking activities of both Venetian and Genoese families in the Aegean, but also from the steadily growing awareness and appreciation in Western Europe for Greek literature. While, amongst other aspects, this was fostered by the printing of Greek type initiated by Aldus Manutius (ca. 1449-1515) in Venice’s Sant’Agostino neighbourhood, it also spearheaded an increase in the influx of visiting scholars between Western Europe and the Greek lands.

The taste for art collecting per se aroused far reaching expectations for a brilliant coterie of sculptors, painters, and goldsmiths which occasioned burgeoning of an imposing series of reproductions of Greco-Roman art, etc.

On an equal par with Genoa, Milan and Venice in northern Italy, Firenze of that time was one of the richest, liveliest regions of varied economic activity. Primarily a manufacturing centre with booming export trades, its principal foundation of wealth lay in the cloth industry. Furthermore, the Medici Bank which ranked as the biggest and most respected financial magnets of Europe was a prestigious laurel to Firenze’s singular privilege as the top most banking centre.

Mindful of the historical personalities of the wealthy merchant families of Firenze, foremost amongst men from the long line of bourgeois Mediceans includes: Cosimo de’ Medici (Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici/Cosimo the Elder (Pater Patriae, 1389-1464), his grandsons: Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo il Magnifico, 1449-92), Giuliano de’ Medici (1453-1478) (see profile pictures on the title card (2)), and counting two of their family popes: Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1475-1521, pope from 1513), and Pope Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, 1478-1534, pope from 1523). As Mediceans, theirs was a procession of one – all too princely a Medici to neglect their great patronage for all kinds of arts and science. 

Essentially, the Medici transformed art’s status to “fine arts”. There is some modern-day appraisal that this view could be a myth created by the Medici themselves. Then again, to appreciate the many-sided aspects that could outshine this view, of course, one should go to Tuscany and Italy on the whole. Where better to do it than there?

The Medici’s endeavours helped to remove the impediment on opportunities at hand for their contemporary sculptors, painters, architects, and thereby enriched their earnings, career success and recognition. Above all, they paved the way for most of the artisans to demonstrate their brilliant talents and expressions through so many artistic treasures of the Renaissance. One such personage was Baccio Bandinelli (Bartolommeo di Michelangelo Bandinelli/Brandini, 1493–1560).

Baccio Bandinelli was one amongst the most favoured by the House of Medici which included the great maestro Michelangelo (Michelagniolo di Lodovico Buonarroti (1475-1564), Donatello (Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, ca. 1386-1466), Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1440-1491), Giuliano da Sangallo (Giuliano Giamberti, 1443-1516), Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, Ca. 1444-1510), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) amongst others.

Being one of Firenze’s principal mannerist sculptors, it was Baccio Bandinelli who created the sculpture: Hercules and Cacus(1525-34) which stands guard on a pedestal on the right side of the portal of Palazzo Vecchio while, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s David (1501-04) (3) stood in pride of place on the other side along the old Ringhiera (4).

Follow-on: “The Greek Connection” (Part 3)

  1. The term Italy in this write up refer to the country as a whole since Italy finally became a unified nation-state only in 1871;
  2. Picture credits of Title header: Source: commons.wikimedia.org: From left:

1) Ritratto di Cosimo il Vecchio – Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder by Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557) – Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze;

2) Ritratto di Lorenzo Il Magnifico Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari  (1511–1574) – at Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze; 

3) Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510) – at Accademia di Belle Arti G. Carrara, Bergamo

3) This substitute of Michelangelo’s David was created by sculptor Luigi Arrighetti (1858-1938) with Saul Fanfani (1856-1919) and installed here in June 1910. The original David (installed in May 1504) was removed in 1873 to the shelter of Galleria dell’Accademia Firenze to avoid further weathering and damage. A bronze cast of David by Clement Papi (1803-75), can be seen at Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, where it was on view from September 13, 1875

4) Only the remnants of the original Ringhiera of the 14th century remains after its removal in 1812.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Distant Fire, Delightful Gleams

I have come where I have long desired to be…. – Charles V

Within the wide Piazza della Signoria and its Loggia dei Lanzi (1), the open-air museum on the southern side, there are many sculptural art from a time when Arts enjoyed extensive prosperity in Firenze (Florence), Italy.

This area was frequently bustling with activity before the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic took over globally and triggered significant precautionary restrictions such as traveller mobility, health-related formalities, border closures, travel bans, etc.

As in the case of Italy, the world’s fifth-most visited destination, the crisis inflicted a heavy toll on its tourism, plunging it into the worst recession since World War II. But the recent popular expression, “Even George Clooney doesn’t come anymore with this pandemic,” is now giving way to optimism among the population as there are efforts to reopen the country to tourism from June forward owing to the progressive easing of restrictions and the awaited EUDCC (EU Digital COVID Certificate) Gateway for safe movement between countries.

Being constant visitors, Firenze is always linked to our minds with summer and sunshine. When the blue Tuscan sky is magically clear or whenever we do not entertain any intention to swap Firenze (its palaces, monuments, galleries and piazzas, etc) for a full-field investigation of the towns and cities nestling in the hillsides of Tuscany, this here is one of the places where we often spent time during the Florentine leg of our visits.

A certain pleasing ambiance prevails at this sprawling Piazza with its public-space displays which are more conducive to us for serious reflection than just to sit elsewhere in Firenze and people-watch – even though, at times, with the pleasure of listening through earphones to the delightful masters of Italian opera: Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848), Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35), Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), or Giacomo Puccini (1858 –1924), in their home settings.

Compared to the public squares of Firenze such as Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Santa Croce, Piazza della Repubblica, the show-place of Firenze is Piazza della Signoria. This is reputedly the place where almost all the Florentine history probably has passed.

Adding to its plus side are all those strenuous sculptures executed with the most delicate mastery, as well as the great “Neptune” fountain (Fontana del Nettuno/il Biancone) of Bartolommeo Ammanati (1511-92). In many instances, it leaves distinct impressions and memories on the visitors.

During high tide of visitors in the Piazza, few may fail to notice an inscribed circular plaque on the pearl grey Pietra Serena (2) paved pavement which marks the spot of the Cimento di Fuoco, the ordeal of fire on May 23rd, 1498 when Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) was hanged and burned.

Before the Loggia became a day-to-day controlled area for certain hours following an episode of vandalism to the marble statue of Pio Fedi’s “The Rape of Polyxena” (3), we used to sit on the left stone-terrace that runs between the two Corinthian columns, closer to the lion by F. Vacca (4), one of the two colossal marble Medici lions which flank the entrance of the Loggia.

The imposing Palazzo Vecchio loomed to our right. Its principal doorway with an overhead decorative fronton is conspicuous in the center of the two “termini” posts, which formerly served as supports to the chain to bar the entrance.

From where we sat, it was easier to clearly admire the topic of my present write-up located on our right side of Palazzo’s entrance: the white marble sculpture of the most celebrated of all the heroes of antiquity in the Renaissance’s colourless view of the Classical nude: Hercules.

Continued in Part 2: “A Procession of One

Notes:

  1. The loggia was variously known as Loggia dei Priori, Loggia della Signoria, Loggia dei Lanzi, Loggia di Orcagna, D’Orcagna – not necessarily in this order. By Benci di Cione and Simone di Francesco Talenti, the Loggia (1376-82) was originally designed to shelter the Signoria from adverse weather conditions during civil and religious ceremonies or to accommodate the Priori for their convocations of the people. In contemporary times, it suits as a venue for Live Orchestra concerts, etc.
  2. Pietra Serena: Sandstone typical of Florentine Renaissance architecture and building mainly extracted from the hills of Settignano and Gonfolina area/Lastra a Signa, in the northeast and in the west of Firenze.
  3. Pio Fedi’s “The Rape of Polyxena” (1865/6) depicts Achilles receiving Trojan princess Polyxena when she offered herself for the return of her brother Hector’s body. Having secured Polyxena in his left arm, Achilles’ sword is raised to beat Queen Hecuba, who is desperately trying to protect her daughter. The dead person under Achilles’ feet is the corpse of Prince Hector.
  4. The right lion is of Grecian origin brought from Rome together with the 6 antique sculptures placed against the inner wall.
  5. This is for Carina, my travel companion and wife, who understands perfectly what ‘dedication’ means.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

With Holier Heavens Above

During a stay in the Italian city of Firenze some years ago, it was on an April day we visited the medieval city of Siena.

Of the many Tuscan cities we covered during this visit – unlike Pisa with its historic churches, medieval castles and the Leaning Bell Tower of Pisa Cathedral; – or the gorgeous Lucca, the “city of 100 churches”, which does not occupy a hilltop position but takes pride for being the birthplace of the opera composer Giacomo Puccini; – or the port city of Livorno with its great seafood dishes and “Quartiere La Venezia”, – it was in Siena we dedicated more days on our itinerary to explore the marvels that awaited us.

It was whilst in Roma years ago, when the idea first entered our minds to include Siena in our bucket-list of places to visit.

At Roma, we had chanced upon the statue of the she-wolf who supposedly suckled the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Roma. This saga of Romulus and Remus holds the myth that Siena is founded by Senius, the son of Remus, and that Remus was, in the course of founding Roma, slain by Romulus. Yet another tradition has it that Siena’s name is related to the Gallic tribe of the Senones.

Located in the heart of Tuscany and enclosed within medieval walls, the city of Siena which rises up on the ridge of three hills has its ancient aspect still intact. Rich in medieval histories significantly from the Middle Ages, Siena is renowned for its time-honoured traditions, works of art and architecture, churches, museums, old patrician villas, brick-red buildings, narrow winding streets and alleys, fine cuisine, etc.

Unfortunately, our visit didn’t coincide with the traditional bareback horserace il Palio de Siena held two times every summer around Piazza del Campo, Siena’s main square where the old Roman forum once stood.

One of Europe’s greatest medieval squares, UNESCO has declared this historic city center as a World Heritage Site. Siena is featured in many movies including in one of Daniel Craig’s James Bond outing “Quantum of Solace” which shows snippets from the Palio race.

It is said that the herring-bone pattern of brick paving of the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo also symbolizes the cloak of the Madonna which shelters Siena.

At one of the restaurants in Siena where we dined twice, one could hardly miss a marble placard hanging behind the drinks counter. Its contents read:

Salve, Regina, mater misericordia,

Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve

Ad te clamamus, exules filii hevae. (1)

This placard initiated a friendly conversation with the “happily unmarried” owner of the restaurant who went on to explain that, ever since the battle of Monteaperti (September 1260) between Siena and Firenze, the Blessed Virgin had been the patron saint of Siena and the town had assumed the designation of Civitas Virginis. He was steadfast in his conviction that Siena is not only blessed by the Virgin Mary’s cloak, but also by two other saints of this city who were exalted by signs from God – i.e., St Catherine (1347-1380), a tertiary of the Dominican Order at Siena, and St Bernardino of Siena (Bernardino degli Albizzeschi, 1380-1444), the mighty preacher.

A Franciscan preacher and prominent proponent of devotion to the Holy Name, Bernardino is also credited as the creator of the YHS (or IHS) trigram from which the rays shine forth.

Siena is simply the town of Caterina Benincasa, better known as Saint Catherine of Siena. She was the twenty-third of twenty-five children of Lapa di Puccio dé Piacenti and Giacomo di Benincasa, a dyer by trade from the district of Fontebranda in Siena, a place permeated by the odour of tanning and dyeing.

A bundle of love and joy, Catherine embodied all the feminine virtues expected in a little girl. Living within close proximity to the convent church of Dominicans, she felt drawn to the morals and values of Christianity, and from the early age of six, experienced mystical visions. In 1363 at the age of sixteen, she received the habit of the Sisters of Penance of St Dominic, called the Mantellate. During the course of her life she practiced severe austerity and combined with prayer, self-denial and works of charity became an outstanding figure of medieval Catholicism.

It is written that Christ’s stigmata were imprinted on her body on April 1, 1375 during a visit to Pisa where for the first time she saw the sea. Fond of definitions, she would later record her mystical experiences in writing in addition to nearly four hundred letters she brought forth to people of Italy and Europe as a whole.

Other than St Bridget (Swedish princess Birgitta Birgersdotter, 1303-1373, the patron saint of Sweden) the mystic and foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour; it was Catherine who predominantly prevailed on the deeply religious Pope Gregory XI (Pierre Roger de Beaufort – Pope from 1370-1378) to end the Avignon Papacy and return the papal court from Avignon to the Tomb of Peter, Roma, which the Pope did during mid-January, 1377 –the main and courageous event of his reign.

Both Catherine and Bernardino have encountered the flywheel of the great Pestilence that devastated Europe during their respective life times. They indulged in taking care of the sick and the poor, nursing the unfortunate multitudes of plague victims around them. We could relate to that situation owing to its similarity to what our world is experiencing now as the spread of Covid-19 achieves exponential acceleration.

Today, 29th marks the 641st year since St Catherine of Siena, the greatest of Christian mystics, died in Roma on April 29, 1380. She is enshrined in Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Roma while, among other relics, Her Sacred Head brought to Siena from Rome in 1383 is housed in a reliquary inside St Catherine’s Chapel at Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico in Siena. In June 1461, Catherine was canonized by Pope Pius II when with great solemnity the body of the saint, exhumed for the purpose, lay before the Pope holding a spotless lily (an attribute scarcely ever omitted in her paintings), that was placed in her hand.

It was in 1939 when, along with San Francesco d’Assisi, Catherine was declared as the patron saint of Italy by the newly elected Pope Pius XII. Another pious occasion was at a solemn ceremony, fragrant with Catherine’s spirit, in St Peter’s Basilica on October 4, 1970 when Pope Paul VI placed her in the list of the Doctors of the Church.

In 1999, vide an Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Teresa Benedicta of The Cross and St. Catherine of Siena, co-patronesses of Europe. That was the victory lap of the Godliness in those great women – and a reminder that there is a God who lives on in all of us – a divinity – a power for good.

I now take leave with Catherine’s own words: “Speak the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”

Until next time, Jo

NB:

  1. Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy; Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope; To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
  2. This is dedicated to all the Covid-19 warriors, alive and dead, around the World.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)