Giants of Florence
Magnificent Renaissance statues are well worth seeing
By Eva Stelzer
Florence is truly an open-air museum, offering the finest collection of sculptures that stand in the outdoor courtyards and are free for anyone to admire. An impressive array are found at Florence’s city hall and at Loggia dei Lanzi, built in the late 14th century to house public ceremonies on one corner of the Palazzo Vecchio. While many of Florence’s treasures are from the Renaissance, these sculptures in the Loggia are from various periods. You will appreciate the drastic difference between the stark architecture of the Palazzo and the intricacies of the Loggia.
Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo
I think of his words each time I look at the amazing sculpted figures that began as a block of marble, and the artistry involved in removing the unnecessary stone in order to release the figure from captivity and create emotional expression through an understanding of anatomy. Below are the most popular statues to see, and it wouldn’t be a trip to Florence without checking these off your list.
Statues in Piazza della Signoria
No Renaissance aficionado would dream of missing Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. In the 15th century, Renaissance sculptors studying the classical ideal found that freestanding nudes had been missing in Europe since the Roman Empire. Renaissance sculptors decided that it was time to revive the nude statue, but in what they perceived as realistic poses. The statues around Piazza della Signoria are mostly of male nudes looking to the side, twisting and turning their heads and shoulders in positions that could keep a physiotherapist busy for centuries. Renaissance artists had a penchant for creating something called contrapposto, a technique that figures in Italian paintings and statues. It is used to describe a human figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that the shoulders and arms can twist off-axis from the hips and legs. It yields a dynamic and lifelike appearance.
Florence is truly an open-air museum, offering the finest collection of sculptures that stand in the outdoor courtyards and are free for anyone to admire.
Yes, it’s true that David in Piazza della Signoria is a copy, but it’s a darn good one. While it can’t replace the feeling you get when seeing the master perfection of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s original work, it does offer great insight into the Renaissance ideals and the realism depicted in facial expressions and muscular definition. The copy is located to the left of the entrance of the Palazzo Becchio in the place where the original once stood. Due to wear from weather and pollution, the original has been wisely moved and you can see it — no, must see it — at the nearby Accademia.
David represents the biblical hero who defeated a much stronger enemy and later came to represent the defense of civil liberties against the threats from more powerful rival states. Look how David’s brow is drawn, his neck tense and the veins on his right hand bulge, a sign that he is focused and ready for action. This statue depicts David before he goes to slay the giant Goliath. It is the intensity of his gaze and the tense readiness that creates a new perspective of an old biblical story.
Yes, it’s true that David in Piazza della Signoria is a copy, but it’s a darn good one.
Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa, also in the Piazza della Signoria, was sculpted between 1545-1554 when the Renaissance was winding down. The work shows incredible technique, from the ornate tufts of hair and blood to the exact anatomy of Perseus’s body. View the sculpture from the back to see Cellini’s self-image on the back of the helmet.
Hercules and Cacus
To the right of David is the statue of Hercules, completed by Baccio Bandinelli in 1533. The muscular demi-god is pulling the hair of Cacus, who will be clubbed and strangled when Hercules’ attention is diverted by someone passing on the right. You can see the eyes of Cacus have already started to bulge, the thick lips might as well quiver, and he is presented in a very ignoble position.
Neptune surrounded by nymphs and satyrs
At the corner of the building other male nudes surround a fountain. The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati was designed to illustrate Florentine dominion over the sea and is symbolized by the chained sea monsters around and between the legs of the god. The fountain was finished in 1575 and filled from an ingenious aqueduct especially made to carry water from the Ginevra over a bridge crossing the river Arno and to the fountain. The public was unimpressed and essentially used the fountain as a washstand.
Part of why you want to see these for yourself is their height; these statues are over five metres tall! The use of the marble gives a magical, luminescent sheen to the skin. After working on some of these statues for several years, the sculptors still had to deal with critics, one saying that Hercules’ muscular arms looked like “a sackful of melons.” When you see these statues for yourself you can compare them, but I doubt you will see anything more than perfection.
Come see some or all of these statues with us on one of our group trips. I will be hosting the group trips to Florence and Tuscany in April and May 2016. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website at eviactive.com
Images: courtesy of Eva Stelzer and LMA communications
Eva Stelzer is the owner and founder of Evia, a bespoke travel service. A former academic, she has spent many years delivering experiential journeys and travel writing. Learn more at eviactive.com