WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XI: The Mercato Nuovo
The principal mart for gold and silk was in the Mercato Nuovo, to which spot peculiar privileges were accorded, in consideration of the important branch of commerce carried on there. No one within its precincts was allowed to carry arms, nor could any one be arrested for debt.
The Loggia, which is a comparatively modern structure, rests on five composite columns. It was built after a design of Bernardo Tasso, by command of Duke Cosimo I., in 1547; the chamber above the Loggia contains the archives of contracts, &c. The fountain on one side has a magnificent bronze boar, cast by Tacca, the pupil of Giovan Bologna, a copy from the ancient marble in the Gallery of the Uffizi. In the centre of the Loggia is a marble slab, with a representation of one of the wheels of the Caroccio, or ancient war-chariot of Florence. This is only the copy of a more ancient slab, which stood here long before the erection of the Loggia.
The area once occupied by the market extended towards the river as far as the Via de' Apostoli. On the side of the Via Por San Maria was the small Church of Santa Maria sopra Porta, which, in spite of its diminutive size, was one of the most important in the city. It was destroyed by fire, and a part of the Church of San Biagio rests upon ground it once occupied. San Biagio is reached by a narrow alley, called the Via Capaccio; a name supposed to be derived either from Capo d' Acqua, "a fountain or spring," or from Campo di Paccio, "Field of Paccio," the name of the owner of the land on which Santa Maria was built. The Caroccio, or war-chariot, was kept in Santa Maria, and its bell, the Martinella, "Little Hammer," was suspended over the church door, and tolled continuously for a month previous to the commencement of a war, in order to prepare the citizens for the event.
The Caroccio, or war-chariot in use in various of the Italian cities, was adopted in 1038 by Heribert, Archbishop of Milan, when he defended his city from the Emperor Conrad, probably in imitation of an Etruscan usage. On the car was placed a wooden castle, with a tall mast and cross-beam, to which hung the bell, and over it floated the banner with the city arms. It was drawn by oxen in the midst of the army, which seemed thus to fight under divine protection.100
Some stones in the walls of San Biagio are supposed to have been brought by the Pazzi from Jerusalem, with a light from the tomb of the Saviour; and annually, on Saturday in Holy Week, a piece of charcoal is kindled here, and borne on the Caroccio to the Cathedral, to light the sacred lamp on the altar, a ceremony typical of the descent of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards to the Canto de' Pazzi.
San Biagio is no longer used as a church, but is the magazine for the company of firemen; it contains a supply of engines, prepared to start at a minute's notice. The constant recurrence of fires in Florence in former days obliged the magistrates, in 1416, to appoint a corps of firemen. The present company of pompieri is in three divisions, each composed of ninety men; but they are seldom called out, as fires in the city are as rare now as they were once frequent.
The building adjoining San Biagio, overlooking the piazza, on which may been seen traces of a large fresco, was once the palace of the Lambertesca family. It was afterwards divided into two parts, one half of which was assigned to the captain of the Guelphic party, an important government officer, and the other half for the residence of the guild of Silk. This guild, after that of wool, was the most influential in Florence, and, as we have already stated, had its chief sale in the Mercato Nuovo. The art of preserving the cocoons and winding off the silk appears to have been imported from India to Constantinople, and thence was introduced into Sicily, by the Norman King Roger, who brought artisans in silk from Athens, Thebes, and Corinth. A Guild of Silk with consuls was formed in Florence as early as 1204, and a fresh impulse was given to the trade by the Lucchese manufacturers, who took refuge in this city during troubles in Lucca. The Florentines imitated the manufactures of Persia in their silken stuffs as well as silver and gold brocade, all of which became important articles of commerce. The guild was called 'l Arte di Por San Maria, and adopted for their arms a gate surrounded by a garland of flowers, and supported by six putti, "boy-angels." The advantages to the revenue derived from the silk trade, added to the wealth derived from the trade in wool, contributed in times of disaster to save Florence from ruin.
The building for the residence of the Guild of Silk was commenced after a design of Francesco della Luna,101 and finished by Filippo Brunelleschi. The staircase in the Via di Capaccio was built much later, after a design of Giorgio Vasari - 1587. The principal entrance is in the Via delle Terme, and there are frescos on the walls of the rooms within, as well as valuable chests of carved wood, once belonging to the Guild of Silk; but as the archives of the Monte - Funds - preserved here for some time past, have not yet been wholly removed, the apartments are inaccessible to strangers. Near this quarter is the Via di Ferro, where was the residence of the Guild of Butchers - "Beccai" - with their emblem, the goat rampant, upon the walls. At the corner of the Via Lambertesca and the Via Por San Maria - still so called, after the gate and church of that name - is an ancient tower, said to have been the habitation of Bishop Zanobius, which on the saint's anniversary is every year decorated with flowers. The Lambertesca family had their residence in this quarter. Over the doorway of a house to the left is an inscription recording the bakehouse of the Republic: the Government had certain bakehouses from whence, in times of scarcity, bread was distributed to the people. In Via Por San Maria another ancient tower, nearly opposite that of San Zanobius, with two grotesque lions' heads projecting from the wall, was the first residence of the Capitano del Popolo. In still earlier times this tower belonged to the houses of the Amidei family, whose feuds with the Buondelmonti let out the waters of strife in Florence. Here, in 1214, when one Lambertuccio Amidei occupied this palace, a quarrel arose between his brother-in-law Oddo Fifanti and one of the Buondelmonti, and the relations and friends of both families proposed to effect a reconciliation by the marriage of the daughter of the Amidei with a young Buondelmonti; but the powerful family of the Donati, who had their dwellings in the vicinity of the Via del Corso, extending as far back as the Church of San Piero Maggiore, and who were rivals of the Amidei, were by no means pleased at this proposal, which would have strengthened the opposite faction. The wife of Forese Donati, one of the chiefs of the clan, accordingly invited Buondelmonti to visit her, and offered him her beautiful daughter in marriage instead of the Amidei. Attracted by the charms of the young lady, Buondelmonti accepted the proposal, and broke his troth to his bride; but this injury to the honour of the Amidei could not be tolerated in silence. In the Church of San Stefano, in the little piazza of that name, off the por San Maria, they met their friends, who lived in this quarter, and consulted with them how to take revenge. Among these friends were the Lamberti, from their palaces near the Mercato Vecchio, and the Uberti, from their stronghold in the Piazza della Signoria. One of these last proposed to seize the offending Buondelmonti, and disfigure him by cuts in the face; but Mosco Lamberti, starting up, exclaimed, "If you wound him, you had better first dig your own grave: the deed that is done has a head - 'Cosa fatta capo ha'" - a saying which has become proverbial, and which decided the assembly to put their intended victim to death. In the year 1215, on Easter Sunday, the day fixed on for Buondelmonti's wedding, the bridegroom, arrayed in white, with a garland of flowers on his head, and mounted on a white palfrey, was proceeding from his own dwelling in the Piazza della SS. TrinitÓ to that of his bride, when, as he approached the houses of the Amidei, the conspirators rushed out upon him. As he endeavoured to escape across the Ponte Vecchio, they dragged him from his horse, and dispatched him with their daggers at the foot of the column on which stood the statue of Mars. The enraged Donati - the family of his bride - laid his body on a bier, and the young maiden, seated with the head of her murdered lover on her lap, proceeded in mournful procession throughout the city, exciting the compassion of the people, and calling on the Buondelmonti to revenge the death of their relation.
A narrow alley from the Por San Maria, opposite the tower of the Amidei, leads to San Stefano, where the conspirators met. This church has been called ad Portam Ferream, from the iron gate at its entrance; also Capo di Ponte, from its vicinity to the Ponte Vecchio. On the iron gate may still be seen the horse-shoe which is supposed to be that of Buondelmonti's palfrey lost in the struggle, though some have supposed it to have belonged to the horse of Charlemagne. San Stefano was a church of some importance as early as 1116, and is one of the most ancient in Florence. Here Boccaccio, in 1378, lectured on the Divina Commedia of Dante; and meetings have been held here on various occasions by the Florentine municipality: the most celebrated was that in 1426, for the repression of license among those belonging to the minor arts, when Nicolo d' Uzzano, a distinguished citizen, delivered a discourse, which is given entire in Macchiavelli's "History of Florence." The church was modernised in 1656. The interior is spacious, with singular septagonal arches over the high altar. There is a bronze relief by Tacca, representing the martyrdom of St. Stephen, which, though not among his happiest productions, is spirited. Near the church of St. Stephen, a cup in the wall, now removed, once recorded that here the Guild of Vintners, "Vinattieri," had their residence.
The whole line of houses along the river from Via Por San Maria, and as far back as the Via de' Apostoli, adjoining the habitations of the Amidei, stand on the site of the dwellings of the Acciajoli, who date their origin from 1160, when they were workers in steel at Brescia, and migrated to Florence to escape from the tyranny of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
The houses of the Buondelmonti extend along the Via de' Apostoli, opposite those of the Amidei, and reached as far as the Church of SS. TrinitÓ. The Buondelmonti castles of Montebuoni were seized by the Florentines in 1137, when the family took up their abode in the city.
The Borgo degli Apostoli, once a borough outside the city walls, leads to the Piazzetta del Limbo, within which stands the church of the SS. Apostoli, as ancient as that of San Stefano. The interior, composed of Roman columns of verde di prato, is singularly beautiful. Brunelleschi admired it so much as to make it a study and example in his own churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito. Unwilling to deviate in any way from his model, he even raised the side chapels a step above the pavement, although an architectural defect in this otherwise perfect little church. The SS. Apostoli, as well as San Stefano, is said to have been founded by Charlemagne, and a somewhat apocryphal inscription on a slab outside records that it was consecrated by Archbishop Turpin. The last altar of the left aisle is called the Altar of the Angels - Altare degli Angeli - from a most exquisite relief in Robbia ware, representing boy-angels of peculiar sweetness and grace. Near this altar is the tomb of Oddo Altoviti of Prato, by Benedetto da Rovezzano, in the early part of the sixteenth century. This monument has been removed from its original position on the opposite side of the church, where lie the remains of Altoviti: the figure in relief is much injured by time.
Next the Church of the SS. Apostoli, at the angle of the piazzetta, is the Palazzo del Turco, formerly Borgherini, built by Baccio d' Agnolo. Over what is now a druggist's shop is a bas-relief of a Madonna and Child with angels, and above it, the head of our Saviour in profile, by Benedetto da Rovezzano, who executed the monument of Oddo Altoviti within the church. Benedetto was also employed for a handsome chimney-piece in one of the rooms of the palace, which is figured in Cicognara's work.102 The windows of this palace are formed of small panes of glass, usual in the early part of the fifteenth century, and are provided with massive shutters studded with large-headed nails. One apartment was fitted up with paintings and carvings by the best artists, employed by the father of Pier Franšesco Borgherini, on the occasion of his son's betrothal to Margherita Acciajuoli. The genius displayed in these works is greatly praised by Vasari, who describes the masterpieces of art in this palace, particularly the black walnut cabinets, exquisitely carved by Baccio d' Agnolo, and still in preservation, as well as the paintings by Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Granacci, and Bacchiacca, all of which are now scattered in various galleries. These works were not less esteemed during the lifetime of the artists than by posterity. Whilst Pier Franšesco Borgherini was absent from home during the siege of Florence, 1529, Giovan Battista delle Palle, an agent of the King of France, persuaded the Florentine Government to allow him to spoil of the Palazzo Borgherini for his master Francis I. On his arrival, however, he was met by Margherita Acciajuoli, who bade him be gone, showering upon him angry epithets, such as "vile broker," &c., and demanding how he dared to enter a gentleman's house to strip it of its ornaments, and thus deprive the city of its richest treasures to embellish the dwellings of foreigners, probably enemies of his country; she concluded by declaring that she would shed the last drop of her blood in the defence of the furniture which had been her father-in-law's gift at her wedding. The lady succeeded in terrifying the agent of the French king, who was obliged to retire in discomfiture. The family Del Turco purchased the palace some years later, and the present inhabitant is a canon of the Cathedral. The walls are covered with a most interesting collection of pictures, to which the visitor receives easy and courteous admission. In the room, with the noble chimney-piece, by Benedetto da Rovezzano, are representations of San Sebastian and San Piero Martire, by Giovanni Santi of Urbino, the father of Raffaelle. The next room contains a very lovely Madonna and Child, by Pinturicchio; beneath it is a small, but very interesting portrait of the good Bishop Sant' Antonino of St. Mark's, by his friend and brother monk Fra Bartolommeo. In the third room is a fine copy, by Bronzino, of Raffaelle's picture of St. John in the Wilderness; a lovely Holy Family, by Lorenzo Credi; an interesting picture of St. Jerome, by Andrea Castagno, a rare master; a fine portrait of Holbein; and a very curious and interesting picture by Dello, an artist who spent most of his life in Spain, and who has here represented the Triumph of David. There is likewise an original sketch by Murillo for the picture of the Assumption of the virgin, now in the Louvre at Paris.
Nearly opposite the Palazzo Borgherini, beside a nursery-garden, was once the lodging and atelier of the celebrated American painter, Benjamin West, and here he is said to have begun his portrait of lord Byron.
The Borgo degli Apostoli leads to the Piazza della S. TrinitÓ, at the corner of which on the Arno is an irregularly shaped, tall old palace, lately used by the municipality of Florence as the town hall, or Palazzo del Municipio, but now converted into public offices, and containing the Lending Library of Vieusseux. It is one of the finest specimens of old Florentine architecture, and was built for the family of Spini by a pupil of Lapo, the father of Arnolfo, in the thirteenth century. There existed until a few years ago an arch over the Lung' Arno, attached to the palace and surmounted by a tower, which, falling to decay, was considered unsafe, and was demolished in 1823. There is little within worthy of notice. On the first floor is a door which once led to the great saloon, said to be by Donatello, and very delicately carved; it is supported by twisted columns, and has a representation of the Trinity in the pediment. The City arms are over the entrance, one of which is the eagle grasping the dragon, an emblem granted to Florence by Pope Clement IV., the enemy of the Imperialists, who invited Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX., into Italy to oppose the claims of Manfred and of Conradin, the youthful heir of the Emperor Frederick II. The dragon is here meant to represent Frederick crushed by the Roman eagle. The Florentine Guelphs lent their aid to destroy Manfred and Conradin at the request of Clement, who warned them "that the young serpent - Dragon - had sprung up from the blood of the old."
On the ceiling of a small room, opposite this door, are some very fair frescos of children supporting the arms of the former owners of this palace. The remainder of the rooms are large and vaulted, but covered with gaudy, ill-drawn frescos. The arms of the Feroni are in some places conspicuous - the mailed arm holding a dagger - said to have been assumed by the family when one of them slew Lorenzino di Medici, the murderer of his cousin, Duke Alexander. In the office on the upper storey, assigned to the superintendents of works of art, is a collection of fine drawings recently made of sculpture found in the Mercato Vecchio and the neighbourhood, which are to be removed, preparatory to the demolition of that quarter of the city.
The three streets opposite the Church of the S. TrinitÓ are the Borgo SS. Apostoli already described, the Via delle Terme parallel with it, in which were once Roman baths, and the Via Porta Rossa, where stood the gate of that name, and which leads from the Piazza S. TrinitÓ to the Mercato Nuovo.
In the piazza, between the Borgo SS. Apostoli and the Via delle Terme, lived the last of the Buondelmonti, whose daughter married a Marchese Feroni of the neighbouring palace. This house became still better known as the Lending Library of the late Gian Pietro Vieusseux, one of the greatest promoters of Italian Unity and independence. The family of Vieusseux were originally cloth merchants of Geneva. When driven from their home by the French, in 1783, they migrated to Oneglia, where one of the Vieusseux had already established a branch of their trade. Gian Pietro was born at Nice in 1791, but on the second French invasion, in 1792, when the little town of Oneglia was sacked, Vieusseux was ruined, and the family returned to Genoa. In this seafaring city the inclinations of Gian Pietro turned to the life of a sailor, from which he was, however, dissuaded, and he became a cloth merchant like his father, who sent him on various missions connected with their trade to Germany and France, where he was a witness, as well as sufferer, during the scenes which followed the Revolution, but from which he appears to have gathered good fruits; and he applied the experience and knowledge thus gained in his youth for the benefit of his native land, where he endeavoured to spread enlightened and liberal opinions. In 1818, at the age of forty, when, as he himself expressed it, "he had read little, but had observed much," he opened his lending library in Florence. His collection of books was more literary than scientific. He not only bought Italian works from other parts of the peninsula, but he imported political periodicals and books from France and England, thus giving an example which was speedily followed in other parts of Italy. In 1824, Vieusseux began a series of weekly receptions in his house, opening his rooms to Italians of every political creed, as well as to foreigners of literary and scientific eminence. But his greatest achievement was the publication of a periodical in Florence, the Anthologia, to which the first writers in Italy contributed. In this work he proposed "to represent the actual condition of Italian society, with its moral and intellectual necessities; to acquaint Italians with the progress of civilisation in Europe, and to make Italy generally known to herself, as well as to foreigners." Further, "to describe her past glory, to encourage her in the development of her resources, and to awaken her to a national, rather than merely municipal, existence, by the stimulus of judiciously selected examples."
Vieusseux admitted the expression of all shades of opinion in his Anthologia, as well as in his conversazione, always provided they were stated with decorum and moderation. Notwithstanding his precaution, the periodical was prohibited in the Austrian-Italian states as a "pestiferous journal." In 1832, after the articles of a number for that year had undergone the usual curtailments of the Tuscan censor, amounting to fourteen mutilations whilst passing through the press, and after it had received the approbation of the Tuscan government, the Russian and Austrian courts preferred a complaint against the Anthologia, on account of two articles - one, a poem entitled "Peter of Russia," and purporting to be addressed to the Czar Nicholas; the other, an essay on Pausanias, in which it was supposed that a comparison was intended between Achaia and the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, and between the Spartan hero and Prince Metternich. The editor was summoned to appear before the police tribunal in the Palazzo Nonfinito, and, as he refused to betray the authors of the obnoxious articles, the Anthologia was suppressed.
Vieusseux was also the editor of a journal for the encouragement of agriculture, most important to the future prosperity of Italy. In private he was the benefactor of the persecuted and distressed; and as he never accumulated riches for himself, his wealthy and distinguished friends placed means at his disposal for this charitable object. Among those Vieusseux specially recommended as most deserving assistance was a young man from Nice, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Gian Pietro Vieusseux died in 1864. His body was followed to its last resting-place in the Protestant cemetery beyond the Porta Pinti by the most illustrious citizens of Florence; Cosimo Ridolfi and Marco Tabarrini pronounced the funeral orations.103 His nephew has raised a monument at his grave; and the Florentine municipality have placed an inscription in his honour over the door of his former library, now transferred to the Palazzo Spini.
At the corner of the Via Porta Rossa stood the houses of the Degli Scali family, once among the wealthiest in Florence, who became bankrupt in 1326, when their dwellings were included in those of the Bartolini Salimbeni, many of whom filled important offices in the state. The device of the Salimbeni family is three poppies, with the curious motto, "Per non dormire," "Not to sleep." It forms the ornament of the projecting story of the old house in the Via Porta Rossa. Further up this narrow street in the Palazzo Davanzati, with its curious cortile and staircase opening in successive terrazzas or balconies to the loggia above. In this house Bernardo Davanzati, the historian, translated Tacitus; he also wrote an account of the secession of England from the Roman Catholic Church, and finally a treatise on agriculture in Tuscany.
Facing one side of the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni (now the H˘tel du Nord) is the entrance to the Piazza delle Cipolle - "onions." This piazza is behind the magnificent Palazzo Strozzi. Here stands the small Church of Sta. Maria degli Ughi, called after a family of that name, and supposed by antiquarians to have been built in the seventh century. The bells of Sta. Maria degli Ughi were cast by the celebrated artist in bronze, Nicol˛ Caparra, and its deep full sound reached every quarter of the city. The government therefore allowed this church the privilege of ringing the Florentine curfew at the hour of sunset; and on Saturday in Holy Week the bell announced the end of Lent, and that the work of redemption was completed. Sta. Maria degli Ughi was suppressed in 1785, and the remembrance of Nicol˛ Caparra's bell has also passed away. An oratory was founded here by Count Filippo Giuseppe Strozzi. The adjoining palace was the first Strozzi Palace, and was built by Palla Strozzi, whose remains lie in the vaults of the SS. TrinitÓ.
From the Piazza delle Cipolle, the Via Ferravecchi leads directly to the Mercato Vecchio.
Acciajuoli (Margherita) 1529
Acciajuoli, Nicol˛ 1310-1366
Andrea del Sarto 1488-1530
Baccio d' Agnolo died 1643
Baccio Bandinelli 1493-1500
Bacchiacca 1531 (?)
Boccaccio lectured in San Stefano 1378
Borgherini, Pier Franšesco, married 1523
Captain of the Guelphic party appointed 1266
Caroccio first used in Milan 1038
Casentino, Jacopo 1510 (?) 1580 (?)
Chiesa di SS. Apostoli founded 800 (?)
Chiesa Sta. Maria degli Ughi 1000 (?)
Chiesa San Stefano of historical importance 1116
Chiesa SS. TrinitÓ 1000 (?)
Clement IV 1265-1268
Credi, Lorenzo 1459-1537
Davanzati, Bernardo 1529-1606
Dello Delli, living 1455
Firemen (Company of) instituted in Florence 1416
Ferruccio Franšesco living 1488
Francis, St., of Assisi 1182-1226
Granacci, Franšesco 1469-1544
Holbein, Hans 1468-1554
Honorius, Pope 1216-1227
Monaco, Lorenzo 1390 (?) 1430
Niccol˛ d' Uzzano 1390-1433
Oddo Altoviti of Prato 1200 (?) 1280
Pius IV., Pope 1559-1565
Pontermo, Jacopo 1495-1550
Roger, King of Sicily 1196-1254
Rovezzano, Benedetto da, died 1552
Sanzio, Giovanni, of Urbino 1450-1500 (?)
Strozzi, Palla, built the Sacristy of SS. TrinitÓ 1421
Strozzi, Piero 1558
Tacca 1529 (?) 1600
West, Benjamin 1758-1820
100 See "Latin
Christianity," H. H. Milman, vol. iii. p 436. Also vol.
i. chap. xiii. of this work.
101 The Della Lunas were originally apothecaries, and took their name from the emblem of the apothecaries. They were among the first families, and had their dwellings round a piazzetta in the Mercato Vecchio.
102 See "Storia della Pittura."
103 This information has been derived from a memoir written by the Venetian poet Tommaseo, once a contributor to the Anthologia, and the author of the obnoxious article on Pausanias.
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