WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XII: The Via Calzaioli - Or San Michele
In the most ancient part of Florence, just described, we find that the hostile factions of Guelph and Ghibelline dwelt in close proximity; the Guelphic Adimari in the immediate vicinity of the Baptistery, where the Guelphs held their meetings and the Guelphic popolani, or plebian Rondinelli, beyond the Archbishop's Palace, once the mansion of Countess Matilda; whilst, clustering around the Mercato Vecchio, were the proud Ghibelline nobles.
The struggles between Guelph and Ghibelline had a wider significance than a mere contest for power between the representatives of ecclesiastical and civil authority. The popes, with ambition exceeding even that of the secular rulers of Christendom, were compelled to seek supporters among the ancient Roman municipalities of Italy; and whilst thus becoming the advocates of Italian independence, they identified the cause of the Church with that of the nation. The banner of the Guelph was Italian autonomy and democracy; that of the Ghibelline, a German emperor and feudal aristocracy. The Florentine Republic had been distinguished by loyalty to the Countess Matilda, the dutiful daughter and champion of the Church; but when Boniface VIII., whose legate laid the first stone of Santa Maria del Fiore, invited Charles of Valois, the son of Philippe le Hardi, King of France, to defend his cause in Italy, the poet Dante, recently Prior of the Republic, who had begun life as a Guelph, became a Ghibelline. Party spirit in him was subordinate to the higher considerations of patriotism, and he seems to have anticipated greater danger to his country from a French occupation than from the usurpations of a German emperor who aimed at a feudal suzerainty over the peninsula.
The Florentine government continued long in the
hands of the Guelphic families, among whom were the Adimari,
whose cellar sheltered the founders of the Misericordia.
They occupied a considerable portion of the Via Calzaioli, at
the north-west extremity, near the Bigallo and Piazza di San
Giovanni. This thoroughfare, leading directly from the
Cathedral to the Palazzo Vecchio, the ancient palace of the
Signory, is always the most crowded street in the city.
It is inconveniently narrow, but was still more so formerly;
and has twice been widened, first in 1342, by the Duke of
Athens, again as late as 1844. The Via Calzaioli was
originally divided into three parts, each of which bore a
different name. The Corso degli Adimari, from the Piazza
del Duomo and the Piazza di San Giovanni, as far as the Via
degli Speziali, and Corso, properly so called; the Via dei
Pittori, as far as Or San Michele; and the Via Cacciajoli, or
street of cheesemongers, to its termination in the Piazza
della Signoria. The name Calzaioli was given to the
whole street at a later period from the hosiers or
manufacturers of serge stockings, for which Florence was
famous, and which became an important branch of commerce, so
that the Emperor Charles V., in compliment to the city, wore a
pair of these stockings, calze di rascia, when he made his
entry in 1536.
Returning to the houses of the Adimari, a marble slab acquaints the passers-by that Donatello and Michelozzo worked in that house together, probably at the very time that they made the beautiful monument to Pope John XXIII. in the Baptistery. On the same side, but lower down the street, are the arms of the notorious Duke of Athens, carved in stone - the lion rampant with two tails - left to mark the dwelling of him minion, Cerettieri Visdomini, who was torn to pieces by the Florentine mob. The block of buildings, immediately before reaching the Church of Or San Michele, occupies the site of the houses of the Ghibelline Macci family, who received Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens, within their walls, on his first arrival in Florence. Born in Greece, in the fourteenth century, of half-French, half-Asiatic descent, Walter de Brienne inherited land in Puglia, and was brought up in the court of Robert of Anjou, King of Naples. In 1326 the king's son, the Duke of Calabria, was offered the lordship of Florence, on condition of his affording the city protection against Castruccio Castracani, lord of Lucca. The Duke of Calabria appointed De Brienne his vicegerent, and the new governor was hospitably received by the Macci. Although he arrogated to himself more power than had been conferred on him, in the appointment of the magistrates, he ruled well and became popular with the masses. In 1342, the Florentines, in acknowledgment of services he had rendered them during a siege of Lucca, chose him their captain, with the title of Conservator. But no sooner was he secure of unrestrained dominion than, establishing himself in the Monastery of Sta. Croce, he commenced a career of crime and bloodshed which has made his name infamous, and in which he was chiefly abetted by Cerettieri Visdomini. When the Florentines at last succeeded in shaking off the Ghibelline yoke, and restoring their Gulephic rulers, the Macci, because they had given a home to De Brienne, were exiled, and their dwellings bestowed on the captains of the Bigallo, who established their Residence here, until they were united with the Company of the Misericordia. On the opposite side of the street, at the corner of the Via delle Oche, facing the former houses of the Adimari, an inscription records that on this spot some remains of the first circuit of walls were discovered; they lay in a north-westerly and southerly direction, leaving the Church of San Salvador (on the site of the present Cathedral) outside the city. At the corner of the Via delle Oche, another inscription informs us that the Loggia degli Adimari Caviciuli, also called La Neghitosa, "the slothful," stood here. It was a club, or place of resort for the idle, fashionable youth of Florence, and from thence probably issued the party who waylaid Guido Cavalcanti, and from whom he escaped by leaping over one of the Sarcophagi in the Piazza di San Giovanni.104
In the Via delle Oche stood the house of
Franšesco Agolanti, belonging to one of the oldest Ghibelline
families of the Mercato Vecchio, the first husband of Ginevra
Amieri.105 A little lower down the Corso degli
Adimari, at the corner of the street now called Il Corso, an
inscription records the site of a church dedicated to Santa
Maria Nipoticosa. Some suppose the word "Nipoticosa" to
have been derived from Nipote di Cosa - Cosa having been a
learned lady of the eleventh century, married to an Adimari,
who contributed to build the church. It was also called
San Donino, because a relic of that martyr was preserved here,
which was esteemed peculiarly efficacious in preventing
hydrophobia: a pulpit was attached to the outer wall,
from which the precious relic was exhibited to the people; but
this pulpit obtained still more honourable celebrity, from the
preaching of the good Archbishop Antonino.
From the corner of the Via degli Speziali or Canto del Giglio, and the Corso degli Adimari to the present Churches of San Carlo and Or San Michele, was the second division of the street, named the Via dei Pittori, because here the painters had their booths and waited for commissions which they executed in their workshops in other parts of the city; except where some, like Donatello, had likewise their studios in this neighbourhood.
In this part of Via Calzajoli [sic] once stood the
Church of San Bartolommeo, suppressed in the eighteenth
century, on the steps of which sat Ginevra Amieri when
rejected by her husband.
The third division, Via Cacciajoli, was only built in 1326, when the houses of the old family of Abati were demolished, to open a way from the Piazza di Or San Michele to the corner of the Piazza della Signoria. Standing here and looking back the whole length of the street, Monte Morello may be seen rising above the Piazza di San Giovanni, reminding us of the lovely scenery around, even when in the midst of this busy thoroughfare.
The Piazza of Or San Michele was once an orchard and vegetable garden, in the centre of which, anterior to the eighth century, stood a small Lombard Church, dedicated to the patron saint of Lombardy, the Archangel Michael. The houses of the Uberti, Abati, Cavalcanti, Macci, gradually rose around, and Or San Michele became one of the centres of old Florence. Around 1240 the Signory were informed that St. Michael was falling into decay from the neglect of its patrons, the monks of Saint Sylvester of Nonantola,106 who pretended that Charlemagne had bestowed this church upon their abbey. The monks were supported in their claim by Pope Innocent IV., but the Signory, taking counsel together, resolved to obtain possession of the building; and, nothing daunted by threats of ecclesiastical censure, the Anziani, or ancients of the city, issued a decree for its demolition, giving orders that the area it had occupied should be assigned for a corn-market. At the same time they commenced building a new church, dedicated to St. Michael, on the opposite side of the street, where the monks could claim no jurisdiction, and entrusted the work to Arnolfo di Cambio. This structure of Arnolfo's was, however, destroyed by fire in 1304; and seventy-six years later, in 1380, the present church of San Carlo was built, whose elegant fašade, with its simple but beautiful tracery in the flamboyant style, is by the architect Simone Talenti. A relic of San Carlo Borommeo was deposited here in the seventeenth century, when a Lombard fraternity, appointed to officiate in the church, bestowed upon it the name of San Carlo.
Meantime corn was bought and sold where the little
oratory of St. Michael had stood, and the name of Or San
Michele has been variously derived form Hortus, a garden, or
Horreum, a granary of St. Michael.
In 1284 a loggia, or roof resting on arches which sprang from columns and pilasters like that of the present Mercato Nuovo, was erected in the piazza, after a design by Arnolfo di Cambio. This building was completed in 1290, and served as a shelter from the sun in summer, and from the inclemency of the weather at other seasons; while, above it, was a magazine for the stowage of corn. On one of the pilasters of the loggia hung an image of the Madonna by Ugolino of Sienna, a celebrated artist of the time. This ancient custom of placing a sacred image against the public buildings, official residences, or shops of the city, as a constant reminder of the Divine Presence, is stillusual in Florence. The stranger may frequently observe lamps burning before tabernacles at corners of the streets; the addition of the lamp is said tohave been first suggested by Peter Martyr as a protection after dark, when Florence was frequently subject to scenes of violence, from the quarrels between the Paterini and the Catholics. The practice of thus lighting the city proved so great a benefit, that, in order to combine this advantage with the economy of a republican government, the criminal who was allowed to escape the galleys or prison was compelled to keep a light burning before one of the tabernacles for the space of five years.
The image of the Virgin suspended in the market of Or San Michele was supposed to possess the miraculous power of healing the sick and driving out evil spirits. Crowds of both sexes and of all ranks, from various parts of Tuscany, were therefore attracted to the place, and assembled there daily; some to hang waxen votive images as large as life around the sacred picture, others to sing praises in honour of the Madonna. In 1291, a pious lay fraternity was formed, which comprehended many of the most influential Florentine citizens, who called themselves the "Laudesi di Santa Maria," or "Singers of Praises to the Holy Mary." The name was afterwards changed to the Company of Or San Michele; and, legacies and offerings pouring in from every side, they soon became a very wealthy corporation, who distributed large bounties among the poor.
Scenes of a very different kind were likewise enacted in this place. After the suppression of a rebellion of the Ghibellines against the Guelphic government of Florence in 1298, the leaders, Uberto degli Uberti, and Mangia degli Infangati, were put to the torture, and afterwards beheaded in the midst of the garden of St. Michael. The Uberti, who had their houses in the immediate neighbourhood, and occupied a considerable part of what is now the Piazza della Signoria, were among the most conspicuous of the Ghibelline families. The Infangati had their dwellings on the other side of the market of St. Michael, behind the old Church of Sta. Maria sopra Porta.
In 1304, a great fire took place here, begun by the Prior of San Piero Scheraggio,107 called Neri Abate. The Abati were a family notorious for acts of treachery: one of them, whilst fighting on the Guelphic side in the famous battle of Montaperti, cut off the arm of the standard-bearer, and thereby caused the defeat of his own party; another, in 1301, poisoned the guests at a banquet given to effect a reconciliation of the adverse factions in the city. Neri Abate set fire to his own house, near the Market of St. Michael, as well as the neighbouring houses of the Macci, and to those of the Cavalcanti in the Via Calzaioli, near the Baccano: unluckily a violent tramontana, or north wind, was blowing at the time, and half the city was consumed by the flames. Twenty years later, in 1326, the houses of the Abati were demolished to make room for the Via Cacciajuoli, thus uniting St. Michele with the Piazza della Signoria. Part of Arnolfo di Cambio's loggia had been burnt in the great fire; but it was temporarily restored in wood, whilst the brick pilaster to which Ugolino's image of the Virgin was fastened was protected by a casotto, or shed which was used as an oratory. The captains of the company of Or San Michele occupied the remainder of the loggia, which became their bottega, or booth for the sale of corn, and where they sung hymns and received offerings form the devout.
A "Magistracy of Abundance," or "Annona," as it was called, had existed in Florence from times so ancient that no record remains when it was first instituted. The captains, or officers of Or San Michele, eight in number, were appointed to purchase foreign grain when cheap, and to sell it below market price to the bakers, in order the equalise the price of wheat throughout the year. Like Joseph in Egypt, they spent the money acquired during years of prosperity in the purchase of foreign grain for days of scarcity. One of the duties of these officers was to ascend the tower of Or San Michele, once every year, to reconnoitre the surrounding country; and according as the grain appeared more or less luxuriant, they had to decide on the necessity and the amount of their purchase of corn from abroad. A curious MS. of the Laurentian Library, written by one Domenico Lensi, a cornchandler, in the latter half of the fourteenth century, has a miniature representing the Piazza of Or San Michele, as it appeared in 1329, when a disturbance was expected, caused by the rise in the price of provisions. The Cornmarket is represented guarded by the PodestÓ, by the captain of the company, the Capitano del Popolo, the chief officer for the administration of justice, and by the headsman with his block and axe. No buildings appear in the Piazza, except the loggia with the Tabernacle of the Virgin, beneath which the officer appointed to receive the offerings was seated on a bench.
As the wealth of the company rapidly increased, the captains resolved to rebuild the loggia on a larger scale, and they selected for the work Taddeo Gaddi, the chief architect of the Commonwealth. Villani, in his Chronicle, states that the foundation-stone was laid, with great pomp and ceremony, on the 29th July, 1337, the Bishop of Florence officiating, in the presence of the Priors, the PodestÓ, and all the members of the government. The superintendence of the works was confided to the Guild of Silk Merchants. Taddeo Gaddi's design was a building of two storeys resting on lofty arches; the loggia for the corn-market below, and the chambers above for granaries.
Or San Michele is in the form of a parallelogram, and is cased with pietra-forte. Two years after the corner-stone had been laid, the city magistracy granted the petition of the Arte della Seta, or Silk Merchant's Guild, to decorate one of the niches with a statue of their patron saint, St. John the Evangelist. So dilatory, however, were these silk merchants in performing their voluntary engagement, that from 1340 the niche remained empty for two centuries, when the statue was finally executed by Baccio di Montelupo, an artist of inferior merit, a contemporary of Michael Angelo.
Meantime, other guilds, following the example of the silk merchants in their proposal to decorate Or San Michele, were eager to give their support to a work emanating from the Guelphic or national party, which then filled the chief offices of the State. The building was thenceforward considered the peculiar property of the merchants and artisans of Florence. The major and minor arts into which these guilds were divided promised to supply a statue for every niche outside, and a painting within. The consuls and members of each particular guild likewise held themselves bound, on the name-day of their patron saint, to bring an offering to Or San Michele, which the company was to distribute among the poor; and they thus established their right of possession to the building. A singular custom was long retained here: the Signory, every Michaelmas Day, went to Or San Michele with new wine to be blessed: on their return to the Palazzo della Signoria, the priors drank to the health of the Gonfalonier,108 who responded to this toast by pledging that of the Florentine people.
The legacies and rich gifts which passed into the treasury during the plague of 1348, described by Boccaccio, enabled the company to convert the loggia into a church; and the captains gave the commission for the work to Andrea Orcagna, who had succeeded Taddeo Gaddi as the most celebrated architect of the day.
The church of Or San Michele was not finished until 1359, nor were the arches of the loggia filled in, nor the rich and fanciful ornamentation of the windows with the statuettes and medallions added, until 1366. The small square medallions of angels and prophets placed at intervals on the walls are by Simone Talenti, the same who executed the tracery work over the door of the opposite church of San Carlo. The medallions of Luca della Robbia ware, surrounding the loggia, were placed still later, and correspond with the statues beneath. Some of these are in high relief, others perfectly flat, a style of work rarely to be found among Luca's productions, but of which we have seen an example in the Opera del Duomo: he only commenced this kind of relief shortly before his death. The rest of the medallions are painted in distemper to counterfeit Robbia ware.
Or San Michele was held in such veneration, that strict laws were passed prohibiting any noise in its vicinity. No gambling was allowed within a prescribed limit, and the infringement of these rules was punished by a fine, which if not paid, the defaulter was either imprisoned for a month in the stinche, or public prisons, or he had to undergo what was called baptism - namely, immersion several times in the Arno from one of the bridges.
The statue of St. John the Evangelist, on the southern front of Or San Michele, by Baccio di Montelupo, has too much the appearance of an academy study; it is stiff, the neck also is too long, and the drapery heavy. Above the statue is a medallion in Robbia ware of two boy-genii, sweet and graceful in composition. The support the arms of the Guild of Silk - a gate109 beneath a red arch on a white shield, surrounded by a garland of fruit.
Next the patron saint of the Silk Merchants is the niche assigned to the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries (Medici e Speziali), whose residence was at the corner of the Mercato Vecchio. The arms of this company were the Madonna and Child, and to render the shrine worthy to contain the sacred image, it was richly decorated with statuettes. The statue belonging to this niche is now inside the church; it was executed by Simone da Fiesole, supposed to be a brother of Donatello, but it was removed from its place outside the loggia when a fanatical Jew threw a stone at it, in the year 1493, which caused a riot in the city. The image was, however, brought back to its destined niche, but a rumour having got abroad that it possessed the miraculous power of opening and shutting its eyes, such crowds were attracted to the spot, that the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I. ordered it a second time to be removed to the interior of the building, where it has remained ever since. The Florentine municipality have thought fit lately (1868) to place Donatello's celebrated statue of St. George, belonging to the northern front, in the vacant niche, because less exposed to the weather.110 The medallion of the Madonna above the niche of the Medici e Speziali is very lovely. She sits gracefully beneath an arch, with a lily on either side.
After the niche of the Physicians and Apothecaries follows that appropriated to the Furriers, l' Arte dei Vajai (ermines), whose Residence was in the Pelliceria, or Street of Furs, behind the Via Calimala: the arms of this company are, a sheep with ermines on a blue field: their niche contains the marble statue of St. James, by Nanni di Banco, a sculptor who lived early in the fifteenth century, and was a friend of Donatello. His works in the Cathedral have been already mentioned. He never attained any great proficiency in his art, partly because he was not dependent on it for his livelihood, and only practised it as an amusement, partly because he had never received a thoroughly professional education. The statue of St. James is poor in execution; a bas-relief below represents the beheadal of the saint, while above is his apotheosis.
The fourth niche belongs to the Guild of Flax
Merchants (Linajaoli), whose Residence was in the Piazza di
Sant' Andrea, near the Mercato Vecchio. The statue of
St. Mark is by Donatello; and Vasari informs us, that all who
looked upon it were filled with admiration, and that even
Michael Angelo declared, "If such the man really appeared when
alive, the goodness stamped on his countenance must have
vouched for the truth of what he taught." Donatello was
supposed to have been assisted by Brunelleschi in this work,
but later researches have proved the statue to have been
wholly his own. So much care was bestowed, that Nicol˛
di Pietro di Arezzo, the eminent sculptor who had been
employed for the gates of the Cathedral, was sent to Carrara
to choose the marble. When Donatello had finished this
statue to the best of his ability, he exhibited it before the
syndic of the Guild of Flax Merchants, who was far from
satisfied at his performance; but when, a few days later, the
statue was placed in its niche, their admiration knew no
bounds. By whatever means Donatello had attained his
scientific application of the laws of optics to his study of
the antique, whether derived from Brunelleschi or the results
of his own keen observation of nature, he undoubtedly
possessed this knowledge in an eminent degree, and, in the
words of Cavalcaselle, "The art of creating form, so as to
appear natural at certain distances or heights, has seldom
been better applied than in St. Mark of Donatello."111 The head of
this statue is fine and speaking; the pose is simple and
dignified, and the drapery beautifully arranged. The
decorations of the niche, which are unworthy of the statue,
are by two artists, Perfetto di Giovanni and Albizzo di
The first statue, on turning the corner to the western front, is that of St. Eloy or St. Lo, the patron of Farriers, Blacksmiths, and Workers in Metal (l' Arte dei Maniscalchi e degli Orafi). The blacksmith's tongs are ingeniously used as an ornament within the niche. The statue is meagre and stiff, but has dignity, and the head might be a portrait. It is attributed to Nanni di Banco, but is so superior to his sculpture in general, that some doubt has been entertained whether it is really his; it is not mentioned in the catalogue of his works in the Strozzi Library. The bas-relief below is more certainly by the hand of Nanni. It records a miracle of St. Eloy, who one day, when shoeing a restive horse which was possessed by a demon, and was kicking and plunging, cut off the animal's leg to fasten the shoe, and, having completed his task, made the sign of the cross, and restored the severed limb. St. Lo was a French goldsmith as well as blacksmith, and a golden chain he wrought for King Dagobert is still preserved in the Museum of the Louvre. The sanctity of his life caused him to be chosen Bishop of Noyon, and, although he lived in the seventh century, he was so long held in veneration that a hymn was addressed to him as late as the sixteenth century.112
The statue to the left of St. Lo is by Lorenzo
Ghiberti, and represents the first martyr Stephen. It
was placed here by the Guild of Wool (l' Arte della Lana), and
replaced another statue of St. Stephen of inferior size, and
probably inferior merit. The present statue is one of
the finest which adorns this loggia, and Lorenzo was ordered
to make it life-size. He had already executed the statue
of St. John the Baptist for the Guild of Foreign Wool
Merchants (l' Arte di Calimala). The drapery, though
simple and broad, is not heavy; the head is noble, and the
hands are admirable. This statue was so highly esteemed
that on its completion, between 1425 and 1428, the consuls of
the Guild of Foreign Wool requested that it should be placed
in the niche facing their Residence in the Via Calimala.
This house with battlements is now occupied by the officiating
priest of Or San Michele, and by the notary, who has charge of
the archives kept above the church in the chamber once used as
a granary. In the Commentaries of Lorenzo Ghiberti,
published in the last edition of Vasari's works, allusion is
made to the pains he bestowed on the statue of St. Stephen,
and, in another part of the work, Vasari mentions the fine
polish Ghiberti gave to the bronze.
St. Matthew, also by Ghiberti, has even higher excellence. Michelozzo, the pupil of Donatello, and the friend of Ghiberti, was associated with him in the work, and some have given him the whole credit. The date, 1420, is inscribed on the border of the dress, and proves that this statue was anterior to that of St. Stephen. The niche was first assigned to the Guild of Bakers, who intended to place a statue of St. Laurence there, but their funds falling short, the Signory compelled them to yield the place to the Stock-Brokers (l' Arte del Cambio) connected with the Mint, who placed their own patron saint St. Matthew here; he who "sat at the receipt of custom." The figure is dignified, the action free, and there is even greater simplicity in the folds of the drapery than in the statue of St. Stephen; the niche itself is very beautifully ornamented, and was also the work of Ghiberti. The two statuettes in white marble of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, representing the Annunciation on either side of the Tabernacle, are by Nicol˛ di Piero de' Lamberti di Arezzo, and were probably executed in 1408, the same year that he went to Carrara, as already mentioned, to superintend the selection of marble for the statue of St. Mark. These statuettes are much commended by Vasari, and are remarkable for the freedom with which the artist has treated the old type.113
The statue belonging to the first niche, on the northern front, is St. George, the patron saint of the Swordmakers and Armourers (l' Arte dei Spadai e Corazzi), and is the noblest work of Donatello.114 The youthful warrior stands firmly poised on both feet, the left hand resting lightly on his shield; the features are fine, and the countenance expressive of a lofty spirit; he seems to pause, and, looking sternly at his adversary, to measure his strength before attacking him. There is depth and absorption in his eyes, but the whole bearing of the statue has more of the soldier than the saint. The armour and the scanty folds of the mantle are so arranged as to display the form beneath to the greatest advantage. Donatello is remarkable for the fine polish he gives to the surface. The arms of the Guild - a coat of mail and rapier - are represented above, with the legend of the saint below, in a bas-relief by the same artist; in which the action of St. George, as he encounters the dragon, is very spirited, and the horse, as well as the timid and shrinking female, are admirable executed. Above the statue Donatello has represented the head of an old man, intended to personify the Eternal.
The next niche belongs to the Guild of Smiths, Carpenters, and Masons (l' Arte di Fabbri e Legnaioli), and contains a group by Nanni di Banco, representing four sculptors - Claudius, Nicostratus, Sinfronius, and Castorius, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Diocletian, and have been canonized. The group has little artistic merit, but derives interest from an anecdote related by Vasari in his life of the sculptor. Nanni had just finished the four statues when he discovered that he had placed them in attitudes which rendered it impossible for them to enter the niche intended for their reception; he hastened to Donatello, and asked his advice; his friend, amused at Nanni's want of forethought, replied by promising to pack all the four saints into their niche, on condition that Nanni should provide a supper for him and his apprentices. This offer was gladly accepted, and Nanni left Florence, by Donatello's advice to execute a commission at prato, which occupied him several days. Meantime Donatello set to work, and by lopping off the shoulder of one statue and the arm of another, he succeeded in fitting all four into their niche. Nanni, on his return, found his errors corrected, and gladly paid the forfeit he had promised. In the relief below this group the influence of the study of ancient art may be traced. Part of the composition is almost a repetition of a Greek gem. The sculptor who chisels out the statue of a boy is in graceful movement; and he, as well as the man hewing at the capital of a column, wears the costume of the period. The medallion in Robbia ware, above Nanni's statues, contains the arms of the Guild of Masons, and is one of Luca's first attempts to introduce colour in the clay before applying the varnish. The device is a white hatchet on a red field.
The statue in the succeeding niche is likewise by Nanni di Banco. It represents St. Philip, and was made for the guild of Hosiers (Arte delle Calze), whose trade gave its name to the Via de' Calzaioli. Donatello was at first requested to make this statue, but the Hosiers considered the price he asked exorbitant, and therefore commissioned Nanni; such, however, was their confidence in Donatello's probity that they consulted him what they should pay his substitute. To their surprise, he named a sum exceeding that which he had asked; and when they remonstrated he replied that Nanni, not being so expert, would find the task more difficult, and require a longer time for its fulfilment; therefore he ought, in justice, to receive higher remuneration, an argument which probably met with as little approbation from the hosiers of those days as it would from the enlightened advocates for free competition in the present. The arms of the Hosiers are three black stripes on a white ground.
Next to the statue of St. Philip is St. Peter, by Donatello, executed for the Guild of Butchers (Arte dei Beccai). The posture is easy, the countenance full of life, the drapery falls gracefully, and the hands are modelled with care. The finish bestowed on the hair and other details deserve notice. The dignity of the figure is, however, diminished by its short proportions, a defect probably arising from too close an adherence to the model. The medallion above is a very fine specimen of Luca della Robbia ware - a goat, or becco, the device of the Butchers,115 between two lovely boy-genii, who support the shield, which is surrounded by an exquisite garland of flowers.
The first statue on the eastern front of Or San Michele is St. Luke, by Giovan Bologna, a work of art belonging to a much later period than those already mentioned. The statue was cast in bronze by one Giovanni Alberghetti, for the Guild of Advocates (l' Arte dei Giudici e dei Notari), in the middle of the sixteenth century. It is a fine specimen of Giovan Bologna's style of composition and treatment. The arms of the guild, above, are a gold star on a blue shield, also supported by boy-genii. The central niche belonged to the Tribunal of the Mercanzia - the legal body deputed to settle any difference which might arise in commercial transactions. This magistracy became very important, and, as Captain Napier relates, was instituted by the guilds themselves. The major and minor arts nominated a certain number of eligible citizens, six of whom were drawn every four months, and selected as officers of the Mercanzia, and in any case of extraordinary difficulty eleven more were added to this number. The tribunal appears to have enjoyed a European reputation.116 Donatello was employed by the officers of the Mercanzia to construct the niche as well as to make the group within; but some disagreement arising about terms, as in the case of the Hosiers, they hesitated between Ghiberti and Donatello, and the work was ultimately assigned to Andrea Verocchio. The subject chosen was Our Lord and St. Thomas, to signify that this tribunal never pronounced judgment without placing a finger upon truth. Andrea was a pupil of Donatello. The drapery is somewhat confused from the multiplicity of folds, and the work is rather that of a painter or goldsmith than sculptor; but the group is executed with great skill. Vasari describes it as so perfect that Verocchio, convinced he could never again make one equal to it, abandoned sculpture for painting, as later he forsook painting, because compelled to yield the palm to his pupil Leonardo da Vinci. The arms of this guild - a gold star on a blue field on the medallion above - is surrounded by a garland of fruit, admirably executed.
The statue which follows that of Our Lord and St. Thomas was the first placed outside the loggia in the year 1414. It represents St. John the Baptist, and was executed for the Guild of Foreign Wool Merchants by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Their arms above consist in an eagle grasping a bale of wool, on a red field, and encircled by a beautiful garland, in flat Robbia ware. The statue of St. John is inferior to that of St. Stephen and St. Matthew, by the same master.
On the southern side of the Piazza of Or San Michele, and at the entrance to a narrow passage, large shutters enclose what was once a tabernacle by Andrea del Sarto, now almost wholly destroyed, but marking the house where this favourite Florentine artist worked with his pupil Franciabigio.
To the right, a covered staircase connects the church of Or San Michele with the former Residence of the Arte della Calimala. The entrance from the Via Calimala conducts to the upper chamber, once a granary, but since 1569 used as a public office to contain the contracts of marriages and wills. These were previously kept in the Residence of the Guild of Notaries, at the corner of the Via del Proconsolo and the Via Pandolfini, in which lived the magistrate called the Proconsolo. The office in Or San Michele is daily open to visitors; and the construction of this vast and lofty chamber, with a vaulted roof springing from one great central column, is very remarkable. Above the chamber is a second, and both are surrounded with shelves on which are arranged the contracts, dating from a very early period: among them are all the records which belonged to Dante Alighieri. A narrow spiral staircase at one angle of the building, which connects both storeys, leads from the church below to the roof, from which the captains of the Company of Or San Michele were wont to survey the country round in order to decide on the price of corn. A splendid view is here obtained of the city and its vicinity. Over the small door to this staircase, within the church, is a roughly-hewn bas-relief representing the old corn-measure, and blades of wheat are carved at every angle outside the building.
The interior of Or San Michele is remarkable for its beautiful structure; square columns and pilasters support a noble vaulting, originally coloured blue and spangled with golden stars, the remains of which may still be seen above the altar of St. Anna. An attempt has been made in recent years to restore this colour, but the effect of the fresh and brilliant blue was so entirely out of harmony with the sober and faded hues of the frescos around, that it was judiciously removed. There are still remaining a few heads of patriarchs and prophets by Jacopo Landino of Prato Vecchio, in the Casentino. He was a pupil of Taddeo Gaddi. The frescos on the pilasters have nearly perished, but a St. Bartholomew, a Magdalene, and St. Stephen can be traced, all of which are attributed to Morandini of Poppi, in the Casentino.117 The richly-coloured glass which fills the upper portion of the arches, represents scenes from the life of the Virgin.
Facing the entrance, to the right, is the celebrated Gothic shrine of Andrea Orcagna, containing the sacred picture of the Madonna, which, except on rare occasions, is kept concealed behind a curtain. With strange inconsistency and absence of outward show of reverence, devout worshippers may be seen occupying the wooden benches which fill the central space, at the hours when no mass is performed, and the sacristan scattering his segatura, or saw-dust, and broom in hand, busily engaged sweeping the church. He is the person to whom strangers, desirous of seeing Ugolino's picture are expected to apply; and before removing the curtain, he proceeds to light the tapers in front of the image - a custom which was enjoined by the captains of the Company of Or San Michele, at one of the earliest chapters of their order. This picture represents the Madonna with the Infant Jesus on her knee, who, pressing one little hand against his mother's cheek, grasps a goldfinch with the other; angels on either side bend their heads in adoration. The expression of the Virgin is very sweet, though there is greater beauty in some of the angels; the action of the child would be graceful, were it better executed; the goldfinch, so often introduced into paintings of Holy Families, is supposed to be symbolical of sacrifice, from the red streaks among its feathers resembling blood. It is hardly possibly to trace the Byzantine mannerism of Ugolino of Sienna in this picture, as we neither find the elongated head, long curved nose, sharply-defined mouth, nor the attenuated arms and slender fingers peculiar to this master. Although Lanzi believes that it is by Ugolino, Cavalcaselle attributes it to Lorenzo Monaco. There is, at all events, enough sweetness and dignity of expression to admit of its being classed among the remarkable productions of a revival of art. In the words of Cavalcaselle, "The glories round these eight angels, two in front waving censers, are characteristic of the close of the fourteenth century." Lorenzo Monaco was a Camaldolese monk, the disciple of Agnolo Gaddi, and therefore of the school of Giotto. His pictures are rare, but this is in so dark a position it is difficult to pronounce on its merits; judging, however, from other works by the same master, he does not appear ever to have attained so much simple grace and purity as is here displayed: the connoisseur, therefore, may be inclined to accept the antiquarian evidence of Count Luigi Passerini, who believes the picture to be by Orcagna, the architect, sculptor, and probably painter of this marvelous shrine. The original painting of Ugolino (if it escaped the fire which destroyed the first loggia) must have been lost, or decayed with time, and the Company of Or San Michele doubtless ordered another picture, worthy of the splendid shrine, which was to be devoted to the worship of the Virgin.
Orcagna has contrived to give his shrine the appearance of having been carved out of a single piece of marble. Yet Vasari informs us that Andrea and his brother Bernardo chiseled each figure separately, and afterwards, to avoid any blemish on the polish of the marble, united them by copper soldered with lead in place of mortar. Small reliefs contain scenes from the life of the Virgin, which, on the eastern front, behind the picture, are surmounted by one of larger dimensions.
The reliefs on the northern side represent the
Birth of the Virgin, and her Dedication in the Temple; on the
western front, beneath the picture of the Madonna, are the
Marriage of Mary and Joseph, and the Annunciation - both very
beautiful. On the southern side is the Birth of the
Saviour, and the Adoration of the Magi; on the eastern side,
the Presentation in the Temple, and an Angel appearing to the
Virgin to announce her approaching death, a scene which is
represented with much grace.118 The larger relief, above, contains the
Death of the Virgin, and her Assumption. The Apostles
are gathered round the dead body of the Mother of our Lord;
the figure with a hood, to the right, standing a little behind
the rest, is, according to Vasari, the artist Andrea
Orcagna. Below this bas-relief, in Gothic letters, are
the words, Andrea Cionis Pictor Florentinus Oratorii
Archimagister Extitut Hujus MCCCLIX. The shrine occupied
Andrea fourteen years, and cost about 8,600 golden
florins. The jewels with which it was once decorated
have, however, now been removed, and false ones
substituted. It is sculptured throughout with exquisite
taste and is carefully finished; an elegant border of
cockle-shells surrounds the smaller reliefs, which have also
alternate high reliefs representing the theological and
cardinal virtues. At the angles above are statuettes of
prophets and evangelists, and on either side of the picture,
within the arch, are sculptured angels, who float upwards,
bearing in their hands lilies, palms, and other emblems.
The shrine rests on a step with a mosaic entablature, and is
surrounded by a marble pavement inlaid with various patterns
and colours; a light bronze railing set in a beautiful marble
frame encloses the whole structure. At each corner is a
cluster of columns having a rich capital, with seated lions
and lionesses. From the centre of this springs a single
column ornamented in mosaic, supporting an angel carrying a
The old novelist Franšesco Sacchetti has written some quaint lines on this tabernacle, in the form of an address to the Madonna, in which he declares that her shrine in Or San Michele is the most beautiful in existence, and proceeds to enumerate all the saints whose images adorn the walls or pilasters of the loggia, concluding by a description of the altar to St. Anna, which is likewise in this church.119
This altar, dedicated to the patron saint of Florentine liberty, was placed here by the command of the Signory in 1349, after the expulsion of the tyrannical Duke of Athens. The group of statuary representing the Virgin on the lap of St. Anna, was executed by Franšesco di San Gallo in 1526. Though the Virgin, a full-grown woman, seated on the lap of her mother, does not form a pleasing subject, the composition is simple, dignified, and not devoid of grace. In the words of Mr. John Bell, "St. Anna is a finely imagined form, a very model for sculptors - a noble figure in the decline of life, conceived full of sorrow; the expression of the countenance mournful and touching, though without beauty; much harmony and keeping in the long, fine, angular limbs and careworn face; and the whole in a simple style." The group is a good specimen of the master, who was a pupil of Sansovino, but belonged to a period when art was in the decline. There was formerly a painting by Agnoli Gaddi in this place, representing Christ disputing with the Doctors, which is mentioned by Vasari; but it was destroyed when the new sacristy was arranged behind the altar of St. Anna.
The statue of the Madonna under glass, to the left
of this altar, is the same that once stood in the niche
outside, belonging to the Guild of Physicians and
Apothecaries, and has no great merit as a work of art.
Vasari attributes it to one Simone, a pupil of Brunelleschi,
and possible the brother of Donatello.
Concealed by a curtain behind an altar to the right of Orcagna's shrine, is a wooden crucifix of the rudest workmanship; it was once attached to a pilaster of the Loggia, where Bishop Antonino, as a boy, was in the habit of worshipping. There is an interesting fresco of the subject in the cloisters of St. Mark, by Bernardino Pocetti. This neighbourhood is filled with recollections of the good bishop, who may truly be said to have left "footprints in the sands of time." His early home, as before stated, was in the Via dello Studio, near the Piazza del Duomo, at which time he was in the habit of coming to Or San Michele to pray before the crucifix of the Loggia. After some years of monastic seclusion in St. Mark's Convent, he was named Archbishop of Florence at the earnest recommendation of Fra Angelico and of his brother monks, and then came to inhabit the palace in the Piazza di San Giovanni. He preached to the people from the pulpit attached to the small church of Santa Maria Nipoticosa, in the Vial Calzaioli, and finally he instituted the Company of Buonuomini, for the relief of those who are ashamed to beg, establishing its residence in the church of San Martino, a few steps removed from Or San Michele.
Abate, Neri, fire caused by 1304
Abati (houses of) destroyed 1321
Andrea del Sarto died 1531
Baccio di Montelupo died 1567
Brienne, Walter de, Duke of Athens, in Florence 1342
Brienne, Walter de, Duke of Athens, died 1356
Calabria, Duke of, Lord of Florence 1326
Calzaioli, Via, widened by the Duke of Athens 1342
Calzaioli, Via, widened a second time 1844
Castruccio Castracani died 1328
Donatello died 1466
Ghiberti, Lorenzo, died 1455
Giovan Bologna died 1608
Innocent IV. died 1254
John XXIII., Pope, died 1419
Lorenzo Monaco living 1410
Michelozzo Michelozzi died 1470
Nanni di Banco died 1421
Orcagna, Andrea, completed Or San Michele 1338
Orcagna, Bernardo 1338
Or San Michele (Loggia of) begun 1284
Or San Michele (Loggia of) finished 1290
Or San Michele, Company of 1291
Or San Michele, Church of 1304
Or San Michele described by Domenico Lensi 1329
Or San Michele, Church of, rebuilt by Taddeo Gaddi 1337
Or San Michele, Church of, continued by Andrea Orcagna 1338
Or San Michele, Church of, finished 1359
Or San Michele, Church of, windows, statuettes, &c. 1366
Piero Lamberti, Nicol˛, living in 1444
Plague described by Boccaccio 1338
Pocetti, Bernardino, died 1612
Robbia, Luca della, died 1482
Sacchetti, Franšesco, died 1400
San Carlo, Church of, built 1380
San Gallo, Franšesco, father of Giuliano and Antonio, living 1550
Silk, Guild of, offered to place a niche outside Or San Michele 1340
Uberto degli Uberti and Infangati beheaded 1298
Ugolino died 1330
104 See chapter
105 See chapter vi., Piazza del Duomo.
106 A Lombard convent in the Modenese territory, to which Charlemagne contributed. See "Opere di Tiraboschi."
107 San Piero Scheraggio, the second largest church in Florence, which formerly existed on the site of the present Gallery of Uffizi.
108 Gonfalonier, literally standard-bearer, an important office during the Republic, equivalent to mayor or chief magistrate of the city, and still in use.
109 The gate of Sta. Maria, Por San Maria, in the district inhabited by the Guild of Silk.
110 The Director of the Fine Arts in Florence (1870) proposes to place a copy of Donatello's St. George in the niche to which the statue properly belongs, and to remove the original for safety to the Museum of the Bargello.
111 See "History of Painting in Italy," by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. ii. chap. x. p. 280.
112 See "Tuscan Sculptors," by Charles Perkins. Appendix to chap. v.
113 See Vasari, "Vite dei Pittori," vol. iii. p. 38, and "Donatello, seine Zeit und Schule," by Dr. Hans Semper. 1870.
114 This statue was recently removed for the second time to the niche of the Apothecaries, on the southern front.
115 The name beccaio, for "butcher," is probably derived from the kid - becco, - "goat" - being the meat chiefly eaten in those times.
116 See Napier's "Florentine History," vol. iv. p. 49.
117 The Casentino, a district situated near the source of the Arno. A picture of the Madonna and Saints by this master still exists in San Tommaso, Mercato Vecchio. See preceding chapter.
118 This relief is supposed to represent the angel warning Mary to fly into Egypt; but the aged appearance of the Virgin makes this explanation impossible.
119 The original poem may be read in the National Library.
Chapter XIII: Piazza della Signoria
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