WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XVI: Palazzo Vecchio della Signoria (Continuation) - Interior
A staircase, designed by Vasari, leads to the upper story of the Palazzo Vecchio. The spacious and lofty chamber at the landing is called the "Sala del Orologio," because it once contained an orrery, with mechanism to show the movements of the planets. It was the work of Lorenzo della Volpaia, a celebrated watchmaker and astrologer, and was placed here by Lorenzo the Magnificent.147
The ceilings of this and the adjoining chamber are wonderfully rich. The Florentine lilies and cherubs' heads, carved and gilt on a blue ground and in a gold framework, were executed by Marco Domenico and Giuliano del Tasso. The walls of the Sala del Orologio have on three sides golden lilies on a glue ground, and on the fourth the apotheosis of St. Zanobius, with an architectural background painted by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio in 1482. The Cathedral, with Giotto's fašade and his campanile, appears through an arch behind the bishop, who sits enthroned with his mitre and crozier, supported on either side by a saint. Above, in a lunette, is the imitation of a bas-relief of the Madonna and Child: Brutus, Mutius ScŠvola and Camillus are on one side of the central group; Decius, Scipio, and Cicero on the other; whilst medallions of emperors fill the spandrils. This fresco is sadly out of repair: a long and deep crack, occasioned by an earthquake, has injured the compartment nearest the window, and the wall in the centre has been pierced for a door which is flanked by two African marble pillars taken from an ancient temple in Rome, and presented by one of the Medici popes. This door leads to the Stanza della Guardaroba. The armadii, or cabinets, which surround this chamber once contained treasures belonging to the Medici family, and the panels of the doors are painted with maps by Fra Ignazio Danti, a Dominican monk of Perugia, brother of Vincenzio Danti, the sculptor. He was a learned mathematician as well as eloquent preacher, and was patronised by the Grand-Duke Cosimo I.148 The fifty-three maps, painted in oil colours, are curious examples of the state of geographical science in the sixteenth century. Ignazio Danti followed the Ptolemaic system whilst adopting the rules of Mercator, a bold innovator in his day, and the founder of modern geography.149
The Sala del Orologio communicates by the door opposite the Stanza della Guardaroba with the Sala dell' Udienza, or Audience Chamber. The exquisite marble framework of the door is by Benedetto da Majano.150 The doors themselves are of intarsiatura, or inlaid woodwork: the subjects are, portraits of Dante and Petrarch, and were executed by Del Francione, a master-carpenter. Above the doorway in the prior's Chamber is a small marble and porphyry statue. The inscription below - Diligite justitiam qui judicatis eam - refers to a statue of Justice by Benedetto da Majano, which formerly stood here. The frescos round this chamber are by Francesco, or Cecchino de Rossi Salviati, the same who, when a boy, helped Vasari to gather up fragments of David's arm. He was not a very eminent artist, and is best known as the comrade of Giorgio Vasari, who wrote his life with the partiality of a friend. Born in Florence in 1510, he assumed the name of Salviati in compliment to his patron, Cardinal Giovanni Salviati: he died in 1563. The subjects painted by him on the walls of the prior's Chamber are taken from the life of the Roman general Furius Camillus. One of the best represents the schoolmaster of Falerii who betrayed his native town to the Romans, and whom Camillus sent back to his fellow-citizens in chains. Vasari states that this room, as well as the Sala dell' Orologio and the spacious hall below, called the Sala del Dugento, the Hall of the Two Hundred, and which occupies the entire area of both saloons above, were constructed by Benedetto da Majano. The commentator of the recent of "Vasari's Lives," Cavaliere Giovanni Milanesi, however, declares that no documents exist to corroborate this fact, and adds that, in 1473, when it was decreed that the old saloons should be replaced by others, the artists employed for the work were Giuliano da Majano and Francione, who executed the intarsiatura of the doors leading to the Sala dell' Udienza, or Audience Chamber, where the Priors assembled.151 The six Priors of the Arts, composing the Council of the Signory, who were first created in 1282, exercised their responsible duties in the Sala dell' Udienza. Their term of office was two months, and one could be re-elected within two years. They were maintained at the public cost, eating at one table, and during their two months of office were rarely allowed to quit the walls of the Palazzo. All their acts were conducted with religious solemnity: the wine brought to their table was consecrated on the sacred altar of Or San Michele,152 and in the small chapel of St. Bernard, leading out of this chamber, the Priors invoked Divine aid before commencing business.
The religious functions in this little chapel were always performed by five Vallombrosian monks until the year 1472; after which time, seven different orders of friars were appointed to officiate in turn. These holy brethren had charge of the seal of the Republic, which in earlier days had been stolen and carried off by one of the PodestÓs, who hoped to escape detection by flight.153 A small doorway leads into the chapel of St. Bernard; above it are the initials of our Saviour, surrounded by a glory, and the words Sol JustitiŠ Christus Deus noster regnat in Šternum - probably placed here during the gonfaloniership of Nicol˛ Capponi. The chapel is small and low. The frescos on the walls and ceiling are considered among the best works of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. In the centre of the ceiling is the Holy Trinity, in which the Eternal is represented with the crucified Saviour, and above them hovers the Holy Spirit; in separate compartments, formed by arabesques painted in chiaroscuro, are angels supporting the Instruments of the Passion, and the heads of the Apostles. The Four Evangelists are represented seated; each has his appropriate emblem. Nearer the altar are four ovates, each containing two of the Apostles. The ground on which these figures are painted is an imitation of gold mosaic, which has a very rich effect. Facing the altar is the Annunciation. The Virgin, clothed in the usual blue mantle, kneels beside a triangular-shaped reading-desk, emblematical of the Trinity; her eyes are cast down, as she listens to the holy message. The angel, a slender youthful figure with a most lovely expression, is running towards her; his fair hair and bright-coloured garments float backwards in the breeze, and express haste. The swift airy movement of flight, even more than the clouds beneath his feet, mark his celestial nature: his arms are folded reverentially before the handmaid of the Lord, and his fingers gently clasp the branch of lily. In the background is a city, suggestive of Nazareth, but in reality a view of the Piazza della SS. Annunziata in Florence, with the Church of San Marco in the distance. Beneath this group, and all around the chapel, the wainscoting is painted in arabesques, containing angels in chiaroscuro. The original altar-piece, a Holy Family, by Mariano Graziadei of Pescia, a pupil of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, is now in the corridor of the Uffizi Gallery. It has been replaced by a picture of St. Bernard by an unknown artist, but a good painting, though in too dark a position to judge of its merits. To the right of the altar, a grated window opens on the adjoining Sala dell' Udienza. To the left, a painted imitation of a grating conceals a cabinet, and has the following inscription: - Evangelium invenit sibi domum et leges locum ubi quiescat. This cabinet was intended to contain the copy of the Gospels used by the Signory when they were sworn into office, or whenever an oath was administered. The celebrated Pandects of Justinian were also keep here, until, for greater security, the volume was transferred to the Laurentian Library. Every corner of this little chapel is worthy of examination, but it ought to be visited on a bright sunshiny day, for the small windows only admit a partial light. It existed long before Ghirlandaio added the decorations. Many a victim to State intrigues has here received the last consolations of religion before submitting to torture and death in the piazza beneath; and among them was Girolamo Savonarola.
A small door opposite the entrance to the Sala dell' Udienza opens on a suite of four rooms originally occupied by the Signory, but assigned by Cosimo I. to his consort Eleonora of Toledo. The ceilings were painted by Jean Stradan or Stradone, with frescos illustrating the virtues of woman; for which purpose he selected the stories of the good Gualdrada,154 Penelope, Esther, and the Sabine women. Stradone was born at Bruges, in Flanders, 1523. He came to Italy to attain higher perfection in his art, and died there [in] 1605, at the age of eighty-two. He was chiefly employed by Vasari to make cartoons for tapestry, specimens of which are exhibited in the corridor which connects the Palazzo dei Pitti and the Uffizi Gallery.
The last of the suite of rooms which belonged to Eleonora of Toledo communicates with the Uffizi Gallery on one side, and on the other overlooks a small court, the Cortile del Capitano del Popolo. In this room one of the foulest deeds was committed that ever disgraced the darkest annals of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is related by Franšesco Giovanni, who was himself a Prior in 1441. A Florentine named Baldassare Orlandini, when commissary for the army during a war against the Milanese, had the baseness or cowardice to abandon a pass in the Apennines, allowing the enemy's general, Nicol˛ Piccinnino, to penetrate the Valley of the Arno. His conduct was boldly denounced by Baldaccio d' Anghiari, a faithful soldier of the Republic, who led the Florentine infantry. Some years later, in 1441, when the chronicler Franšesco Giovanni was Prior, Orlandini, who had been chosen Gonfalonier, with apparent friendliness sent for D' Anghiari to the place. D' Anghiari, suspecting treachery, hesitated to obey, and sought advice from Cosimo Vecchio, who, fearing that the virtue and ability of D' Anghiari might be prejudicial to Medicean interest, cunningly replied, that obedience was the first virtue in a citizen. Baldaccio accordingly repaired to the palace, where Orlandini received him with courtesy, and was leading him by the hand to his own chamber, when ruffians, hired by the Gonfalonier for the purpose and placed in concealment, rushed on their intended victim, and after dispatching him with their daggers, threw his body into the cortile below. His head was cut off, and his mangled remains exposed in the piazza, where he was proclaimed a traitor to the Republic. A part of his confiscated property was, however, restored to the prayers of his widow Annalena, who subsequently, after the death of her infant son, retired from the world, and converted her dwelling in the Via Romana into a convent which bore her name.
Beyond the room in which the murder of Baldaccio d' Anghiari was accomplished, is another small chapel, probably intended for the use of the grand-duchess, painted in fresco by Angelo Bronzino, the favourite portrait painter of the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. These frescos are among the best works of Bronzino. On the vaulting St. Francis is represented with a brother monk, as well as St. Michael, St. Jerome, and St. John the Evangelist. Four very lovely putti, or boy-genii, support a kind of trellis-work with fruit. The subjects on the walls are the Passage of the Red Sea, the Brazen Serpent, Moses striking the Rock, and the Manna falling from heaven.
The eight remaining rooms on this floor were those built by Michelozzi for the better accommodation of the Priors, at the time when he strengthened the supports in the central cortile of the palace. These rooms are adorned with frescos of a much later period by Vasari and his pupils, and each room is named after the mythological subjects painted on the ceiling.
On the first floor of the palace is the magnificent
dell' Adunanza, or, as it is now called, the Sala del
Dugento. It is a hall of singularly fine proportions,
occupying the entire area of the two chambers of the Udienza
and Orologio above. The stone ceiling is richly carved
in cassetones, or hollow squares, containing roses and lilies
in high relief. The wide cornice is also of stone, and
bears the shields of the Commonwealth. Tapestries which
formerly belonged to this Hall have been restored to the
walls. Here the Council appointed to examine measures
relating to war were accustomed to meet, and into this chamber
rushed the Ciompi - wooden shoes, as the artisans were
contemptuously called - when led to revolt by the wool-carder,
Michele Lando, in 1378. As they reached the Sala dell'
Adunanza, their leader, who bore in his hands the standard of
Justice, turned to his turbulent followers, and, acquainting
them that the palace and city were now in their hands,
inquired what was their further pleasure; to which they
replied by proclaiming him chief of the Government, and
bidding him rule as he thought best: thus it was that
Michele Lando became Gonfalonier of Florence. In 1495,
after the construction of the Chamber of Five Hundred, this
room was used for the Council of the Ottanta, or Eighty - a
selection of citizens with whom the Signory consulted on
important matters of state. It was only in 1532 that it
was called the Sala del Dugento, when Clement VII., in order
to flatter the popular party, convened a Council of Two
Hundred citizens, with authority to elect a certain number of
the magistrates, and to confirm or object to the laws; they
were likewise empowered to choose the forty-eight citizens who
constituted the Senate, and over whom the grand-duke presided
in person; but though this council bore the semblance of a
democratic assembly, it possessed no real power, and under
Cosimo I. it soon became a mere nonentity.
A short passage connects the Sala del Dugento with the more celebrated Sala del Cinquecento, which, though for a time altered and adapted for the use of the Italian parliament, is now restored to its original dimensions. The history of its construction is as follows. In consequence of the return of many citizens who had been driven into exile, the Sala dell' Adunanza, afterwards del Dugento, was found too small for the new popular council which had been proposed, and a larger chamber was built about the year 1495, when Piero de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, having been expelled from Florence, Girolamo Savonarola, the celebrated friar of San Marco, urged the necessity of instituting a parliamentary form of government. This council was to consist nominally of the entire body of the citizens, and in reality it included 3,200 qualified persons, the population of Florence at that time numbering 90,000 souls. A new law provided that whenever this great council should exceed 1,500 persons, it should be divided in three; that one-third should compose the council for a term of six months, to be succeeded by the other two, in turn, for a similar time. So large a meeting made a new chamber imperative, and that part of the palace which had been left incomplete by the Duke of Athens was selected for the purpose. Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giuliano di San Gallo, Baccio d' Agnolo, and Simone di Tommaso del Pollaiolo, surnamed Il Cronaca, were appointed to consult together for the design, which was ultimately confided to the last-mentioned artist, an enthusiastic follower of the Frate; Antonio di San Gallo and Baccio d' Agnolo assisted him in the completion of his task.
The Sala del Cinquecento is one hundred and seventy feet long and seventy-five feet broad; it is eighteen feet out of the square, following the irregular shape of the building; but, notwithstanding this defect, the chamber is very imposing from its height, breadth, and length. The walls were left for several years without ornament. A raised step round the entire saloon was provided with seats behind a balustrade, and assigned for the magistrates of the city, the Gonfalonier and Signory occupying the platform at the farther extremity, where an altar was erected for the performance of mass; above this altar was a picture of the Madonna and the patron saints of Florence, by Fra Bartolommeo.155 In the centre of the hall were benches for the citizens. When Pier Soderini held the office of Gonfalonier, he proposed the decoration of the walls, and issued orders to Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci to prepare cartoons for the purpose. Leonardo chose for his subject the defeat of Nicol˛ Piccinnino near d' Anghiari, by Micheletto Attendolo and Gian Paolo Orsini. Vasari describes this cartoon as "a splendid group of horses and men gathered round a standard which they are defending from the enemy." Leonardo proposed to paint it in oil, but his attempt failed, from the use of too thick a medium, which spoilt the work. Michael Angelo selected an incident which occurred during a war with Pisa, when the Florentine army was surprised by the enemy whilst bathing in the Arno. Some were seen rushing out of the water, and hastily putting on their armour; others running half clothed after their horses, which had broken loose; and others already engaged in the fight. The great artist had ample field here for the exercise of his inventive faculty. Unhappily, this cartoon perished during the disturbances which took place in 1512, on the return of the Medici from exile, when their soldiers were quartered in this vast chamber. After the second expulsion of the family, the hall was restored for public meetings; but when the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. left his palace in the Via Larga and came to reside in the Palazzo Vecchio, he held his court in the Sala del Cinquecento, where he received foreign ambassadors as well as his own subjects. The ceiling was then raised, and, as well as the side walls, decorated with sculpture and paintings by Baccio Bandinelli, Baccio d' Agnolo, and Giorgio Vasari. The ceiling was then divided into thirty-nine compartments, richly tilt, and painted in oil by Vasari and his scholars. The subjects chosen were intended to commemorate the great deeds of Cosimo. The walls, divided in compartments, were also painted by Vasari, and represent the conquests of Pisa and Sienna. In one of these Cosimo is leading the Florentines by night in the attack on Sienna, and is accompanied by his favourite dwarf, clothed in armour. At one end of the chamber are statues beneath arches, divided by columns and pilasters. Beneath the central arch is a seated statue of Leo X. bestowing his benediction, the work of Baccio Bandinelli, assisted by his scholar Vincenzio Rossi; a heavy and mannered production. In the niches on either side are statues of Giovanni de' Medici delle Bande Nere, father of Cosimo I.; and of Duke Alexander, also by Bandinelli. At the sides are statues of Cosimo I. and of his son Francis I. The statues by Bandinelli, Rossi, Giovan Bologna, and Michael Angelo, which were formerly placed round this hall, have been conveyed to the Bargello; and the colossal seated statue of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, by Bandinelli, has long since been placed in the Piazza di San Lorenzo. Until 1865 this chamber remained much in the same state in which it had been left by Cosimo I., and was occasionally used for a concert, or for the tombola, a kind of lottery. When lighted by a vast number of candles, and crowded with spectators, the effect was very striking; but in 1864, when Florence was proclaimed the Capital of Italy, and when the Italian Parliament was transferred here from Turin, the Sala del Cinquecento was divided by partition walls, and underwent various alterations for the reception of deputies.
The opening of the first Italian parliament in Florence was a sight not easily to be forgotten. The throne, raised on a platform, was supported on either side by the celebrated groups of sculpture by Michael Angelo and Giovan Bologna, since transferred to the Bargello. The King addressed the assembly in a loud and clear voice, which penetrated every corner of the building, and he won the respect of all present by his unaffected soldier-like simplicity and dignified demeanour.
A separate staircase in the building leads to a suite of six rooms on this same floor, which are adorned by frescos of Vasari and his scholars; these are called the Medici rooms, because each painting refers to some member of that family. Above the doors in the saloon of Clement VII. are two excellent portraits of that pope; in one he is represented with Francis I. of France, in the other with Charles V. of Germany. These rooms were used for the balls and receptions of the Governors of Tuscany, Baron Bettino Ricasoli, and the Marchese Sauli, and of the prefect, the Marchese di Torrearsa; they have since been used as committee rooms for the Italian Parliament.
The Palazzo Vecchio, which has witnessed so many vicissitudes, is externally unchanged; and though the rude architecture of an age of civil warfare and tumult seems incongruous for a Chamber of Representatives, the associations of past centuries, during which the Palazzo Vecchio has always been maintained as the seat of government, made the old municipal fortress no unfit place for the legislature of the Italian kingdom. It is now occupied by the Florentine municipality.
Arnolfo di Cambio 1240-1311
Baccio d' Agnolo 1462-1543
Bandinelli, Baccio 1493-1560
Bernardo Nicol˛ made the clock 1334
Bronzino, Angelo 1502-1572
Buonarotti, Michael Angelo 1475-1564
Ciompi riots 1378
Clement VII., Pope, institutes the Council of Two Hundred 1532
Cosimo I. 1519-1574
D' Anghiari, Baldaccio, murdered 1441
Ghirlandaio, Domenico 1449-1494
Ghirlandaio, Ridolfo 1483-1561
Giovan Bologna 1524-1608
Michelozzi, Michelozzo 1391-1472
Piccinnino, Nicol˛, died 1444
Sala del Cinquecento 1495
San Gallo, Giuliano di 1445-1516
Savonarola, Girolamo 1452-1498
Soderini, Piero 1450-1516(?)
Stradone, Giovan 1523-1605
Vasari, Giorgio 1512-1574
Vinci, Leonardo da 1452-1519
147 This orrery
is now in the Museum of Natural Science in the Via Romana.
148 The gnomon in the Cathedral and the astrolabe on the fašade of Sta. Maria Novella are also by Fra Ignazio Danti.
149 Gerard Mercator was born in the Low Countries in 1512, and died at Guisburg in 1594, where a monument has been recently erected to his memory.
150 Vasari mentions some lovely putti supporting festoons, and a statue of the youthful St. John in the centre, none of which remain in their original position. No traces remain of the putti; but a small St. John in the Uffizi Gallery, which has been attributed to Donatello, has been lately recognised as the work of Benedetto da Majano, and appears to be the missing statue. Vasari, vol. v. p. 130.
151 See Vasari, "Vite dei Pittori," vol. v. p. 135.
152 See former chapter, Or San Michele.
153 See Gem Room, Uffizi Gallery.
154 For this story, see chap. ii. on Baptistery.
155 This picture is now in the Gallery of the Uffizi.
Chapter XVII: San Martino - The Badia
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