WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXXV: Sta. FelicitÓ to the Piazza Soderini
In the Piazza di Sta. FelicitÓ, a column resembling that of the Trebbio is said to mark the spot where another discomfiture of the heretics ľ Paterini ľ took place. From this piazza, the remnant fled to the Gaggio, a nobleman's house, afterwards a monastery, beyond the Porta Romana, where they found protection. The Rossi family, mentioned by Dante, whose quarter was behind the church of Sta. FelicitÓ, were violent Papists, and led the fight and massacre. A terra-cotta statue of Pietro Martire was afterwards placed on the top of the column, but this has long since disappeared. The column itself was of much older date, and belonged to an ancient cemetery on this spot, where stood a little church dedicated to the Maccabees, as well as a celebrated convent of Benedictine nuns, which in 1059 was taken under the special protection of Pope Nicholas II. The nuns all belonged to noble families, and their convent was only suppressed, with other monasteries, on the entrance of the French into Italy early in this century. The church received its present form as late as 1736, when the adjoining Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene of the twelfth century, was included within its walls. The tribune within belongs to the Guicciardini family, and a slab on the pavement, in front of the high altar, marks the burial-place of the historian Franšesco Guicciardini. The loggia or porch in front was erected by Giorgio Vasari in 1564, to support the corridor, which he carried from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace. Beneath this porch are monuments inserted in the walls, which were transferred there from the old cemetery. A figure in flat relief represents Barduccio Barducci, who died in 1414. He was a wealthy merchant on Exchange, and was twice Gonfalonier. His son Giovanni was of the Otto di BaliÓ, who formed the Government of that period, and was the intimate friend of Donatello, who represented him as one of the prophets on the Campanile, which, from Barducci's bald head, is known as "Il Zuccone."284 Below the monument of Barducci is the Mausoleum of Arcangiola Paladina, the daughter of a Pistoiese painter; she died in 1622, at the age of twenty-three, already famous for his skill in painting and music. The bust is by Agostino Bugiardini, a scholar of Giovanni Caccini. On the opposite side of the loggia is a well-executed monument to Cardinal Luigi de' Rossi, by Baccio di Montelupo (1445-1512). The statue is life-size and in repose, and the face extremely beautiful. The cardinal died in Rome, 1519; but his remains were brought hither for interment by order of pope Leo X.
The Church of Sta. FelicitÓ is in the form of the letter T, and has seventeen chapels, with marble altars. The first, to the right, is the Capella Capponi, built after a design by Filippo Brunelleschi, who also made the pillar to contain the holy water at the entrance to the church. Within this chapel is a Deposition from the Cross, by Jacopo Pontormo, who, according to Vasari, painted it without dark shadows, and in a clear and united colour, so graduated as to make hardly any distinction where the lights ceased and the half-tints began, or where the half-tints were followed by the shadows, thus producing great softness. The picture was destroyed by restorations in 1723. The four Evangelists are represented on the ceiling; three are by Pontormo, and one by Angelo Bronzino. The windows, with the arms of the Capponi, were executed by the celebrated French painter on glass, Guglielmo da Marcilla. Vasari relates that this chapel was decorated by order of Lodovico di Gino Capponi, who brought it from the Barbadori, for whom it was built by Filippo Brunelleschi.
In the fourth chapel after that of the Capponi is a fine picture executed by the living artist Cesare, representing the mother of the Maccabees mourning over her dead sons ľ a parallel story to that of Sta. FelicitÓ. A painting by Taddeo Gaddi follows: it is in the same style as his fresco in the Baroncelli Chapel of Sta. Croce ľ the subject is a Madonna and Saints, and is in good preservation. The sacristy is supposed to have been built by Brunelleschi: it is in fine proportions, and has his favourite ornament of cherubs' heads round the cornice, which he adopted from the mosaic frieze of the Baptistery. A picture, attributed to Neri de' Bicci,285 represents Sta. FelicitÓ with her seven sons, who all underwent martyrdom, exhorted by their mother to suffer any torments rather than abjure their faith. Sta. FelicitÓ "is seated on a throne, a majestic colossal figure, holding in one hand the Gospel, which rests on her knee; in the other, the palm; while her seven sons, small in proportion and treated as accessories or attributes, are ranged on either side, the youngest standing in front." All have palms and golden glories, and wear rich dresses, and all but the youngest appear as warriors.286 There are several other early pictures here, but none of any importance.
The most interesting works of art are in the chapter-house of the nuns, or Oratory of St. Mary Magdalene, where the frescos are attributed to Cosimo Ulivelli and Agnolo Gheri. Over the altar is a fine picture on panel of the Crucifixion, probably by Nicol˛ Gerini, who worked with Taddeo Gaddi. The Christ is feeble, and the grief of the angels who catch the blood is exaggerated to caricature; but the fainting Virgin, with the women round her, as well as the men with upraised hands, are very fine. The Magdalene at the foot of the cross, with lips apart, raises her eyes to the Saviour; the tall figure of St. John, whose drapery falls in large folds, the Centurion, who, with his finger on his lips, stands in silent wonder, and the old Pharisee behind, are extremely good. The eyes are small, but the faces are rounder and fuller than usual with Giotto. The predella below is by an inferior hand: it represents the martyrdom of Sta. FelicitÓ and her sons. On the ceiling are eight ovals, painted in fresco with much grandeur: the subjects are Christ and the Seven Cardinal Virtues; Faith, in the centre, is very fine. Within the cloister leading from the chapel are several frescos, which have been transferred here from other places: the Annunciation is pleasing, and the Visit of the Shepherds is interesting from the animation with which the story is told; the Madonna, seated beneath the projecting roof of a house is very lovely.
From the Piazza di Sta. FelicitÓ the Via
Guicciardini leads to the Piazza dei Pitti, at the corner of
which is the Palazzo Guicciardini, built by the architects
Cigoli and Gherardo Silvani, who incorporated in this palace a
small house where was born San Filippo Benizzi, one of the
Order of the Servites, whose history, or legend, is recorded
by Andrea del Sarto on the walls of the portico of the SS
The records of the family Guicciardini date as early as 1199, when an ancient document mentions a merchant of that name, one Tuccio di Guicciardini. The grandson of this Tuccio made the fortune of the family, and Luigi, of a later generation, was Gonfalonier during the Ciompi riots of 1378. The historian Franšesco, the godson of Marsilio Ficino, was born here in 1482. In 1511 he was sent ambassador to Spain, and on his return in 1515 he was chosen one of the Priors of the Republic. When deputed to meet Leo X., at Cortona, the Pope appointed him advocate of the Consistory, and afterwards governor of Modena and Reggio, and commissary-general of the papal forces. In 1527 he offended both the Florentines and Pope Clement VII.; the first by his attempt to restore the Medici to power, and the last by not having been sufficiently ardent in their cause. He therefore retired to Arcetri, near Florence, where he began his history. Guicciardini was the friend and tool of Duke Alexander, which is the greatest blot on his name; and when the duke was assassinated he assisted to raise Cosimo to the throne. Disgusted by Cosimo's resolution to reign alone and to reject all advisers, Guicciardini soon afterwards again retired to Arcetri, where he was occupied with his history until his death in 1540.
A tablet, on a house nearly opposite the Palazzo Guicciardini, records that here Nicol˛ Macchiavelli died, in the fifty-eighth year of his age, from the effects of a medicine he had prepared for himself. Macchiavelli was born in 1469, and was descended from a family who were Lords of Montespertoli, and belonged to the Guelphic party in Florence. In 1599 Nicol˛ was appointed chancellor of the great council, which had been shortly before instituted by Savonarola, and he was afterwards made secretary to the Republic. He was employed in twenty different embassies abroad, and among these were missions to the infamous Cesare Borgia. If the schemes of this prince for the unification of Italy found favour in his eyes, he nevertheless, in his celebrated work of the "Principe," painted the man who aspired to despotic power in the blackest and most contemptible colours. Taken literally, this essay has deservedly held up the author's name to obloquy; but, considered as a closely concealed satire ľ since the most astute of Florentine statesmen would hardly have been capable of the folly of advocating crime ľ and as an exposure of the degradation to which a human being must lend himself to obtain supreme power, Macchiavelli's work was no doubt intended to serve as a warning to mankind not to put their faith in princes. Accused of complicity in a conspiracy against Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo X., Macchiavelli was thrown into prison and put to the torture. He was only liberated at the intercession of Pope Leo himself, when he became Pope. The Macchiavelli houses extended back as far as the Fondaccio di Santo Spirito.
The Borgo San Jacopo was so-called from having been a borough of the city. At the corner of the Via Guicciardini wee houses of the Cerchi family, whose principal residences were near the Piazza della Signoria. In this palace was included the tower of the Rossi family, and behind the marble bason of the fountain once stood the group of the Centaur, now under the loggia of the Uffizi, but which has been replaced by a mediocre statue of Bacchus belonging to a late period of art. Near the Cerchi Palace is the Palazzo Barbadori. It was for this family that Filippo Brunelleschi built the present Capponi Chapel in Sta. FelicitÓ, as well as the palace itself. One of the family, Donato Barbadori, was employed in many important missions abroad, but finally he was implicated in a conspiracy, and was seized and beheaded.287
The Church of San Jacopo sopr' Arno is one of the twelve oldest churches in Florence; but, with the monastery attached to it, was wholly rebuilt in 1580, and in 1709 it underwent fresh restorations, when the stuccos were added inside the church, and busts of the Medici family placed on the fašade of the monastery, in the Piazza Frescobaldi. The beautiful little portico of Corinthian columns in front of the church belonged to the earlier construction, and is composed of the remains of ancient monuments. According to the chronicler, Dino Compagni, it was in the Church of San Jacopo sopr' Arno that the nobles, led by Berto Frescobaldi, held a meeting in the year 1293 to protest against their exclusion from the Government by the popular party led by Giano della Bella, and where they determined to resort to arms rather than submit to the decree. The campanile of the church was built by Gherardo Silvani.
Opposite San Jacopo is one of the most perfect of the old Florentine towers remaining, which belonged to Barbadori family. The inscription by one Sorbi, who placed the images in Luca della Robbia ware on the front, is modern. In the piazza beyond is the Palazzo Frescobaldi, which belonged to a family who were among the most turbulent of the Florentine nobles. Of German origin, they were all-powerful in Florence during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Messer Lamberto di Fresco di Baldo caused a wooden bridge to be thrown across the Arno near his house, which was called the SS. TrinitÓ, from the Church on the opposite bank. This same Lamberto bore the banner of King Charles of Anjou at the battle of Campaldino. The Frescobaldi were engaged in every battle of the Florentines, and gained great renown for their valour; but their domineering spirit awakened the jealousy of the citizens, and caused their exclusion from power in 1292, when, as already related, they called a meeting of nobles in San Jacopo sopr' Arno. Their indignation was still further aroused by the banishment of Messer Teglia Frescobaldi in 1303, who, in revenge, allied himself with Castruccio Castracani, Lord of Lucca, and endeavoured to seize on castles belonging to the Florentines. The proscriptions which followed this act of treason were resented by the nobles in general, and Bardo dei Frescobaldi and Piero de Bardi conspired to overthrow the Government. Their schemes were discovered, and they were driven from Florence, only to return with the Duke of Athens. As the Frescobaldi afterwards joined the Bardi in another conspiracy to expel the Duke, they were for a time reconciled with the popular party; but the peace was of short duration, and the power of all the nobles was broken in the final discomfiture of the Bardi. To the greater honour of this family, it is recorded that the completion of Dante's poem was due to Dino di Lambertuccio Frescobaldi. Himself a poet, or "rhymer," and the friend of the great poet, Dino discovered and preserved the first seven cantos of the "Inferno," which Dante when sent into exile believed to have been lost; Dino sent them to him to the house of Moreollo Malaspina, in the Lunigiana, where Dante had taken refuge.
On the opposite side of the Piazza Frescobaldi, and facing the river, is one of the numerous palazzi belonging to the Capponi family. This palace was inhabited by Piero Capponi, already frequently mentioned for his heroic act in tearing to pieces a treaty destructive of Florentine liberty, and defying Charles VIII. of France to do his worst. Piero was killed in a war with Pisa, 1496, and bequeathed a greater name than fortune to his sons Nicol˛ and Giuliano. Nicol˛ was elected Gonfalonier amidst the rejoicings of the people, for the election of Nicol˛ Capponi was a signal for the restoration of order and the security of Florentine liberty. After the people had confirmed the election of the new gonfalonier and Priors, a Franciscan and Dominican friar, according to custom, ascended the Ringhiera in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, carrying lighted torches, and followed by a canon of the Cathedral with the Gospels, to administer the oath to the new magistrates; after which ceremony the Signory, preceded by the trumpeters, walked in procession to the Baptistery to attend mass. A general illumination took place in the evening, the fanali or lumieri at the corners of the great palaces blazing with fireworks. The Mercato Nuovo, then an open space before the loggia was built, was cleared of its booths belonging to the silk merchants, and covered with an awning under which danced sixty youths and sixty maidens dressed in pearls and jewels; every maiden wore a garland of gold or silver, the manufacture of which made Ghirlandaio famous before he was more celebrated as a painter. The youths and maidens did not dance together, but separately, and at every new dance they all appeared in new dresses, which amusement lasted the whole night.288
One of the first acts of Nicol˛ Capponi, in imitation of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, was to propose that the people should acknowledge no sovereign but their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the course of time, however, Nicol˛ gave serious offence to some of the greater citizens; and among his offences was the marriage of his son to a daughter of the historian Franšesco Guicciardini, instead of to a sister of Tommaso Soderini. Among his bitterest enemies were Franšesco Valori and Jacopo Gherardi, who were jealous of his popularity; they contrived, by suspicions of treason, to have him dismissed from office, and he narrowly escaped with his life. But his patriotic endeavours to save his country from enemies, domestic and foreign, continued to the end of his life, which was shortened by grief at being unable to frustrate the schemes of pope Clement VII. And the Emperor Charles V. for the destruction of the Republic. In a large room of this little palace are frescos by Pocetti commemorative of the history and patriotic deeds of the Capponi family.
Pursuing the quay along the river, the present Casa Molini, and the houses on the same side of the piazza beyond, belonged to the Soderini family, who from the earliest times exercised great influence in the Republic. It was here that one Nicol˛ Soderini received St. Catherine of Sienna, a remarkable woman, who was employed on various embassies, and whose genius and religious enthusiasm gained for her an extraordinary influence in her own and succeeding ages. The crucifix before which she worshipped is still preserved in the family of the Soderini. In 1502 Piero Soderini was created Gonfalonier for life, an honour unprecedented in the history of Florence. He was, however, a man of feeble resolution, and he vainly endeavoured to arrest the encroachments of the medici; he was at last obliged to fly from Florence, and retired to Rome, where he died in 1522, and was buried there in Sta. Maria del Popolo, although a splendid monument in his honour, the work of Benedetto da Rovezzano, was erected in the Carmine at Florence. When Gonfalonier, Soderini employed Macchiavelli as his secretary, who has thus described his character ľ
La notte che mori Pier Soderini_______________
L' alma n' and˛ dell' Inferno alla bocca,
E Pluto la grid˛, 'Anima sciocca,
Che, Inferno? Va, nel Limbo coi bambini.'289
Barbadori, Donato, beheaded 1379
Barducci, Barduccio d. 1414
Benedictine nuns under the special protection of Pope Nicholas III. 1059
Benizzi, San Filippo 1247 ľ 1285
Bicci, Neri de, was alive in 1458
Bronzino Angelo 1502 ľ 1572
Brunelleschi, Filippo 1379 - 1446
Capponi, Piero d. 1496
Cigoli 1559 ľ 1613
Ciompi Riots 1378
FelicitÓ, Sta., reduced to its present proportions 1736
FelicitÓ, Sta., Loggia built by Vasari 1564
Gerini, Nicol˛ d. 1385 (?)
Guicciardini, Franšesco 1482 - 1540
Jacopo, San, meeting of nobles held here 1292
Macchiavelli, Nicol˛ 1469
Montelupo, Baccio di 1445 ľ 1512
Paterini, their defeat 1182
Pontormo, Jacopo 1494 ľ 1557
Rossi, Cardinal Luigi de' d. 1519
Silvani, Gherardo 1579 ľ 1675
Soderini, Piero, Gonfalonier 1502 ľ d. 1522
Ulivelli, Cosimo 1625 - 1704
Gourd." See. Vol. i. chap. Iii.
285 This picture was engraved for Mrs. Jameson's work on "Legendary Art."
286 See "Legendary Art," p. 381.
287 See Macchiavelli, "Storie Fiorentine," lib. Iii. p. 80.
288 See "Marietta de' Ricci," vol. ii. pp. 144-151.
The night that Piero Soderini died,
His soul passed onwards to the mouth of Hell,
When Pluto cried, 'You foolish soul, begone!
What, Hell for you? Go, with the babes, to Limbo.'
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