WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter VI: Piazza del Duomo - Piazza del Battisterio
Immediately beyond the residence of the Misericordia, a narrow way leads from the Piazza del Duomo to the Via Calzaioli. This alley, rather than street, bears the strange name of Via della Morte, and is associated with a romantic story. Ginevra, a daughter of the noble house of Amieri or Adimari, was beloved by Antonio Rondinelli, whose family belonged to the popolani or plebeian order, which had led an attack against the nobles in 1343. The father of Ginevra accordingly refused his consent to her marriage with Rondinelli, and obliged her to accept as a husband Francesco Agolanti, who was of equal birth with herself. During the plague of 1400, she was seized by the fatal malady, and fell into a swoon, which her husband mistook for death, and she was buried in the family vault in the cemetery, between the Cathedral and Campanile. In the middle of the night Ginevra recovered her senses, and was terrified when she perceived, by the clear moonlight which penetrated the apertures between the stones, that she was lying in a vault. She succeeded in bursting the bandages which confined her, and contrived to raise the stone above, and to make her escape. She first directed her steps towards her husband's home, and in order to reach it, she had to pass along the narrow way, called from that time forth the "Via della Morte." Agolanti, looking out when she knocked at the door, supposed her to be a spirit come to torment him, and refused her admittance. She then proceeded to her father's house, near St. Andrea, in the Mercato Vecchio, but, again rejected, she returned to the Via Calzaioli, and sat down on the steps of the Church of San Bartolommeo, to reflect where to go next. Gaining courage, she sought the house of Rondinelli, near the street which to this day bears the name of his family. Here she was received by his parents, and the tribunals having decided that the marriage of a woman who had been dead and buried was annulled, she was permitted to marry her former lover.
A few steps farther on in the Piazza is the Via del Studio, where is the school for the chorister boys belonging to the Cathedral. It is called Collegio Eugeniano, because founded by Pope Eugenius IV. in 1435, and endowed from the revenues of the archbishopric, which See the Pope kept vacant from 1433 to 1435. An inscription at the corner of Via del Studio and the Via del Scheletro commemorates the birthplace and early residence of the good Bishop Antonino, the friend of Savonarola.
Returning to the Piazza, in front of the canon's residence, are two rather ponderous modern statues of Brunelleschi and Arnolfo di Cambio by Pampaloni. Passing in front of the canon's residence, a stone inserted in the wall is inscribed Sasso di Dante, as on this stone the poet is supposed to have been in the habit of sitting to contemplate the Cathedral.
The Cathedral Chapter-House is in the Piazzetta to the back of this Sasso, and contains a much-repainted picture, supposed to be by one of the Ghirlandai, and transported here a few years ago from Sant' Andrea in the Mercato Vecchio. It represents the Virgin and Child, St. Zanobius in his mitre and episcopal robes, and Sta. Reparata bearing a banner with the red cross on a white field; St. John the Baptist and St. Jerome stand behind.
The palace at the eastern angle of the Piazza, with a bust of the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. over the entrance, was once inhabited by his ancestors, the Medici. Their first residence was in the Mercato Vecchio. Giovanni, son of Bernardino de' Medici, brought the family into public notice by his skilful management of a transaction, which enabled the Signory to purchase the city of Lucca from Mastino della Scala. A few years later, Salvestro de' Medici headed the plebeian or democratic party in Florence, when they rose against the nobles, in the fourteenth century, in the revolution called contemptuously the Ciompi - wooden shoes. Salvestro's son, Averardo or Bicci de' Medici, was the father of Giovanni, celebrated by Macchiavelli in his Florentine History. Giovanni invented the catasta, or tax on real property, which was substituted for the poll tax, and thus became popular with the multitude. He left two sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo. The first obtained the title of Pater PatriŠ, "father of his country," from a faction who were indebted to him for their power and influence, and he as the ancestor of the elder republican branch of the family; his younger brother, Lorenzo, was the ancestor of the Grand-Duke Cosimo I. the Pater PatriŠ inhabited this palace in the Piazza del Duomo, until he had finished his more magnificent palace in the Via Larga, now Via Cavour, which was afterwards sold to the Riccardi family.
The archway adjoining this house leads by a small cortile or courtyard to the Opera del Duomo, the magazine and office of the Board of Works for the Cathedral and Baptistery. The court is filled with fragments of Roman remains, of which the most interesting is a milestone or milliare - the Roman measure, consisting of a thousand paces; whence the name.
The vestibule, leading to the offices of the Opera del Duomo, has a bas-relief profile portrait of Baccio Bandinelli, and around the hall are several bas-reliefs by him and his scholars, which belong to the series still on the parapet surrounding the choir of the Cathedral. These were removed in the course of some repairs. Two small doors have the lintels and cornice above in pietra-serena, which are the work of Brunelleschi, whose bust faces that of Bandinelli. The lunettes above contain some good Luca della Robbia work; one is in extremely flat relief, a rare and beautiful example of Robbia's treatment, and represents two angels adoring the Eternal. A beautiful candelabra, composed of a twisted column in Byzantine mosaic, faces the entrance, above which is a Madonna and Child by Michelozzo Michelozzi. Two statuettes, representing the Saviour and Sta. Reparata, are of the school of Nicola Pisano, and are supposed to have belonged to the altar of the old church of Sta. Reparata. Over the windows are heads of saints in fresco by Bicci di Lorenzo, who painted in the transepts of the Cathedral.
The private room of the Director of the Opera del Duomo contains a most interesting mask in terra-cotta of Brunelleschi, taken from the cast after death.
A narrow flight of steps leads to the magazine of the Opera del Duomo. Here are architectural plans and models for the Cathedral by various artists. That most worthy of notice is Brunelleschi's model in wood for the cupola standing on the drum. There are likewise the models for the instruments invented by Brunelleschi to raise the larger stones to their present elevation, and a small but well preserved model of the lantern.
The Board of Works for the Baptistery had their original residence in the Piazza del Battisterio, but have been removed here to a room adjoining the offices for the Cathedral Board. In the guardaroba, so called because lined with wardrobes for the priest's vestments, is the splendid silver Dossale, or reredos to the high altar of the Baptistery, which is exhibited to the public once a year on St. John's day, the 24th of June, when it is placed in the centre of San Giovanni. The Dossale is the work of some of the most eminent artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and more than a hundred years elapsed between its commencement and completion: 1366-1480. Among the artists who assisted in the work were Maso Finiguerra, the inventor of niello, which led the way to steel engraving, Antonio Pollajuoli, Maestro Cioni, Michelozzo di Bartolommeo, and, as is supposed, Andrea Verrochio.
The statuette of St. John the Baptist in the centre,
with his right hand raised to bless, his left holding his
staff surmounted with the cross, is full of dignity and
grace. The small compartments, divided by silver
pilasters inlaid with lapis lazuli, contain reliefs with
scenes from the life of the Saint; among these Herodias
dancing, with Herod seated at supper, is especially worthy of
attention. The whole Dossale is in solid silver, except
the beautiful enamelled cornice above; there are forty-three
statuettes in the niches within the pilasters. On the
base is inscribed - Anno Domini 1366 inceptum finit hoc opus
dossalis, tempore Benedicti Peruzzi de Alberto - Pauli
MichŠlis de Rondinelli - Paulo Dom. Cheroni de Cheronicus
officialium deputatorum. The silver crucifix in front is
worthy of the Dossale; it was executed by order of the Consuls
of the Guild of Wool in 1456. The statue of St. John the
Baptist is dignified, and the Virgin and angels very
lovely. The artists employed for this work were Betti di
Francesco, Milano di Domenico Dei, and Antonio di
Pollaiolo. The upper half, with the lily and angels in
flat relief, resting against a walled city with towers, is by
Betti, a Florentine goldsmith; the lower and finer half is the
work of the two other artists. The figure of St. John is
mentioned by Vasari as one of the most esteemed works of
Pollaiolo; the smaller statuettes of the Virgin and St. John
are later additions, and in bad taste.
Among the treasures preserved in this room are also two pyxes, the work of Antonio Pollaiolo, the pupil of Maso Finiguerra, who made a pyx for San Giovanni, which was afterwards removed to the Gallery of the Uffizi.
These pyxes are only used on solemn festivals for the elevation of the host, and during the recitation of the Agnus Dei, when they are handed to the officiating priest to kiss. The mysteries of the lives of our Lord and of the Virgin are represented upon them in niello work; there are besides several minute figures, which are supposed to represent the principal feasts throughout the year.
Two Venetian mosaic pictures form a diptych, and are framed in silver enamel. They were presented by a Venetian lady to the Florentines, and are Greek calendars apparently in wonderfully minute mosaic, but on a close examination they will be found to be ancient imitations and not real mosaic. A coarse mosaic picture, hanging on the wall, represents St. Zanobius, and is by the hand of Giovanni da Monte, one of the artists who has painted such delicate miniatures on the margins of the choral books of the Cathedral. There is likewise a picture of Sta. Reparata by a pupil of Giotto, and a Madonna between St. Zanobius and Sta. Caterina, which is attributed to Giotto himself.
Leaving the Opera del Duomo and del Battisterio, and turning towards the Via de' Servi, there are several tall old houses on the northern side of the Piazza, bearing the lily, the emblem of the Commonwealth; the lamb, carrying a banner, the badge of the Guild of Wool; and an eagle grasping a bale of wool, that of the Mercatanti or Calimala di Panni Franšeschi, the Guild of Foreign Cloth Merchants.
Farther west in the Piazza is the Via Ricasoli, formerly Via Cocomero, where Cimabue and Giotto had their workshops when in the zenith of their reputation. The corner of the Piazza opposite this street is the scene of a legend which has inspired the Venetian poet, Franšesco dall' Ongaro, with one of his most lively poems. The devil is said to have visited Florence mounted on the back of the wind; on reaching the Piazza he alighted, and, desiring his escort to wait for his return, he entered the Cathedral to speak a word to the dean and chapter. Some declare that the pious canons converted the devil; others that the conference is still going on; but, whatever the cause, the devil has never quitted the Cathedral, and the wind, obedient to his commands, still waits outside, and is never absent from his post.57
In the year 1701 a large slab was removed from the pavement in front of the Cathedral, between the gates and the baptistery, which marked the spot where, in 1376, a certain papal legate - Certosino - was hung and buried. He had been sent by Pope Gregory XI. to excommunicate the Florentine citizens, who were already smarting from the cruel depredations of Sir John Hawkwood, then in the Pope's service. But the Florentines were more enraged by this act of papal vengeance than by the sack of cities and the wholesale massacre of men, women, and children; for excommunication was a blow fatal to their commerce, since all Florentine citizens - whether residing abroad or at home - fell under its ban, and no one in those days would venture to deal with an excommunicated person. A severe example was, therefore, necessary to deter the Pope from such measures in future, and Certosino was the victim.58
The marble pillar, on the northern side of the Piazza del Battisterio, records one of the most celebrated miracles of St. Zanobius. When his remains were born from San Lorenzo to the old church of San Salvador, on the side of the present Cathedral, a withered tree on the spot was touched by the sacred relic, and immediately sent forth buds. A metal branch is attached to this pillar every 26th January, the anniversary of the translation of St. Zanobius's body to its last resting place.
The terra-cotta figure of San Giovannino, or the little St. John, above the door of the former Opera del Battisterio, is supposed to have been executed by Michelozzo Michelozzi; it replaced a beautiful little marble relief acknowledged to be by Michelozzi, which is now in the gallery of the Uffizi.
The Archbishop's Palace, behind the Baptistery, was one of the most ancient buildings in Florence, but it has been altered, repaired, destroyed and repaired again, until its first inhabitants would hardly recognise anything except the site. When St. Ambrose of Milan visited Florence in the year 400, to consecrate St. Zanobius bishop, there was no episcopal palace, and he lodged in a peasant's cottage. The palace was, however, in existence A.D. 724. The Countess Matilda, daughter of Duke Boniface of Tuscany, in the eleventh century, and the friend of Pope Gregory I., made it her residence; and one of the windows of that period, before the use of glass, and therefore only fitted for blinds, was left in its original form until 1866, when it was destroyed during the tasteless restorations of the northern side of the building. In the archives of the Archiepiscopal Palace, or the Capitolo Fiorentino, is preserved one of the last acts of Matilda: an investiture of the lands of Campiano, belonging to the Counts Guidi, which she had insisted on their resigning to the canons of Sta. Reparata in the year 1100.
Besides Matilda's rich legacies to the Roman Church, she bequeathed a portion of her vast wealth to the guild of Wool, for the benefit of the Florentine Cathedral.
The first Podesta, or foreign governor of the city, inhabited this palace in 1207, and the Greek Emperor Baldwin II, was received here in 1273, when he came to Florence with Pope Gregory X. and Charles of Anjou, intent on raising a new crusade for the recovery of the Holy Land. This palace was nearly destroyed by fire in 1503, when Alexander de' Medici, who afterwards become Pope Leo XI., was archbishop of Florence. He ordered it to be rebuilt, after a design by Giovanni Antonio Doscio. The rooms on the ground-floor of the cortile, as well as the handsome staircase within, were constructed by Bernardino Ciceroni, and are of the seventeenth century.
The bishopric of Florence was converted into an archbishopric in 1400, when Pope Martin V. visited the city. On the deposition of John XXIII., whose monument is in the Baptistery, Pope Martin was received by the Florentines with extraordinary honours, and in return for their civility he raised their see equal to that of Pisa.
Behind the Archbishop's Palace, in the Piazza dell' Olio, is a door enriched with marbles, which was once the entrance to the suppressed church of San Salvador, built by Bishop Reparato to supply the place of the older San Salvador, which he demolished to make room for Sta. Reparata on the site of the present Cathedral.
A palace on the opposite side, in the street at the back of the Archbishop's Palace, belonged to the extinct family of Bezzoli, and was built by Arnolfo di Cambio, who, according to Vasari, first attempted here raising vault upon vault. The corner of the street beyond is known as the Canto alla Paglia, because hay and straw were sold there.
Albert Arnoldi 1359-1364
Archbishop's Palace inhabited by the first Podesta 1207
Archbishop's Palace destroyed by fire 1583
Baldwin, Emperor, visited Florence 1273
Certosino, the Pope's Legate, hung 1376
Gregory X., Pope 1271-1276
Gregory XI., Pope 1370-1378
Guarda-Morto Tower destroyed 1298
Matilda, Countess, in Tuscany 1076
Martin V., Pope 1417-1431
57 "Il Diavolo e
il Vento," Ballata di F. dall' Ongaro.
58 See Napier's "Florentine History," vol. ii. pp. 385, 386.0
Chapter VII: The Piazza and Church of San Lorenzo
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