Equestrian statue and the Neptune fountain in Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

Giambologna ‘Equestrian statue of Cosimo I’       Neptune fountain

photos: Larry Koester, Equestrian statue David Casteel; Neptune: Ingo Mehling

Bronzino ‘Portrait of Cosimo I’ 1545, Uffizi

Just a stone’s throw from the Loggia dei Lanzi, Giambologna created another equestrian statue for Duke Cosimo I. When Florence became a Duchy under Cosimo I in 1540, the ‘lion’ is removed from the clocktower. The largest clock is destroyed. This was to set an example, so the citizens knew who ruled the city from now on. The Roman emperor Domitianus had already erected a statue of himself on the Roman Forum, also a traditional republican square. After his death, he was murdered, this statue was smashed to pieces by the citizens of Rome. The Roman Senate pronounced a damnatio memoria. This meant that all inscriptions and statues of the Domitian were destroyed. As you can see, the equestrian statue on this republican square, the pride of the citizens of Florence, has survived. We will still be looking at the fountain of Neptune.

photo: Jebulon and pedestal Wikipedia

The Neptune Fountain in Piazza della Signoria

The Neptune Fountain in Piazza della Signoria by Bartolommeo Ammanati. In the sixteenth century, large fountains were built in many Italian cities. The Orion fountain at Messina, built in 1550, was the largest in Italy. There is a clear link between the fountain in Messina by Montorsoli and the fountain of Neptune. This is shown by a letter from Bandinelli in which he mentions that he had studied the fountain in Messina well and ‘I will make for him [Cosimo] a fountain that will not only be better than any other that exists on earth, but I pledge that the Greeks and Romans never had such a fountain.’ (Pope-Hennessy, J. Volume III pp. 220-226, 481-483)

G.A. Montorsoli ‘Fontana del Nettuno Messina’ detail

Seven years later Montorsoli made a second fountain with a large marble statue in the middle: Neptune with two small figures. Bandinelli must have heard this. He also considered himself a sculptor who was ideally suited for large figures. The piece of marble that Cosimo had mined in 1558 was more than ten braccia (580 centimeters) high. In the sixteenth century, such exceptionally large blocks of marble were very popular among sculptors. When it became known that Cosimo had bought such a fantastic large block of marble, the trouble started.

Cellini and Ammanati demanded an open competition for such a block and of course Bandinelli was also allowed to participate. Cosimo agreed to this because he expected the strong competition would lead to a better result. Bandinelli was old and irritable. Although he had a great career behind him, he had not received recognition from the people, let alone from colleagues. On the contrary, his ‘Hercules and Cacus’ was subject to ridicule. Angry over the competition, Bandinelli went to Carrara and damaged the big marble block. This considerably restricted possible designs for a Neptune. Borghini writes in 1584 in his ‘Il Ripose’: ‘As the block of marble was narrow at the shoulders, he could not, as he wanted, give the figure a posture with his arm raised.’ (Pope-Hennessy, J. Volume III p. 482)  Although Bandinelli should actually be disqualified, he could still participate, but it was no longer possible, because he died before the competition.

In 1565, part of the ringhiera was demolished to create space for the new fountain. For the water supply, quite a few pipes had to be laid from Porta San Niccolò (Wikipedia) to Piazza della Signoria. In October of the same year, the foundations were laid and due to the marriage between Francesco de’Medici and Johanna of Austria, the Neptune was temporarily put on the square.

Neptune      Face of Neptune      Rear

For the competition in 1560, models were made and the best was chosen: the model of Ammanati. Ammanati was supported by Michelangelo. The contest was only for the central figure of Neptune. For the water basin it was presumably already decided to use the old model of Bandinelli.

photos: Pom; face: Eusebius@Commons; rear: julie corsi

Neptune fountain       Other side      Horses     Zoom in

photos: Wikibuster; other side: George M. Groutas; horses Carlo Raso and zoom: Yair Haklai
photos: Sailko

Satyr       Face of the Satyr
“The Neptune here in Florence was hewn from one of the largest blocks of Carrare marble ever used and was soon dubbed ‘Il Biancone’ (the White Giant).  The fountain was inaugurated on December 10, 1564, but was already the subject of a satirical verse in the sixteenth century: ‘Ammannato, Ammannato, che bel marmo hai rovinato’ (what beautiful marble you have ruined). When Johanna of Austria, who was going to marry Cosimo’s son and heir Francesco, moved to Florence in 1565, the Neptune received a temporary touch-up with stucco and papier-mâché to make it look better. The bronze nymphs and satyrs, which were originally in plaster, were only placed on the fountain in 1572 by artists including Giambologna.  In 1575, the fountain was finished and a fence was placed in 1592 to keep horses [Neptunes horses] from drinking from the reservoir. By the end of his life, Ammannati [or Ammanati] admitted that the statue, which was to be an allegoric depiction of Cosimo I, wasn’t entirely a success. According to popular belief at the time, the small figures of the fountain started haunting whenever there was a clear night at full moon.” Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Firenze Een Anekdotische reisgids’ Athenaeum-Polak&van Gennep Amsterdam 2006 pp. 228-229

Neptune       In situ

Ammanati pondered the basic shape of a twelve-sided corner. Moreover, the block of marble was actually too large in relation to the size of the water basin. The Neptune is carved in such a way that the front and back are fairly flat. Neptune stands with his weapon in his right hand and calms the waves. The god of the sea was chosen because Cosimo was not only Duke of Florence, but of all of Tuscany. He protects the port cities against maritime piracy. The Neptune is a single piece of marble, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women.

Ammanati was trained in the studio of Jacopo Sansovino. After an argument with Michelangelo, this Florentine sculptor received very few commissions. He worked in Rome for some time, but in 1527, after the Sacco di Roma, he left for Venice. This is where he worked for the remainder of his life. The Neptune of Ammanati resembles the colossal statues of the Scala dei Giganti in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice.

photos: Rodrigo Soldon

The meaning of all figures has not yet been deciphered, save for two nymphs: Thetis and Doris and two gods of the navy. The bronze figures were made between 1571 and 1575. Several artists have worked on the fountain, including some assistants of Ammanati Vincenzo de’Rosso and Guglielmo Fiammingo.

photos: Doc Searles


Sea Goddess
Parmigianino ‘Madonna with the long neck’ c. 1535-40

The use of bronze was not really convenient, because the material makes the statues visually smaller, even though the Neptune is already too large anyway. The sea god with the beard is definitely by Ammanati’s hand. If you look at the bronze woman, you can clearly see that Mannerism is already in fashion. Her unnaturally elongated body parts, and especially the neck, can be seen with a painter like Parmigianino. We will see his painting of the Madonna with the long neck in Uffizi.

End of Florence day 4

Continuation Florence day 5: Giotto, Cimabue and Duccio I