Michelangelo’s Victory in the Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio: Michelangelo’s Victory and influence on sculptors such as Ammanati, Pierino da Vinci, Vincenzo Danti and Giambologna.

Palazzo Vecchio Salone del Cinquecento       Zoom in       View from above

Palazzo Vecchio Salone del Cinquecento  
photos: Larry Lamsa; zoom: Dimitris Kamaras; view: Gary Campbell-Hall

Before we look at the statues at the square in front of the Vecchio, we first go inside to look at a work by Michelangelo. We climb the stairs and go to the main hall: the Salone del Cinquecento. A hall inspired by the famous hall in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were commissioned to create a large fresco for the walls of this room. The frescoes with the large battles you now see here are painted by Giorgio Vasari, the same man who wrote ‘The Lives’, but more about this on the days of painting.

The Genius of Victory of Michelangelo

Michelangelo ‘The Genius of Victory‘       Side

We look at a statue, ‘The Genius of Victory‘, that Michelangelo carved between 1523 and 1534 for a recess in the tomb of Della Rovere: the tomb for Julius II. The oak leaves are still visible in the hair of Victory: a reference to the family coat of arms of Della Rovere. The sculpture was carved by Michelangelo in Florence in his studio on Via Mozza. ‘Victory’ was donated by Michelangelo’s nephew, Lionardo Buonarroti, to Duke Cosimo I, who had the statue placed in this room by Vasari. This gave the sculpture a political implication that Buonarroti would certainly not have wanted, because it now also represented the victory of the prince and his government. And so, a ruler, who Buonarroti had always refused to serve , was still honoured by his statue.

The underlying figure is probably a personification of evil and has the features of the maker. This is something Buonarroti would later do at the back wall of the Sistine chapel. Here he depicted his face in ‘Bartolomeus‘ stripped skin. The real meaning of the statue is not really clear. It is often thought of as a personification of Justice.

One eye has a notch, but the other does not. With his left knee Victory keeps the underlying man in check. The defeated figure is dressed. The strongly muscled torso contrasts sharply with the calm facial expression of Victory. The face is turned to the left, the upper body to the right and the hips to the left. Not an easy position for a sculptor who still carved in a medieval way. It is for good reason that the sculptors from the quattrocento (fifteenth century) depicted the figures on their statues in a quite frontal way. We have seen this in the work of Donatello in the Opera del Duomo or in the Bargello. These statues certainly lack a strong rotation around a central axis. According to Gian Paolo Lomazzo, Buonarroti considered this new approach of great importance because: ‘It is said that Michelangelo once gave this advice to Marco of Siena, his painter’s companion, that one should always make a figure pyramidal, turning [serpentinata] and multiplied by one, two or three.’ (Both Hibbard and Kieft refer to this fragment: Hibbard, H., ‘Michelangelo’, Penguin Books, London 1978 (reprinted 1992) 204; Kieft, G., ‘Het brein van Michelangelo Kunst, Kunsttheorie en de constructie van het beeld in de Italiaanse Renaissance’, Proefschrift Utrecht 1994 121).

Although the Victory revolves around its axis, the statue is designed to be seen from one side, namely the front. Surprisingly enough, this also applies too many sculptures by a sculptor like Bernini from the seventeenth century. Contrary to what the arrangement in this room of the Palazzo Vecchio suggests, the Victory was intended for a recess.

Victory, a naked man, is alleged to be Buonarroti’s great love: Tommaso dei Cavalieri. The boy for whom he wrote a love poem and of whom he made drawings. The idea that Tommaso dei Cavalieri could be Buonarroti’s great love is wrong, however, because Michelangelo only met Cavalieri in 1532 and the statue was already at an advanced stage at that time.

The influence of Michelangelo’s Victory on other sculptors

Bartolomeo Ammannati ‘Allegory of Victory’ detail
‘Mario Nari’s Monument’

Michelangelo’s Victory gained prominence in Florence. We visited a statue of the same name by Bartolommeo Ammanati from 1540 in Bargello. Ammanati’s statue is clearly inspired by Michelangelo’s work. Bartolommeo probably used a drawing or model in an early design phase of Michelangelo’s Victory for his sculpture. The differences between the two sculptures are remarkable. The female personification of Victory, made five years after Buonarroti’s, is depicted frontally and there is no spiral movement in the body. Did Ammanati just think this composition was more beautiful or wouldn’t the sculptor have dared to turn the body because of the difficulties it creates?

Bartolomeo Ammannati 'Allegory of Victory' detail Bargello
photo: Yair Haklai

Pierino da Vinci ‘Samson and Philistine’      Samson      Philistine

In the Salone del Cinquecento you can still see a statue that is clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s Victory: Samson the Philistine. The sculptor, Pierino da Vinci, goes a step further than Ammanati because he shows Samson’s body much less frontally and the body is already slightly twisted. If you compare this statue with Buonarroti’s work, however, you see that the latter artist has carved a much more dynamic statue. According to Vasari, Pierino had made many sketches and models for his sculpture and ‘after the block of marble had arrived, he immediately set to work, imitating Michelangelo by gradually revealing his idea and design from the block, without damaging it or making any mistakes.’ Clearly no measuring model was used here, but carved in the old-fashioned way that Vasari had so praised.

Vincenzo Danti ‘Honour Triumphant over Falsehood’ 1561
In situ        Side

Not only Ammanati and Pierino da Vinci have been influenced by the Victory of Buonarroti. In the Bargello, we briefly looked at a work from 1561 by Vincenzo Danti with the title: ‘Honour Triumphant over Falsehood’ If you see this statue of this young artist from Perugia, it is clear that Michelangelo’s Victory impressed him when he settled in Florence.

Vincenzo Danti ‘Honour Triumphant over Falsehood' 1561
photos: Yair Haklai; situ and side: Elias Rovielo

Giambolgna ‘Self-portait’ c. 1600

In the large room where we are now standing, there is also a plaster cast of the statue ‘Florence overcomes Pisa’, from 1570 by Giambologna. We have already seen this statue in the Bargello where the original can be found. This sculptor, hailing from Douai in Flanders, settled in Florence after a study trip through Italy. Before he started working on the marble, Giambologna first made a model of gesso. Giambologna is a more talented sculptor than Ammanati, Pierino da Vinci or Vicenzo Danti.

Giovanni Bologna ‘Florence Triumphant Over Pisa’     
Florence        Pisa

Giovanni Bologna’s first important work, as he is also called, was ‘Florence Triumphant Over Pisa.’ It was made for the son of Cosimi I: Francesco, on the occasion of his marriage to Joanne of Austria. Of course, Giambologna challenged Michelangelo, even though the latter had already died. The Flemish sculptor tried to surpass Michelangelo’s ‘Victory’. Both personifications: Giambologna’s wife and Michelangelo’s husband look the other way. The legs that control the underlying figures also have a different position. However, what Giovanni does in more detail than Buonarroti is the rotation around the central axis in the bodies of both personifications: Pisa and Florence. The spiral is even more complicated than that in ‘Victory’. Both bodies ‘Pisa’ and ‘Florence’ are perfect an d fully worked out on all sides. It is a statue that invites the spectator to circle it. It will be clear to the reader after the above, that such a statue must of course be made with a measuring model (Wikipedia).

The question remains, of course, whether such an example of Giambologna’s high sculpture is psychologically as good as Buonarroti’s work, but you have to judge for yourself. We now take a look at a curious sculpture that stands next to Michelangelo’s Victory.

Josef Theodor Hansen ‘Palazzo Vecchio’ 1891
photos: Elias Rovielo

Josef Theodor Hansen ‘Palazzo Vecchio’ 1891
Andrea del Verrocchio Putto with Dolphin

We take a look at two more statue: the ‘Putto with dolphin’ by Verrocchio and Donatello’s ‘Judith and Holofernes’. 

Continuation Florence day 4: Verrocchio and Donatello in Palazzo Vecchio