Saturday, July 23, 2011


Ammannati's fountain at the Bargello

On the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to the sixteenth century Florentine sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati at the Bargello National sculpture museum, his fragmented sculpture fountain complex has been reconstructured. This is one of my favourite sculpture groups from the Italian Cinquecento and it was commissioned by the grand duke Cosimo I to Ammannati in 1555 for the inside of the Town hall that had been, since 1540, Cosimo’s ducal residence.
Ammannati was born in Settignano, from a stonemasons family. Settignano is one of the hills surrounding Florence, an area which produced many very talented sculptors and stone masons as it was one of the places that sourced the city with stone (Desiderio da Settignano was one of the greatest sculptors from the Florentine Quattrocento). Ammannati trained under Baccio Bandinelli, who headed one of the largest sculpture workshops in the first half of the 1500’s in Florence, and worked for numerous Medici family members after their return from exile in 1512 (Pope Clement VII, Alessandro de Medici, Cosimo I).
Ammannati secured the commission for a fountain sculpture group in 1555, to be placed in the ex-main government room, now the ducal hearing room where Cosimo I received his subjects and held gala events glorifying his rule and territory. Giorgio Vasari was entrusted with the artistic decoration of the walls and the ceiling, with detailed imagery linking the Medici family to the city’s ancient Roman past and highlighting the astuteness and greatness of Cosimo. At the head of the room, an elevated stage area was created where the Grand duke would sit surrounded by the sculptural representations of previous important ruling Medici figures sculptured by Bandinelli. At the other end was to be placed Ammannati’s fountain, which represented the four elements in mythological allegory represented by the various gods and motifs. This was an obvious analogy to the rule of the Medici - it was part of the very fabric of the cosmos that the Medici would rule over, the traditional republic of Florence, and it had always been part of the greater plan.
Cosimo I de Medici by Bronzino
Juno, the consort of Jupiter, is seated above and flanked by her attribute, the peacock. This was also the symbol of the beloved wife of Cosimo I, the Spanish Eleonora da Toledo, the beautiful second daughter of the Spanish Viceroy of Naples. Juno is seated on a rainbow, which has been reconstructed in plaster for the exhibition as the original marble structure has disappeared.
Below Juno stands Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, with water springing forth freely from her breasts as a sign of her life giving force. She is flanked by two semi reclining figures representing rivers, the one on the left being the Arno river as he is seated on a lion, the symbol of Florence. To the right is a female representing the spring of Mount Parnassus, as she is reclining on Pegusus.
The standing figures outside the semi circle are Flora on the right and Prudence on the left. Flora represents Florentia, the ancient Roman city of Florence, which was dedicated to the Goddess of Spring. She has, however, some additional symbols pertaining to Cosimo, declaring his political desire to be viewed as the Roman Emperor Augustus. Flora has the symbol of the order of the Golden Fleece, awarded to Cosimo I in 1545 by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, around her neck.
Cosimo presented himself as the second Augustus. He too, like Augustus, stopped the civil unrest that had been plagueing Florence for decades, just as Octavian ended the civil war ravaging Rome by defeating Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in 31AD. Augustus became the first Emperor of the Empire, with the Republic of Rome gone, just as Cosimo I would become the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, ending once and for all the Republic of Florence. Furthermore, Cosimo symbolically adopted the same motto (Festina Lente) and the same zodiac sign as Augustus (Capricorn).
Finally. this brings us to the remaining figure, Prudence, on the left. He has an anchor and dolphin behind his leg, visual symbols of the shared motto of Augustus and Cosimo. Festina Lente, make haste slowly, is represented by the anchor that grounds the vessel and the dolphin which represents the swiftness and speed of these rulers in defense.
Eleonora da Toledo by Bronzino
If this had ever been installed and actually functioned as a fountain inside the sumptuous hearing room of the Ducal palace, one of the largest reception rooms in Europe, the effect would have been powerful, especially when the sound of the water is added to the overall display. It was never installed there however. Francesco I de Medici (Cosimo’s successor) installed it outside in his country villa at Pratolino and it became part of the overall internationally renowned water displays in the rest of the garden complex. After his death, it was moved to the Boboli Gardens. Dismantled in the following century, it ended up in the Bargello museum, a shadow of its former marvellous self. Today however, recomposed, we have a glimpse into the stupendous visual art creations of the sixteenth century grand dukes.
Jason returns with The Golden Fleece

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