Sunday, December 16, 2012


Giambologna, Equestrian monument of Cosimo I de' Medici, 1587-94, bronze, piazza della Signoria Florence.

There is only one bronze equestrian sculpture that has survived for us in the present day from antiquity. It is in the centre of capitol hill in Rome and it is of Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome 161-180AD). It would have succumbed to the fate of most the others, melted down to make weapons, bells etc. during the barbaric invasions and the subsequent Medieval Christian period, had this Roman emperor not been mistaken for another, the first Christian emperor, Constantine (emperor 306-337). Marcus Aurelius holds his hand out in pacification, maybe he is about to speak to his people, he wears sandals, a tunic and is bareheaded. The bronze was once completely gilded. Equestrian monuments, the horse and rider, were one of the ways for Roman emperors to immortalise themselves in art. It was thus an artistic form very much in the imperial rhetoric and had regal connotations. Its roots are in Greek art. The Greeks would make equestrian votive statues for the gods, in thanks for victories.

Equestrian monument to Marcus Aurelius, 173-76AD, bronze, Capitoline museums Rome

In the Middle Ages, from the 1300s, some equestrian sculptures were commissioned but none comparable to the Marcus Aurelius in grandiosity and monumentality, and they had also a different agenda. They were smaller than their ancient counterpart, in stone or wood and depicted the rider in armour. They were invariably linked to a tomb and most commonly placed above the sarcophagus and located inside a church.

The first two equestrian statues which recall very closely the ancient model where the classical influences outweigh the medieval ones, were by two Florentine sculptors. Only one of these survives today however. Donatello’s Gattamelata in Padua (1447-1453) is still in its original place, the lost work being by Niccolò Baroncelli made during the years 1444-51 of Niccolò d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara which was in Ferrara (destroyed during the revolution of 1796). They both broke from the medieval mould as they were made in bronze and they weren’t for a tomb but were made for outside and over life size. They did, however, still show their riders in armour.

Donatello, Equestrian munument of Gattamelata, 1447-53, bronze, Padua

The next big equestrian sculpture of a similar vein to Donatello’s, again by a Florentine, was by Andrea Verrocchio for one of the condottiere of the Venetian republic, Bartolomeo Colleoni. It is in the campo San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. However, this still had some of the traces of the medieval influences as it is a funeral monument of sorts, considering his body is in the church in the square and he is dressed in armour.

Andrea del Verrocchio, Equestrian monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni, 1483-88, bronze, Venice

The equestrian monument to Cosimo I is the first of this type to be the most similar both visually and in significance, to the classical period. The monument was commissioned after his death by Cosimo’s son Ferdinando to the well known, revered and long standing Medici court sculptor and caster, Giambologna (Jean de Boulogne, Douai 1529-Florence 1608). Giambologna worked on it between the years 1587-1594. Cosimo I is dressed in armour but he is bare headed, as is Gattamelata by Donatello. However, Cosimo I is represented less as a military man and more of a leader of state - in his hand is the baton of command rather than a lance.

The bas-reliefs that decorate the base were completed in 1598 aided by his workshop assistants, and they show key moments in the establishment of the Medici's power: the Florentine Senate paying homage to the young Duke Cosimo, the Triumphal entry of Cosimo into Siena, and the Coronation as Grand Duke.

Giambolgona, The triumphal entry of Cosimo into Siena, bas-relief on the pedestal of the Equestrian monument to Cosimo I de' Medici , 1598, bronze, piazza della Signoria Florence.

Cosimo I made very deliberate connections with the ancient Roman emperors. He adopted the same zodiac sign as augustus, who, like him,  definitively ended the republic to start an authoritarian despotic rule, and he also adopted a similar personal symbol to the first emperor. He renovated the piazza Santa Maria Novella for the chariot race held there every June and this site was more or less the same site as the where the circus had been when Fiorenza was Florentia, the Roman colony. Cosimo I portrays himself as very much the ruler of state and the his mastery of the great horse refers implicitly to his mastery in controlling and organising the territory of which he is the sole ruler.

The equestrian monument was a huge success and Giambologna’s workshop was commissioned not long after a second one of Ferdinando I, which still stands today in the piazza Santissima Annunziata. It was finished after the death of Giambologna, by Pietra Tacca, who inherited his master’s workshop after his death.
Giambologna and Pietro Tacca, Equestrian monument to Ferdinando I de' Medici, 1602-08, bronze, piazza Santissima Annunziata Florence.

1 comment:

  1. The Grand Duke Cosimo I de 'Medici was the one who built the Uffizi although his initial idea was to build such a complex to be the seat of the courts of the period so that they were near the Palazzo Vecchio its center of power. Despite the initial idea of ​​the Uffizi were soon used to be a place where preserving the many works of art that the de 'Medici family owned, so was born the first museum in Europe.