Wednesday, December 30, 2009
60 bees and a queen
An Italian Piazza: The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence
A Prosperous City
In the early XVth century Florence was one of the most prosperous cities of Europe. Its economy was based on a strong textile industry and on an effective banking system supported by a reliable gold currency (florin).
Merchants and artisans were grouped in powerful guilds: in 1421 Arte della Seta, the Silk Guild, decided to contribute to the well-being of the Republic by founding Spedale degli Innocenti probably the first foundling hospital.
A Modern Institution
The institution flourished through the centuries and when the Silk Guild was no longer able to financially support it, the City of Florence took responsibility for it. The children residing in Spedale degli Innocenti were not only orphans and foundlings, but also children of families in temporary difficult conditions. The building maintained its original use until the end of the XIXth century, when, in consideration of its historical and artistic value, it was felt more appropriate to use it as a museum. It still hosts two small kindergartens.
Antonio da Sangallo turned the square named after the church into one of the finest examples of Italian piazza by building for a monastery a portico identical to that designed by Brunelleschi a century earlier.
It was a reverse influence that led to the erection of a bronze monument at the centre of this piazza: in Rome Michelangelo relocated in 1538 the monument to Marcus Aurelius to the centre of Piazza del Campidoglio. In 1608 Giambologna assisted by Pietro Tacca thought to do something similar in Florence. He erected a bronze monument to Grand Duke Ferdinand I at the centre of Piazza SS. Annunziata.
The monument was cast with the bronze taken from the cannons captured during an expedition to the ports of today's Tunisia and Algeria, from which Ottoman corsairs launched their raids on the Italian coasts.
This explains the inscription on the horse's girth: De' metalli rapiti al fero Trace - from the metals taken from the savage Thracian (a traditional enemy of the Ancient Romans).
In 1640 the rear side of the pedestal was decorated with a bronze relief showing 60 bees swarming around their queen: it was meant to symbolize Ferdinand's motto Maiestate Tantum (Great Majesty), but maybe the idea came from the bees of Pope Urbanus VIII, who was the ruling pope at that time.
thanks to Cassandra Sciortino for informing me about this beautiful image. (via Facebook!)