In the shade of the Palazzo Vecchio there are many famous sculptures. They are not just for decoration, but they often symbolize the values of the city in some of the most important events of its history: a special mention goes to the “politic trilogy”, three sculptures representing the value of justice, put in this public area to inspire the governors of the city.
The first one is the most ancient, the Judith by Donatello, which keeps the memories of the first expulsion of the Medici family, when the rioters sacked this bronze from the Medici Palace near San Lorenzo. The original now is in Palazzo Vecchio. This work is quite small compared to the other statues of the square, in fact, after Michelangelo’s, the style of sculptures is also called “gigantism”. His David is the second work of the politic trilogy and we admired the original inside the Accademia Gallery. It represents the peak moment of the second Florentine Republic, when the population (symbolized by the biblical figure of David) beat the tyrants (as the giant Goliath).
The last piece of the trilogy is the Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, recently restored and diplayed under the Loggia dei Lanzi. It is the bronze masterpiece of this artist, who was just a couple of decades younger than Michelangelo. It was realized under the request of the new Grand Duke Cosimo I, after his family came back to Florence with the Spanish army, beating the rebels of the last Florentine Republic. Perseus lifts up the head of the just-defeated Medusa, a clear symbol of the “cut” of the duke to the aspirations of liberty of the city. But snakes exit from the body of the monster, as to say the struggling conflicts between the citizens had always poisoned a real democratic government in the city and the one who could ensure the peace was the grand duke only.
In the square, every sculpture realized after the David shows the influence of this masterwork, some more, some less. Just next to it there is the Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, a sculptor of approximately the same age of Michelangelo, who was a rival of his and who always dreamt of overcoming him. Baccio since very young used to be one of the greatest admirers of Michelangelo, but when he realized he was no way as talented as him the admiration turned to envy and then to hate. He imitated Michelangelo’s subjects and style, thinking the power of his sculptures came from the big sizes only, so he realized giant statues but no power, no careful anatomy realism, no “soul” in them. He was responsible for the destroying of the Michelangelo’s Cascina Battle cartoons (we will tell this story inside Palazzo Vecchio) and just to make one more example, he discouraged the acceptance of the project for the realization of the San Lorenzo Church main face.
The Hercules is just another attempt by tenacious Baccio to overcome or at least to be equal his master: this work had to be realized by Michelangelo himself, but because of his many commitments in Rome by the Pope, in many years he never found the time to realize what requested in Florence. Baccio then took the chance and asked for the marble block prepared for the Hercules. He sculpted it and he reached his purpose to stay in the public square next to Michelangelo’s David. But the comparison of the two works can only underline the defeat of Baccio again. Benvenuto Cellini, the master of Perseus who always was an admirer and a friend of Michelangelo’s, wrote a sharp comment about this work of Baccio: “if you could remove the hair there won’t be space enough for even a tiny brain […] and the body just looks like an ugly sack of melons leant against a wall!”
Another controversial tribute to Michelangelo’s style is the Neptune in the middle of the fountain. Bartolomeo Ammannati made it during the last decades of 1500 and the technique, the large size and even the posture resemble the David. Unfortunately the harmony of the whole is far away from its model and the Florentine people had named it “Biancone” (big white), meaning its only impressing thing is the white of the marble and also a teasing sentence is still famous: “Ammannato Ammannato, how much marble you wasted!”
The lesson of Michelangelo was much more fecund in the works of Giambologna, an artist who revised to his personal style the master’s features, like the typical twisting or the sinuous movements of figures, in a less slavish and more original way, like in the nymphs at the Biancone’s feet in the fountain or in the powerful work of the “Ratto delle Sabine” under the Loggia dei Lanzi.
A last curios is on a right corner rock of the palace: there is a man profile, sculpted by an unknown artist. Just a popular legend attributes it to Michelangelo, who is said to had sculpted it while watching at a capital punishment in the square, turned on the back, wishing to fix the face of the condemned man. As far as we might know, no one but a very well-known and important artist could work so easily on the main face of the public palace and without having any punishment.