Piazza della Signoria
Open every day from 9.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
Ticket Euros 6,00
Palazzo Vecchio (the “Old” Palace, also named Palazzo della Signoria) is the city hall, where the mayor and the city council still work in. It was built in the XIV century, and the main face with the tower is original of that time. The interior mostly dates back to the second half of the XVI century, when the grand duke Cosimo I de’ Medici chose this palace as his family living place and ordered a restyle to Giorgio Vasari. The palace will be named “old” after the Medici court will move to the “new” Pitti Palace in the Oltrarno area.
The extraordinary Salone dei Cinquecento(Five-hundreds-men Hall) is on the first floor upstairs, and its name comes from the 500 people of the Consiglio Maggiore who used to meet here in a sort of parliament and executive committee. Savonarola conceived this large organ during the short period he ruled the city. On the large walls you can admire the grand frescoes by Vasari, representing the victories of the Medici family.
Not many people knows that just on these same walls it took place one of the most fascinating artistic contests in history, having as competitors no less than Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
It was in 1505 that the Republic governors ordered a new magnificent decoration to the two best living artists: a representation of the military victories of the Republic to be painted in two large frescoes, one per artist, one per side wall of the still blank Salone. Leonardo was supposed to realize the Anghiari Battle on the left wall and Michelangelo the Cascina Battle on the right wall. Both drew the cartoons and maybe copied the drawings on the walls. Then Leonardo began to paint, testing an original technique, the encaustic, which could give him longer time to refine the picture rather than the fresco technique. Unfortunately this system was a real failure for such a large area and all the work was irreparably wasted. Michelangelo was stopped instead by the Pope Julius II calling and he decided to move pretty quickly to Rome to join the protection of the richest and most powerful man of his time.
It was written much about this face to face challenge between the two maximum masters of Renaissance. Even if some of the works of both artists show in some way a mutual influence, it is well-documented that there was bad blood between them due to such different and somehow opposite personalities, reflecting also in their artistic styles: magnificent and uneasy Michelangelo, refined and serene Leonardo; the first one gets his best results by drawing near contrasts, the second realized his masterworks thanks to the harmony of his “sfumato” (shaded) technique.
Michelangelo wrote in his letters how in front of Leonardo, so gentlemanly refined, he used to feel like a work-man, though in his mind he was conscious of his higher artistic skills. And you can easily imagine these two geniuses looking unfavourably at the other from the near scaffolding and realizing how Florence or any other city in the world had become too small for both. In fact, after this episode or more probably because of it, they will choose two diametrically opposed ways: Leonardo will definitely move to Milan and then to France, Michelangelo will accept the invitation of the Pope to settle in Rome.
Unfortunately no traces of this great project remain in Palazzo Vecchio. The original cartoons were lost, but luckily the fame of the two artists made many other artists copy the preparatory drawings, so that today we know the look of these works through those copies.
Particularly the Cascina Battle cartoon by Michelangelo was exposed inside the Medici palace and among all the admirers there was Baccio Bandinelli (the author of the Hercules of Signoria Square).
He used to have such an unlimited admiration toward this work, that he made a copy of the key of the room where it was displayed, in order to visit it at any time. In 1512 then, taking the chance during a riot, he stole the cartoon and cut it in several parts. It was him then to destroy a part of the original drawings, blinded with envy, because he could no way reproduce the strength of the master’s stokes.
Sixty years after this first attempt to decorate the Salone, Giorgio Vasari started the frescoes we can see today, but there is no reference in any document about the coverage of Leonardo’s try or of Michelangelo’s preparatory studies on the walls. They seem disappeared but, how could such an admirer of these masters like Vasari, who wrote their biographies in his famous book “Vite” (Lives), how could him cancel such two important works even if incomplete or damaged without any mention? The question has no answer, but Vasari perhaps left a clue: on a flag painted on the top left part of the left wall fresco you can read “Cerca Trova” that means “Search Find”! What is the meaning of this sentence? Is it a reference to something hidden? Any scientific research, looking for a cavity wall or a trace of the previous work failed so far, so this disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.
Let’s have a look now at the sculptures displayed inside this great hall, among them there is the Genius of Victory, or more easily called The Victory by Michelangelo, a marble statue made for the monumental tomb of the Pope Julius II. This is the project attracting Michelangelo out from Florence to Rome and he will work to this for no less than forty years. At the beginning the enthusiastic Michelangelo made a first project of 40 sculptures in a composite architectural ensemble. But the Pope had many other great projects in his mind, like the rebuilt of St. Peter’s, so he sometimes overlooked at the Michelangelo’s works. The artist ran out of Rome more than once, but always the Pope stopped him and finally the pontiff set aside the tomb project and gave him the order to realize his top masterpiece: the frescoes inside the Sistine Chapel.
Only the constant requests of the Della Rovere family, the family of Julius II, even after the death of the Pope, could make Michelangelo finish the project, in the much smaller display rather than the original project, as we can see inside the San Piero in Vincoli church in Rome, with 3 sculptures by Michelangelo only. Only the Moses is the valuable Michelangelo’s work in the tomb and about ten more sculptures for this project are now split in the best museums of the world: we saw the four Prisoners at the Accademia, then two Slaves are in the Louvre, and the Victory is here.
The Victory is an excellent example of the grandeur of Michelangelo’s works. The body is realized with extreme carefulness for anatomic details and it is harmoniously twisted. Some parts are a little lengthened to better express the sense of movement, typical of the Mannerist style, which had Michelangelo as its unaware initiator (we will explain this style during our visit to the Uffizi). The slim and tall figure and the face turned down can be indications of the destination of sculpture to a higher level of the mausoleum.