A Brief History of Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence
What is Loggia dei Lanzi?
Loggia dei Lanzi is a 14th-century structure built to house assemblies that later became an outdoor sculpture gallery.
Loggia dei Lanzi History
In 1506, Europe’s first outdoor sculpture gallery came into being when Donatello’s masterful bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes was moved from the Palazzo Vecchio to the west arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi. Built in the 14th century by Simone di Francesco Talenti, Lorenzo di Filippo, and Benci di Cione, beside the political heart of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria, the open gallery was designed to serve as a backdrop for public ceremonies, including the swearing into office of the gonfalonieri (prominent civic magistrates).
With the installation of Donatello’s work, the sculpture became embroiled in Florentine politics. Originally commissioned by the Medici in the mid-15th century and used as a fountain in the garden of their palace, it had been moved here in 1495, in a furore of political excitement when the Medici were expelled from Florence after six decades of rule. Subsequently moved to the Palazzo Vecchio, the sculpture became symbolic of the downfall of the Medici and the transfer of power to the Florentine Republic under the moral leadership of Girolamo Savonarola. Just as Judith had decapitated the tyrannical Assyrian leader Holofernes, so had Florence cut away the despotic rule of the Medici.
When the sculpture was moved to the Loggia dei Lanzi it retained its highly politicised meaning, and when the Medici regained their power in Florence in 1512, they didn’t miss its political significance. The Loggia became a powerful cultural expression of their renewed political power. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned Benvenuto Cellini to create a bronze sculpture of the mystical hero Perseus holding the severed head of the monstrous Gorgon Medusa, as a parallel to Donatello’s work. The sculpture, which unlike Donatello’s still remains in the Loggia, took nine years to cast and was intended to symbolise the end of civil strife and the extent of Medici power. Over the course of the 16th century, other sculptures were commissioned, for example Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women which was installed in 1583. The sculpture is artistically important, as it was the first multi-figure sculpture in European history designed without a dominant viewpoint in mind. Giambologna intended the figures to be viewed from all angles and sought the viewer to move around the sculpture.
Since the 16th century, the Loggia has continued to receive sculptural additions. In 1789, Pietro Leopoldo acquired five classical sculptures of female figures which had been discovered in the Villa Medici in Rome in 1541 and installed them in the Loggia together with a statue of a barbarian prisoner. Guarding the open gallery are two male marble lions, known as the Medici Lions, which look to one side and hold a sphere under one paw. One dates from the 2nd century AD and the other from the 16th century.
The architecture of the building is notable for its beautiful sense of proportion, rounded classical archways, and allegorical figures of the four cardinal virtues (above the columns) by the 14th-century artist Agnolo Gaddi. Topping the gallery is a spectacular terrace commissioned by the Medici in the 16th century as somewhere from which they could watch ceremonies taking place in the adjacent square. Whilst the open gallery is sometimes referred to as the Loggia della Signoria, it’s more often known as the Loggia dei Lanzi because of Cosimo I de’ Medici’s German mercenary pikemen (or Landsknechte) who were stationed here on their way to Rome in 1527.
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