Tour of Florence’s Animal Statues
The love and respect for all animals as beings, is a recent invention. In the past, animals happened to be revered for the help and benefits they could give men, without granting them a soul. Today, respect is a bit more accurate and when we see a work of art depicting an animal, it’s not that surprising in the end. However, in Middle Ages and Renaissance Florence, the feeling was rather different, so it’s really hard to find sculptures of animals in Florence at least none where they are the protagonists (except for equestrian statues). In fact, just a few of them have enjoyed this privilege.
One of the few statues in Florence depicting an animal is that of Pegasus, the winged horse of mythology, born from the blood of Medusa’s neck when she was beheaded by Perseus. This Pegasus sculpture is located in the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, in a meadow known as Pegasus Park: the statue, by Aristodemus Costoli, is quite recent, it dates from 1865. At the time, Pegasus was considered a symbol of Tuscany.
Another Florentine statue dedicated to an animal protagonist is Donatello’s Marzocco. This is a sandstone sculpture by the great artist who, together with Brunelleschi and Masaccio, is considered one of the fathers of Florentine Renaissance. The Marzocco is a seated lion supporting a shield depicting the coat-of-arms of Florence, the fleur de lys. The Marzocco that today can be admired in Piazza della Signoria, is a copy: in order to preserve it from erosion, the original is kept in the Bargello Museum.
As said earlier, in the past the respect for animals was strictly related to the good deeds they granted. A few examples in this respect are, the cow head on the lateral facade of the Duomo, and the plaque in memory of the Ciuca (hinney) at Palazzo Pitti.
The cow head visible on the side of the Duomo, on Via de’ Servi, was built in memory of all the animals used in the construction of the Cathedral and its Dome. Another legend has it that the sculpture is all about the revenge of a carpenter who worked on the construction of the cathedral, who suffered a heavy conviction for committing adultery with the wife of a baker. The latter had his bakery right on the other side of the street, in Via de’ Servi.
There’s only one version for the Ciuca Plaque, instead. In the first courtyard of the Pitti Palace, there is a bas-relief placed in the second half of the sixteenth century by Ammannati, a renowned architect, during some renovations. The plaque was intended to honor and pay homage to the role of animals in the renovation of the Palace, particularly mules, used to carried wood, marble, and stone blocks.
Another plaque dedicated to an animal honors is the dead horse, on Lungarno Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, near Piazza dei Giudici. On the balustrade of the Lungarno there is a plaque with a Latin inscription. It’s an eulogy for one of the most beloved horses of the ambassador of Venice, Carlo Cappello. The animal was buried in the yard that is now Piazza dei Giudici, and there he placed this headstone.