Neptune Injured
Ammannati's famous statue
in Piazza della Signoria in Florence mutilated yet again

by Flavia Atzeni
Tourist guide

Once again the statue of Neptune's Fountain by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575) which commands Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence has been disfigured by some careless, disrespectful individual who snapped off one of the horses' hooves by sitting or leaning on it. This isn't the first time this has happened and the cameras and security system which were supposed to protect this work by Michelangelo's apprentice weren't much use.

What's the history of the monument? Cosimo de' Medici, the enlightened and powerful ruler, was determined to have a statue of Neptune. His aims of expansion and greatness led him to build a fleet of galleys which would make Florence a naval power. He desperately wanted a statue of the god of the sea in the city centre.

The damaged hoof of one of the horses
(photo FAN ©)

The history of the statue of Neptune's fountain is full of curious anecdotes which, amongst other things, remind us of the damage caused over the centuries and the thefts referred to in history books. Piero Bargellini, in his book "Le Strade di Firenze" published by Bonechi, tells us some of these stories.

First of all, there's the story of the quarrel between Benvenuto Cellini and Baccio Bandinelli who both wanted to sculpt the block of Apuan marble which Cosimo I de' Medici ordered to be sent from the Apuan Alps to be sculpted into an enormous image of the god of the sea. With the support of Cosimo's wife, Eleonora, the grand duchess, the task was given to Bandinelli. He, however, died and so it was subsequently entrusted to Bartolomeo Ammannati.

Upon hearing this news, Cellini, with his usual caustic wit, exclaimed, "Poor marble! It was bad enough to have been put into Bandinelli's hands but a hundred times worse to fall prey to those of Ammannati". Bartolomeo Ammannati finished the work but it seems it didn't meet with Michelangelo's approval who summarised his criticism with the following sententious remark, "Oh poor Ammannati, what a beautiful piece of marble you've ruined".

It must be said that the episodes of vandalism are not to be attributed only to the present. In fact, at the end of the sixteenth century the fountain was treated as a sort of wash-tub for laundering clothes. There is still a marble plaque on the wall of Palazzo Vecchio displaying the ordinance of the 'Otto di Guardia e Balia' (the local police force of the time) which warns, "Around this fountain measuring twenty ells let nobody dare to leave any kind of rubbish, wash in it inkpots, clothes or any other thing, nor throw in wood or other rubbish, under penalty of four ducats and the judgement of their Lordships".

Regarding the night of 25th January 1580, the chronicler Lapini writes, "... the beautiful fountain in Piazza del Duca was damaged and of all the decorations only the four bronze figures and their satyrs were all that remained". A proclamation invited the people to denounce the thieves but it made no difference and the fountain stayed as it was.

Another theft took place in 1830 during Carnival. A group of masked individuals gathered round the fountain and stole a bronze satyr hiding it under the clothes of a deformed Pulcinella. It was never found again and was later replaced with another satyr sculpted by Giovanni Pazzi.

It is interesting to note that the bronze statues which decorate the fountain (satyrs, tritons and nereids), the work of the Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne, have always been much more popular than the statue of Neptune itself.

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