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 Essential Architecture-  Florence

Palazzo Vecchio


Arnolfo di Cambio


Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria 




Italian Gothic 





Palazzo Vecchio
The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, Italy. This massive, gothic, crenellated building is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its famous statues and the collection of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy.

It was originally called the Palazzo della Signoria, after the Signoria of Florence, who were the ruling body of the Republic of Florence. It was also given several other names : Palazzo del Populo, Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Ducale, in accordance with the varying use of the palace during its long history.

The building is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio who began constructing it in 1299, incorporating the ancient tower of the Foraboschi into its facade. It is the result of three successive building stages between the 13th-16th centuries, the actual construction of Arnolfo's palace, overlooking the square and placed next to the Loggia dei Lanzi. After the death of Arnolfo in 1302, the palace was finished by other artists in 1314. The solid cubicle shaped building is enhanced by the simple tower with its Lederle clock.


Tower, seen from the Uffizi
Tower, seen from the Uffizi
At the end of the 12th c. the city of Florence decided to build a palace, deserving its importance and giving greater security, in times of turbulence, to the magistrates. The building is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of the Duomo and the Santa Croce church, who began constructing it in 1299. The palace was built upon the ruins of Palazzo dei Fanti and Palazzo dell'Esecutore di Giustizia, once owned by the Uberti family. He incorporated the ancient tower of the Vacca family as the substructure of the tower into its facade. This is the reason why the rectangular tower (height 94 m) is not in the middle of the building. This tower contains two small cells, that, at different times, imprisoned Cosimo the Elder (1435) and Girolamo Savonarola (1498). The tower is named after its designer Torre d'Arnolfo.

The large, one-handed clock was originally constructed by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 by a clock made by Vincenzo Viviani.

This palace is the result of three successive building stages between the 13th-16th centuries. After the death of Arnolfo in 1302, the palace was finished by other artists in 1314. By that time, it was the seat of the Signoria, the city council consisting of guild masters (priori) (among them Dante in 1300), and the chief justice (gonfaloniere della giustizia).

The solid cubicle-shaped building is built in rustic stonework, with two rows of two-lighted Gothic windows, each with a trefoil arche. Michelozzo Michelozzi added decorative bas-reliefs of the cross and the lily in the spandrels between the trefoils. The building is crowned with projecting crenellated battlement, supported by small arches and corbels. Under the arches are a repeated series of nine painted coats of arms of the Florentine republic. Some of these arches can be used as embrasures (spiombati) for dropping boiling oil or rocks on eventual invaders.

It has served as government seat for numerous leaders, including the Duke of Athens, Walter VI of Brienne. He started with the first alterations (1342-1343), giving the palace the aspect of a fortress. But the most alterations were made during 1440-60, under Cosimo de' Medi (the elder), with renaissance-style decorations in the Hall of the Two Hundred and the first courtyard (by Michelozzo). The Hall of the Five Hundred was built during the republic of Savonarola. From 1540 to 1550 it was the home of Cosimo I de' Medici, who had Vasari enlarge the palace to fit the delicate tastes of the grand-ducal court. The palace was more than doubled by the addition of a new block onto the rear.

The name was officially changed after Cosimo moved to the Pitti Palace, renaming his former palace the Palazzo Vecchio, the "Old Palace", although the adjacent town square, the Piazza della Signoria, still bears the old name. Vasari also built an above-ground walkway from the palace, through the Uffizi, above the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti.

Cosimo I also moved the seat of government to the Uffizi. The palace gained new importance as seat of United Italy's provisional government from 1865-71, at a moment that Florence had become the capital of the kingdom of Italy.

Although much of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, it remains the symbol of local government, and still houses, since 1872, the office of the mayor of Florence and is the seat of the City Council.


Entrance with frontispiece

Entrance with frontispiece
Above the front entrance door, there is a notable ornamentive marble frontispiece, dating from 1528. In the middle, flanked by two gilded lions, is the Monogram of Christ, surrounded by a glory, above the text (in Latin): "Rex Regum et Dominus Dominantium" (translation: Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords". This text dates from 1851 and does not replace an earlier text by Savonarola, as mentioned in many guidebooks. Until 1851 they had been concealed since 1529 behind a large shield with the grand-ducal coat of arms.

Michelangelo's David also stood at the entrance from its completion in 1504 to 1873, when it was moved to the Accademia. A replica erected in 1910 now stands in its place, flanked by Baccio Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus.

The Courtyards

First Courtyard
Courtyard with "Boy with  a Fish" by Verrocchio
Courtyard with "Boy with a Fish" by Verrocchio
The first courtyard was designed in 1453 by Michelozzo. In the lunettes, high around the courtyard, are crests of the Church and City Guilds. In the center, the porphyry fountain is by Battista del Tadda. The Winged boy with a Dolphin on top of the basin is a copy of the original by Verrocchio (1476), now on display on the second floor of the palace. This small statue was originally placed in the garden of the villa of the Medici in Careggi. The water, flowing through the nose of the dolphin, is brought here by pipes from the Boboli gardens.

In the niche, in front of the fountain, stands "Samson and Philistine" by Pierino da Vinci.

First courtyard
First courtyard
The frescoes on the walls, representing scenes of the Austrian Hapsburg estates, were painted in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari for the wedding celebration of Francesco, the eldest son of Cosimo I de' Medici and Johanna of Austria, sister of the Emperor Maximilian. The harmoniously proportioned columns, a one time smooth, and untouched, were at the same time richly decorated with gilt stuccoes.

The barrel vaults are furnished with grotesque decorations.

Second Courtyard
The second courtyard, also called "The Customs", contains the massive pillars built in 1494 by Cronaca to sustain the great "Salone dei Cinquecento" on the second floor.

Third Courtyard
The third courtyard was used mainly for offices of the city. Between the first and second courtyard the massive and monumental stairs by Vasari lead up to the "Salone dei Cinquecento".

Salone dei Cinquecento

Salone dei Cinquecento
Salone dei Cinquecento
This most imposing chamber has a length of 52 m (170 ft) and 23 m (75 ft) broad. It was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo, called "il Cronaca" (the Chronicle), on commission of Savonarola who, replacing the Medici after his exile as the spiritual leader of the Republic, wanted it as a seat of the Grand Council (Consiglio Maggiore) consisting of 500 members.

Later the hall was enlarged by Vasari so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could hold his court in this chamber. During this transformation famous (but unfinished) works were lost, including the "Battle of Cascina" by Michelangelo (on line), and the "Battle of Anghiari" by Leonardo (copy by Rubens in the Louvre (on line), with which the artists were supposed to decorate the walls of the room.

When Florence was the capital of Italy, representatives held their meetings there (1865-1871).

The decorations in this hall were made by Giorgio Vasari and his helpers (1555-1572): among them Livio Agresti from Forlì. They mark the culmination of mannerism and make this hall the showpiece of the palace.

Defeat of the Pisans at San Vincenzo
Defeat of the Pisans at San Vincenzo
On the walls are large and expansive frescoes that depict battles and military successes of Florence over Pisa and Siena :

"The taking of Sienna", 
"The Conquest of Porto Ercole", 
"The victory of Cosimo I at Marciano in Val di Chiana", 
"Defeat of the Pisans at the Tower of San Vincenzo", 
"Maximillian of Austria attempts the conquest of Leghorn", 
"Pisa attacked by the Florentine Troops" 
The ceiling consists of 39 panels also constructed and painted by Vasari and his assistants, representing "Great episodes from the life of Cosimo I", the quarters of the city and the city itself and towards the center is the apotheosis : "Scene of his glorification as Grand Duke of Florence and Tuscany"

On the north side of the hall, illuminated by enormous windows, is the raised stage called the "Udienza", built by Bartolommeo Bandinelli for Cosimo I to receive citizens and ambassadors. Above are frescoes of historical events; among these, that of Boniface VIII receiving the ambassadors of foreign States and , seeing that were all Florentines said these famous words, "You Florentines are the quintessence".

In the niches are sculptures by Bandinelli: in the center the statue of the seated "Leo X" (sculpted assisted by his scholar Vincenzio Rossi), and on the right a statue of "Charles V crowned by Clement VII".

There are also numerous bombastic Medicean tapestries on the walls, including "Stories of the life of St. John the Baptist", taken from the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto.

The six statues along the walls that represent the "Labors of Hercules" are by a rather obscure sculptor Vincenzo de' Rossi, a pupil of Bandinelli.

In the central niche at the south of the Hall is Michelangelo's famous marble group The Genius of Victory (1533-1534), originally intended for the tomb of Julius II. The statue was taken from the Bargello Museum.

At the end of the hall is situated a small sideroom without windows. This masterpiece, the Studiolo or the Studio of Francesco I de' Medici was also designed by Vasari in a manneristic style (1570-1575). The walls and the barrel vault are filled with paintings, stucco and sculptures. Most paintings are by the School of Vasari and represent the four elements : water, fire, earth and air. The portrait of Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora of Toledo was made by Bronzino. The delicate bronze sculptures were made by Giambologna and Bartolomeo Ammanati. Dismantled within decades of its construction, it has only been re-assembled in this century.

The other rooms on the first floor are the "Quartieri monumentali". These rooms, the Residence of the Priors and the Quarters of Leo X, are used by the mayor as offices and reception rooms. They are not accessible to the public.

Second Floor
A staircase, designed by Vasari leads to the second floor. This floor contains the Chapel of Signoria, the Hall of Justice ("Sala delle Udienze"), the Room of the Lilies (Sala dei Gigli), the Study Room and the Apartments of the Elements.

The Apartments of the Elements
These apartments (Sala degli Elementi) consist of five rooms (such as the Room of Ceres) and two loggias. The commission for these rooms was originally given by Cosimo I to Battista del Tasso. But on his death, the decorations were continued by Vasari and his helpers, working for the first time for the Medicis. These rooms were the private quarters of Cosimo I.

The walls in the Room of the Elements are filled with allegorical frescoes "Allegories of Water, Fire and Earth" and, on the ceiling, represents "Saturn".

The original statue "Boy with a fish" by Verrocchio is on exhibit in one of the smaller rooms (the copy stands on the fountain in the first courtyard).

Terrace of Saturn
This splendid Loggiato of Saturn, called because of the ceiling motif, with its Florentine roof. From there one has a wonderful southeastern view on Piazzale Michelangelo and the Fortress Belvedere. One can also see the remains of the Church of Saint Pietro Scheraggio.

The Hercules Room

This room (the Sala di Ercole) gets its name from the subject of the paintings on the ceiling. Also the tapestries show stories of Hercules. The room contains a "Madonna and Child" and an ebony cabinet called a stipo inlaid with semi-precious stones.

The Room of Jupiter
The room is named for the fresco on the ceiling. On the walls are Florentine tapestries made from cartoons by Stradano (XIV century).

The Room of Cybele
On the ceiling, the "Triumph of Cybele" and the "Four Seasons". Against the walls are cabinets in tortoise shell and bronze. The floor was made in 1556. From the window one can see the third courtyard.

The Ceres Room
The room gets its name from the motif on the ceiling, by Doceno, a pupil of Vasari. On the walls are Florentine tapestries with hunting scenes, from cartoons by Stradano.

Sala Verde
Called the Green Room because of the color of the walls. With decorations on the ceiling by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. On the right is the Chapel frescoed by Bronzino (1564) with the "Stories of Moses". Also by Bronzino is the large Pietà on the altar. The small door in the room indicates the beginning of the passageway built by Vasari with orders from Cosimo I to the Pitti Palace.
The Room of the Sabines
It was named because of the ceiling decoration. At one time it was used for the Ladies-in- waiting at the court of Eleanor de Toledo. It contains portraits of Medici Princes by Susterman, statues by a Florentine art school and a tapestry by Fevère.

Dining Room
On the ceiling is the Coronation of Esther decorated by Stradano, with an inscription in honor of Eleanor of Toledo. The room contains a lavabo and two tapestries by Van Assel representing Spring and Autumn.

The Room of Penelope
On the ceiling Penelope at the loom, in the frieze, episodes from the Odyssey. On the walls: Madonna and Child and a Madonna and Child with St. John by Botticelli.

Private Chamber of Eleanor
Originally called the '"Room of Gualdrada"' from the subject of the ceiling painting, this room was one of the private rooms of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de' Medici. The paintings are by the Flemish painter Jan Stradan (1523-1605), better known under his Italian name Stradone. Against the wall is a cabinet with Florentine mosaic designs.

The adjoining, richly decorated chapel is painted in fresco by the mannerist Angelo Bronzino, among his masterpieces.

Sala dell' Udienza

"Life of Furius Camillus" in the Sala della Udienza
The Audience Chamber or Hall of Justice used to house the meetings of the six priori (guild masters of the arts). It contains the oldest decorations of the palace.

The carved coffer ceiling, laminated with pure gold, is by Giuliano da Maiano (1470-1476).

On the portal of the Chapel is an inscription in honor of Christ (1529). The door, communicating with the Hall of Lilies, is a marvel. The marble mouldings of this portal were sculpted by the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano. Its inlaid woodwork (intarsia) was carved by Del Francione. They give us portraits of Dante and Petrarch

The large frescoes on the walls, of a decorative value representing "Stories of Furius Camillus", by Francesco Salviati, were made in the middle of the 16th c. Since Salviati had his schooling in the circle around Rafael in Rome, these frescoes are mirrored on Roman models and therefore not typical of Florentine art. Furius Camillus was a Roman general, mentioned in the writings of Plutarchus.

Chapel of the Signoria
A small doorway leads into the adjoining small chapel dedicated to St. Bernard, containing a reliquary of the Saint. Here the priors used to supply divine aid in the execution of their duties. In this chapel, Girolamo Savonarola said his last prayers before he was burned to death on the Piazza della Signoria.

The marvellous frescoes on the walls and ceiling, on a background imitating gold mosaic, are by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. Of particular interest are "The Holy Trinity" on the ceiling and "The Annunciation" on the wall facing the altar. On the altar was a painting representing the Holy Family by Mariano Graziadei da Pescia, a pupil of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. it is now on exhibition in the corridor of the Uffizi Gallery. Instead, there is a good painting of St. Bernard by an unknown artist.

Sala dell Orologio

The carved ceiling of the Hall of the Lilies, as this room is usually called, decorated with fleur-de-lys, and the Statue of St. John the Bapist and Putti are all by Benedetto da Maiano and his brother Giuliano. The goldenfleur-de-lys decorations on blue background on the ceiling and three walls refer to the (short-lived) good relations between Florence and the French Crown.

Ceiling with fleur-de-lys
Ceiling with fleur-de-lys
On the wall are frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio, painted in 1482. The apotheosis of St. Zenobius, first patron saint of Florence, was painted with a perspectival illusion of the background. In this background one can see the Cathedral, with the original Giotto's facade and his bell tower. In the lunette above is a bas-relief of the Madonna and Child. This fresco flanked on both sides by frescoes of famed Romans, on the left '"Brutus, Muzio Scevola and Camillus", and on the right "Decius, Scipo and Cicero'". Medaillons of Roman emperors fill the spandrils bewteen the sections.

The door in this wall leads to the Stanza della Guardaroba (Hall of Geographical Maps). This door is flanked by two dark marble pillars, originally from a Roman temple.

After its lengthy restoration, the (original) statue "Judith and Holofernes" by Donatello was given a prominent place in this room in 1988.

Stanza del Guardarobe
The Hall of Geographical Maps or Wardrobe is where the Medici Grand Dukes kept there precious belongings. The cabinets and carved ceiling are by Dionigi Nigetti.

The doors of the cabinets were decorated with 53 remarkable maps of scientific interest, oil paintings by the Dominican monk Fra Ignazio Danti (1563-1575), brother of the sculptor Vincenzio Danti, and Stefano Buonsignori (1575-1584). They are of great historical interest and give a good idea of the geographical knowledge in the 16th century. Danti followed the Ptolemaic system, while already using the new cartographical system of Gerardus Mercator.

In the center of the room is the large globe "mappa mundi" ruined by excessive restorations.

Old Chancellery
This was Macchiavelli's office when he was Secretary of the Republic. His polychrome bust in terracotta and his portrait are by Santi di Tito. They are probably modelled on his death mask. In the center of the room, on the pedestal is the famous Winged Boy with a Dolphin by Verrocchio, brought to this room from the First Courtyard.

The Study
The room was used by Cellini to restore the treasures of the Medici princes. From the little window in the wall , Cosimo I spied on his ministers and officers, during meetings in the Salone dei Cinquecento.