Encyclopedia Fiorentina

Here you will find the compendium of all our Florentine research and scholarship.

Work in Progress


Culture

Baptism in Florence

The ritual of baptism was a crucial feature of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence. This symbolic practice carried both a spiritual and social weight integral for full participation in the fabric of Florentine society. Baptism was not only a means of defense against hellfire, but an introduction to civic society and a foundational moment in each individual’s life. While some of the finer details of the practice are unclear to contemporary scholars, we now know that by 1128 the ritual was performed at the octagonal Baptistery of San Giovanni, located directly across from the cathedral.


People

Andrea Pisano: ca. 1295 – 1348

As his surname suggests, Andrea Pisano came from the city of Pisa, located some 45 miles to the west of Florence on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. Although not directly descended from the father-son team of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Andrea’s contributions to the legacy of fourteenth-century art are no less important than those of his more famous predecessors.

Bernardo Daddi: ca. 1280 – 1348

A late contemporary of the famous painter Giotto di Bondone, Bernardo Daddi (ca. 1280 – 1348) became one of Florence’s most popular and most important producers of panel pictures during the two decades that preceded the advent of Bubonic Plague. The identity of his master remains unclear, and speculations range from Giotto himself to obscure miniaturists like the elusive Master of the Dominican Effigies.

Ferdinando del Migliore:

Ferdinando del Migliore was born in 1628 and spent his adult life researching and writing about the history of Florence. A gifted archivist, del Migliore scoured the registers and contracts of individuals and institutions in an effort to present to his readers accurate accounts of the city’s past. In 1684 the noted historian published his most important book, Firenze città nobilissima illustrata da Ferdinando del Migliore, in which the author recreated the ancient city by examining its buildings, one by one. Using documents as the foundation of his argument, del Migliore refuted legends and hearsay that had been propagated over time and corrected them by publishing the writings he uncovered. His single volume account of Florence’s history was the model for later projects, most notably Giuseppe Richa’s multi-tome Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine divise ne’ suoi quartieri, a vast eighteenth-century review of the city’s churches that depended heavily on del Migliore’s groundbreaking work.


Sites

Andrea Pisano's Baptistery Doors:

#Baptistery of S. Giovanni, South Doors (1330-1336)# ##Andrea Pisano##

The Bigallo: ca. 1352 – 1358

Built in the middle of the fourteenth century, the Oratory of the Misericordia (as it was then known) has endured expansions, fires, renovations, a merger, and more to become the elegant structure that stands on the Piazza del Duomo today. Read more about the structure’s tumultous history here. Explore the headquarters of one of the city’s most prominent charities, the Confraternity of the Misericordia, later merged with that of the Bigallo, and see the art that it commissioned to assert its place in Florentine society.

Campanile:

The project to carve reliefs for the lower portion of the Campanile coincided with the earliest architectural plans for Giotto’s bell tower that stands adjacent to the city’s cathedral. Initiated sometime around 1334 by Andrea Pisano, who was by then chasing the bronze panels he had cast for the south doors of the Baptistery, these early reliefs represented [scenes from the Book of Genesis] that were intended for the west side of building’s lowest level.

St. Matthew, Orsanmichele Pier:

#Andrea di Cione and Jacopo di Cione, St. Matthew, 1369# ##Uffizi Galleries (ex-Orsanmichele, south pier)##

Orsanmichele Tabernacle:

#Andrea di Cione, Baldacchino, 1352-59# ##Orsanmichele##

Framing magnificently the famed miracle-working Madonna of Orsanmichele by Bernardo Daddi, Andrea di Cione’s Baldacchino articulated perfectly the mid-Trecento aesthetic that appealed to Florentine audiences of the day. A massive structure, carved in marble with sections of inlaid gold and mosaic tesserae sprinkled throughout, the tabernacle both framed the picture that, in 1365, was named the “official painting of Florence” and stood on its own as a cultural curiosity that brought in local and international viewers in droves (figure 1).

Andrea di Cione, or “Orcagna” as he was known to contemporaries, received the commission to sculpt this absolutely massive ensemble in 1352, some four years after the passing of the Black Death. The commission to replace the previous tabernacle that had stood since the second decade of the century may have been initiated by the Captains of the Confraternity of Orsanmichele as a response to the extensive criticism it had just received for the way in which they handled and then spent the windfall of profits the institution had just accepted after the wills of thousands of Florentine plague victims were opened and their bequests distributed all at the same time. Matteo Villani, in his Chronicle of Florence, vehemently condemned the captains, accusing them of embezzlement and condemning them for their selfishness. Orcagna received his commission shortly thereafter.

Orcagna designed the tabernacle as an architectonic edifice that approximates the loggia form used so frequently by confraternities across the city. A two-tiered grate surrounds the square loggia on all four sides, with each corner articulated by similarly twisted column clusters that form hefty piers from which spring the ribs of the vault (figure 2). The rounded arches provide sightlines for the miraculous painting on three sides. Pinnacles and pediments extend toward the ceiling, and serve to partially conceal a ribbed dome that may well symbolize the heavens above. Book-wielding evangelists and angels stand on these piers and columns to assert the textual and spiritual authority of the Virgin Mary.

The pedestal upon which this loggia sits has been adorned with a series of relief panels dedicated to scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary, an appropriate subject given the presence of the painted miracle-working Madonna in the middle of the tabernacle. Among them appear the Birth of the Virgin, the Education of the Mary, the Annunciation, the Presentation of Christ, and the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin, all of which demonstrate a similar approach to spatial flatness, volumetric mass, and gestural message.

Circling up and around the actual picture appear sets of angels who pull back a marble curtain in a manner that probably replicates the solemn ritual that was performed every time the Madonna was unveiled for privileged viewers, whereby an actual curtain was lifted up by custodians who were seated inside the back of the tabernacle, pulling on ropes unseen by those standing in the church. Increasingly during the fourteenth century, these visitors tended to be non-Florentines of high standing, as the previously open arches along the sides of the building in which the tabernacle was located were gradually walled up and the miraculous image inside was covered for its own protection.

Orcagna’s tabernacle received great acclaim almost as soon as it was completed. Only months after its installation in 1359, the artist was offered the position of Master of the Cathedral by the canons of the Duomo in the papal retreat town of Orvieto, about halfway between Florence and Rome: that endeavor lasted roughly three years, and by 1362 Orcagna was back in Florence, where he soon accepted the commission to produce a painted effigy of St. Matthew for the Arte del Cambio, or Bankers Guild, of Florence. The decision to name the miracle-working picture inside it as the official painting of the city seems to have motivated, in part, by the sumptuous sculptural loggia that Orcagna had built around it. And when Stefano Marchioni wrote his chronicle of the city in 1377, Orcagna’s s Baldacchino was the only work of art that the author bothered to mention, thus prioritizing this sculpture over the paintings by Giotto, the reliefs by Andrea Pisano, and the architecture of Arnolfo di Cambio as the image of primacy in a city filled with other logical candidates.

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Cassidy, Brendan. “The Financing of the Tabernacle of Orsanmichele.” Source 8 (1988): 1-6.

____. “The Assumption of the Virgin on the Tabernacle of Orsanmichele.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 51 (1988): 174-80.

____. “Orcagna’s Tabernacle in Florence: Design and Function.” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 55 (1992): 180-211.

Fabbri, Nancy and Nina Rutenburg, “The Tabernacle of Orsanmichele in Context.” Art Bulletin LXIII (1981): 385-405.

Kreytenberg, Gert. Orcagna (Andrea di Cione): Ein universeller Künstler der Gotik in Florenz (Mainz, 2000).

Zervas, Diane Finiello. Andrea Orcagna: Il Tabernacolo di Orsanmichele (Modena, 2006).

The Judgement of Brutus:

Nardo di Cione (?), The Judgment of Brutus, ca. 1345

Dante Society (ex-Palazzo del Arte della Lana, Sala d’Udienza)

The lunette fresco of The Judgment of Brutus has received practically no serious attention from students of Florentine art and history, yet it is one of the more interesting pictures of the mid-fourteenth century (figure 1). Produced for the Sala d’Udienza, or Audience Hall, of the headquarters for the Arte della Lana probably sometime in the middle of the 1340s, the allegorical painting was originally adorned with a series of inscriptions on scrolls that made clear the identities of each figure. We know that the central character, seated on a bench, represents the First Consul of Rome, Junius Brutus, famous for his wisdom and staunch defense of Republicanism in the face of tyranny. Not to be confused with his more infamous descendent (the assassin of Julius Caesar), Junius Brutus led the uprising in 709 BCE that resulted in the dismantling of Rome’s decadent monarchy and the creation of a Republican government that fourteenth-century Florentines took as the predecessor of their own. It comes as no surprise, then, that the painting’s composition, attributed recently to Nardo di Cione, follows closely the groundbreaking template produced by Ambrogio Lorenzetti for his equally political picture, the Allegory of Good Government, completed in 1338 for the Room of the Nine inside Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico.

In the Wool Guild’s painting, the four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance – all of them depicted as women, as was the custom – flank the seated judge, forming a kind of buffer so that the two pairs of finely dressed male petitioners cannot get too close to him. The men spit bitter accusations and threats at the Virtues and, through them, at Junius Brutus: they have axes to grind and wish to make clear that the wisdom of Brutus is not to their liking. The Virtues, by contrast, defend Brutus’ actions and dare the petitioners to follow through on their threats. They will not be cowed by the aggressions of self-important, but ultimately petty, complainants.

To the lower right, however, we see a different exchange, and one that seems to catch the eye of Junius Brutus (who looks down in that direction). There we see Temperance engage with a seemingly deferential man, who actually pulls away from the Virtue: she urges him to approach the judge and guarantees that he will receive a fair hearing as long as he shows some respect. The man, in turn, humbly acknowledges his own shortcomings and worries that he is not worthy of Brutus’ attentions – when, in fact, he clearly is the ONLY one among the group of four men who merits a hearing.

The painting’s message seems clear to any member of the Wool Guild who might have gazed upon it while waiting his or her turn to file a grievance or receive judgment from its consuls. The rule of law, it says, must be acknowledged; judges must be respected; and all those who appear before it with the proper attitude will be welcomed before the court. But, of course, it also illustrates clearly that those who oppose that court and its commitment to objective jurisprudence will be met with the wrath of its administrators.

The timing of the fresco’s production, arguably initiated and completed during the middle years of the 1340s, corresponds to a major crisis that threatened the status quo of the Florence Republic. In the spring of 1343, Walter of Brienne, the Duke of Athens, permitted wool-workers normally excluded from the Arte della Lana to form their own guild, which in turn threatened the economic potency of the Wool Guild and the stability of a city that had traditionally relegated laborers to positions of inferiority with respect to their mercantile superiors. Walter’s ouster that summer was directly connected to this move, demonstrating both the depth of the Wool Guild’s concern over this matter and the power it wielded across the city. When the Duke of Athens fled into exile in August, 1343, the woolworkers’ trade association that he had supported was quickly dismantled and its members were either folded back into the Wool Guild in subordinate roles or were disenfranchised altogether.

However, simmering animosities lingered. Some of these now-disenfranchised laborers wished to revive the guild that had been demolished by the wool merchants, and cells of malcontents were formed in 1344 to plot some kind of revival of the corporation that had been taken from them. These movements, when discovered, were suppressed quickly and mercilessly: ringleaders were arrested on charges of treason and sedition, tried within 72 hours, and hanged shortly thereafter. It is in the context of these bitter arguments that the Judgment of Brutus must be considered, for the will of the guild – expressed through the positioning of the Roman judge and his virtuous guardians – is here celebrated as omnipotent, merciful, and benevolent: precisely the things that many of those on the outside believed it wasn’t.

In a very real sense, then, the Judgment of Brutus is a picture of pure political and economic propaganda. It attempted both to teach and to control viewers who saw it during times of controversy in the Audience Hall of the Arte della Lana, but did so by promoting itself in ways that, in part, defied credulity.


Bent, George. Public Painting and Visual Culture in Early Republican Florence, (Cambridge University Press: New York, 2017).

Morpurgo, Salomone. “Bruto, ‘il buon giudice,’ nell’Udienza dell’Arte della Lana in Firenze.” In Miscellanea di Storia dell’Arte in Onore di I. B. Supino, Florence, 1933, 141-63.

Najemy, John. A History of Florence: 1200-1575, (Blackwell Publishing: London, 2006).

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