Equestrian Statue of Cosimo I
Piazza della Signoria, Florence
Cosimo I de’ Medici became head of the Florentine Republic in 1537 at the the tender age of seventeen and conquered his way to being named the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569. Cosimo was also famous for the creation of the Uffizi, designed for him by Giorgio Vasari, which gathered all of the city’s administrative offices and public services under one roof, a rather innovative idea at the time. The Uffizi now houses one of the world greatest collections art built on the Medicis’ original collection.
The Medici were great patrons of the arts and statuary was one of their favorite modes of conceptual and political communication. Cosimo’s son, Ferdinando I de’ Medici commissioned Giambologna, most famous for his Rape of the Sabine Women and many Medici fountains, to create an equestrian statue of Cosimo. The bronze statue, like Giambologna’s statue of Ferdinando, is reminiscent of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The Roman emperor was most famous for his philosophical work, the Meditations. This image would indicate not only the Medici’s power and deep roots in Italy, but their learnedness. The base of the statue also features the sign the Capricorn, a common Medici symbol. Cosimo, along with Augustus Caesar and Charles V came to power under this sign. The statue of Cosimo remained not far from the Uffizi in the Piazza della Signoria from the 1590s until the 1940s. (Bietoletti, 450)
For its own protection, the statue was removed from the Piazza during World War II. While the symbols of the dynasty are ubiquitous in Florence, it is quite possible that most modern Florentines did not meditate much on Cosimo I or any of the Medici, however, that did not prevent villagers from lining the streets and cheering him during his procession home. He had left the city in an oxcart, but had returned in a ten-ton wrecker from the U.S.’s 477th Ordinance Evacuation Company. The horse had been separated from its rider and during the return, a soldier–not Cosimo–rode atop the horse lifting and cutting power lines when necessary. Just before they entered the city, the convoy was joined by M.P.’s on motorcycles, who kept their sirens blaring all the way to the Piazza della Signoria. A passing carriage driver took off his hat and shouted, “Cosimo, bentornato!”
In his rather detailed report for such a small operation, monuments officer Captain Deane Keller wrote that it was a “large and important undertaking in terms of giving pleasure to a people that have suffered and in establishing happy relations between these people and their present military governors.” (Nicholas, 262-263)
Present governors was certainly an accurate assessment. The Italians had been tossed around a lot in the past few years. First they lived two decades under a fascist dictatorship, then they were occupied by their German allies, and now, after bombing and blasting of their city and the deaths of over 200 people, they were under Allied military control.
Cosimo had been the first Grand Duke, bringing all of Tuscany under Florentine control. While the return of Giambologna’s statue must not have symbolized any return of Florence’s great power, but the rather public return of Cosimo brought joy and served as a sign that, perhaps, starting today, things might get better.
• Bietoletti, S., & Ray, L. (2007). Florence: Art and architecture. Königswinter, Germany: H.F. Ullmann.
• Cosimo I. (2011). Encyclopædia britannica. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from http://www.britannica.com
• Nicholas, L. H. (1994). The rape of Europa: The fate of Europe’s treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf.