Bartolomeo Ammannati with Michelangelo
Ponte Santa Trinita – pictured in 1944, from Frederick Hartt’s Florentine Art Under Fire
Stone elliptical arch bridge with 4 marble statutes
Many rank the Ponte Santa Trinita amongst the most beautiful in the world. It it is recognizable by its three elliptical arches, wedge-shaped pylons, and mannerist statues of the seasons–Spring by Pietro Francavilla, Winter by Taddeo Landini, and Summer and Autumn by Giovanni Caccini–manning the four corners at the ends of the bridge. The bridge, in its most recent design, was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati with corrections and reworkings by Michelangelo, and constructed by Ammannati in 1566-1569. Several wooden and stone bridges had been built over years before this version, each destroyed by floods. Dante met Beatrice on one of them.
During their retreat in 1944, the Germans needed to block the Allies, who had been advancing north, from crossing the Arno. Many in Florence have believed that Nazis would not destroy their beautiful bridges as Italy was a fellow Axis Power. Hitler, the famous art lover, had called Florence “the Jewel of Europe,” but unfortunately for the Ponte Santa Trinita, the Ponte Vecchio was the Führer’s favorite and it was the only one spared. But the Ponte Santa Trinita fought back; it took three tries to blow it up.
When talking about art, one can forget the human cost of war. While in casualties and damage to its art and the city itself, Florence fared rather well compared to many other cities. At the time of the blasting of the bridges, Florence was already being shelled by the Allies and six thousand refugees were living inside the Palazzo Pitti. Hartt described the conditions inside the palace of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany as looking like “one of the worst slums in Naples.” One of the refugees was Ugo Procacci, a superintendent of the Uffizi. Florence was his hometown and the Ponte Santa Trinita his favorite bridge. Hartt describes Procacci as “grave and self-contained like a figure from a Masaccio fresco, whose nobility was disclosed by the events of this terrible period.” (Hartt, Florentine art under fire, 37)
Although Procacci knew that the bridges would be destroyed and everyone in Florence had heard and felt the blasts the night before, the next morning as he continuously repeated to himself, “Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Santa Trinita…” as he ran out of the palace and into the Boboli Gardens behind it to see “Dantesque scenes of destruction.” With the Arno still smoking, only the Ponte Vecchio remained, even the buildings along the river, many of them from medieval Florence, had been obliterated. Despite its valiant fight, nothing remained of the Ponte Santa Trinita but two piers and the abutments. The four seasons were smashed and had fallen into the river.
Once the Allies broke through and taken the entire city, recovery efforts had to start before the engineering troops began to build the temporary bridge. A young sculptor by the name of Giovanni Mannucci was diving in the Arno in search of fragments and on one day encountered a severed human head bobbing in an eddy every time he resurfaced. Large sections of the statues were found along the Lungarno; Autumn was found under the rubble in the river bed and his head was found in five feet of water. Spring’s head remained missing for years. Many rumors persisted as to the whereabouts of the head, but it was found downriver in 1961.
Architect Riccardo Gizdulich made complete measure drawing of all the remaining fragments and twenty-one plaster casts of sections recovered from the river bottom. The bridge was reconstructed using these as well as photographs, previous drawings, measurement of the ruins, and the original plans taken from the Florentine archives, which indicated that the original stones were taken from a quarry in the Boboli Gardens. For those fragments which could not be recovered, more stones were quarried from the Boboli Gardens. With dedication and monetary contributions from Florentines and foreigners alike, the reconstruction of the Ponte Santa Trinita was completed in 1958. (Hartt, Florentine art under fire, 57 & History of Italian Renaissance art, 666)
All the bridges were rebuilt to their original form as closely as possible. Some of the new buildings on the river were built to reflect old Florence, but some were built in a more modern style. Many of the medieval towers were destroyed, never to be rebuilt. A new visitor to Florence, walking over her six bridges or along the Lungarni would never guess the horror and destruction rendered there years before.
Ponte Santa Trinita, present day.
Photo by Clare O’Dowd, 2011.
Spring shows her scars.
Photo by Clare O’Dowd, 2011.
• Hartt, F. (1949). Florentine art under fire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
• Hartt, F, & Wilkins, D.G. (2009). History of Italian Renaissance art: painting, sculpture, architecture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.