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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Panorama of Sixteenth Century Florence under Francesco di Medici

Sixteenth century building activity in Florence is any thing but negligible. On the whole, new buildings and renovations considerably reduced the Medieval urbanistic continuity, especially on the environmental level.

The "grand ducal facades" changed the landscape, as it were of the old Medieval streets (Borgo degli Albizi, Via della Scala, Il Prato, Borgo Pinti, Via Romana, etc.) and squares (Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella, SS. Annunziata). Even the facades of the churches (Santa Trinita) and mainly the interior changes with the installation of huge monumental altars correspond to this attempt at transfiguration.

From this point on "changes" in civil as in religious buildings would become the most common type of intervention during the XVII and XVIII centuries. Furthermore, the size of the area enclosed by the walls, more than enough for a population of 60,000 increasingly favored the development of a new equilibrium between architecture and green or free spaces, and the trend for smooth plastered or graffito facades with simple perimetral structures. The result was a new type of environmental continuity along the streets that were preferably wide and straight. This stupendous drawing marks a fundamental phase in the history of iconography in Florence. The figurative representation of the city as a single hierarchy, starting from the fifteenth century view of the "Catena" reaches perfection in this drawing. In Bonsignori's panorama, the method of axonometric perspective corresponds to the desire for an absolutely established hierarchy.

The evaluation of the general equilibrium and the parallel capacity for scientific analysis are carried to the limit. Each part of the city is visible in the same conditions, the streets take on an importance equal to the constructed volumes, consistently with the fact that the sixteenth century city was conceived as a dynamic relationship of streets. It is interesting to read Bonsignori's dedication: "To His Serene Highness the Grand Duke Francesco Medici. I have very diligently described the City of Florence in drawing; it is a city which, for its beauty and magnificence is worthy of being seen by all men. I am sending it to Your Highness in order that you be gratified to be prince and king of a city so noble and illustrious that celebrating it is superfluous; and that you may take pleasure in seeing the decorations made by Your Highness, your father and ancestors, loving it as benefactor and father, and may God always protect it. "

* In this statement, where the most significant parts are in Italics, is a key to understanding that the rigor of the axonometric method corresponds to the concept of order of the city-state, capital of Tuscany, imposed by Cosimo I. The interest in accurately recording the territory or individual features of the site, also corresponds to the climate of precision that reigned over Francesco's and Buontalenti's "scientific" experiments, Ligozzi's drawings and the semiprecious stone inlays, all of which can be related to the publication of the guides to Florence.

In 1510 Francesco Albertini published the Memoriale di molte statue e pitture della Citta di Firenze (A souvenir of many statues and paintings in the city of Florence). It was actually the first "guidebook" to the city. The only earlier ones were short notes in some fourteenth and fifteenth century chronicles. Examples are the remarks about Giotto and his followers in Filippo Villani's Cronaca and mainly Goro Dati's description of Florence.

A letter in the appendix to Disegno (1549) by A.F Doni contains a detailed program of a work Firenze illustrata, in 6 volumes that would be the first in a genre that later became highly cultivated in Italy. It had to be greatly illustrated with views of the city and its surroundings, and describe the buildings and monuments. One of the books was dedicated to festivals and entertainments. In 1591 Bocchi's Bellezze della citta di Firenze was published in 1591 and it was expanded by Cinelli in 1677. *The excerpts from Vasari and Bonsignori are freely translated from the Italian.

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