Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Real Lions of Florence

Mom rescuing little Orlanduccio from a lion, mid thirteenth century

Florence has a thing about lions.  Stone lions, heraldic lions, and painted lions abound.  But for hundreds of years, until not so very long ago, they also had the real thing.

The street behind the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence's town hall, formerly the Palazzo della Signoria) is called via dei Leoni, not so much in honor of these noble beasts as because they were once housed here, living symbols of a proud city.

Palazzo Vecchio
But via dei Leoni was neither their first home nor their last.  Florence may have kept lions as early as the 12th century, and certainly had them by the middle of the 13th, which was well before the construction of the Palazzo della Signoria.  At that time, they may have been housed in and around an earlier public building, the Palazzo del Popolo, begun in the year 1255 in the middle of the brief ten-year period when the city was ruled not by the nobles and magnates, but by the Primo Popolo (merchants and guildsmen, for the most part).  That building has been through many changes of name and function; today it is the Bargello, containing Florence's sculpture museum.  A different account suggests that they were caged in an area where today we find the Loggia del Bigallo.  Wherever they were, it was possible to purchase a ticket to see the lions.

In the middle ages and Renaissance it was not unusual for nobles and rulers of cities to present gifts of exotic animals to one another.  Eric Ringmar, writing in the Journal of World History, says that "the vast majority of foreign animals kept in Italy had come from Muslim rulers--initially from the sultan of Egypt and, after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, from the sultan of Istanbul."  He adds that in the 15th century Florence maintained no fewer than 25 lions.

And certainly lions are not the only exotic animals Florentines kept in their menageries; there's the sad history of Lorenzo de' Medici's giraffe, who broke his neck caught in the ceiling beams of the structure built to house him; and there are tales of leopards used for hunting, as well as many other animals of non-Tuscan origins.

But the lions were always special.  

The historical record of these creatures is spotty, but contains some fascinating glimpses of what it must have been like to keep such fierce and demanding animals in a crowded city.  The earliest incident I've read about, illustrated above in a manuscript of Giovanni Villani's history of Florence, is the tale of Orlanduccio of the Lion.

Somewhere during the ten-year reign of the Primo Popolo, one of the city's lions escaped from its enclosure and ran through the streets of the city, spreading panic.  It seized a small child, a little boy named Orlanduccio.  Orlanduccio's distraught mother, who was widowed, saw her only child in the clutches of the beast and promptly snatched him back.  Both child and mother remained unhurt, and - presumably - somebody eventually enticed the big kitty back to its home.  Ever after, the boy was known as Orlanduccio of the lion, and it was said that he was spared because it was his fate to grow up and avenge his father's death, which he eventually did.

As a mom, I've always thought that it should have been the brave mother's name that came down to us, not Orlanduccio's, but maybe that's just me.  Here's a later, more melodramatic depiction of the incident:

Naturally, given the symbolic significance of the lions to Florence, births or deaths among them were important events, and often considered to be omens, good or evil.  A popular belief during the middle ages, one that is often seen in poetry, is the idea that lion cubs were born dead and then came to life as the mother licked them.  A chronicler thought it important to note that a litter of lion cubs in the early 14th century had been born alive, and not dead, and the birth of six cubs in June of 1337 was cause for rejoicing. 

Another anonymous chronicler, writing at the very beginning of the 15th century, reports an incident in November 1391, in which a fight among the city's lions resulted in the death of a pregnant lioness, killed by seven of her fellows - an evil omen indeed, particularly since she had already produced many cubs for the honor of the city.

 In 1302, another lion met its demise, to the consternation of the Florentines.  This one had been a gift from Pope Bonifacio VIII, which may have made the incident doubly significant.  A young lion, probably a cub, was chained in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Signoria when an ass, laden with a load of wood, approached.  "Either through fear or through a miracle," says Villani, the ass kicked the cub to death, even as panicked Florentines tried to save it.  When the pope died in the following year, the cub's death was said to have been an omen.  Villani cites "the prophecy of the Sibyl":  "When the tame beast shall slay the king of beasts, then will begin the destruction of the Church."   I suspect the ass didn't survive, either, and I wonder what happened to the poor guy who was just trying to deliver his wood.

Bonifacio VIII
In another instance of lion-as-portent, two lions escaped into the city's streets just before the violent demise of Corso Donati, leader of the Black Guelf party, in 1308.

And in yet another, it is said that among the many portents presaging the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492, one of the most alarming was that the city's pair of lions locked in lethal combat and killed one another, either at the moment of his death, on the day of his death, two days before, three days before, or a few months before, depending on which record you read.   (Among the other signs, according to Florentine coppersmith Bartolomeo Masi:  lightning struck the pinnacle of the cathedral; a woman ran from Santa Maria Novella screaming something about a bull with flaming horns; torches were seen to move from Medici graves at Fiesole to their villa at Careggi for three nights in a row; flames burned on the fortress at Arezzo and beneath the walls a she-wolf howled; and an unusually bright star loomed over Careggi and disappeared at the moment of Lorenzo's death.)

Lorenzo's death mask

The lions were also used for spectacles, to impress visitors.  Sometimes this worked; other times, not so much.  In 1459, when Pope Pius II visited, Florence decided to stage a series of combats, Roman-style, between different types of animals.  They blocked off the streets leading up to the Piazza della Signoria.  First lions were let in, then wolves, wild boars and horses, bulls, and Corsican dogs.  Twenty young men were hidden inside a large manniquin of a giraffe; their job was to agitate the lions to cause them to attack the other creatures.  While they gave it their best, the lions simply weren't interested, and much to the organizers' embarrassment, the citizens jeered.  Perhaps the giraffe's inhabitants just weren't annoying enough.

In a letter written by Alessandra Strozzi in the 15th century, she complains, "The lion hunt vituperated us, for a bull chased them all into the stalls like sheep."  Oh, dear.  Not good for the city's prestige, not at all.  The Florentines must have been tempted, at least momentarily, to change the city's symbol to a bull.

We even have a surviving shopping list that includes the cost of lion chow.  The year was 1336, and the food for the city's lions (along with torches and candles) came to 2400 lire.  By means of comparison, the city's musicians and heralds, including trumpeters, drummers, shawm players, and ten herald trumpet players, cost the city only 1000 lire for that year.  The lions must have eaten well.

It wasn't until the year 1777 that Florence ceased keeping lions in the city.  Still, their symbolic value was not forgotten.  One has only to look at all the statues of lions all around the city.

 Among the stone beasts, the Marzocco is, famously, the symbol of the Republic of Florence.  You see versions of him everywhere.  By the 1300s, a medieval sculptured lion was the only statue in the Piazza della Signoria.  (The many other statues which now grace the piazza are later additions, from the late 15th century.)  The most famous Marzocco is the one sculpted by Donatello in 1418-20, now in the Bargello Museum, but a faithful copy still stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio:

Also famous, and spawning copies all over the world, are the two Medici lions which originally graced the Villa Medici when it was owned by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1576.  Since 1789, these two stone beasts have flanked the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria.  One is ancient, from the 2nd century BC, and may have originally been carved in relief and then carved free of its background for Ferdinando by sculptor Giovanni di Scherano Fancelli, about whom little is known.  The other, sculpted as a companion for the first, was carved by Flaminio Vacca between 1594-1598. 

Vacca's lion

The ancient lion

But real lions are not compatible with hordes of tourists, so if you are in Florence today and have an urge to gaze upon a real, living, breathing lion, you will need to make a short trek to nearby Pistoia and visit their zoo.

So let's tip our hats to the Real Lions of Florence, and, while we're at it, to Orlanduccio's courageous mom.

Images in this post are in the public domain with these exceptions:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license in each case, to Kandi (Bargello), JoJan (Palazzo Vecchio), and Sailko (both Medici lions and the Marzocco).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Epic fail (or, Florence changes the locks)

It happened in November, 1266.  Historian Ferdinand Schevill calls it "a fatal act of pusillanimity".  Historian John M. Najemy says it was "an incomprehensible mistake".  Machiavelli observed that the perpetrator "decided to save himself by fleeing rather than fighting", having "abandoned [the city] out of vileness."

Giovanni Villani, writing perhaps three decades after the event, says that the man in question "had done very foolishly in departing from the city of Florence, without stroke of sword and not driven thence" -- an act which ultimately left him "gloomy and shamed," but "after a thing ill-judged, and worse carried out, repentance is in vain."

So who was the guy who got such consistently bad press, and what exactly did he do, or fail to do?

That would be the Ghibelline leader, Guido Novello.  He is not to be confused with the better-known historical figure of Guido Novello da Polenta, who Automatic Translation would probably render as New Guy of Cornmeal Grits; that was a later Guido.  Nor is he to be confused with his cousin, Guido Guerra, who fought for the opposite side -- though I have seen him so confused, in history books that ought to know better, thus causing the whole Guelf-Ghibelline thing to make even less sense than it actually did, which is going some.

Guido's family was the Conti Guidi, the counts who from ancient times had held sway in the Casentino region (the upper Arno valley in eastern Tuscany).  There they maintained several strong castles, including this one at Poppi, which has a very cool museum about the Battle of Campaldino and is a fascinating place to visit:

This particular version of the castle is a little later than Guido Novello's time, but it was built over a previous fortress and was held by the Conti Guidi.

The Conti Guidi consisted of many families, and by the middle of the 13th century, some were solidly Ghibelline while others espoused the Guelf party.  Their heraldic devices tended toward the use of red and white, and lions of white on red or red on white, sometimes separate, sometimes merged:

In this illustration you see another Guidi device (St. Andrew's cross, quartered, red and white, and no, that's not proper heraldic language), on the flag that's falling from the tower.  Here a Florentine army is destroying another castle belonging to the Conti Guidi, considering it a threat; this incident took place in 1153.  The castle was called Monte di Croce.  (You can see this device also in the illustration at the top of this post.)

Though Guido had some Guelfs cluttering up his family tree, he himself was staunchly, yea even rabidly, Ghibelline (meaning, to oversimplify, one who backed the emperor in the empire's ongoing squabbles with the papacy over various manifestations of temporal power).  He was married to an illegitimate daughter of the late (by 1266) Emperor Frederick II, making him the brother-in-law of Manfred, who at that time was the voice of the empire.  Two of his children were named Federico and Manfredo.  (This reminds me a lot of the scene in Life Is Beautiful, the film set in Italy in 1939 in which the character played by Roberto Benigni is trying to figure out the politics of a man he has just encountered.  The question resolves when the man calls his children:  "Benito!  Adolfo!")

Federico, by the way, ended up in Dante's Purgatorio among the sodomites.

Here's the situation, as briefly as I can tell it (HUGE oversimplification alert):

Guelfs and Ghibellines in Florence have been duking it out (and this is before Florence had dukes) for quite a while, first with one party in power, then the other.  When one party is in power, the other is in exile (at least the more important members are), and the winners are gleefully trashing the homes, businesses, and fortified towers of their absent adversaries.  In 1250, the Primo Popolo, a group of non-noble, non-magnate, and emphatically non-feudal businessmen representing Florence's rising commercial sector took advantage of the chaos and took over the government.  They had a great ten-year run, with many accomplishments, but the nobles who ran the two major parties, whether in town or in exile, never stopped trying to make a comeback.

In 1258, the Ghibellines were in exile, mostly living in the Ghibelline city of Siena.  The Primo Popolo was drawing closer to the Guelf party because war was brewing with Siena over control of nearby territories.  This war, which deserves a bunch of blog posts all of its own, took place in 1260, and to the surprise of the Florentines (and quite possibly everybody else as well), the Ghibellines, including the Sienese and the Florentine exiles, won the day.  Back came the Ghibellines, out went the Guelfs, and the Primo Popolo might as well never have existed.

Battle of Montaperti
Ghibelline rule was harsh and unpopular.  The Ghibelline general who had spearheaded the victory at Montaperti was made vicar-general for all of Tuscany, and he appointed Guido as podestà (mayor and head magistrate) for Florence.  This turned out to be almost as much of a headache as an honor, partly because Guido was stuck with paying and supporting all the German mercenaries who had made the Ghibelline victory possible.  Guido applied drastic taxes, and the Florentine people resented it - and him, and his party.  Eventually  Manfred recalled the general, having need of him in Sicily, and Guido got bumped up to the vicar-general job.  It didn't make his life any easier.

Meanwhile, the Florentine exiles, and their Guelf counterparts elsewhere in northern and central Italy, had not been idle.  They wanted to eliminate the threat of Manfred, and eventually, at the battle of Benevento, they did.  (They also eliminated Manfred.)
Battle of Benevento
They had a lot of help from Charles of Anjou, but that's another story.

So here's Florence, with Guido the Ghibelline in charge, and suddenly the tide has turned in favor of the Guelfs, with Manfred out of the picture.  Guido is desperately trying to hold on.  He waffles between trying to win over the people by restoring some of their privileges (you know, the ones he took away from them in the first place), and trying to stomp on them so hard that they can't offer any resistance.  Nothing was working.  Also, the pope (Clement IV) had insisted on putting two Bolognese nobles, who were also friars of a peacekeeping order, one each Guelf and Ghibelline, in as a sort of podestà committee.

These two had put in place a council of 36 men, nobles and non-nobles, Guelf and Ghibelline, and with a greatly increased representation for the guilds, not insignificantly including a federation and military alliance of the guilds, designed to protect the populace should anyone attempt to take over lordship of the city.  The 36 let some Guelfs back in and arranged some peacemaking marriages between the parties (see my earlier blog posts on that, here and here). 

And that brings us up to the moment:  Guido is hard-pressed for money, he's unpopular, and when the 36 refused to approve a tax to allow Guido to pay off his Germans, he lost his cool completely.  He had assembled a formidable Ghibelline army, drawing on Ghibellines from elsewhere in Tuscany, because he knew he was losing control of the situation.  Now, with this provocation,  Florence's Ghibellines, led by the Lamberti, rioted and assaulted the guildhall where the 36 were meeting.  Villani says they were yelling, "Where are these 36 thieves?  We'll cut them to pieces!"

The 36, quite naturally, ran for their respective homes.  Guelf and Ghibelline forces squared off in the streets.  As Villani puts it, with typically Florentine priorities, "All the shops were closed, and every man flew to arms."

Members of the populace gathered in one spot and started to erect barricades.  Guido's force advanced against the people, and some of his Germans managed to get inside the barricades.  The people, however, defended their makeshift fortress with crossbows and by hurling missiles from towers and houses.  Many of Guido's men died there.

Guido realized he wasn't getting anywhere, so he reversed his banners and headed to the palace where the podestà committee was, and demanded the keys of the gates of the city so he could depart.  He also demanded an escort from among the 36, fearing that the people would attack him with missiles hurled from their houses, and so he had on one side Cerchio dei Cerchi, and on the other Uberto de'Pucci, two great leaders.  The friars yelled from the palace that Uberto and Cerchio should persuade the count to return to his house.  They even promised to pay the soldiers themselves.

But Guido was having none of it.  He wanted out, and out he went, with his Germans and his Ghibellines.  They wound their way around to a gate and as Villani says, "sallied forth," and as they were leaving, "stones were cast upon them", but they proceeded to Prato, where they arrived in the evening of St. Martin's Day, 11 November, 1266.

Why did he go?  Some say he intended all along to return from a more strategic direction - that it was only a temporary retreat.  Others accused him of cowardice.  Villani says that having reached Prato, Guido "perceived that they had done very foolishly in departing from the city of Florence without stroke of sword and not driven thence, and they perceived that they had done ill, and took counsel to return to Florence the following morning."  However it was, the next morning Guido (and his Germans and his Ghibellines) rode back to Florence, armed to the teeth, and demanded entry.

And now it was the Florentines who were having none of it.  Fearing Guido's vengeance, they had agreed not to open the gates.  Florence was surrounded by strong walls and full moats.  The Ghibellines tried to storm the gate, but they were repulsed by crossbows and other missiles.  (See illustration at top of post.)

(Here I am reminded a bit of the taunting scene from Monty Python's Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which can be viewed here:)

As Machiavelli put it, "His plan did not succeed, for the people who had been able to drive him out only with difficulty were able to keep him out with ease."  That's what those walls are for, I guess.

And that was it for Ghibelline control in the city of Florence, henceforth solidly the Guelfest of the Guelf.  Ghibelline power ended, for Guido and all the others, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Images in this post are in the public domain, with these exceptions:  both coats of arms involving lions are licensed to Sailko via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dino Buddies: When your AT has OCD

Dino's tombstone, Santa Trinità, Florence

Recently I was reading an interesting blog post about Florence in Dante's time - the period I study.  I noticed a very familiar-sounding quote from someone called Dino Fellows.  I was pretty sure I'd never heard of Dino Fellows, but I did know that quote, so I went back and looked at it again.  And laughed.

The quote was from the early 14th century Florentine civil servant and chronicler, Dino Compagni.  And "Fellows" is one of the things you get if you run the poor guy's name through an automatic translation program.  (Compagni = companions = fellows)

But names are not for translating.  Not in my universe, anyway.  I can cope with writing Florence instead of Firenze, or even Saint Francis instead of San Francesco, but when it's just an ordinary name, of someone whose name doesn't need to be translated into other languages, I don't see why we can't just leave it alone.

AT (Automatic Translation) feels differently, apparently.  It doesn't always translate people's names, but when it gets obsessive and does so, the results can be somewhere between cringe-producing and hilarious.  (I wrote a couple of blog posts about this before, but I need something quick this week, so here I go again.  If you enjoy this sort of silliness, you can find more here and here.)

So I found the Italian Wikipedia entry for Dino.  I've referred to it before, but I read Italian, so I hadn't bothered to have it translated.  This time, out of curiosity, I did - and to my surprise, I got (over the course of the article) no fewer than four different versions of Dino's last name.

The first, and my favorite, was Dino Buddies.  I don't know about you, but there is absolutely no way I would write a blog post about anybody named Dino Buddies.

"Best Buddies," by Romero Britto (in Berlin)

He fared slightly better with the other three:  Dino Companions, Fellow Dino, and Dino Comrades.

Then I wondered what else AT had done to our boy Dino.  I learned, for example, that his famous work was entitled "Chronic things necessary it 'his time" (their take on Cronica delle cose occorrenti ne' tempi suoi).

Dino himself is described as a "politician, writer and historical Italian."  Love those historical Italians.

Florence's popolo grosso (the bourgeoisie) morph into the "fat people," while their humbler contemporaries, the popolo minuto, become the "little people."  Actually, that may not be too far off the mark.

We learn that Dino served his guild (his "Art") as its "console."

Dino the Console?

And he isn't the only one whose name gets bowdlerized.  The Cerchi family, who usually get translated as "the Circles," this time becomes the family of "Looking" - from the Italian verb cercare, to look or search for.

Cerchi arms (hence, "Circles")

"Looking"?  (a pastel work by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner)

Dino's work, however, inspires earnest if incoherent praise:  he focuses on "the real of what is certain."

I find this sort of thing irresistible, so I pursued poor Dino Buddies through a few more Italian sources and let AT have its way with him.

Next I learned that his great work, which was not circulated in his lifetime, "was rediscovered by oblivion until the 18th century, with the publication by the Masons in 1726..."

I think many writers today can relate to being rediscovered by oblivion, not that it isn't bad enough the first time around, but - the Masons?  Dino?  That took me aback, so I went back to the original Italian entry to see what they meant.

Masons like this?

Or like this?

No.  Not the Masons - turns out it was published by this fellow (this companion, this buddy): Ludovico Antonio Muratori, in 1843.

Ludovico Antonio Muratori

I read further, through a summary of Dino's great work (the "Chronic," remember?).  I learned that one section was devoted to "Sulking in Florence between the people and the Large."

The Large would be from another name for the popolo grosso ("fat people"):  the grandi.  But sulking?  The Italian says "malumore," which I would have translated as something closer to "bad feeling," or "ill will," but hey, for all I know they could have been sulking.

Achilles, sulking

Here's another oddity:  "The leaders of the Black Party go to Perugia to apologize to the Death of Pope Benedict XI."  Apologize?  To his death?  For his death, maybe?  But even though the Blacks' allies the French were suspected of having poisoned the pope, the Florentines had had nothing to do with it.  After all, they were back home, sulking.  (What I think was going on here was that the Black leaders were on their way to explain certain of their recent behaviors to His Holiness, only he died before they got there.)

Benedict XI

And then there was the bit about Pistoia:  "This determines the Blacks to deal with the city, which, reduced to an extreme, it is a deal, when then are not observed."  Got all that?  There'll be a quiz.

Not only Pistoia, but Arezzo came in for its share of linguistic mayhem:  "These, after tempted unnecessarily Blacks of Florence, Arezzo ago in a joined forces of white and Ghibelline, which, to his or worthlessness or sadness, goes bad, and it's the last one that the exiles do (May 1306 - July 1397)."  That was, by the way, either a typo or a very long campaign.

There's even a reference to Guido Cavalcanti's famous poem, "A figure of my woman."  Unfortunately, the woman in question is the Virgin Mary, in the form of a miracle-working image in Orsanmichele.  I doubt that Guido intended to be quite so casual about her.

Bernardo Daddi's image of the Madonna in Orsanmichele (successor to the one in Guido's poem)

Oh, and Dino's business associate Cambio Albizzi has become "Exchange Albizzi."  Naturally enough - when you get off the plane in Rome or Milan one of the first things you'll see is a Cambio, or money exchange.  Still...

"Exchange", Russian version

As for Dino himself, we learn something, at last, about his private life:

"Married firstly a Filippa unidentified, from which were born five children:  Nicholas, Ciango, Bartholomew, Tora, Maddalena, Dina, and his second wife Cecca di Puccio Welcome to Forlì."

Huh?  First, even in the Italian version there are six names for those five children, but there at least the semicolon has been retained, so it doesn't look like Filippa Unidentified also gave birth to her own successor.  But "Welcome to Forlì"?

Welcome to Forlì

That would be Cecca di (daughter of) Puccio di (son of) Benvenuto da (from) Forlì.  Yes, Benvenuto does mean "welcome," but here again, a name is being translated, with unfortunate results.

I could go on, but I think that's enough for today.  Besides, if I keep hunting for appropriate pictures to illustrate these silly things, it will defeat the purpose of having a quick and easy topic.

For anyone who's still waiting for the rest of the Medici posts, sorry - I got distracted.  I'll probably pick up at least Salvestro at some point, but I couldn't say when.

Images in this post are in the public domain, with these exceptions:  Dino's tombstone, the Cerchi arms, and Daddi's Madonna are all licensed to Sailko via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, and the photo of Best Buddies is similarly licensed to Assenmacher.  All are taken from Wikimedia Commons.