Au unidentified young man wearing plate armour stands before an open window that looks out onto the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The Palazzo della Signoria, known as the Palazzo Vecchio, seat of the Florentine government, as well as the Loggia dei Lanzi, are depicted behind him. He appears about to withdraw his sword – perhaps to show his eagerness to defend the city. Depending on when the portrait was painted, he may be portrayed as defending the Florentine Republic, established in 1494, or the city’s long-time oligarchic rulers the Medici, who retook it In September 1512.
In the background is Michelangelo’s giant marble sculpture of David, unveiled on 8 September 1504 – a potent symbol of the Florentine Republic. The Loggia dei Lanzi appears in the picture very much as it does now, but the street between it and the Palazzo Vecchio has changed completely. This is now the location of the Uffizi galleries, housed in government offices begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560.
An unidentified young man wearing plate armour stands before an open window that looks out onto the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The Palazzo della Signoria, known as the Palazzo Vecchio, seat of the Florentine government, and the Loggia dei Lanzi are depicted behind him.
He wears an Italian breastplate alla tedesca (German style) dating from about 1510–15. It is practical field armour without ornament and the sword is for use in combat. His round, close-fitting, padded cap, known as a scuffiotto, is intended to cushion his head under a helmet. We can tell he is an infantry commander as the right side of his breastplate does not have a lance rest. He appears about to withdraw his sword – perhaps to show his eagerness to defend the city. Depending on when the picture was painted and who is portrayed, the soldier could be seen as defending the Florentine Republic, which had overthrown the Medici, its oligarchic rulers, in 1494. Or he may be protecting the oligarchic rule of the Medici family, reinstalled through force in 1512.
It is unusual to find a man in full field armour portrayed in a civic setting. However, the Piazza della Signoria always had a military role, and at times of political crisis the populace was summoned there to agree the appointment of emergency councils. ‘He who holds the piazza is always victorious in the city’ became a proverbial saying, and when the Medici returned to the city in 1512, the piazza was seized by their armed supporters.
Although the architectural and sculptural detail is remarkably accurate, the composition is a carefully crafted fiction which reinforces the sitter’s role in the security of the city. It includes Michelangelo’s giant marble sculpture of David, unveiled on 8 September 1504 – a potent symbol of the Florentine Republic. The parapet at the base of the building, the ringhiera, is no longer in place. The golden lion, or marzocco, symbol of Florence, at the corner has been destroyed but its plinth still exists and another lion now stands in its place. Just in front of David it is just possible to see the tiny figure of a man in armour guarding the palace. The Loggia dei Lanzi appears in the picture very much as it does now, but the street between it and the Palazzo Vecchio has changed completely. This is now the location of the Uffizi galleries, housed in and named after the building of offices designed for the Medici begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560.
Although there was a tradition of commemorating mercenary generals in public monuments, a private portrait of a soldier wearing armour is extremely unusual in Florentine portraiture before 1530. In the past the painting has been attributed to Bugiardini (1475–1555) whose Portrait of a Woman (Uffizi, Florence) also includes a detailed topographical view of Florence in the background. It is currently attributed to Granacci, who like Bugiardini trained in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and whose depiction of the Piazza della Signoria in the scene of the Institution of the Franciscan Rule in the Sassetti Chapel of Santa Trinita is a direct precedent for the background of the National Gallery picture. Indeed, the two men in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi seem to be a quotation from Ghirlandaio’s painting. No portraits by Granacci are known, however, while Bugiardini was a prolific portraitist, and his authorship cannot be excluded.
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