Florence is full of surprises and this past week I stumbled upon one as I was running along the Arno. The first thing that caught my eye was a white figure floating in the air, strung up on a cable connected by the two buildings.
Upon further examination I realized that each of these white figures had the heads of different animals. I found the placard that explained the meaning of the art installation and was surprised to the see the name Medici mentioned. Hundreds of years later and the Medici Family is still making an impact on the minds of people. The artist Simone D’Auria states that her inspiration has its roots in the past of those great men who have made the city of Florence and its history, and who often represented themselves to the people using animals, often followed by a motto that extolled the value and virtue of action.
D’Auria mentioned specifically the example of Cosimo I, who was often represented by a turtle with a sail, a symbol of prudence combined with the power of action. I have seen the turtle represented all throughout Florence and other cities we have been to as well, showing the scope of animal symbolism.
On a recent trip to the Palazzo Vecchio, I also noticed an abundance of lions everywhere in the palace and scattered around the square. The lion is a symbol of strength and pride, both of which the Medici family wanted to convey to the people. The picture below is inside the front doors of the Palazzo Vecchio, showing two large, fierce lions and a smaller one in the middle. Some of the lions had different facial expressions, possibly to convey a slightly different message than typical strength associated with a lion. Either way, the repetition of the lion was a constant reminder to the citizens of the Medici’s power.
Describing to her work, Simone D’Auria states that “those animals and the meanings they carry with them become faces of men and women, ironic caricatures in which they can identify themselves, visible expressions of their deepest inner values: portraits, in fact.” For the Medici Family, the method of representing themselves through symbolic animals was yet another way to convey their power, strength, and influence over the people of Florence and beyond.