Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dante’s Florence - Week 3

During week 3 we looked at the expansion of Florence as more people came into the city. In Dante’s day there were about 45 towers, or 90 or more, depending upon the source you check and today there are about 20 still standing, showing the progression from the early plain and simple tower into the grander palaces, with more and bigger windows, columns, loggias and decorated with the families’ coats of arms.

We looked at slides of a number of towers showing the development from defensive, military type towers to house towers and palaces.

La Castagna - The Chestnut Tower (also known as Dante’s tower), across from Dante’s House is an example of a plain, simple military tower, used in Dante’s time by an order of priors who voted on decisions by placing a chestnut in a box - hence the name. The holes are where there were planks joining the tower to neighbouring houses and the windows decrease in size higher up the tower.

An example of a tower that existed during Dante’s day is the medieval Mannelli Tower, located at one end of Ponte Vecchio. This was built to defend the bridge and shows the development of the design from the simple cube, having more windows (in pairs) and decorated with lions’ heads. It’s interesting because when the Vasari Corridor was added to the bridge at the end of the 16th century to enable the Grand Duke to move freely from one side of the bridge to the other, the Mannelli family refused to demolish it to make way for the Corridor. So the Corridor had to be built around the Tower, thus bypassing it.

We also looked at the cylindrical Pagliazza Byzantine Tower that was a prison in Dante’s day and is now part of the Hotel Brunelleschi, the Buondelmonte Tower, and the Alberti Tower.

As the city prospered new city walls were built bringing the churches outside the original walls within the city boundaries. By the end of the 13th century the population had grown to approximately 90,000 and was second only in size to Paris. Its wealth came from textiles and banking, with an emerging merchant class coming into the city for employment. This also brought social problems and the mendicant orders – travelling preachers from Umbria and Emilia who wanted to enrich the people’s spiritual life. These were different from the monastic orders, reaching out to people. Dante’s writing forms a parallel as he wrote in the vernacular making his work accessible to all.

The Church of San Miniato on the opposite side of the Arno was in a wild and woody setting when Dante knew it. In the Divine Comedy he likens the entrance to Purgatory to the ascent to the church. It is an ancient church from the 11th century with a 13th century Tuscan Romanesque style façade similar to that of the Baptistery – green and white marble. Inside there is a beautiful 13th century gold and black mosaic in the apse in the Byzantine style, with the palm symbolising the Resurrection accompanied by the symbols for the four Evangelists.

Illustrations (except for the Chestnut Tower) are from Wikipedia.

To follow: Banking, Guilds and Art of the Period.

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