European Architecture Series
Piazza della Signoria, Florence

History, Renaissance Architectural Features, Sculpture.

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Piazza della Signoria, Florence.
View from Palazzo Vecchio.

Piazza della Signoria in Florence


Centre of the Early Florentine Renaissance
Buildings and Statuary
- Palazzo Vecchio
- Loggia dei Lanzi
- Palazzo Uguccioni
- Fountain of Neptune
Articles on Renaissance Architecture

Fountain of Neptune (c.1565-7).
Built by Bartolomeo Ammannati,
assisted by Giambologna. A focal
point of the Piazza della Signoria.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa
(1545-54) by Benvenuto Cellini.
One of the most famous statues
in the Loggia dei Lanzi, looking
onto the Piazza della Signoria.


For a guide, see:
Architecture Glossary.


The Piazza della Signoria - an open air museum of the Florentine Renaissance - is a world-famous square in the Tuscan capital, which occupies an L-shaped area in front of the fortress-like city hall, in the heart of the city. The massive hall (home of the "Signoria", the city council) with its off-centre bell tower was originally known as the Palazzo della Signoria, but was later rechristened the Palazzo Vecchio (the old palace). The Piazza della Signoria was begun around 1330, during the last years of Giotto (1267-1337), the leading figure in the Proto-Renaissance art of the trecento. It became the focal point of the brash Florentine Republic - the centre of Renaissance art of the quattrocento. It was also the place where Savonarola and his followers staged their famous Bonfire of the Vanities, in 1497, and where Savonarola himself was hanged. The Piazza della Signoria remains the civic centre of the city, and is located quite close to several other historical sites, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery and the Piazza del Duomo. The square itself is especially famous for its stone sculpture, notably the Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati and The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna, as well as the Renaissance architecture of the surrounding palaces.

Centre of the Early Florentine Renaissance

The Renaissance in Florence dominated Early Renaissance art in Italy throughout the 15th century. With architects like Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72); painters like Masaccio (1401-1428), Botticelli (1445-1510) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519); plus Renaissance sculptors like Donatello (1386-1466), Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) and Michelangelo (1475-1564), the city outshone all its urban rivals, including Rome. Indeed, without Florentine art, it is doubtful if the Renaissance in Rome would have developed at all. The Piazza della Signoria stood in the midst of all this, home to the ruling Medici Family, who oversaw events from inside the Palazzo Vecchio.

NOTE: The Medici Family of Florence were a very powerful clan who dominated the political and artistic life of the city. They were immensely successful in business and their role as art collectors and patrons was imitated by other ruling families across Italy. It is estimated that half the adult population of Florence was employed in Medici businesses in the city or elsewhere in Europe. The most influential secular members of the dynasty were Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464), his son Piero (1416-69), Lorenzo the Elder (1395-1440), Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449–1492) and Cosimo I de Medici (1519-74). However, the Medici family included several cardinals and popes of which the two most important were Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (1475-1521) who became Pope Leo X (1513-21), and Giulio de' Medici (1478-1534) who became Pope Clement VII (1523-34).


The site of the Piazza della Signoria dates back to Classical Antiquity, but it only started to resemble its present shape from about 1268, when the Guelphs (supporters of the Pope) pulled down the houses of the Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor), during a conflict between papal and secular forces. The Piazza della Signoria proper dates back to when Florence was governed by a city council known as the Signoria - a republican government drawn from a college formed by the guilds of craftsmen and landowners, following bruising battles between powerful competing clans. The massive Palazzo Vecchio, the old palace which dominates the square, was built between 1299 and 1314 - in a style of Romanesque architecture, albeit with Gothic style windows and other elements - as a city hall that also doubled as a defensive fortress. In 1330, the council ordered the area in front of the palace to be paved with bricks and masonry, to make it look more attractive. The Loggia dei Priori was erected at a right angle to the Palazzo Vecchio between 1376 and 1382. It included a hall designed for official ceremonies which opened onto the square.

After 1434, the wealthy medici family took over effective control of Florence and the city was ruled with a firm hand as a bastion of science and the arts. The only short interruptions to their rule occurred between 1494 and 1512, when a short-lived democratic republican government - initiated by the fundamentalist Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) - banished the Medicis from the city; and between 1527 and 1530, when a popular revolt sent the Medicis into exile. On both occasions, the revolts coincided with the presence of foreign troops. In any event, certain statues in the square, such as Judith and Holofernes by Donatello and David by Michelangelo, remain as proof of the Florentine desire for freedom. In 1540 Cosimo I de Medici entered the Palazzo Vecchio in pomp, renaming it Palazzo Ducale. The Loggia too was rechristened Loggia dei Lanzi, and was used as a hall of fame to display great works of art such as the statue Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71). To adorn the square, Cosimo ordered the construction of the Neptune Fountain.



Buildings and Statuary of the Piazza della Signoria

Here are a few of the most important buildings and architectural features of the Piazza della Signoria.

Palazzo Vecchio

The monumental 14th-century Palazzo Vecchio (1299-1314), with its crenellated battlements and bell tower famously displaced to the side, is arguably the most impressive city hall in Tuscany and continues to dominate the square. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (1240-1300/10), it serves largely as a museum, although it continues to house the office of the mayor of Florence, and it remains the seat of the City Council. Its entrance is flanked by the statue of David by Michelangelo (1501-04) (a copy, the original rests in the city's Accademia Gallery), and the stone figures of Hercules and Cacus (1527-34) by Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560). Another famous statue outside the Palazzo Vecchio is the bronze sculpture of Judith and Holofernes (1460) by Donatello (a copy, the original rests in the Hall of Lilies inside the Palazzo Vecchio) which was commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici. Depicting the popular tale of the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith, it was one of the first 15th-century sculptures to be conceived in the round.

Loggia dei Lanzi

This consists of an exterior gallery bordered by three wide arches and open to the street. In effect it serves as an open-air showcase of Renaissance sculpture, and earlier Roman sculpture, including the distinctive Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca. Famous statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi include: the bronze sculpture entitled Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545-54) by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71); and the marble sculpture entitled Rape of the Sabine Women (1581-3) by Giambologna (1529-1608), with its famous figura serpentina, an upward snakelike spiral movement. Both are masterpieces of Mannerism from the mid/late 16th century.

Palazzo Uguccioni

Built for the rich merchant Giovanni Uguccioni, the architecture of the Palazzo Uguccioni has been attributed to numerous celebrated designers including Michelangelo and Bartolomeo Ammannati, although it currently claims to have been built by Mariotto di Zanobi Folfi in 1549, according to a design by Raphael.

Fountain of Neptune

Commissioned by the Medici Family to celebrate the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with Johanna of Austria in 1565, the Fountain of Neptune was created over two years from a block of Apuan marble by the Italian architect and sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-92), assisted by Giambologna. The figure of Neptune, whose face depicts that of Cosimo I de' Medici, represents the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. The statue of Neptune stands on a high pedestal, decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis, in the centre of the octagonal-shaped fountain, decorated with reclining, river gods, merry satyrs and marble sea-horses. Just in front of the fountain of Neptune, a marble plaque marks the exact spot where the Dominican fundamentalist Girolamo Savonarola was hanged on May 23, 1498.

Articles on Renaissance Architecture

For more about architects and architectural design of the Renaissance, see the following articles:

Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi and the Renaissance (1420-36)

Donato Bramante (1444-1514) founder of the High Renaissance style.

Vignola (1507-73) designer of the Church of Il Gesu (Jesuits) in Rome.

Andrea Palladio (1508-80) designer of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Venetian Renaissance Architecture (1400-1600)

Vitruvius (c.78-10 BCE) Influential author of De Architectura.

• For more about Renaissance architecture in Tuscany, see: Homepage.

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