To walk around the city of Florence means encountering works of art everywhere you go: palaces, churches and statues await visitors around every corner!
The city itself is an open-air museum! But if there is one place where this definition takes on its full meaning, it is the Loggia della Signoria. Or Loggia dei Lanzi. Or Loggia dell’Orcagna! Whatever its name, the loggia is a unique example of an open-air sculpture gallery containing antique and Renaissance art and one of Florence’s landmarks (and it’s free!).
It consists of wide arches open to the street and the name Loggia della Signoria comes from its location along one side of Piazza Signoria, adjoining the Uffizi Gallery. The name Loggia dei Lanzi has been used since the mid-sixteenth century, when the place was used by Grand Duke Cosimo I to house the German mercenary pikemen, known as "Lanzichenecchi".
The name Loggia dell’Orcagna, on the other hand, is due to an incorrect attribution of a project.
It was built between 1376 and 1382 by Benci di Cione and Simone di Francesco Talenti, possibly according to a design by Jacopo di Sione, to house the assemblies of the people and to hold public ceremonies of the Florentine Republic.
Since the sixteenth century, with the creation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Loggia became an expression of Medici power and was intended to accommodate some sculptural masterpieces, becoming one of the first open-air exhibition areas in the world. Note that the sculptures were not positioned according to merely aesthetic criteria but to affirm and represent specific political meanings.
After the construction of the Uffizi, Buontalenti created a roof garden above the arches of the Loggia and the roof became a terrace from which the Medici could watch ceremonies in the piazza (today, it is one of the most spectacular terraces in Florence, attached to the Uffizi Museum, and it houses the museum’s bar and various events).
After admiring the Loggia from the square, go up the stairs passing between the two huge Medici lions, symbolic of Florence: the one on the right dates from Roman times, the one on the left was sculpted by Flaminio Vacca in 1598 and was originally placed in the Villa Medici in Rome and in the Loggia in 1789.
Take the time to admire the statues up close and from all sides. A little tip: visit the Loggia at night (yes, it's always open!), when the number of tourists decreases dramatically and the statues stand out against the dark sky.
On the far left there is Perseus, a magnificent bronze statue by Benvenuto Cellini, commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici and placed here in 1554. It took nine years to be cast and it shows the mythical Greek hero brandishing his sword in his right hand and holding up the Medusa’s decapitated head, with blood gushing from the head and the neck, in his left hand.
The richly decorated marble pedestal, also by Cellini, shows four bronze statuettes of Jupiter, Mercurius, Minerva and Danaë.
Rape of the Sabine Women
This impressive marble group by Giambologna was installed here in 1583 at the behest of the son of Cosimo I, Francesco I. The statue is over 4 metres high and is the first group representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint - it can be equally admired from all sides - and it was made from one imperfect block of white marble, the largest block ever transported to Florence.
Hercules beating the Centaur Nessus
A lesser-known sculpture of Giambologna, made in 1599 but placed here only in the nineteenth century.
Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus
It's a marble group of Roman times, a copy of a Greek statue, which originally stood at the southern end of the Ponte Vecchio.
The Rape of Polyxena
It’s a nineteenth-century group executed by the sculptor Pio Fedi.
- On the back of the Loggia there are six marble female statues, probably coming from the Trajan’s Foro in Rome, discovered in 1541 and brought to Florence in 1789.
- On the right wall of the Loggia there is a Latin inscription from 1750 commemorating the change of the Florentine calendar in 1749 to bring it into line with the Roman calendar (the Florentine calendar used to begin on March 25 instead of January 1).
- Another inscription (1893) remembers the stages of the Italian unification.