The Loggia dei Lanzi is an elegant arched gallery located in Piazza Signoria, adjacent to the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence.
It’s a distinctive feature of this handsome square, with an interesting history, and today guards a mix of statues from different eras, from antiquity and the Renaissance to the 19th century. This is a real open-air sculpture museum, that completes the art display hosted inside the Uffizi.
Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence
When was the Loggia dei Lanzi built?
The Loggia dei Lanzi was built between 1376 and 1382. At the time Florence was still a Republic, and Piazza Signoria was the political heart of the city. Here the citizens were called to attend official ceremonies under this elegant loggia – such as the swearing in of the Priors who governed the city.
The architectural style is late Gothic, but the wide arches opened the way to Renaissance taste. Brunelleschi might have taken inspiration from this when he designed the famous loggia of the Ospedale degli Innocenti.
Highlights of the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence
“Perseus” by Cellini (1545-1554)
“Perseus” by Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini shows the muscular hero holding the severed head of the Medusa, with blood gushing from it. This bronze statue is not only a masterpiece rich in pathos, it has a well-kept secret.
The creator Cellini was an original, and wanted to leave a special mark on his work. If you walk inside the Loggia dei Lanzi and look behind the statue of Perseus, you’ll notice a second face on the back of his head. This face has a curly beard and a long thin nose. Though many people never notice this hidden detail it is in fact a self- portrait of Cellini himself.
The two lions guarding the Loggia
The two marble lions that guard the Loggia are called ‘Medici lions’, as they originally were in the Villa Medici in Rome. The one on the right (as you’re entering the loggia) is a Roman statue from the 2nd century AD, the other one was made in 1598 by Flaminio Vacca, to create a pair. Renaissance artists were copying ancient sculptures to learn from antiquity. Which one do you prefer, the original or the copy?
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“Rape of the Sabine women” by Giambologna (1582)
This complex sculptural work is considered the most important masterpiece by Mannerist artist Giambologna. Here he experimented with the so-called ‘serpentine pose’, with bodies stretching upward together in a spiral movement. The statue can be examined from all sides, and doesn’t have a single viewpoint. It’s amazing to think that it has been created from a single block of marble.
Nearby is the “Hercules beating the Centaurus Nessus” (1599) by the same artist.
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“Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus” (around 200 BC)
This is an ancient Roman statue, this time a copy of a Hellenistic bronze. It was discovered in a vineyard in Rome and brought to Florence by Cosimo I. It underwent many unskilful restoration work throughout the centuries.
Under the Loggia dei Lanzi are gathered statues from different eras, whose varying styles compete for your attention.
The most recent of the statues of the group “Rape of Polyxena” (1865) , by Pio Fedi, in Romantic style, while the series of female statues along the wall date back to Roman times. They had been in the Medici Villa at Rome since the end of 16th century, and were brought here by Pietro Leopoldo in 1789. They all have significant, modern restorations.
On the façade of the Loggia, below the parapet, are trefoils with allegorical figures of the four cardinal virtues (Fortitude, Temperance, Justice and Prudence) by Agnolo Gaddi (14th century).
Why the name? The ‘Lanzi’ and the Medici
The ‘nickname’ Loggia dei Lanzi derives from Lanzichenecchi (Lansquenets) , the German mercenaries that used to have their headquarters here. But why were they in Florence? The Lanzi were the Medici’s dreaded bodyguards.
Their story dates back to 1527, when Emperor Charles V helped the Medici against the Republicans. The latter had taken advantage of the turmoil after the Sack of Rome, hoping to win back the city and get rid of the Medici, who had already been ruling the city for a century. But Charles V gave his support to the young and weak Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, making his title hereditary. A group of soldiers from the Emperor’s Guard, the Lanzichenecchi, was left to keep peace in the city.
The Florentine Republicans were ecstatic when Alessandro was assassinated by his cousin in 1537. But this didn’t end the Medici rule. On the contrary. Under another Medici, Cosimo I, Florence ceased to be a Republic forever. Gran Duke Cosimo I appreciated the ability of the ‘Lanzi’ and by keeping a group in Florence he also showed his loyalty to the Habsburg Emperor.
For the following two hundred years, the German halberdiers (lancers) played a crucial role in the Medici court. Their function was to protect the Grand Duke and his closest relatives, and they took part in many events, easily recognisable in their flashy costumes and armed with their iconic weapon, the halberd.
A few curiosities about the Loggia dei Lanzi
In the book “Secret Florence”, full of juicy anecdotes about the city, Rinaldi writes that on the wall of the loggia you can still see the signs of the balls of the harquebuses, the weapons that the Lanzichenecchi used to fire when training. And often when drunk.
The Loggia used to be decorated with tapestries on the occasion of a festival, and still today you can see today the hooks that they would be hung from.
Above the Loggia there’s the Uffizi Café terrace: this used to be the terrace from where the Medici would assist, in complete tranquillity and safety, to the ceremonies in the square.