Professor of Art History, Gettysburg College
Biancone: History of a Remarkable Nickname and the Changing Narratives of Florentine Public Sculpture, Mock Heroics and Political Discourse from the 16th-19th Centuries
In the heart of Florence in the Piazza della Signoria stands Bartolomeo Ammannati’s colossal Neptune statue, centerpiece of an elaborate fountain (1560-1574). Unlike its celebrated neighbor Michelangelo’s David, the statue became renowned as a disappointment, a sentiment distilled perfectly in a popular nickname for the statue, “Biancone”, or “Giant White One”. This talk will explore how Florentine audiences poked fun at works of colossal size, looking into the origin of this and other similar epithets. Dubbed as coming “from the people”, the history of “Biancone” from the Renaissance to the 19th century can tell us much about the changing views of public works and populist discourse. Ammannati’s statue, originally a court commission employing the Olympian god of the sea to celebrate the rulership of the Medici Grandukes, would feature as a bumbling giant in a mock heroic epic, a magician in a showdown against a witch and a political mouthpiece satirizing the state of affairs during the Risorgimento when Florence served as the capital of a newly-united Italy.