The Fountain of Neptune has been standing proudly in Piazza della Signoria in Florence since 1575. Neptune was carved by Michelangelo’s apprentice Bartolomeo Ammannati for the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici and grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565. The original commission was given to Baccio Bandinelli but he died before even making a mark on the big block of Apuan marble. The job was then given to Ammannati but unfortunately, his end result was not appreciated by either the locals nor the master (Michelangelo). It was rumoured that Michelangelo’s only comment to the sculptor was “what a beautiful piece of marble you’ve ruined”. To add insult to injury the locals began to use the fountain to wash their clothes in.
The 4.2-metre monument was carved from specially chosen Apuan marble and took over ten years to be completed. The fountain features Neptune (Roman god of the sea) standing high on an octagonal fountain. The statue of Neptune was completed in 1575 with the face carved to resemble Cosimo De’ Medici (1389 – 1464) who had always envisioned a monument to the god of the sea in the centre of the city. During his reign, Medici had great ambitions for making Florence a naval superpower.
The pedestal is decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis. The bronze statues which decorate the fountain are the work of Flemish artist, Jean de Boulogne. The fountain features bronze river gods, smirking satyrs, marble sea horses and a giant seashell.
Roman God of the Sea
Neptune was the Roman god of the sea. He is often depicted with a long beard holding a trident (spear with three points) which was the symbol of his power. His trident could shatter rocks and bring forth storms. He is said to have created the horse and his own horses would draw his chariot across the sea. His wife was Amphitrite and his sons Triton & Proteus. The Greek equivalent is Poseidon.
Fountain of Hard Knocks
Standing in the middle of one of the busiest piazzas in Italy it is not surprising that the poor old Neptune Fountain has had its fair share of abuse and vandalism over the years. In fact, it has had so many incidents it is worth a recap.
At the end of the 16th century, the fountain was used by the locals as a tub to clean their dirty laundry. It became such a popular place to do the washing a marble plaque was placed on the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio (still there) which gives the address of the local police station and a nice little warning about using the fountain to wash or throw rubbish into.
On 25th January 1580, the first recorded vandalism of the statue occurred. All the decorations apart from the four bronze figures and their satyrs were damaged or destroyed.
In 1830 during a carnival, a group of masked men stole a bronze satyr which was later replaced by another (sculpted by Giovanni Pazzi).
1848 it was damage by Bourbon bombardments.
In 1981 the front hooves of one of Neptune’s chariot pulling horses were snapped off.
In 1982 one of Neptune’s shoulders was painted bright blue following a win by the Fiorentina soccer club.
In 1986 and 1989 the hooves of the horses were once again broken off.
A couple of years later a man in underpants climbed the statue and removed the spiky ring which is used to deter pigeons from relieving themselves on it.
A young boy scaled Neptune one early morning and managed to break off the right hand and his trident before plummetting into the fountain below. All was caught on security cameras. This little episode ended with 30 shattered pieces of Neptune and shell having to be restored.
In August 2005 a man once again scaled the 4. 2 metre statue breaking off the hand and trident.
It may help to know that Neptune is actually a copy of the original and was made in the 19th century. The original is safe and sound inside the National Museum.