The Cave of the Animals, a Mannerist mystery
Michel de Montaigne visited the Cave of the animals at the Medici Villa in Castello, Florence, in 1580 and then again in 1581. He recorded how stunned he was by it in some notes, which would later be included in his “Journal du voyage en Italie” and published a couple of centuries later: “In this place, there is a beautiful cave where animals of every species are represented as in nature, spraying fountain water […] from their beaks, their wings, their claws or even their ears and noses.”
Indeed, the garden of Cosimo I’s villa – currently headquarters of the Accademia della Crusca – is home to both the Statue of January we wrote about some time ago and this amazing Mannerist work, designed around 1540 by Niccolò Tribolo, and completed by Giorgio Vasari between 1554 and 1574.
Gathered in three niches inside an apse decorated with mosaics made of seashells, pebbles, sponges and stucco, the animal sculptures seem not to have an organic design, although there probably is an iconographic meaning to them we are yet to discover.