For over four centuries, since 1565 to be precise, Bartolomeo Ammannati’s white Neptune has triumphed over what some consider the most beautiful square in the world: Piazza della Signoria in Florence, at the heart of the city’s political and economic power.
The imposing Neptune is the fulcrum of the fountain, where four horses pull his chariot amidst bronze statues of mythological creatures. The marine god is a symbol of power himself: the power of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who wished to mark his position as absolute ruler by renovating the urban spaces where the Florentine Republic’s monuments had risen over the centuries.
All the most important sculptors of the time submitted proposal for Cosimo’s new fountain: from Giambologna to Baccio Bandinelli, from Benvenuto Cellini to Vincenzo Danti – but Bartolomeo Ammannati was the winner.
With power in Florence being such a focus in this masterpiece, even the artistic competition sparked a small power struggle, as Giorgio Vasari – a man of great influence at the Medici court – steered victory in the direction of his protégé Ammannati also to keep dangerous rivals like Cellini and Bandinelli away.
But now that power struggles and rivalries are a thing of the past, we can simply enjoy the beauty of Piazza della Signoria.