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.

©www.atlantedellarteitaliana.it, ©HEN-Magonza, ©Alexey Nikulnikov, ©jose luis gil, ©www.firenzekids.it

 

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The first basin with the statues of the reddish giraffe, the gray rhino, the bear in red stone, the monkey, the dog, the cat, the wolf who is about to savage the sheep, the goat

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

First basin

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

First basin, detail

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The second basin in red Seravezza marble, with sculptures of the elephant, the unicorn, the lion, the goat, the ox, the bull, and a few sheep

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin, in white marble decorated with sculpted seashells with a boar in dark stone, the horse, the bull, the goat, the camel, the leopard (stylized like in Renaissance frescoes), the elk, the deer, the monkey

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin, detail

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin, detail

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin, detail

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The third basin, detail

Grotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a FirenzeGrotta degli Animali nella Villa medicea di Castello, a Firenze

The Cave of the Animals, a Mannerist mystery

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