Florence and its Signs, part 2: The Heraldic Diagram of another Florentine Guild and the Bossolo

In my previous text on this blog, entitled ‘Florence and its Signs: A Late Mediaeval Diagram of the City’ (https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4880) I presented the heraldic diagram painted at the main vault of the Palace of Judges’ and Notaries’ Guild. I proposed to interpret this image as ‘a peculiar visual political treatise’, main function of which was to legitimise the hierarchy of communities and the city’s political system.

A confirmation of this interpretation comes from two other, and probably subsequent, representations that make use of the same visual model. It seems important to note that the type of the city’s portrayal, shown in my first text, was successfully adopted in Florence. Moreover, it is worth emphasising here that the ‘superstructure’ of the diagram was reused but not in the ‘static’ way – it was modified and, in particular way, updated. By watching these examples we can observe how the image that combines the same signs, coats-of-arms and form can bear different meanings.

The other Guild’s Palace, the other fresco…

The main vault of the guild’s meeting and judiciary hall of the Palace of the Judges’ and Notaries’ Guild Photo by Sailko – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APalazzo_dell'arte_dei_giudici_e_notai%2C_rappresentazione_araldica_di_firenze_06.JPG

The main vault of the guild’s meeting and judiciary hall of the Palace of the Judges’ and Notaries’ Guild; see: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4880
I, Sailko, Palazzo dell’arte dei giudici e notai, rappresentazione araldica di firenze 06, CC BY-SA 3.0

the relocated fresco with the heraldic diagram of Florence

the detached and relocated fresco with the heraldic diagram of Florence; I, Sailko, Palazzo dell’arte della seta firenze, soffitto 02, CC BY-SA 3.0











One of the images in question embellished the residence of another Florentine guild probably that of physicians and pharmacists or Silk Guild[i]. Just like in the Palace of Judges and Notaries, it was painted on the vault of the main meeting hall, where the decisions and choices of the community were made. There is no information about the time of its creation, but we assume it was the second half of the 14th century.

In the last decade of 19th century the fresco was taken off the ceiling where had been originally painted. After being stored in various places in Florence, it has been finally relocated in the main hall of the former Silk Guild  (a public library nowadays) and can be easily seen there. Unfortunately, during restoration significant changes were made. Firstly, the number of emblems symbolizing the gonfalons was changed from 16 to 20 and we cannot be sure about their original sequence. Secondly, we cannot say anything about the orientation of the image as we could in the case of the fresco in the Palace of Judges and Notaries (the position of the city quarter’s signs in not original and we don’t have bases to assume how it was oriented before the restoration). Fortunately, we have a nineteenth century watercolour view of the ceiling, painted by Galileo Chini before the demolition of the palace where originally the fresco was located[ii].


Chini’s aquarelle, the photo from: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013, Guidi, p. 281 (no. 77).

As shown in the Chini’s aquarelle the structure of the painting was very similar to this from the Palace of Judges and Notaries (the city’s coat-of-arms, the signs of four city quarters, the 16 gonfalons, the signs of 21 guilds). But there were also few significant differences.

  1. The structure of the image is not dominated by the figure of the circle and concentric rings. The allusion to the cosmological diagram is not visible here at all. The diagram reminds more a kind of mechanism than the image of the cosmos.
  2. The centre of the image contains the Church’s coat-of-arms (the keys of Saint Peter) inscribed in the circle whereas in the Palace of the Judges and Notaries there was a circle inscribed in a square – the two geometric figures that in the Middle Ages corresponded with perfection and celestial harmony.
  3. The signs on the 16 gonfalons (i.e. banners) are presented in a very detailed way, while the gonfalons in the Palace of Judges and Notaries were pictured only in an indicative manner, with just their shapes visible. Here all the banners bear the exact sign of its community. In both diagrams the banners bear the Angevin chief (fleurs-delis on the top of the banners).
  4. There is no ring presenting saint patrons of the Florentine Guilds.
  5. Instead of the circular walls, the image features a ring of red beams as an enclosing element of the image, which is nothing else but an interesting modification of the Anjou lambel de gueules (the red label in the Angevin coat-of-arms).
  6. The background of the image is not the ‘starry heaven’ as in the first example but the blue background with fleurs-delis of Anjou dynasty.

Therefore, clearly dominant in this image is the idea of the city’s political order, combined with evoked urban or municipal symbols. It is, first and foremost, a visual legitimisation of the rules of operation of this specific organism and civic order. What seems particularly important is the site where the diagram was painted – again, the main meeting room at a guild’s palace. The image displayed on the vault was meant to legitimize participation of the guilds in ruling the city. It also  raised the importance of decisions made by the guild to a state-level rank, thus emphasising the unity of the urban communities within the frame of the accepted hierarchy and structure. This was based on the underlying conviction of the corporatist idea: actions taken by any of the parts of the state organism influence the success and common good of the organism as a whole.

As I argued in the case of the image from Palace of Judges and Notaries, here as well a special role of the guilds is crucial, but what is much more emphasised in this fresco is the function of the clearly indicated gonfalons. Their signs are bigger and play a much more important role in the diagram, almost as important as the guilds. Their presence proves the increasing ideological and social role of these communities in the political space of the city.

Last but not least, the Angevin accents are more than clearly visible. In the Palace of Judges and Notaries the diagram was built by the complex of public signs which indicated only internal communities and central identities of Florentine society. Here, in the second fresco, the circular label of Anjou dynasty and the fleurs-de-lis on the blue background bear a very important message about Florence. These elements emphasise the importance of the Guelph party and its position based on the traditional alliance with the Anjou dynasty. The same concerns the coat-of-arms of the Church in the middle of the image.

The chalice for voting

the chalice of the Florentine Priors, the photo from: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013, Guidi, p. 227

The Chalice of the Florentine Priors, the photo from: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013, Guidi, p. 227

The other and very particular example that attests to a success of the diagram model is a decoration set on a silver chalice (called in Italian the bossolo dei Priori[iii]) which was used during voting sessions of the Priors, the communal top office. It is dated circa 1390. A detailed heraldic description of the chalice can be found in the text of the expert in the Italian communal heraldry, prof. Alessandro Savorelli, which has been published on heraldicanova.org alongside this blog post (https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/5002)[iv]. Therefore, I include here only some basic information and interpretation of the bossolo’s decoration.

The chalice consisted of three parts – the lid (or cap), the cup and the foot; the lid is lost and we don’t know anything about its supposed decoration. As shown on the photo attached, the Angevin appearance is even more evident than on the fresco. In the upper section of the bossolo, beyond the larger set of municipal emblems[v], we can find two different Angevin coats-of-arms (Anjou from Naples and Anjou of Hungary) and the coat-of-arms of the Church. Therefore, on the cup we can find a very strong representation of Guelph party’s ideology, with no comparison to the first diagram depicted in the Palace of Judges and Notaries. That shows how ideologically relevant the Guelph Party was for the civic discourse at the turn of 14th and 15th centuries.

In the lower part, there is no division into four urban districts, whilst the importance of the gonfalons is highlighted: their banners are shown as driven in the walls, this epitomising protection and the Florentine’s popolo rule over the city. This iconographic motif is characteristic of the period’s miniature painting, as found in a number of illustrations contained in urban chronicles.

the chalice of the Florentine Priors, the photo from: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013, Guidi, p. 229 (no. 56)

The Chalice of the Florentine Priors, the photo from: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013, Guidi, p. 229 (no. 56)

The lowest sections of the chalice’s base feature coats-of-arms or emblems of guilds as well as of captains of the Guelph party, the popolo, and Florence. On the foot of the chalice we find the institutions in charge of proposing the lists of members of the communities nominated for municipal offices (i.e. guilds, the gonfalons, Guelph party captains). Thus, the image legitimises the role of the highest-ranked office (the Priors), as it illustrates the origin of the rule wielded by the officials, and in whose name they govern the city. Moreover it enables to determine the inextricable tie, in the municipal ideology, between a political system and the procedure of appointment of the officials. One could argue actually that this is an application of the political system and it explains the institutional mechanism.

The upper part of the chalice (the cup) and the lower (the foot) bear different meanings and recall different spheres of city’s political space. The commune (with its governmental rules and main universitates) is presented in the lower part, meanwhile the main identities that decide not only about the internal communal politics but also about the position of Florence in the world (the municipal emblems presented in the same line with Angevin and Church coats-of-arms) are presented on the cup.

The same ‘superstructure’, slightly other meanings

The aforementioned examples show that, although processed and modified, the pattern of the diagram has preserved its major structural features. Its appearance and use might have been based on a need to sustain the belief about the citizens’ influence in the state and their participation in governing it  as well as to reinforce the socio-political consensus. Such a reading reflects findings of the historians who base their insight into Florentine history on the categories of conflict(s).

Nevertheless basic comparison of all three heraldic diagrams shows one crucial variation – the first diagram, analysed in the first text, shows the city as a microcosm, a well-govern community, enclosed in its walls and presented by the signs of internal communities and divisions. The two other diagrams are different – they introduce a strong visual message on the importance of Florentine traditional and ideological allies – the Church and the Anjou dynasty. They emphasise the role of the Guelph party in the second part of the 14th century and at the turn of the centuries, when the fresco and the bossolo were hypothetically created.

Even if the visualisation type and structure of the images bear many similarities, they vary in their meaning. The differences between images should be studied further, not just in the context of the iconographic sphere of communal heraldry, but also according to the changes in the city’s political system (especially in the Florentine electoral system, the system of nominations, general scrutinies and sortitions). In my opinion, the creation of the first heraldic diagram of Florence as a visual type of the city’s portrayal was to some extent an answer to the changes that occurred in the electoral law during the first decades after the expulsion of the city’s tyrant Gualtieri di Brienne (called in Florence Duca d’Atene)[vi]. These changes influenced the political representation of all 21 guilds, 16 gonfalons and the governmental rule of Guelph Party. The reforms and amendments had such a great impact on the political system of the city that they changed Florentine political ideology as well. The modifications in the electoral mechanism during the following decades  needed the visual explanation and then its constantly updated version. From this point of view the variations in the diagrams can be explained by the changes in the electoral system and the political space of the city. However, this hypothesis needs further study and does not undermine other possible readings of these diagrams and their interrelations.

This is the second post in the series on the Florentine heraldic diagrams. They are based on a paper presented at the conference: URBAN VISUAL CULTURE(S): Productions and Perceptions of the Visual  in Late Medieval and Early Modern Cities, 22 & 23 June 2016, Durham. I would like to thank prof. Alessandro Savorelli for his helpful comments regarding my research on ‘heraldic diagrams’ in July 2016.

Research funded by National Science Centre in Poland (2014/15/N/HS3/01768)

Cite the article as: Anna Pomierny Wąsińska, "Florence and its Signs, part 2: The Heraldic Diagram of another Florentine Guild and the Bossolo", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 12/10/2016, Internet: http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/5000.

[i] The literature about the fresco is still very poor, see: G. Orefice, Rilievi e memorie dell’antico centro di Firenze 1885-1895, Firenze 1986, s. 100-106 and the article of A. Bricoli Spagnesi, in: M. Sframeli, Il centro di Firenze restituito. Affreschi e frammenti lapidei nel Museo di San Marco, Firenze 1989, p. 309-317, especially: 312-314.

[ii] M. Sframeli, Affresco della volta della Sala d’Udienza dell’Arte dei Medici e Speziali, in: Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, M.M. Donato and D. Parenti (eds.), Firenze 2013, p. 281.

[iii] Goro Dati, Florentine merchant and diarist, in his Istoria di Firenze dal 1380 al 1405, (published in Florence in 1735, see p. 135) mentions the bossolo of the priors as a chalice used for voting without the description of its decoration.

[iv] See as well the description of the chalice published in the catalogue: D. Liscia Bemporad & A. Savorelli, Bossolo per votazioni, in: Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, M.M. Donato and D. Parenti (eds.), Firenze 2013, p. 227-229.

[v] 5 instead of 4, a new coat-of arms with motto ‘Libertas’ is introduced; about this emblem see A. Savorelli, Florentina libertas, ultimo atto, “Rinascimento”, 51, 2012, p.261-268; see also A. Savorelli, Quanti sono i ‘nove stemmi della Repubblica Fiorentina’? Un indovinello dantesco, “Nobiltà”, XXIII, 2015, 129,p. 565-84..

[vi] See: ‘Florence and its Signs: A Late Mediaeval Diagram of the City’ (https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4880The Florentine electoral system have been studied deeply by Guidubaldo Guidi (I Sistemi elettorali del Comune di Firenze nel primo Trecento – Il sorgere della elezione per squittino, 1300-1328, s. 345-407, “Archivio Storico Italiano”, 130, 1972; I Sistemi elettorali agli uffci della città repubblica di Firenze nella prima metà del Trecento, 1329-1348, “Archivio Storico Italiano”, 135, 1977, p. 373-424) and John Najemy (Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics, 1280-1400, Chapel Hill 1982).


Anna Pomierny Wąsińska

Anna Pomierny-Wąsińska is a PhD student in the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History in Warsaw (Polish Academy of Science). She obtained the MA degree in Medieval History at Warsaw University. Currently she is working on her PhD dissertation on the topic “Urban Space of Late Medieval Florence: Representations and Perception (14th Century).”

2 Responses

  1. Anna Pomierny-Wąsińska says:

    Thank you very much for your comment and the indication of the article, I haven’t read it before. In the late 14th and early 15th century the presence of Anjou symbols and signs in the Florentine civic space is very pronounced, but it is more about the Florentine ideology than the importance of the dynasty for Florentine politics.
    Unfortunately I can’t see the picture of what you are asking for well enough, therefore I cannot answer to your question. Nevertheless, the assumption about the crusade and the meaning of the image in the wreath seems to me very hypothetical. I am also not sure if we can compare the use of the Jerusalem cross on the clasp of Saint’s cloak from Martini’s altarpiece to the image from the middle of 15th century.
    All the best

  2. John Wallace says:

    I’m struck by the pronounced placement of Angevin symbols in this fresco. Speaking of which, have you read this brilliant paper on the Florentine joust of 1459, where the Angevin saint Louis anchors the left side (on the facade of S. Croce) while on the right is an unidentified symbol or coat of arms within a wreath of the livery of a page and his horse holding a banner: https://www.academia.edu/2938043/_In_Firenze_non_si_fe_mai_simile_festa_._A_proposito_del_cassone_di_Apollonio_di_Giovanni_con_scena_di_giostra_alla_Yale_University_Art_Gallery

    Considering the joust was for Pius II and the young Galeazzo Sfora’s visit, and the former was pushing for a crusade against the Turks, any chance that what is within the wreath is the Jerusalem Cross, which is a part of the Angevin coat of arms (and on the round clasp of Louis’s cloak in S. Martini’s famous painting)? That would of course be Florence’s hollow nod towards a new crusade (which never came to fruition).

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