The Arms of the Florentine Republic in the “Bossolo” (End XIV s.): An Ideal Self-Representation of the Town
In “Florence and its Signs: A Late Mediaeval Diagram of the City”, Anna Pomierny Wąsińska described a fresco painted by Jacopo di Cione on the main vault of the Palace of the Judges’ and Notaries’ Florentine Guild (about 1360)1. She pointed out the close relation between the heraldic signs with an ideal ‘diagram’ of the town, formed of concentric circles and conceived as a «peculiar visual political treatise, which legitimises the hierarchy of communities and the city’s political system». This connection shows «an unusual synthesis of knowledge» and a complete «vision of the world», deeply «rooted in the mediaeval epistemological system and visual culture».
This essay is a good example of the way the ‘new heraldry’ should go. While the ‘old heraldry’ was chiefly concentrated in recognizing arms or in genealogical and technical problems, one of the main aims of the ‘new heraldry’ should be to explain the connections of heraldic signs with a political and cultural context, to make clear their uses and ‘messages’, as well as the perception of heraldry as one of the visual ways of communication in the medieval world2.
The heraldic programme of the «bossolo»
In her second blogpost “Florence and its Signs: The Heraldic Diagram of the Physicians and Pharmacists Guild and the Bossolo” Anna Pomierny Wąsińska also speaks of a superb enamelled silver chalice, dating from the last decades of the XIV c./beginning of XV c. This art object shows an impressive self-representation of the Republic of Florence in form of a complete heradic display of its public arms. The chalice (called in medieval Italy «bossolo») was used as a ballot-box by the ‘Priori’, the members of the government of the Commune. It was exposed for the first time in the exhibition “From the Fleur de Lys to the David. Civic Art in Florence between Middle Age and Renaissance” (Galleria dell’Accademia, may-december 2013) and it’s kept in the Museum of Palazzo Vecchio3.
The “bossolo” consists in two parts, the upper cup and the basis, showing 48 coat of arms, three of which repeated twice. The cap seems to be lost and the two parts of the chalice are joined by a recently created metal cylinder.
The basis of the chalice
In the bottom of the basis, there are 21 oval shields with the arms of the Guild or ‘Arti’ (from whose ranks the Priori were choosen). They are strictly ordered: the ‘major guilds’ (‘Arti maggiori’) first, then the ‘minor guilds’ (‘Arti minori’). The arms are disposed inside eight polylobe arches, in groups of three each. The whole basis is divided in eight sectors, each of them is displaying three arms of the ‘Arti maggiori’ and ‘Arti minori’ separated by three arms of the Commune, repeated in the upper side of the chalice4 and placed to reach the number of 24 shields completing all eight sectors.
The eight polylobe arches face a townwall, running with its battlemets just above the Guilds arms. On the townwall, as an ideal shape of the city, are raised 16 banners showing the heraldic signs of the ‘Gonfaloni”. In medieval Florence this word (gonfalons, standards) meant both the military companies of the people (‘Popolo’) and the administrative districts in which the four Quarters were divided since 1342 (the arms of the Quarters – Duomo, Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and Santo Spirito, which were often represented in many heraldic displays of the town, are here omitted). All the gonfalons bear the ‘capo d’Angiò’ (Angevin chief), the typical sign of the guelph ideology in medieval Italy5.
the upper part of the chalice
The upper cup of the ‘bossolo’ is decorated with the complete series of the five public arms of Florence, together with the three ones of its allies, that is the Church, and the two branches of the Angevin house, the Kings of Naples and Kings of Hungary. The number of the proprer arms of Florence varies in time from the second half of the XIII c. to the end of the XIV c., from two-three to four-five. In the first heraldic displays there are often only the two main arms of the city (the fleur-de-lis) and of the ‘Popolo’ (a red cross in argent), that is the social and political organization of the not-nobles class ruling the Commune since 1292, as merchants, bankers, craftsmen an so on. The party per pale argent-red shield is often added to the first two arms, as a sign derived from the gonfalon of the war-chariot (‘Carroccio’) of the Commune6.
A fourth coat of arms identified the guelph party (‘Parte Guelfa’), the institution which watched the guelph loyalty and orthodoxy of the citizen (an eagle catching a dragon). The last shield showing the motto ‘LIBERTAS’ in capital letters per bend was introduced only after the so-called ‘War of the Eight saints’ (‘guerra degli Otto Santi’, 1375-78), the war between the Commune and the Papal State.
The ‘scudo della libertà’, the angevine coats of arms and the dating of the chalice
This coat of arms, bearing the Angevin chief, is also important to establish the chronology of the chalice. The so-called ‘scudo della libertà’, the ‘liberty-shield’, was often represented during the whole XV century, sometimes as a sign of anti-Medicean opposition. It only disappeared at last at the fall of the Republic (1530)7.
The Angevin-Hungarian coat of arms too is important for the chronology of the chalice, as it appears together with the arms of the main branch of the Anjou, in several Florentine heraldic contexts of the second half of the XIV c. (for example in the frieze of the Loggia dei lanzi, in Piazza della Signoria, in the main nave of the Cathedral, in the church of Orsammichele, and so on). Because of problems of succession to the throne of Naples after the death of King Robert (1343) the Angevin-Hungary arms disappeared at the beginning of the XV c., when the House of Luxemburg ascended to the Hungarian throne and the branch Anjou-Durazzo to that of Naples. Ther’s no more evidence for the Angevin-Hungarian arms, for example, in the frieze of the main hall of the Palace of the ‘Parte Guelfa’ (about 1420)8. The chalice can thus only date from around 1400, mirroring in its heraldic programme a specific political situation.
This post relates to two other posts written by Anna Pomierny Wąsińska on Mediaeval Diagrams of the City of Florence:
- ‘Florence and its Signs: A Late Mediaeval Diagram of the City’ (http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4880)
- ‘Florence and its Signs, part 2: The Heraldic Diagram of another Florentine Guild and the Bossolo’ (http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/50o0)
- ‘Florence and its Signs: A Late Mediaeval Diagram of the City’ (http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4880).
- Recent approaches of this kind, with a special regard to the Florentine life and public heraldry, are: P. Seiler, ‘Kommunale Heraldik und die Visibilität politischer Ordnung. Beobachtungen zu einem wenig beachteten Phänomen der Stadtästhetik von Florenz’, in La bellezza della città. Stadtrecht und Stadtgestaltung im Italien des Mittelalters und der Renaissance, hrsg. von M. Stolleis u. R. Wolff, Tübingen 2004, 205-40; V. Favini-A. Savorelli, Segni di Toscana. Identità e territorio attraverso l’araldica dei comuni: storia e invenzione grafica (secoli XIII-XVII), Firenze 2006; C.F. Weber, Zeichen der Ordnung und des Aufruhrs, Köln-Weimar-Wien 2011 (I would like to mention a book-review of mine, in Archives Héraldiques Suisses, 2012, 1, 110-111); Dal Giglio al David. Arte civica a Firenze fra Medioevo e Rinascimento, eds. M.M. Donato and D. Parenti, Firenze 2013 (with a special chapter on Florentine medieval public heraldry, A. Savorelli, ‘Segni e simboli araldici nell’arte fiorentina dal Medioevo al Rinascimento’, 73-77); Dal Giglio al David. Luoghi dell’arte civica a Firenze, Firenze 2013.
- A detailed description of this work, in the note by D. Liscia-A. Savorelli, Dal Giglio al David, 227-229 (that is the catalogue of the above metioned exhibition). A little account of it also in A. Savorelli, ‘Quanti sono i «nove stemmi della Repubblica Fiorentina»? Un indovinello dantesco’, Nobiltà, XXIII (nov.-dic. 2015), n. 129, 565-84.
- For the coat of arms of the Florentine Guilds, see: V. Gabelli, ‘Gli stemmi delle arti a Firenze’, in Favini-Savorelli, Segni di Toscana, 167-181; M. Giuliani, Le arti fiorentine, Firenze 2006; L. Artusi, Firenze araldica. Il linguaggio dei simboli convenzionali che blasonarono gli stemmi civici, Firenze 2006, 107-206.
- About the “Gonfaloni”, see: Favini-Savorelli, Segni di Toscana, 147-165; Artusi, Firenze araldica, 95-106.
- See E. Voltmer, Il carroccio, Torino 1994; H. Zug Tucci, ‘Il Carroccio nella vita comunale italiana’, Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken, 65 (1985), 1-104.
- See: R.C. Trexler, ‘Follow the Flag. The Ciompi Revolt Seen from the Streets’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, XLVI (1984), 352-292; N. Rubinstein, ‘Florentina libertas’, Rinascimento, n.s., XXVI (1986), 3-26; A. Brown, De-masking Renaissance republicanism, in Renaissance civic Humanism. Reappraisals and reflections, ed. by J. Hankins, Cambridge 2000, 179-99; A. Savorelli, ‘Florentina libertas, ultimo atto’, Rinascimento, 51 (2012), 261-268.
- See V. Camelliti, in Dal Giglio al David, 132-133. About the succession see the dissertation of K. Prajda (2011), Rapporti tra la Repubblica Fiorentina e il Regno d’Ungheria a livello di diplomazia, migrazione umana, reti mercantili e mediazione culturale nell’età del regime oligarchico (1382-1434), che corrisponde al regno di Sigismondo di Lussemburgo (1387-1437) (https://www.yumpu.com/it/document/view/15236221/rapporti-tra-la-repubblica-fiorentina-e-il-regno-d-carnesecchi).