All year round he sits there, resting on his haunches, patiently putting up with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of tourists rubbing his now very shiny snout and dropping coins at his feet in the hope, according to legend, that they will one day return to Florence.
He is, of course, the Porcellino, the bronze statue that stands in the Loggia of the Mercato Nuovo in the centre of Florence. Improperly called ?porcellino' or ?piglet' because the statue actually represents a wild boar, he sits on a damp bed of forest leaves scattered with acorns and is in the company of snails, a tortoise, several lizards and some frogs, one of which is about to be devoured by a hungry snake.
Inspired by a Hellenistic marble boar given by Pope Pius IV to Grand Duke Cosimo I during his visit to Rome in 1560, Cosimo II de' Medici probably commissioned the bronze copy of the statue for Palazzo Pitti when the original marble statue was transferred to the Uffizi Gallery, where it can still be seen today.
Sculpted by Pietro Tacca (1577-1640), a pupil of the Flemish sculptor Giambologna who, on the death of his maestro, inherited the role of official sculptor to the Medici Grand Duchy, the first model of the Porcellino fountain was prepared in around 1620. Tacca had a remarkable skill at forging incredible naturalistic details in his bronzes-in this case, the texture of the boar's fur. He is said to have kept a wild boar in a cage so he could sculpt his statue as realistically as possible. However, because more pressing commissions, such as the Four Moors statue in Livorno and the two fountains in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, needed to be completed first, it was probably not cast until 1633.
In 1642, the sculpture moved from Palazzo Pitti to the Loggia of the Mercato Nuovo where it was not replaced with a copy until 1999. Since 2004, the original has been housed in the Stefano Bardini Museum (via dei Renai), recently re-opened after extensive renovation.
Copies of the Porcellino sit in several countries around the world, many of them cast by the famous Florence foundry, Fonderia Ferdinando Marinelli. For instance, in 1967, as a symbol of friendship between Italy and Australia, the Marchesa Clarissa Torrigiani of Florence presented a copy of the statue to Sydney Hospital in memory of her father, Thomas Henry Fiaschi (1853-1927) and her brother Piero Francis Bruno Fiaschi (1879-1948), both renowned surgeons at that hospital. Today, the Porcellino in Sydney has become so popular that he even has a wardrobe of outfits to wear on special occasions, including the instances in which he helps raise funds for the hospital.
Prized for their meat, which is a key ingredient in many traditional dishes found on Tuscan menus (see TF 115 and 130 for recipes), wild boars have a reputation as being aggressive and destructive. They live in matriarchal groups known as sounders, usually between 5 and 20 sows and one mature male, and they breed prolifically. They are constantly on the move and can cover considerable distances in a day. Their preferred environment are oak tree woods, and acorns their favourite food.
But, as a result of their rapidly increasing numbers, and as acorn supplies dwindle when winter turns to spring and summer, the wild boars now frequently move out of the woodlands into neighbouring farmland in search of other sources of food, such as grains cereals, potatoes, sunflowers and grapes. The inevitable damage they cause to agriculture has serious economic consequences. Yet, despite the fact that Tuscany boasts more licensed hunters than any other region in Italy (see Rachel Priestley's 'On the hunt for wild boar' in TF 130 for a description of a hunt), there were approximately 150,000 wild boars in the region in 2009, three times the number regarded as sustainable.
In fact, between 2005 and 2008, the total compensation made to farmers for damage done by wild boars rose from 1, 420,000 to 2,500,000 euro. To help combat the problem, as Massimo Logi, president of the Tuscan chapter of Arcicaccia explained, although the official annual hunting season in the 19 territorial hunting zones within Tuscany is September 16 to January 31, a new regional law now provides that, ?if wild boars present a danger to agriculture, they can be shot by authorised game wardens at any time during the year, even in protected areas, but only in accordance with a strictly controlled provincial culling programme.'
TF is partner of this crowdfunding effort at Santa Croce