The Lady Justice column

The Lady Justice column

Lady Justice stands proudly in the middle of piazza Santa Trinita, on top of the tallest ancient Roman column in Florence. The 11.17 meter high oriental granite column weighing about 50 tons originally came from the natatio, the monumental swimming pool of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.  

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Thu 07 Apr 2011 12:00 AM

Lady
Justice stands proudly in the middle of piazza Santa Trinita, on top of the
tallest ancient Roman column in Florence. The 11.17 meter high oriental granite
column weighing about 50 tons originally came from the natatio, the monumental
swimming pool of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

 

Following
his visit to Rome in 1560, the column was given to Cosimo I de’ Medici
(1519-1574), then Duke of Florence, from his host, Pope Pius IV (1499-1565),
previously known as Giovanni Angelo Medici, a poorer Milan-born relative of the
Florentine Medicis.

 

The
pope’s gift started its complicated year-long journey from Rome to Florence in
the summer of 1562. Transported along the Tiber River to Ostia and
Civitavecchia, it was then sent by sea to Livorno, where it arrived in March
1563. Its progress up the Arno River on a smaller boat was interrupted at Ponte
a Signa because the river was not deep enough to support the weight of the
vessel carrying it. Towards the end of July that year, under the supervision of
the architect and sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-1592), it was crated in
wooden casing and covered by a canopy to protect it. With the help of 20
teamsters, it was then pulled on an oxe- and horse-driven wagon along via
Pisana until it finally reached its new home on September 27, 1563. After a
two-year wait, the obelisk was put in place in honour of the marriage of
Cosimo’s son, Francesco’ to Joanna of Austria in December 1565.

 

Because
the ship conveying the monolith along the coastline to Florence had twice been
attacked (unsuccessfully) by Turks is thought to have inspired Cosimo I to
dedicate the monument to his own victory over the Florentine exiles and French
mercenaries led by his enemy, Piero Strozzi, at the battle of Montemurlo in
1537. To mark his long awaited investiture as Grand Duke of Tuscany, he had his
name inscribed on the base of the column in 1570.

 

Some
scholars believe that Cosimo would have preferred to top the obelisk with a
statue of himself but eventually decided on a more discreet allusion to his
sovereignty. He, therefore, commissioned the statue of Lady Justice, planning
(an idea never realised) to add statues of Religion and Peace to the columns in
piazzas San Felice and San Marco, all three symbolising the good government of
his family. 

 

Although
Ammannati designed the model for the statue, it was executed by Francesco
Ferrucci (149-1585), known as Il Tadda, in porphyry, an extremely hard purple
stone, another symbol of royalty. Together with his son, Romolo, it took Il
Tadda 11 years to sculpt the statue from stone that originally came from other
antique columns from Rome, also given by the pope. Made in six separate pieces
assembled with linchpins and copper bands, the Lady Justice stands a little
over four meters high. Like representations in Greek and Roman mythology, she
is holding a double-edged sword in one hand and scales in the other, but she is
not blindfolded.

 

In
June 1581, seven years after Cosimo’s death, the statue was raised by two
hoists and put into position with her face deliberately looking away from the
Palazzo Vecchio. But, in July that year, to add depth to the figure, Ammannati
gave instructions for her shoulders to be covered with a mantel, this time in
bronze because it was impossible to ?drape’ porphyry.

 

Lady
Justice is an enduring symbol.With her legendary impartiality, it would be
interesting to know what Lady Justice might think about the latest proposals of
the Berlusconi government to reform the administration of justice in Italy.
According to its most recent five-point programme, it would make judges liable
for their errors, just like other professionals; it would create a new court to
discipline magistrates and prosecutors who have stepped over the mark; it would
no longer be possible to appeal acquittals; it would separate the career paths
of judges and prosecutors; and it would allow for the appointment of honorary
magistrates. However, because these reforms require amending the Italian
constitution, to come into force, they must be approved by a two thirds
majority of both houses of parliament or, failing that, be confirmed by a
citizens’ referendum. Although opposition parties have strongly criticized the
draft legislation and many of Berlusconi’s detractors see it as an attack on
judicial independence and as his way of protecting himself in the high profile
trials in which he is currently embroiled, it cannot be denied that the
country’s legal system is in need of a serious overhaul. The courts are heavily
overloaded and underfunded, while it takes far too long for cases to reach
final adjudication.

 

Currently
there is an attempt to overcome this last impediment and to drastically cut the
duration of trials, the government had earlier introduced a bill to introduce
the so-called short trial procedure, or processo
breve. Its progress through the
legislature has so far been stromy and the outcome remains to be seen.

 

 

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