Treasures in plain view

The Palazzo dell’Arte dei Beccai

Jane Fortune
December 4, 2014

Florence never ceases to surprise and delight me. As many times as I?ve passed the Palazzo dell?Arte dei Beccai on via Orsanmichele, I had never ventured inside until Linda Falcone and I were invited there in October to speak about our new book, When the World Answered: Florence, Women Artists and the 1966 Flood. This Florentine treasure, which once was headquarters of the guild of butchers, is now the home of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.


The palazzo?s fourteenth-century fa?ade sports three crests, each representing one of the building?s many occupants. In the center, at the top, is the crest of the butchers? guild, a long-horned billygoat (becco) attributed to Donatello. Another crest features an iris (giglio), the symbol of Florence. The third crest, with three interlocking wreaths symbolizing the arts of architecture, painting and sculpture, is for the building?s current occupant, the 450-year-old Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, the oldest art academy in the world, which has been housed in the Palazzo dell?Arte dei Beccai since 1974 (see text below this article).


When we entered the exquisite Sala delle Adunanze, its beauty took my breath away. And, as if discovering this Florentine architectural treasure were not enough, I espied two remarkable paintings for the first time.


The first is in a niche on the south side of the room: the magnificent Madonna Enthroned with Saints (1395?1400) by Florentine Gothic painter Mariotto di Nardo, son of painter Nardo di Cione. The other is, in my opinion, the Accademia?s masterpiece, The Tabernacle of Boldrone, three detached frescoes depicting the Crucifixion, painted in 1524?25 by Florentine mannerist Jacopo Pontormo (1471?1557). They were originally a roadside tabernacle near the Benedictine monastery at Boldrone, not far from Florence. On the left panel is St. Julian, wrapped in a red cape and carrying a sword; in the middle panel the Virgin Mary, in a purple mantel, and St. John, the patron saint of the Boldrone monastery, flank the crucified Christ; and on the right panel is St. Augustine, in green, holding a pastoral staff. The frescoes are painted in the style of German painter and engraver Albrecht D?rer (1471?1528), whose works at that time inspired Pontormo, and also call to mind his earlier Vertumnus and Pomona, found at the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano.


As much as I have studied Pontormo, a personal favorite, I had not seen?or even known of?this work, so to stand with it behind me as I spoke, was a very moving experience. And to think it had been ?in plain view? all this time!


The Accademia delle Arti del Disegno was founded in 1563 by Cosimo I de?Medici and Giorgio Vasari. Initially called the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno, it revived Florence?s first artists? guild, the Compagnia di San Luca (1339?1563). Among its members were Michelangelo Buonarroti, Agnolo Bronzino, Benvenuto Cellini, Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giambologna and, in 1616, its first female member, Artemisia Gentileschi. See more at (in Italian).

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