A sculptural spruce stands more than 22 metres high in piazza della Signoria, its metallic branches stretching up into the sky. The installation by Piedmontese artist Giuseppe Penone is the tallest statue ever to be placed in a public space in the centre of Florence.
The statue took up temporary residence in the piazza on March 25 as a tribute to Dante Alighieri on the day chosen by the Italian government to commemorate the 700th anniversary year of the Florentine poet’s death.
Abete (Spruce) is seen a metaphor for Dante’s Paradiso, the final cantica of the Divine Comedy, and more precisely lines 28-30 from Canto 18: l’albero che vive de la cima / e frutta sempre e mai non perde foglia (that tree that thrives / from summit down, / bears constant fruit and never loses leaf), remarks made by Cacciaguida degli Elisei to describe Dante’s disbelief at the sights around him.
For the artist, who was born in Garessio, near Cuneo, in 1947, the tree is an image of a youth spent in the woods of the Maritime Alps. The trunk and branches are constructed in stainless steel alloy wrapped with a net that gives the sculpture the feeling of ascendancy. The 18 elements that form the statue were shaped in bronze using a bamboo cast fusion technique.
“Contemporary art in piazza della Signoria has sparked heated debate since the times of Michelangelo’s David and Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. It has always been a sign of the vivacity of Florentines, who can now meditate (or, why not, argue) about the many meanings of Penone’s installation,” Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Galleries, remarked at the press conference, which was held virtually. “The fact remains that this ‘Dantesque’ tree, for which the artist intended to refer to the poet’s verses, blends an abstract idea of nature—deliberately made in metal—with the stone concreteness of central Florence.”
Penone’s sculpture is a preview of the Dante-centric contemporary art exhibition, Alberi In-Versi (Trees In-Verses), which is scheduled to run at the Uffizi from June 1 to September 12.