Dante Sodini, Sant'Ambrogio

Dante Sodini
Museo dell'Ottocento
Height: 129 cm; Width: 129 cm; Weight: 45 cm;

Plaster model made in 1882-1887 by Dante Sodini, depicting Saint Ambrose (340-397 AD) in half-length. This is the preparatory work for the marble relief seen in the portrait gallery of artists on the cymatium of the Cathedral facade. The great saint is shown with a mantle over one shoulder, held against his chest by the palm of his right hand. Under this we can see a robe with the adorning pallium band of the archbishops. With the other hand he holds a staff, indicating his role as pastor, in this case for the archdiocese of Milan. His face, of a man in his sixties, with a beard and bald brow, bears an expression that reveals a firm and gentle soul.

Ambrose is the patron saint of Milan but has no such role for Florence. He visited Florentia of the Roman era and is said to have founded its oldest basilicas; he was also the teacher of the first bishop of the city, Zenobius. His celebration on the facade was in any case justified, because he was one of the initiators of Christian poetry, in particular as the author of the Latin hymns, including the one for the Virgin Mary, Fit porta Christi pervia: this is the hymn sung by the people on the occasion of the feast of the Annunciation, meaning the feast of Our Lady of the Flower.

For these reasons, he is figured in the portrait gallery of great artists native to Florence or otherwise linked with its history, contributing to the iconographic program of the façade. The program, developed by Emilio de Fabris together with the philosopher Augusto Conti, centers on the theme of Christ and Mary and aims to express "the greatness of Christianity in itself, and its harmonies with civilization, especially for the gentle inspirations that derive from Christian worship to the Mother of the Redeemer" and among these "Useful Arts, Sciences, Fine Arts". The celebration of the glories of the past was part of the Risorgimento (literally “rise again”) culture of the 19th century, in the times of liberation and reunification of the different states as the new Kingdom of Italy.

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Museo dell'Ottocento