Visiting the Florence Cathedral: snakes, lions and scorpions
The Duomo is, literally, a masterpiece made of masterpieces. Some of that masterpieces captured the imagination of the Florentines, while others give a glimpse into the real life of the artists. So: while visiting the Florence Cathedral, enjoy the Florentine Renaissance but beware the animals!
The development, the maintenance and the conservation of the priceless heritage of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore is still running since 1296. Visiting the Florence Cathedral let you experience the complexity of such a long making.
The Duomo is, literally, a masterpiece made of masterpieces: stained glasses, frescoes, statues… Along such a long history some of that masterpieces captured the imagination of the Florentines, while others give a glimpse into the real life of the artists.
North side of the Cathedral: a carved lion flanks one of the doors of the Cathedral. Usually a symbol of strength, according to Giovanni Cavalcanti, the author of the “Istorie Fiorentine”, the lion turned out to be a (very) bad omen for master Anselmo, a Florentine living in the Renaissance.
A lion with winged cherub and a lioness with cubs decorate the Porta della Balla or Porta (door) dei Cornacchini.
Cavalcanti narrates that an Anselmo, living in “Via del Cocomero” (watermelon street, now via Ricasoli: cocomero is the Tuscan word for the Italian “anguria”) had been having a recurring nightmare of being torn apart by a lion. Or better: that lion, the lion of the porta dei Cornacchini, upon which he had been stumbling everyday, on his way to work.
The brave Anselmo tried to exorcise his fears putting his hand in the lion’s mouth. But that turned out pretty bad: the statue’s mouth was hosting a scorpion which bit Anselmo, and Anselmo died the day after.
And if in the legend of poor Anselmo a lion hides a scorpion on the walls of the Florence Cathedral, on one of the doors a necktie turns into a snake…
You probably already know that the Duomo’s façade - an example of Gothic Revival - dates to the 19th century and the three monumental bronze doors date from 1899 to 1903. The right - hand door had been sculpted by Giuseppe Cassioli and he created a self - portrait on the doors.
Nothing new in that: Ghiberti portrayed himself on the North Door and on the Paradise Door of the Battistero di Sangiovanni (the Baptistery of Saint John). But Cassioli’s self - portrait has something definitely peculiar. What at first sight could seem a scarf or necktie is a snake! The commission of the Door had a lot of troubles and it took ten years: ten years of quarrels, delays, fights and criticism, now immortalised forever in the snake around the neck in the portrait…
So: while visiting the Florence Cathedral, enjoy the Florentine Renaissance but beware the animals!