Giambologna’s Little Devil

Fresco depicting the friar preaching to the Florentines and the black horse galloping above them

One day way back in 1245, San Pietro Martire was intent as usual on preaching against heretics.  A large crowd had gathered to listen to him in Piazza del Mercato Vecchio (Piazza della Repubblica), however the square was not large enough to hold the hoards of faithful who spilled out into Piazza delle Cipolle (Piazza Strozzi), making it practically impossible to transit through that part of the town.

All of a sudden, a big black horse which seemed to resemble the devil, reared up and frightened all the people who were listening in silence to the friar’s words.  The horse took off at a crazed gallop, knocking down everything it found in its path.  The crowd initially undulated, then opened up and everyone fled in different directions in order not to be trampled.  seeing the danger, San Pietro Martire raised his arm and made the sign of the cross in the direction of the crazed horse which came to a sudden halt.  As the crowd gradually recovered from the scare and moved back in stunned gratitude towards the friar, they suddenly realized that the black horse had completely disappeared and like magic had vanished into thin air.  Several centuries later, Bernardo Vecchietti commissioned Giambologna to sculpt a bronze standard-bearer in memory of this event, which was to be erected at the corner of his own palazzo (Via Vecchietti – Via Strozzi) right in the same spot where the black horse had miraculously stopped and vanished without a trace.  THis episode has been immortalized in a recently restored fourteenth-century fresco that sits atop the Loggia del Bigallo in Piazza Duomo, almost directly in front of the entrance to the Baptistery.  Here you can see San Pietro Martire on the pulpit as he blesses the crowd.  At his feet the Florentines listen enraptured while at the top, right over the heads of the faithful, you can see a black horse in full gallop.

Ciarleglio, Franco. “Giambologna’s Little Devil.” Strolling through Florence (Discovering the City’s Hidden Secrets). Trans. Susan Mary Cadby Berardi. Florence: Edizioni Tipografia Bertelli, 2003. 13-15. Print.

Statue by Giambologna that was commissioned by Bernardo Vecchietti that sits on the corner of Via Vecchieti and Via Strozzi

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