The equestrian statue of Cosimo I de' Medici, Neptune from the Ammannati fountain, and the copy of Michelangelo's David slyly survey Piazza della Signoria and sculptures of all periods look out with them from the Loggia of the Signoria, dominated by Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus, symbol of the Renaissance. From the tables of the historic cafés, or overwhelmed by the splendour of the monuments overlooking the square, you can't miss that protected place full of immobile observers, who in turn cannot help but be observed.
Brought back to light after restoration in 2002, the Loggia of the Signoria, or Loggia of the Lanzi, so called because the Lanzichenecchi (German mercenaries) used it for their encampment in 1527, became an open-air museum and one of the symbols of Florence, dominating the square in spite of its detached position. For a certain period it was also known as the Loggia dell'Orcagna, from the nickname of the architect Andrea di Cione, to whom it was wrongly attributed. In reality the Loggia was built by his brother Benci di Cione together with Simone Talenti.
It was built between 1376 and 1382, as a place where popular assemblies and the official ceremonies of the Florentine Republic, all public, were to be held. The building, with its late-Gothic forms, testifies to the taste for the classical, but already announces the Renaissance; it seems to be the forerunner of the style adopted by Filippo Brunelleschi to create the Hospital of the Innocents, the first Renaissance building.
The four panels, with allegorical figures of the Cardinal Virtues decorating the simple, linear façade, were the work of Agnolo Gaddi. The terrace above the Loggia, now part of the Uffizi, was built by Bernardo Buontalenti to enable the population to watch the ceremonies being held in the square below. Now it is part of the museum bar and is a splendid viewing point for watching the busy life in the square.
With the advent of Cosimo I, the Loggia was originally designed as a kind of workshop for sculptors, who by means of their works had the task of representing the clean break with the republican institutions in the city. It thus became a veritable exhibition space reserved for sculptures. Every statue displayed was to symbolise a part of the history of Florence, with numerous political references which must have been perfectly clear to the Florentines of the time.
The first to stand out under the arcade is Perseus, triumphantly holding up the severed head of the Medusa; this bronze statue, more than three metres high, is the celebrated work by Benvenuto Cellini. Another famous masterpiece, created in the 1500s, is the Rape of the Sabine Women, a work by Giambologna, who also created the incredibly dynamic statue Hercules with the centaur Nessus.
The loggia houses renaissance and more recent works, all together, but also ancient masterpieces, starting with one of the two imposing marble lions that welcome visitors on the entrance steps (the second dates from the 1600s). Their presence almost gives the impression of entering a sacred place, protected by their bulk, which is threatening and reassuring at the same time.
Patroclus and Menelaus, a copy of a Greek original, dates from the Flavian Era and the six female figures on the background wall perhaps come from the Forum of Trajan at Rome. Here, for a period, they had formed part of the decorative composition of Villa Medici. Two of these, made in more prized marbles, undoubtedly portray two matrons of higher, perhaps imperial, rank.
On the walls there are two commemorative inscriptions, one recalling the adoption of the common calendar, which in Florence took place in 1750, and the other recalling all the stages of the unification of Italy. In 1850 a thermometer and a barometer were installed on the back wall of the loggia; they were intended to have an informative function, to demonstrate scientific measurement to the people, but were felt to be out of place in relation to the value of the monumental loggia and were removed shortly afterwards.