Florence – Rape of Polyxena in the Loggia dei Lanzi

This group is modern and was executed by Pio Fedi, of Florence, in 1866. The group, with its four large figures, was produced out of a single block of marble, and, until the work was executed, the sculptor was exceedingly poor and comparatively unknown, but this achievement lifted him at once out of poverty and obscurity. This remarkable work was purchased by the city of Florence on condition that the artist would not reproduce the subject, and it was placed here in the Loggia with the works of some of the greatest of Italian sculptors. It represents a mythological subject, the forcible abduction of Polyxena by Achilles. The warrior, whose form is characterized by great strength and beauty, encircles the form of the maiden with his left arm, while his right is uplifted and in its hand is a sword with which he is about to strike down the mother, Hecuba, who, kneeling at his feet, implores his mercy while she clings piteously to her child and the betrayer. The entire group is exceedingly strong, not unworthy of the immortal company by which it is surrounded, and the powerful impression which it makes upon all beholders is intensified when one recalls the fact that, on the promontory of Sigeum – so the legend goes – where, after the fall of Troy, were buried the ashes of the hero-leader Achilles, and those of his friend Patroclus, Polyxena was offered as a propitiatory sacrifice. The group is instinct with vitality, passion and action, and seems more real and lifelike the oftener you behold it.

Beyond the group and in the center of the Loggia notice Ajax supporting the body of Achilles (or perhaps Menelaus with the body of Patroclus), an ancient sculpture, freely restored, which was found in a vine-yard near the Porta Portese at Rome, and which stood for a time at the entrance of the Ponte Vecchio. An-other representation of the same subject exists at Rome, where it is known as ” Pasquino.”

At the opposite end of the Loggia is seen Hercules Slaying the Centaur Nessus, a celebrated work by Giovanni da Bologna. By the back wall are seen remark-able antique portrait-statues of Vestal virgins or priest-esses, the artist or artists being unknown. They were brought here about the middle of the eighteenth century from the Medici Villa at Rome.

There were no statues in the Loggia before the middle of the sixteenth century, and even after the three groups by Donatello, Cellini and Bologna had been placed here, the rest of the space was left free until the Grand Duke Leopold first began to fill it with sculpture.

Florence may be said to have a double heart, the Piazza della Signoria, which contains the Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi, being its political, and the Cathedral group its religious heart. We shall look at the latter group from the northwest.