Before the gate of Palazzo Vecchio stand two statues, Hercules, by Donotello, and David, by Michael Angelo. They are of white marble, which receives additional splendour from the dark walls of the palace. The statues are bulky, ill-formed, tame, upright figures; but the, names of the sculptors bear a high authority; and we find them accordingly honoured with corresponding distinction, not only in the common guide-books, but in the Viaggio Pittorico, where they are mentioned with high praise. It is, however, added, that Michael Angelo’s David was the work of his juvenile years.
The contested spot on which the houses of the Alberti stood, is now occupied by a superb equestrian statue of Cosmo di Medici, first Grand Duke of Florence, by John of Bologna. He is represented after the conquest of Siena, as entering the city in triumph. The figure is manly, the countenance dignified; he sits his horse with the air of a conqueror, and carries his baton with much grace. The story of the vanquished city is well told, in basso relievo, on the base of the pedestal. The horse is also very fine, although, on first seeing it, the general impression was, that of its being clumsy; but, on a careful examination, I found (with the exception of the belly and hips) that it is exquisitely modelled, and bears to be viewed from every direction, a circumstance extremely rare, and which does great honour to the artist.
On one side of the square there is a fountain, executed after a design of Ammannato, over which a Neptune in a car, drawn by four marine horses, presides; at his feet, seated in a shell, are three Tritons; and on the four higher elevations of the fountain, but subservient to the great marine god, are two male and two female sea deities, in bronze, larger than life. Innumerable lesser statues, with varied shells, and other ornaments, fill and crowd the whole. The Neptune is a colossal statue of nearly eighteen feet in height, a vast and bulky figure, with a grim and surly face, presenting no visible action, except a slight inclination to one side, and a strong look of jealousy at the rival size of his surrounding attendants.
A statue of such enormous size, whether in action, or quiescent, set upright, in splendid white marble, must injure any group of buildings, however fine. Such a composition assumes the place of an obelisk, but without its beauty or lightness. Pyramids, or obelisks, placed in the centre of a city, unless very delicate and slender, should be of granite, or black marble, and their aim that of producing relief to the more massive buildings by which they are surrounded. This vast colossal statue, from its bulk, becomes almost architectural, while its brilliancy assimilates ill with the antique grandeur of the square.
If, instead of being crowded into one place, these statues, classed and arranged, were planted in different quarters of the city, each would have its full effect, and each artist receive his just meed of praise. Even if the zigzag antique forms of this square were to be altered, and its dimensions enlarged, one would he pleased to see Neptune presiding over the bridges, and David and Hercules supporting or defending the immense heavy mass of the Palazzo Pitti.