Tuscan Architecture – Italy

The Tuscan architecture may be described as presenting the image of simple grandeur. Strength and power have been considered as the sole guides on which the Etruscan architect founded his principles; but if force, security, and the means of defence, were originally his only objects, these soon gave place to a higher sentiment, combining nobleness with strength.

The great masters who flourished in the time of Cosmo de Medici, could not be ignorant of Grecian architecture; but, while introducing Grecian ornaments, it is evident they acted on the principle of perpetuating the Etruscan style; the most prominent features of which, I should say, were the vast stones, the noble square forms of their edifices, and their deep, heavy, projecting cordinates.

The great Michael Angelo had peculiarly the talent of combining in architecture the rustic with the polished, the Etruscan with the Roman, and the ancient with the modern style. The masters of that period retained the bases of the Etruscan, varied by the Roman and Grecian; but still the original style is to be traced in all their most finished buildings, a style powerful, and peculiarly marked by strength. It was hereditary, and they were fond of it; it was grand, and it pleased them; it suited the warm climate in its courts and halls, and was adapted to warlike times, from the depth and strength of its walls.

Strabo says, the most ancient Tuscan buildings were great masses of hewn stones, built without cement, such as neither weather nor time could destroy.

In the noble edifices and palaces erected in the first ages of restored art, the Florentines have maintained the simple square forms, and grand models of earlier times. They have retained the ground stone line, the coarse rustic base, the large stones, the iron rings, the stone seat, the massiveness, squareness, and the grand projecting cornice above, giving shelter from the glowing light of the midday sun.

Every house was a garrison; and the city had that gloomy cast, which all the splendour of the Ducal court, and of the embassies of foreign powers, and her excellence in art, have not entirely changed.

The walls round Florence form a circumference of five miles, and, in ancient times, were guarded by sixteen towers, having an equal number of gates. In the year 1455, Cosmo de Medici caused the circle of the wall to be extended, at which period the towers were either entirely demolished, or cut down, their existence being now only to be traced where their foundations were left to strengthen the walls. The passage across each bridge was defended by similar edifices; so as were many of the palaces and houses of individuals. The effect of these towers must indeed have been singularly striking and grand; an observation we find made in the Viaggio Pittarico, where the destruction of these ancient monuments, which guarded the walls of Florence, is mentioned with much regret. Their removal, or at least the diminishing of their number, in the interior of the city, which took place at the same period, Machiavelli mentions as having been a most salutary measure, not only as it lessened the temptation to civil broils, but also rendered the air more salubrious; the ravages of the plague, with which the city had been so often afflicted, being supposed to arise from the obstruction to ventilation which they occasioned. P> In the earlier periods preceding these events, the possession of a tower was the great distinction of every Florentine noble. It served as a castle for him and for his faction; it was a protection to his palace, to which it was attached, and rose in grandeur above the walls of the city. Within the ponderous jaws of the narrow portal of this fort, a stout man in armour was a defence against a thousand. Beneath the tower was a strongly vaulted portico, and through the roof of this, by a small square opening, was a passage into the tower, which was ascended by means of a rope.

When Totila spoiled the city, there were sixty-two towers defended by gentlemen of Florence. These arched porticos were the places of resort for the Guelph and Ghibelline factions.

But whatever might be the state of confusion into which the inhabitants of Florence were thrown by internal commotions, or the aggressions of foreign states, still, in the midst of every turmoil, they were careful to open every avenue by which their city might be enriched.

The merchants were engaged in wide-extended commerce, bringing wealth from distant shores, and bearing their proud state with Popes and Kings. Ambassadors from Florence graced every court in Europe—their relations were spread far abroad, and their influence had a powerful effect on public opinion; their houses were at once warehouses and palaces; the arcades, under which their midnight factions met, were by day the Ex-change and the place of their trade. The very form of the palaces marks at once the Tuscan origin of the city and her feudal state.