The Perils of Primavera

Copyright Ben Rimmer

Copyright Ben Rimmer

Florence was the first city of the Renaissance. It was from the heart of that city that the flowering of arts and literature took shape and spread throughout Europe. It is the city where Leonard da Vinci and Michelangelo did some of their best work. It is no surprise, then, that art is built into the very foundations of the city. Such is the case with the Ponte Santa Trinita and the four statues of the seasons that have watched over it since 1608. One of these statues, pictured above in a photo by Ben Rimmer, was Primavera, or Spring by Pietro Francavilla. Summer and Autumn were created by Giovanni Caccini and Winter by Taddeo Landini. The sculptures have lived a perilous existence, due in part to the location of the Ponte Santa Trinita itself.

The Ponte Santa Trinita, Italian for “Holy Trinity Bridge,” spans the Arno river and was built in 1567. The bridge is itself is a work of art, involving three flattened ellipses and making it the oldest elliptical bridge in the world. The four statues were commissioned to celebrate the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici’s wedding to Maria Magdalena of Austria. World War II proved almost lethal to the four statues. In August 1944, Allied forces pressed deeper into Italy. As the Germany army retreated, four of the five bridges spanning the Arno were destroyed. Only the Ponte Vecchio was spared. Art critic Emilio Lavagnini said the destruction of Ponte Santa Trinita was the most important piece of architecture destroyed by the war in Italy.

Restoring the bridge and the damaged statues took years after the close of the war in 1945. Piece after piece of the bridge and statues were dredged from the river. Architect Riccardo Gizdulich studied had handmade chisels produced to construct the bridge in much the same way Bartolomeo Ammanati had constructed it in 1569. Stone from the same quarry was used to piece the bridge together. Art historian Bernard Berenson raised money abroad for the construction, though the bulk of the project was paid for by the Italian government. Primavera was headless for many years. It was rumored that an American GI had stolen it. It was not until 1961 that her head was found in the Arno and put back in its rightful place. Let’s hope she keeps it for at least another 400 years.