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Buontalenti Grotto (Grotta di Buontalenti)

Author
Giorgio Vasari (Arezzo 1511 – 1574 Firenze), Bernardo Buontalenti (Firenze 1531 – 1608), Baccio Bandinelli (Firenze 1493 – 1560), Vincenzo de’ Rossi (Fiesole 1525 – Firenze 1587), Giambologna (Douai 1529 – Firenze 1608)
Date
1557 – 1587
Conservation
2012 and 2016

The Buontalenti Grotto (also called “Grotta Grande” in Italian) is located in the far north of the Boboli Gardens alongside the entrance to the Vasari Corridor. The Grotto’s origins are linked to the construction of the aqueduct coming from the Ginevra spring, whose construction began in 1551 for the purposes of supplying water first to the Boboli Gardens and then to Palazzo Vecchio. In addition to the pipeline leading from the Gardens to the Palace, a reservoir was built to ensure a continuous water supply even during dry periods. The first works began in 1557 under the direction of Davide Fortini, son-in-law of architect and sculptor Niccolò Tribolo who oversaw the first project of the Boboli Gardens. The same year the task was passed to Giorgio Vasari, who created a façade with Tuscan columns and pilasters supporting an architraved pronaos. The façade featured two niches where the sculptures of Apollo and Ceres by Baccio Bandinelli would stand in 1560. The reservoir later lost its original function and Grand Duke Francesco I decided to transform it into a grotto. Between 1583 and 1587, Bernardo Buontalenti directed the reservoir's transformation, modifying Vasari's architectural layout and designing the entire decorative part. In 1583 the walls of the three rooms which make up the grotto were completed. Between 1583 and 1584, sculptor Piero di Tommaso Mati worked on creating the figures in the first room, completed the following year with the placement of Michelangelo's four Slaves in the corners of the room.  Between 1586 and 1587, Bernardino Poccetti carried out the painted decoration of the three rooms. In 1587 the group of sculptures by Vincenzo de’ Rossi was installed in the second room. Between 1592 and 1593, the basin in African green marble supported by a marble pillar with four satyr figures was placed in the third room; Giambologna's Venus statue was placed on the basin in 1572 approximately. Upon Francesco I's death, the works continued under the guidance of his brother Ferdinando, who commissioned the façade. The three interior rooms are not aligned with one another but rather offset in such a way that from the outside it is possible to look deep into the Grotto and fully appreciate the beauty of the Venus sculpture.

The Buontalenti Grotto (also called “Grotta Grande” in Italian) is located in the far north of the Boboli Gardens alongside the entrance to the Vasari Corridor. The Grotto’s origins are linked to the construction of the aqueduct coming from the Ginevra spring, whose construction began in 1551 for the purposes of supplying water first to the Boboli Gardens and then to Palazzo Vecchio. In addition to the pipeline leading from the Gardens to the Palace, a reservoir was built to ensure a continuous water supply even during dry periods. The first works began in 1557 under the direction of Davide Fortini, son-in-law of architect and sculptor Niccolò Tribolo who oversaw the first project of the Boboli Gardens. The same year the task was passed to Giorgio Vasari, who created a façade with Tuscan columns and pilasters supporting an architraved pronaos. The façade featured two niches where the sculptures of Apollo and Ceres by Baccio Bandinelli would stand in 1560. The reservoir later lost its original function and Grand Duke Francesco I decided to transform it into a grotto. Between 1583 and 1587, Bernardo Buontalenti directed the reservoir's transformation, modifying Vasari's architectural layout and designing the entire decorative part. In 1583 the walls of the three rooms which make up the grotto were completed. Between 1583 and 1584, sculptor Piero di Tommaso Mati worked on creating the figures in the first room, completed the following year with the placement of Michelangelo's four Slaves in the corners of the room.  Between 1586 and 1587, Bernardino Poccetti carried out the painted decoration of the three rooms. In 1587 the group of sculptures by Vincenzo de’ Rossi was installed in the second room. Between 1592 and 1593, the basin in African green marble supported by a marble pillar with four satyr figures was placed in the third room; Giambologna's Venus statue was placed on the basin in 1572 approximately. Upon Francesco I's death, the works continued under the guidance of his brother Ferdinando, who commissioned the façade. The three interior rooms are not aligned with one another but rather offset in such a way that from the outside it is possible to look deep into the Grotto and fully appreciate the beauty of the Venus sculpture.

The first room is home to a pastoral scene of stalactites, stalagmites, sponge-like rocks and the mosaic of marble and red porphyry created by Piero Mati. At the base of the two side walls are two basins which would have reflected the sculptures above. The vault painted by Poccetti depicts the ruin of a dome populated by European animals as well as exotic African and Central American species. The decoration in the second room is more classic in composition, where the sponge-like materials create gabled niches and, on the ceiling, geometric panels with shells and stone droplets. The third room is decorated with a trellis of climbing vines, roses and bindweed. Various species of bird populate the vault and the sides of the room feature niches decorated with shells and mother-of-pearl.

In its lower part, the façade has an opening with two columns supporting a trabeation. Above, an archway decorated with stalactites is topped with the Medici coat of arms. At the sides, the figures of Peace and Justice are represented in mosaic. At the base of the sides there are two niches with the sculptures of Apollo and Ceres, while panels with mosaic decorations embellish the upper part. The top of the façade is closed by a gable decorated with stalactites and sponge-like material.

Given its extremely delicate nature, the Grotto was restored several times in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; in 1908 the four Slaves by Michelangelo were transferred to the Accademia Gallery and replaced with concrete replicas.

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