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Morgante on a tortoise

Modern copy after the original by Valerio Cioli (Settignano, Florence 1529 ca. - Florence 1599)

Bacchus exit

Naked, chubby and astride a turtle (an allusion to Cosimo's device, that is, the turtle with a sail and the motto 'make haste slowly'), the dwarf Morgante poses as a noble captain and raises his arm to ask for silence and speak, ironically replicating the courtly gesture of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitol in Rome. The statue of the most famous dwarf in the world has been in the Boboli Gardens, near the Bacchus Gate, since 1579, when it was turned into a fountain. The marble was sculpted by Valerio Cioli between 1564 and 1568 at the request of Cosimo I de' Medici, at whose court Braccio di Bartolo, aka Morgante, had been serving since June 1541. The large tortoise is an allusion to the Duke of Florence's enterprise: the tortoise with the sail and the motto 'festina lente' (hasten slowly). Due to conservation reasons, a modern copy is displayed instead of the original.

Braccio di Bartolo came from the countryside near Bologna. Affected by dwarfism, he was sold by his parents to the Florentine court of Cosimo and Eleonora, in the hope of a protected and comfortable life. At court, Braccio was immediately renamed Morgante, like the protagonist of a popular burlesque poem written by Luigi Pulci in 1483, which narrated the adventures of a giant with the intelligence of a child. That name stigmatised the contrast with the nature of a dwarf and highly intelligent court jester. Morgante was one of the favourite men at the Dukes’ court, so much so that Cosimo gave him a farm near Arezzo as a gift.⁠

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