“And so, in the manner of the mad villan, I give pact afterwards.” GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO
It is difficult to see it, up there, high, confused in a dazzling architecture that leaves everyone dumbfounded and speechless, who dares to look up to the majesty of the Duomo, sovereign and guardian of Florence since time immemorial and his most honorary citizen. One sees little, indeed one cannot see at all: it is too high, and even wishing the overall beauty of the Duomo makes visitors invisible and blind, to whom it would never occur to mind that such a majestic and solemn place hides such an unusual , bizarre, and yet immensely amusing, secret.
And yet there is, and one can also see with a little attention. Looking at the left side of the Florentine cathedral, between via de ‘Servi and via Ricasoli, we would suddenly see, among the architectural beauties and statues of saints and blessed with severe and authoritarian faces, who write the legends of the Cathedral, with our immense astonishment, a big bull’s head – even if according to some it would be an ox’s head, but little changes – with lots of horns and a somewhat annoyed look, even of scorn.
Once recovered from the surprise, which, confess without confusion, cannot but tear a smile, it will be natural to wonder: what does a bull’s head, or an ox’s head, do to us on the façade of a cathedral? A cathedral like the Duomo of Florence, moreover, admired and visited every day, from centuries of memory lost among the thick folds of time, by hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world! A place so important, crucial, not only for the history of humanity, as a paradigmatic trace of its passage on this earth, but a symbol, among the most important, of the Church and of European Christianity.
How is it possible that the feral head decorating the Florentine Duomo was approved, cleverly hidden among the sublime arches and living decorations that make the Duomo of Florence a priceless treasure for humanity? Is it really possible that Brunelleschi, author of this grandiose work at the limits of human faculties, has given his consent to the realization of such a joke? Whether or not Brunelleschi was aware of it we are not given the opportunity to know; but if he really knew about it, and let it, once carved, remain in its place where its author had put it, there is nothing left for us to do but to observe this brilliant medieval architect even more gratefully than that that we already show him. After all Florence, despite its severe authority, its undeniable artistic beauty and its inestimable cultural heritage, it is still a Tuscan city, and as such led naturally to accept and accept the joke as a cultural fact. The Tuscans are well aware of this: the joke, the joke and the goliardic spirit that are congenial to us belong to our heritage no less than the lives and works of the artists who were born near these lands halfway between sea and hill, olive trees and of the vineyards that border and color our beautiful countryside with vivid colors, and even of the majestic works of our small cities that rise proudly towards the sky. When we talk about “Tuscanness” we mean first and foremost goliardia, irreverent and often too pushy, but precisely because of this fun like no other. A student spirit to which no Tuscan is immune, not even the most severe.
An example in this paradigmatic sense is offered to us by two great men of our land, Leonardo and Michelangelo, two among the fathers of the cultural and artistic world heritage, who hating each other deeply did not miss an opportunity to make each other small annoyances and disagreements, often arguing furiously in public and not infrequently even resorting to the hands. It would never occur to anyone that two great personalities like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti could descend to such puerile and foolish behaviors, behaviors that we could define as taverns; but a Tuscan has no difficulty in imagining it. Speaking with a Tuscan, he will answer: “It is normal, we are Tuscan!”, To justify this tendency that comes naturally to us, as if to say that it does not depend on us. The joke we have in the blood, woven into the finer fibers of our being, imprinted as a mark in the DNA. This brief excursus on toscanità, I believe, is essential in order to understand the reasons that led that sculptor, particularly in the mood for jokes, to risk his career realizing the bull’s head on the side of the most important work of his time. But what story lies behind the bull’s head? And why exactly the bull and not another animal? The official version, the serious one so to speak, refers to an ancient custom very rooted at that time, consisting precisely of the fact of sculpting animals as recognition of the sacrifice of the latter, used to tow heavy carts full of marble, for the construction of such prodigious works. To confirm this, it is possible to see many other anthropomorphic gargoyles with animal-like features among the numerous marble decorations of the Duomo, as if to say that not only the elegant hand of man but also the hard, exhausting work of so many and so many animals, oxen above all, used against their will, has made it possible to create works of unparalleled beauty and value. This, in fact, the official version. But if we wanted to follow only these indications, the Tuscan nature we spoke of earlier would be lost.
There is in fact another version, symbol of the well-known Tuscan, far more curious and amusing, and therefore certainly preferable to the official one. Ancient chronicles dating back to the 1400s, when the Cathedral had already reached a fair height, it seems to have lived in the corner between Via de ‘Servi and Via Ricasoli, a rather well-known tailor in the city.
This tailor had a wife, a very beautiful and busty woman, and perhaps much more alluring than the costumes of the time did not allow, of which he was, quite rightly, very jealous. The woman seems to have entertained an extramarital affair with one of the foreman employed at the Opera del Duomo: you want such a close proximity between the marital roof and the yard, you want the boredom of married life that time inevitably fades, you want the charm that undoubtedly arouse the artists and the thrill of the forbidden. The tailor however, “beak” but not stupid or blind, discovered the relationship of his wife, after a probable scene that will have intrigued and amused the whole neighborhood, denounced the faithful wife and her lover to the Ecclesiastical Court. It is very probable that a complaint of this sort caused not a few problems to the poor foreman – and to the woman, who, branded as an adulteress, it is easy to suppose that she should not have led a very easy life afterwards – either economically (to a period was foreseen for a rather large fine for this type of crime) than for the professional one, since it remained in the eyes of his colleagues as the one who had seduced and undermined a married woman thus committing a crime. An affront of this kind is difficult to swallow, even for a Tuscan, and he deserved revenge.
When we talk about revenge, it is natural to think of some violent event, a duel, damage to a property or property, a fist fight, but in Tuscany it takes on distinctly different outlines, more subtle but much more effective.And here is the idea: why not sculpt just above the house of the “tailor beak” a beautiful bull’s head, with lots of horns and a fixed look on that corner of the street with grinning gestures, to indicate his condition as a betrayed husband ? In this way everyone would have known, the men of their time and those of the future that, looking up in that direction, would have known that in those places, once, there was just a beak. It comes natural to wonder if the tailor had seen this head staring at him mockingly, or if, seeing it, he had grasped the implicit meaning. What is certain is that the vengeful intentions of the foreman found a more than victorious outcome, and we still talk and smile about the beaked and happy tailor while all the sympathy and gratitude goes to the foreman.
Alba Rosa Gesualdo