The Public Commemorative Monument: Mino Da Fiesole's Tombs in the Florentine Badia

Article excerpt

In the third quarter of the fifteenth century Mino da Fiesole carved two tombs for the oldest monastic foundation in Florence, the Benedictine abbey known as the Badia.l The first tomb, completed about 1468, was essentially a private commission for the Florentine jurist Bernardo Giugni (Fig. 1). The second, paid for by the monks at the Badia and only finished in 1481, honored the memory of their founder Count Hugo of Tuscany (Fig. 2). Produced over the course of more than two decades, these monumental marble wall tombs are Mino's most famous works. They reveal his skill as a sculptor of portraits, reliefs, and elaborate decorative moldings, as well as his sophistication as a designer of complex architectural structures. Moreover, the extraordinary diversity of contemporary and ancient sources that Mino marshaled in these tombs proclaims his individuality and distinguishes him from the other sculptors active in midcentury Florence.2

Giorgio Vasari describes Mino as a slavish student of Desiderio da Settignano, and his misguided notion of the artist has colored later historical interpretations of Mino's works in the Badia.3 Mino da Fiesole's tombs are too often dismissed as re-creations of their great predecessors, the tombs of Leonardo Bruni by Bernardo Rossellino (Fig. 3) and of Carlo Marsuppini by Desiderio (Fig. 4) in S. Croce. In fact, they represent careful reconsiderations of the language employed in the Bruni and Marsuppini tombs, refashioned and articulated to memorialize two particular individuals and the ideals they embodied. The personifications of Justice and Charity depicted in relief above the effigies of Giugni and Count Hugo articulate the symbolic purpose of the tombs. Together, these two monuments address the profoundly public issue of civic virtue.

The tombs of Bernardo Giugni and Count Hugo of Tuscany stand today at opposite ends of the modern church of the Badia, on the west wall of the right transept (viewed from the entrance) and the center wall of the left transept, respectively (Fig. 5). Neither, however, is in its intended position. Originally, the Giugni tomb stood on the east side of the thirteenth-century church, where the high altar of the rebuilt church would be erected in the seventeenth century. In its turn, the Count Hugo Tomb was originally installed in the choir chapel, which once opened to the south and not to the west, as it does today (Fig. 6).4 That these two tombs were to be treated as a pair was clear: when the sumptuous tomb of Count Hugo was ordered from Mino da Fiesole, the sculptor was requested, according to a seventeenth-century account, to produce a tomb "in the same form as that of the Knight Bernardo Giugni."5 Although they never faced each other directly, the two tombs complement one another in both visual and conceptual ways that have never been fully appreciated. Arched lunettes crown aediculae that contain effigies and centralized relief personifications of single virtues. These formal parallels assert a thematic affinity.

The history of the commissioning of these tombs and their position within Mino da Fiesole's career highlight their importance as a pair. A single contemporary account from the now-displaced archive of the Badia exists for Bernardo Giugni's tomb: in 1468, Ugolino Giugni, Bernardo's brother and the bishop of Volterra, paid 20 lire 12 soldi to Mino di Giovanni for work he had done on the tomb.6 Begun after 1464, the year the sculptor returned from an extended stay in Rome, the Giugni tomb was likely completed two years after Giugni's death on July 5, 1466. The inscription on the upper right-hand corner of the sarcophagus records the exact death date and, therefore, could only have been added after Giugni died. The tomb surely was ordered before Giugni's death in 1466 and well under way by 1468 when Mino received the payment from Ugolino Giugni. That it must have been finished by 1469 would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Mino received a commission in that same year for a second tomb in the Badia. …