For more than seven centuries, the Palazzo della Signoria, better known as the Palazzo Vecchio, has served as the primary symbol of the civil and political power of the city of Florence. Constructed between the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries—primarily to host the Priori delle Arti (the priors of the arts) and the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, the city’s supreme governing body—the Palazzo Vecchio has undergone numerous expansions and renovations over the years. Its appearance today is largely a result of mid-sixteenth century renovations and interior decoration—at that time, the Palazzo had to adapt to its new function: serving as the ducal palace, as Cosimo I de’ Medici had intended it. After the Medici court moved to the Pitti Palace, the Palazzo Vecchio continued to host the Guardaroba and various governmental offices, until 1871, when it became Florence’s city hall.
Salone dei Cinquecento
Today, the historic Salone dei Cinquecento is still the most representative room of Florence as the main space for major gatherings, ceremonies and civic conventions. It dates to the late fifteenth century thanks to Fra Girolamo Savonarola and it served as the meeting center for the new Great Council, or Consiglio Maggiore. However, it was extensively transformed under Cosimo I de’ Medici, who became Duke of Florence in 1537 and who moved to the governmental palace three years later, along with the Medici court. After promoting the court in the north, where some of the most prominent members of his house were, Cosimo I tasked artist and architect Giorgio Vasari to make the hall more ornate, expansive and opulent: the ceiling was to be raised and decorated with historic episodes from Florence and the Duchy of Tuscany, while the eastern and western walls would illustrate the salient moments of the victory over Pisa and Siena. Among the statues adorning the hall is Michelangelo Buonarroti’s depiction of the Victory over Siena, which was donated to the Duke upon the artist’s death and which immediately took on a political and celebratory meaning.
Salone dei Dugento
The Salone dei Dugento, located in the fourteenth-century wing of the building, served as the ancient medieval council hall. Today, it is still the seat of the Florentine city council. Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano were the artists behind the magnificent frieze and ceiling, which is carved with the Florentine lily motif. Instead, it was Cosimo I de’ Medici who, in 1545, commissioned a series of tapestries depicting the stories of Joseph the Jew. Flemish artists Jan Rost and Nicolas Karcher created these works, basing their work on the designs of Agnolo Bronzino, Francesco Salviati and Jacopo Pontormo. Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure recently restored these tapestries, which will soon be on display in the hall again.