iron elements on the facade - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  Iron Elements on the Facade  

A large number of iron elements, known as hooks or arpioni, were to be found on the facades of palaces and houses. They varied in form, size and function and were set on the various levels. On the ground floor the horse hooks were ring shaped or in the shape of an overturned Gothic M. In the palaces they tended to be purely decorative and were set on the base of the building at regular intervals. Actually, before the sixteenth century practically no one in Florence, even of the higher classes, kept horses or mules in the city itself. If the palace had stables, they were set at the back, often in a small building used for this purpose (B. Preyer).

On the upper palace floors, in the spaces between the windows, about half way up, the rod hooks were to be found. They were in the shape of a horizontal arm driven into the wall, terminating in a semicircle facing upwards and reinforced by a rod-like prop on which a ring was supended. Horizontally moving wooden rods passed through the rings in front of the windows, upon which clothes or curtains were hung, or animals or bird cages might be attached. Below and along the string-courses were the parade hooks to which hangings and tapestries might be hung during festivals. The banner hooks consisted of two cylindrical elements welded to an arm. In the fifteenth century they continued to appear at the corners of the palaces but they also spread to the facades, incorporating on the ground floor the rings of the horse hooks and on the upper floors replacing the rod hooks. Lastly the facade ornamentation was completed by lanterns and torch holders in wrought iron, at first very simple and gradually more complex. The lantern was lighted by setting fire to the panello, tangled oiled rags stuck on the central spike.

In the fourteenth century stone plaques carved with the family coat of arms were often placed at the two extremities of the base of the facade. In the fifteenth century the coat of arms was generally set at the corner of the palace. In Palazzo Medici the coats of arms occur in the shield on the corner of the first floor and in the spandrels of the mullioned windows.

The medieval galleries and platforms in wood were eliminated, as disturbing the order of the facade, and the crowning loggia was adopted instead, first used in the courtyards (Pal. Medici, Pazzi, Strozzi, etc.) and not on the facade (Pal. Dei-Guadagni) until the turn of the century. The loggia on the first floor flush with the facade, proposed by Brunelleschi in Palazzo Pitti, remained an isolated case (except for the suburban villa of the Medicis in Poggio a Caiano, by Giuliano da Sangallo) until it was taken up later by Ammannati and Buontalenti. The uncovered or covered roof terrace used for hanging laundry, set back from the facade, was often present even in the more modest houses.

Most of the palaces adopted a crowning cornice in classical style to conclude the facade (Pal. Medici, Rucellai, Strozzi, Gondi); in common palaces the ovolo molding at the juncture of the eaves with the facade became widespread. Crenellation, at this point no longer of any use, gave way, in most houses, to the eaves, a typically Florentine solution, whereby the rain water was deviated to the middle of the road and both the facade and the passersby were protected. In ordinary houses the solution was often the fourteenth-century one of caves supported by oblique struts. The roofs were covered with alternating courses of flat and curved tiles or by rows of curved tiles set alternately up and down. Chimneys resembled small towers, and were rarely square, the preference being round or polygonal, terminating in a cone (A. Schiaparelli).

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