Legendary animal symbols in Italy intrigue me and they usually impart some meaning to a particular place. While visiting the lively city of Perugia in Umbria, I saw the Griffon and the Guelph Lion bronzes, medieval symbols of Perugia, as I entered the impressive gothic Palazzo dei Priori near Piazza IV Novembre in the historical center. It is a beautiful medieval building made into a museum of Italian art that originally served as the seat of the priori (first citizens) and used to host the guilds of the city. When it was first established in 1303, it was known as the Palazzo Nuovo del Popolo, the New Palace of the People.
These two bronze statues were thought to be of Etruscan origin, but it was discovered they were most likely cast in the Arsenal of Venice in the 13th century. They were the first European bronze castings made ‘in the round,’ meaning standing without support, since antiquity. However, they were first used to decorate the Fountain of the Thirsty in the main square, which was built by Arnolfo di Cambio, famous architect and sculptor, between 1271 and 1281. The Griffon and the Guelph Lion were moved to their places above the portal of the Palazzo dei Priori between 1301 and 1308.
Today, the Griffin and the Guelph Lion situated above the portal are modern copies. The original heraldic bronzes are inside the Palazzo in the atrium, on the left as you enter.
I couldn’t help but recall the bronze horses of St. Mark’s Basilica. Just like the Griffon and the Guelph Lion, the original horses are kept inside in a special room, while a replica of the horses has been placed above the portal.
Have you been to Perugia and seen these gorgeous bronze statues? What about the horses of St. Mark’s? I’d love to read your thoughts so please feel free to share below in the comments.