Emanuele Giannelli’s Mr. Arbitrium at the San Lorenzo Basilica

Running Up That Hill

Emanuele Giannelli’s Mr. Arbitrium Interrogates the Human Condition at the San Lorenzo Basilica in Florence

A web of narrow and congested lanes converge in Piazza San Lorenzo, more a widening of Via Ginori than a proper open-air piazza. Locals and tourists alike agree that, on certain days, the deepest congestions  in Florence are in the short treks between the Piazza del Duomo and San Lorenzo. Taxis and buses mix and tangle with cars and vans, horns honk, electric scooters careen, cyclists weave, and pedestrians disregard the entire affair at their own peril.

The San Lorenzo Basilica, famously unfinished, looms over its foreshortened piazza in rough stone. For years meddling Americans offered to “complete” the façade by paying to clad it in the pristine marble from Carrara as originally planned. As with the Duomo, Florentines preferred the wabi sabi effect of architectus interruptus. Leave it alone, they said. It is what it is. And so it was left in its half-finished grandeur.

Mr. Arbitrium reiterates  the metaphor for the human condition, wittily echoing the marble façade that never came to be. Carved from seemingly luminescent marble, with a wry nod to Michelangelo, this industrious cousin of the insouciant David puts his shoulder to the stone wall of the basilica in an eternal effort to move something.

Running up that hill

Alas, that something cannot be moved! Keep trying. Can anyone talk sense into Mr. Arbitrium? Apparently not – he is frozen in time, a victim of his own incentive, an example to us all. What is wasted effort? Pathetic, or poetic?

The age-old Enlightenment question is posed in the spare mise-en-scène: should man struggle against the Church? This one does, naked in his humanity. We have to take action, it seems to say. Do what we can. Now or never. Even if it seems impossible.

Emanuele Gianelli is a well-known Italian sculptor, born in Rome and based today in Pietrasanta, where the marble quarries have provisioned artists for centuries. He combines mannerist art with a modern commentary, giving passersby a pause for reflection. What does the artist mean? Does he mean this, or does he mean that? In fact, his message is one of both/and. We should persevere. We should resist. We must try.

From this moment of meditation and reflection the viewer turns around, navigates the handful of steps to street level, to rejoin the teeming horde of tourists, vendors, vehicles, bicycles: the human torrent.

Mr. Arbitrium is on display at the Basilica San Lorenzo until October 31. Additional works by Emanuele Giannelli (“I Sospesi”) are on display in the cloisters of San Lorenzo Basilica.

Basilica di San Lorenzo

Piazza di San Lorenzo 9, Firenze

Orari: Lun – Sab 09.30 – 17.30


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