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The Apennine Colossus by Giambologna.

Man out of Mountain: The Striking Figure of the Apennine Colossus


"… great father Apennine, lifting elate to heaven his snow-crowned head…"

At the feet of the Apennines, Aeneas and his men defeated the Latins in one of the first victories of the early Romans. Amid flying arrows and screaming men, the Latins laid down their weapons and were taken by Aeneas' army while Father Apennine watched. Since then, the Apennine Mountain Range has seemingly had a life of its own. Giambologna, a 16th century Renaissance sculptor, worked a magic of his own when he gave Father Apennine a face in the gardens of Villa di Pratolino. When one gazes up at the Colossus, the superhuman figure is not only imposing, but threatening, as if daring visitors to endanger his territory.

The Apennine Colossus.

The Apennine Colossus. (Pruned)

Inspiration for the Apennine Colossus

Rising 35 feet (10.67 meters) into the sky, the colossal sculpture towers over any and all who step into his shadow, as if all that surrounds the ‘great father’ is at the absolute mercy of his power. Portraying the Apennines as an ancient, wizened guardian, the sculpture seems inhumanly made—as if the gods watching over Aeneas himself chose to craft man out of mountain. As Father Apennine is not depicted in ancient artworks (at least none that have been found), and the description by Virgil is limited to "father" and "snow-crowned head", Giambologna is believed to have drawn on the titan Atlas when giving a face to the mountains.

The Apennine Colossus.

The Apennine Colossus. (Provincia di Firenze)

The titan who holds the world on his shoulders as punishment for his crimes against the Olympians (before they were the Olympians, of course), Atlas has been described as a wise fatherly figure who knows as much as he holds on his shoulders. The brutish musculature Giambologna incorporated speaks to the strength of both Titan and mountain range, while the long, thick stalactite beard embodies the knowledge of the ages .

Detail of the face of the Apennine Colossus

Detail of the face of the Apennine Colossus. (Art in Tuscany)

However, the statue should not be pigeonholed into this one persona. When taking into account the aforementioned physicality of the Apennine Colossus, one is also reminded of the Roman demi-god Hercules. Hercules is one of the few pagan deities who openly withstood the test of time—his person utilized long after the adoption of the Christian faith, and heavily revitalized in the Renaissance as a symbol of Italian endurance. Just as Apeninne, Hercules defends and protects his country, enduring as long as the mountains themselves.

The Apennine Colossus.

The Apennine Colossus. (Youtube Screenshot)

Intricate Detail that Sets the Apennine Colossus Apart

What is most stunning about the Apennine Colossus, however, is not merely the impressiveness of his creation. Equally unusual and unique about the sculpture is that the interior of the colossus is intricately carved and carefully planned. Just as the colossus is intended to personify the Apennine Mountains, one could claim that the mountain range personifies the man. Within the statue there are "countless caves, water cascades and ravaged by time mechanical, hydraulic and acoustic devices intended to amuse and impress any visitor of the park."

Section of Appennino. Illustration by P. van der Ree.

Section of Appennino. Illustration by P. van der Ree. (Pruned)

It is as if the entirety of the sculpture is a metaphor for the wealth of Nature and the power of humans to protect and defend her. Water flows within the Colossus in two fountains, with a water organ unleashing jets of water over unsuspecting guests on command. Meanwhile a fireplace waits to burn in the forehead of the man. The elements seemingly meld into one human form, perpetually linking the forces of Man and Mountain in the strongest, most definitive allegories constructed.

Sculpture of "Appennino" from Giambologna. Located in Villa Demidoff, Pratolino (Florence, Italy).

Sculpture of "Appennino" from Giambologna. Located in Villa Demidoff, Pratolino (Florence, Italy). (Valerio Orlandini/CC BY SA 2.5)

Home of the Apennine Colossus

The sculpture is now part of the Villa Demidoff just outside of Florence, Italy - the villa forged out of the remains of the previous Villa di Pratolino (1569-1599) belonging to the Medici family. The current villa was built much more recently, in 1872, and the Apennine Colossus was incorporated into the newer structure.

Villa di Pratolino, the lower half of the garden, by Giusto Utens, 1599 (Museo Topografico, Florence)

Villa di Pratolino, the lower half of the garden, by Giusto Utens, 1599 (Museo Topografico, Florence). (Public Domain)

Originally, the sculpture was crafted by Giambologna, an artist who straddled Renaissance and Mannerist art in his works. Between 1579 and 1589, the artist forged the colossus within the gardens of Villa di Pratolino. It is believed that Giambologna's initial plan was to give the nearby Apennines a persona, forging a man as imposing as the Apennine mountains out of nature. Yet the sculpture's placement within the Medici family gardens indicates an even stronger correlation between Man and Nature. Just like the mountains, the plants of the gardens grew from the earth, but have been manipulated for the purposes of Man, by Man. When considering the statue in this mindset—rather than merely as a personification of nature—the symbolism of the sculpture strengthens.

Top Image: The Apennine Colossus by Giambologna. Source: Antonio Scaramuzzino/CC BY NC ND 2.0

By Riley Winters


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Virgil. The Aeneid. (trans. Robert Fagles, 2008.) Penguin Classics.

Riley Winters's picture


Riley Winters is a Pre-PhD art historical, archaeological, and philological researcher who holds a degree in Classical Studies and Art History, and a Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor from Christopher Newport University. She is also a graduate of Celtic and Viking... Read More

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