It hit the news yesterday and the debate has exploded in the press: Matteo Renzi has declared that there will be a referendum to allow Florentines to decide if the facade of the Church of San Lorenzo should be finished according to drawings by Michelangelo. This is not a joke post but a summary of what is in the news, I swear.

Project by Prof. M. Ruffilli, Prof. G. Morolli, and Natali Multimedia s.r.l.).
Project by Prof. M. Ruffilli, Prof. G. Morolli, and Natali Multimedia s.r.l.).

In 2007 I wrote about a projection of Michelangelo’s drawing on the unfinished facade and presented a few points to consider against finishing the facade of San Lorenzo.  At the time it was just hypothesis. In past years I’ve enjoyed talking about this concept with art history students, who surprisingly often argue that we should finish it. In the meantime a proposal to create a temporary facade was almost approved, and funds raised. The project was also part of an elaborate joke in November 2009, in which I participated by posting this article claiming that the facade would receive a new ceramic design (see Firenze 2059).

Now, I’m afraid, there is no joke. Renzi wants to spend public money to make people go to the polls to say yay or nay to spending 3 million euros in donors’ money (though some scholars estimate that it would cost tens of millions of euros to do it the way Michelangelo had in mind, with marble from Seravezza and bronze inserts). It is possible that this call for a referendum is just a provocation, and in fact the opposition charges that the mayor is simply attempting to distract attention from other issues around San Lorenzo with this “embarrassing proposition.”

The provocation (perhaps serious) about the facade came towards the end of a press conference about the requalification of the San Lorenzo district. The vice-mayor Nardella has suggested longer opening hours for the central market and improved vehicle access. Renzi’s plan includes removing 250 licenses for “ambulanti” (vendors). The opposition (PdL) retaliates with a statement that this puts 1000 peoples’ jobs at risk. The discussion amongst politicians has little historical or art historical in it, except the one by Valdo Spini who rightly points out that there are plenty of unfinished structures and open debates that we could just as easily dig up; he reminds us that this isn’t just your average unfinished building but one by Brunelleschi, hardly ugly.

Voting systems have been activated on the websites of the two major newspapers Florence areas – Corriere and Repubblica – asking citizens to express their vote of yes or no for the facade. I am surprised by the results which so far show the “yes” side winning on the question “should we do the facade up the way Michelangelo intended?” Maybe some did not understand the question!

How would you vote… and why? Your answers… below!

Sources: La Repubblica di Firenze, Corriere Fiorentino, Comune di Firenze press releases.

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