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Bats in the Florentine Renaissance

Bats were popular creatures already during the Renaissance in Italy, at least in Florence. Michelangelo, Albrecht Dürer and several other artists used bats in art and decorations and many bats can still be seen on palaces and churches in the old centre. The bats could have had a magic function, protecting the buildings on which they appeared against evil, and perhaps also symbolized luck and good fortune.
In a recent paper, long-term CAnMove collaborator Jens Rydell and Marco Riccucci, Museum of Natural History in Florence highlight the use of the bat (Chiroptera) in the Florentine Renaissance art.
Florentine bats.
Bats decorate the windows of Palazzo Capponi-Covoni in the style of Buontalenti, but they were actually made by Gherardo Silvani in the early seventeenth century. Photo: Jens Rydell


Abstract: We highlight the use of the bat (Chiroptera) in the Florentine Renaissance art. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Bernardo Buontalenti, Albrecht Dürer and several others used images of bats in their sketches, sculptures and decorations and many bat images are still to be seen on the palaces and monuments in the Historic Centre of Florence, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bats can usually be identified as such by the large ears or the characteristic wing membranes, although they constitute highly stylized artwork, often grotesque and certainly not intended to be morphologically correct. Furthermore, during the Renaissance it was not yet realized that bats are mammals, and some of the images could actually be interpreted as either birds or bats. The bat image was somehow tied to the medici Noble Family, the undisputed rulers of Florence throughout the Renaissance, where it may have symbolized cultural dark- ness or ignorance. We speculate that the bat images could also have meant happiness and prosperity, with connections to China, and protected the buildings on which they appeared. In any case, the Renaissance bat had evolved far, artistically as well as conceptually, from the bat images that personified demons or the Devil in the European medieval literature and contemporary religious artwork.

To the paper: "Bats in the Florentine Renaissance: from darkness to enlightenment (Chiroptera)"

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Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
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