Florence’s Living Statues

Lining the path from the Piazza della Signoria to the Ufizzi Gallery stand living statues. They are not fully human, nor fully statue. They are something in between. Nobody really knows who the human within the statue is, but they are no different from you or I. They stand there, sometimes motionless, sometimes interacting with passersby, but always silent. They dress in shrouds that are made from cloth but have been painted with clay to look more like marble. They have baskets or cups in front of them for people to donate coins in exchange for the entertainment. Their location in between the piazza and the Ufizzi as well as their interactions with passersby bring the city’s rich art history to life in an eerie yet captivating way. The other day, I had a particularly memorable interaction with one half-man-half-statue:

It stood motionless; only its marble shrouds swayed with the wind. A calm expression was painted white on its face, and its arms were bent at its sides as if frozen in time. I wondered how he stayed so still, as if asleep. His arms must hurt from staying in that position for so long. I stood there observing as children walked by, their eyes wide open and fingers pointing upward. One little girl, perched up on her father’s shoulder, made a face of skeptical amusement, as if she didn’t quite know what make of the living statue standing before her. Some teenagers walked by without so much as a glance, while others stopped to pose for pictures. I heard one girl tell her friends, “That’s a person”, but it seemed to me like she was convincing herself more than them.

At one point, I sat down on the steps just a few feet away from the cast figure and began to write in my notebook. I wondered who the man within the statue was. Where did he live? Did he have a family? Was this his only job, and were the scant coins in his box his sole earnings for the day? Suddenly, I heard a voice from above me. I looked up and was startled to find that the statue had come to life and was smiling down at me asking for the time. I looked at my clock, laughing at the irony of it all. It was two-thirty. “How do you stay so still?” I called up to the man. He gave no answer, it was too late; the statue had already reassumed its position.

I smiled, amused by what had just happened. After a few moments I got up, searched through my bag for some coins, dropped them into his box, and began to walk away. I suppose the clanking of new coins dropping into his box once again brought the man-statue to life, because when I looked back over my shoulder he was waving goodbye to me with that same marble smile.

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