What makes a patron saint a patron saint?- and why did Florence choose John the Baptist?

Having added a new patron saint and chosen St John the Baptist in the 1200’s  as their Hero does he still have any relevance to modern day people in Florence?

The image below by Jacopo del Sellaio shows St John against the Florentine skyline as it was in 1485 and clearly shows a strong sense of pride and affiliation between the city and it’s saint.


Like most Renaissance images this  painting is full of symbolism:  the bowl by his foot foretells that he will baptise Christ,  goldfinches, whose red markings were believed to have been made when they were touched by blood from Christ’s crown of thorns, are a reminder of the Crucifixion.

More unusual  is the image of an axe struck into the tree trunk on the left of the painting. It is believed this refers to a quote from Luke 3:9: “every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down.”

This was a message particularly specific to the years of Savonorola when his pointed sermons warned specifically of the punishments likely to be wielded against some of the city’s patrician elite with Humanist, if not actually pagan, tendencies – so this artist was using the aparent “sinlessness” of John the Baptist to encourage the people of Florence to behave!

Times have changed – most people don’t recognise religious symbolism, and very few people would want another “Bonfire of the Vanities” but still we enjoy the annual celebration of the life of St John the Baptist  – and so for the second year the stranieri (foreigners) based in Florence are offering some seasonal events to enjoy and to stimulate discussion.

Below are details of the programme as currently confirmed – which will no doubt be added to over the forthcoming month as already two new opportunities have emerged since the programme was announced this afternoon!

2°Festa della Cultura – San Giovanni Battista
Firenze 2013
Mostre – Convegno – Musica
Friday 21 June – Tuesday 25 June
PRESS RELEASE – lots of new notices!

The second year of the San Giovanni Battista Festa della Cultura is again dedicated to the people of Florence in celebrating the feast day of the city’s patron saint on 24th June. As before, the event will be presented by the founders of the festival i Buontalenti – a group of colleagues established to initiate creative opportunities and work for Florentine artists, musicians and writers.


We are most grateful for the continued patronage of the Comune di Firenze,
the Provincia di Firenze and the British Institute of Florence.


This year’s programme consists of a sacred art exhibition “il passato è presente II” with contemporary works by Florentine artists including Antonio Ciccone, Alessandro Vannini, Caroline Jervis, Massimo Pivetti, and Helen Bayley;sculptor Jason Arkles; photographer Neri Fadigati and visual artist Alessandro Secci.

Latest news – my friend and neighbour Luce Rafanellli has painted something especially for the Festival – a painting of Santa Spitito’s hexagonal fountain – reminiscent of the Baptistery .


These will be contrasted with classic works of San Giovanni Battista literally revealed in a fresh light by Editech, Centro Diagnostico per i Beni Artistici e Architettonici – whose multispectral diagnostic imaging and

analytical diagnostics have examined over 18 paintings of San Giovanni Battista by some of the world’s most famous artists – including this one by our old friend of the Harpies Andrea del Sarto 


There will also be a conference on 21st June “Preparing the Way II – the representation of the image of John the Baptist” with guest speakers maestro and artist Federico Maria Sardelli, musicologist and
cultural historian Kate Bolton M.Phil and Samantha Stout PhD on behalf of Prof. Maurizio Seracini from Editech.


On the afternoon of the conference, we are holding a symposium entitled “Come andare avanti? : the way forward.”
providing an open platform for both arts practitioners and the public to discuss ideas for developing the festival for Florence in the future.

This is part of our stated mission: to bring Italian and Anglo-Florentine artists and audiences closer together.

We would like to invite all Florentines to participate in this exciting forum.

All these events will be presented at the The British Institute of Florence.


On the evening of Friday 21st, also at the British Institute of Florence, will be a concert of essentially Florentine baroque music with soprano Claudia Conese and three musicians from Modo Antiquo: MaestroFederico Maria Sardelli, flauti dritti; Bettina Hoffmann, viola da gamba and Giovanni Bellini, liuto e tiorba.

On Tuesday 25th June we are presenting an organ concert with Maestro Robin Walker at the Badia of  baroque Florentine Music in honour of San Giovanni Battista. This will be a fundraising event to benefit the restoration of the 1558 Zefferini organ.

The festival is intended as a gift to the people of Florence to celebrate the life and inspiration of the city’s Patron Saint and is a non-profit venture. Furthermore, as we achieved last year, all the events are intended
to raise funds for the venues in which they are produced. We sincerely hope that all will join us in celebrating the continuing artistic and spiritual heritage of this unique city.

For further information please visit the Festival website. http://www.johnhoenig.com/JH/San_Giovanni_Battista.html