The guidebooks referred to the piece as “a colossal stone basin from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, “but Langdon always saw it for what it truly was-the world’s largest bathtub. They really need to put that thing somewhere else.
(Dan Brown, Inferno)
As we have already mentioned in a previous post, in the center of the Boboli Gardens is a place called the Amphitheatre, which is in the shape of a horseshoe.
At the center of this very scenic place are an Egyptian obelisk and a granite Roman basin. Both were placed here in 1841.
The obelisk came from Rome. It was built in Luxor and dates back to about 1500 BC.
At the beginning of sixteenth century, the impressive granite basin was still in front of San Salvatore in Lauro Church in Rome; then it was transferred to Villa Medici, in Rome, in 1587 by Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici.
Finally, it was brought to Florence in 1787 and placed in the Boboli Gardens.
This basin is a huge bathtub with key rings on both sides and a gorgonian carved on the long side.
The gorgonian looks dramatic: with eyes and mouth wide open, similar to Greek theatrical masks.
Tradition says that the tub came from the Caracalla Baths, but maybe it was the Baths of Traiano, whose frigidarium was in the vineyard of San Pietro in Vincoli, in whose square was placed the second-biggest tank of the Roman era, which is now in the Giardino della Meridiana in the Boboli Gardens.
An inventory of the artworks brought from Rome to Florence from 1780 to 1788 mentions that the tank was broken and had been reassembled in various places. Its surface was also chipped.
The structure of the Roman baths included a large tub of hot water (alveus) in which people could linger and even swim. The baths offered a warm environment in which to stop (tepidarium) and other environments (frigidarium) with smaller tanks of icy water, where swimmers could dive to tone and strengthen the body.
We do not know to which of these environments belonged the Boboli tank, but we can speculate that it contained unpleasant but very healthy cold water!
Anyway, in Roman times, there was a real passion for thermal baths and basins, and tanks like this were used not only within but also outside the spa, such as decorative elements.
It is also important to remember that the baths were not a luxury reserved for the few but were common all over Rome: there were male and female spas, public and private baths and, of course, the magnificent baths of the emperors.
Not all of them could have tanks as valuable as those of Boboli.
Maybe Langdon has a point: the visions of grandeur that the Romans had were sometimes in danger of becoming ridiculous… But Rome was Rome, so we can forgive this great city some of its minor sins.
Anyway, as a bathtub, it is really huge! 😉
We do not know why the Medici wanted to place the tank there. The desire for grandeur of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany was probably not much less than that of the ancient Romans.
Pictures by Wikimedia