“In the city of Florence, there is a beautifully crafted bronze pig. Fresh, clear water flows from the mouth of the animal, which has become dark green due to its age. Only the snout shines, as it had been polished.”
With these words Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author and writer of plays, travelogues, novels, poems, and fairy tales described the famous Fontana del Porcellino, which is located in the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, near Ponte Vecchio.
The sculpture appears in literature as well as on screen. The Porcellino figures in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Bronze Hog” in A Poet’s Bazaar, appears in the 2001 film Hannibal, and is also seen briefly in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.
Il Porcellino is the local Florentine nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar. The fountain figure was sculpted and cast by Baroque master Pietro Tacca (1577–1640) following a marble Italian copy of a Hellenistic marble original that Pope Pius IV donated to Cosimo I in 1560 during his visit to Rome.
The original marble is today in display in the Uffizi Museum. Cosimo II de ‘Medici had a bronze copy by Pietro Tacca in 1612, which was destined to decorate Palazzo Pitti. The wax model dates back to about 1620, while the merger was not carried out until around 1633.
A few years later Ferdinand II de ‘Medici decided to transform the work into a fountain and placed it in the Loggia of the New Market.
The fountain had a function that was mainly practical, but also decorative: it provided water to merchants who traded under the balcony. At that time these merchants specialized in the sale of luxury fabrics such as silks, brocades, and wool cloths.
The base is octagonal and is enriched by a representation of the environment of the marshes where the boar lives, with plants and animals such as amphibians, reptiles, and mollusks, all of remarkable realism.
Tradition has it that you had to put a coin inside of its mouth and slide it down hoping that it ends up in the grate. As the coin descends, you had to make a wish!
A little trick was to put the coin on the tip of the tongue, so that it would have less momentum and would be sure to fall into the grate. Another thing to know is that if the coin did not fall into the grating on the first shot it was forbidden to take by the coin and try again … a double whammy!
Most times the pig was stolen and broken, to pick up the coins that were stationed in its tummy, which is why the original was taken away in 2004 and relocated to the Bardini Museum.
According to popular belief, the female wild boar is an animal associated with good luck. As such, all the women who wanted a son would rub its nose.
Another explanation for this ritual could be that the fountain, as giver of water, was in itself considered a source of well-being to drink. However, you had to lean on the nose of the animal, so that its face would shine, even in the past, given the constant rubbing of hands.
Many people, however, say that according to the original tradition, rubbing the nose of the Porcellino before leaving Florence made sure the return.