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Santa Maria del Fiore, Firenze (Florence). Photo by Tommasso Cattabrini via Flickr (creative commons)

Today’s grotesque came to my attention via Atlas Obscura, a fantastic place to find fun, quirky facts and interesting locations to visit. This little bull figure lives on one side of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. The church is heavily-laden with sculptural decorations of many styles and subjects, but this bull has a story separate from the rest. According to Atlas Obscura, there are two popular explanations for the bull’s existence:

According to one version of the animal’s creation, it was said to be a tribute by the builders to the draft animals that were used during the building’s construction work. However there is another story that is a bit more curious, petty, and funny.

The local legend says that during the construction of the cathedral, one of the stonemasons had an affair with the wife of a rich shopkeeper in the area. When her husband discovered the betrayal, he decided to lodge a complaint directly to the ecclesiastical court, which ended the affair. Heartbroken, the stonemason decided to take revenge by creating a passive aggressive symbol of his love. The mason created the idiosyncratic bull’s head so that the animal’s horns were pointing right towards the shop of the husband as a concrete (pun intended) reminder of who his wife truly loved.” (Source: ruggero. “The Bull of Santa Maria del Fiore”. Atlas Obscura. Accessed January 24, 2016.)

It’s obvious that the latter version of the story is more sensational, but I think I’m more inclined to believe the former. I like the idea that the masons might have wanted to honor the animal who worked alongside them. Of course, with gargoyles and grotesques, it’s always difficult to know which stories to believe. Since we still know so little about their symbolism in general, there’s no way to tell which story better fits the mold, so to speak.

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