Jan Fabre, Spiritual Guards in Florence: A Narrative Review

//Jan Fabre, Spiritual Guards in Florence: A Narrative Review

Jan Fabre, Spiritual Guards in Florence: A Narrative Review


As I walked up and up the steep hill on Costa dei Magnoli, I began to wonder, How much longer?? I had forgotten how far up the Forte di Belvedere really is. And why wouldn’t it be? The fortress was built in the 16th century by the order of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici, to protect the Medici family and the Signoria, the government of Florence, against attacks on the city.

I was determined to see the exhibition Jan Fabre, Spiritual Guards before its closing on October 2nd. There were only a few days left and I wanted to see the glistening gold tone bronze statues with my own eyes. I finally made it to the top of Costa S. Giorgio, where the fortress is located, and breathed a sigh of relief. I made it.

It had been a while since I had last seen the Forte di Belvedere and I was happy to return. Situated on the highest hill of the Boboli Gardens, the panoramic view of the city of Florence is breathtaking. It makes sense, I mean, the word belvedere literally means “beautiful view.” The only other panoramic lookout that compares is the one seen from Piazzale Michelangelo.

When I finally made it through the (free!) entrance, I took a deep breath, chugged some water and off I went. Placed on the highest platform was a statue of a laughing man, standing in a puddle of water and holding a book in his hand. What is he laughing about? The fact that I walked all the way up that hill just to find a sculpture of a man laughing at me? It had to be some sort of inside joke.


I then worked my way down to the lower platform where there were both life-size sculptures and busts of self-portraits each representing a creature and each having its own expression or personality. The gleam of the sun on the gold bronze and the shadows and reflections on each self-portrait added to the depth of the artworks. The skill that went into making them was evident.

On the other side of the fortress were a series of bathtubs filled with water and one of them contained a life-size sculpture pointing its finger down towards the water or something within it. And beyond that was a grass field full of armor. The entire exhibition had an imaginative and mythological theme where it seems the artist is battling exterior forces while going through inner transitional changes.


Surrounding the wall of the entire exhibition and situated in almost every nook possible was a sculpture of a sacred scarab. It reminded me of how the Ancient Egyptians used the scarab as an important religious symbol. The sacred scarab surrounding the walls possibly represented the guardian protecting the inner psyche from harm while the individual is going through the cycle of life, its struggles and battles, death and re-birth.

The interior of the fortress exhibited bronze swords, battle armor and a video of Jan Fabre dressed in silver armor battling an unseen creature. Through the symbology of the scarabs and the armor, the artists’ works correlate with the architecture of the fortress representing protection from outer forces that may want to cause harm to those inside. While the armor represents physical protection, the scarabs represent spiritual or psychological protection.

As I walked back down the hill, (or ran, rather, to escape the approaching rainstorm), I felt accomplished. I had finally seen it. The exhibition Jan Fabre, Spiritual Guards was intriguing and thought provoking. It makes you think about what it was the artist wanted to convey or express and what message he wanted to give to his audience. His exhibited works at Forte di Belvedere and Palazzo Vecchio were all made between 1978 and 2016. I loved seeing how he has transgressed as an artist throughout the years. It was a pleasure having pieces of him in Florence.

Follow the link to find out where you can see Jan Fabre’s exhibitions.

If you’d like hear more about art exhibitions in Florence, please comment!

Post by Tessa Cole

2016-09-28T09:49:04+00:00 September 28th, 2016|