The Bronze Pig of Florence

il porcellino, bronze pig fountain, Florence Italy

I’m back in Florence studying Italian and my courses seems to be going better this time. I’m not confusing Italian and French anymore (at least during the first week). We rented a beautiful little apartment in a 15th century palazzo which has painted ceilings, huge windows, and terracotta floors. Florence is full of these wonderful old buildings and it’s such a pleasure to stay in one of them.

While I’m in Florence, I thought I’d take a break from writing about France and write about some of the curiosities of this city. Hope you enjoy the story of the Bronze Pig.

The bronze pig

new market, mercato nuovo, Florence Italy
Il Mercato Nuovo, or the New Market, where you will find the bronze pig fountain

Il Porcellino, as the Italians call him, means “the little pig”. However the bronze porker fountain sitting at the side of the New Market, or Mercato Nuovo, is really a wild boar, or a cinghiale in Italian. He supposedly brings good luck when visitors rub his snout and put a coin in his mouth. If the water washes the coin from the pig’s mouth and it falls into the grate below, you will have good luck and you will be sure to return to Florence. If not, try again. The coins are used to support an orphanage.

A copy of a copy of a copy
The first bronze boar fountain was made in 1634 and rubbing the snout for good luck was mentioned as far back as the 1700s. The bronze statue was a copy of a Roman marble statue which was a gift from the Pope to the Medici in the 1560s. And that statue was a copy of a Greek statue from antiquity. The one we see today is a 20th century copy installed when the 1634 bronze was moved into a museum because his nose was wearing thin. The current one will also probably need to be replaced soon because his snout too is already wearing through.

And the copying of the pig continues
Today there are copies of this little piggy to be found around the world. Here are some of the places you can find him: Australia, Denmark, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Monaco, Spain, and Sweden. There are 4 in Great Britain, and 12 in the United States.

Il Porcellino, the bronze pig fountain, Florence, Italy

The legend of the bronze boar of the Mercato Nuovo
In 1895 Charles Godfrey Leland, an American author with a keen interest in folklore, went around Florence collecting legends from the people and in his book we find one about the bronze boar fountain. It goes something like this:

Be careful what you wish for
It seems that there was a couple who could not have children and the husband blamed his wife and made her life miserable. One day a herd of wild pigs passed by her house and she saw that there were many babies in their group. She lamented to herself that even pigs could have babies but she couldn’t. She said aloud that she wished she could have a baby like those pigs. There happened to be a fairy nearby who decided to grant her wish. The couple was so excited when they found out they were going to be parents but were in shock when the wife gave birth to a creature who looked more pig than human. But the couple was so delighted to have a son that they raised him as their own beloved pet/son.

Love can tame the beast
As the young pig/boy matured, his human traits developed. He spoke with eloquence and was quite clever. The time came when he decided he wanted to marry, but the local girls were afraid of him. However, one young and very poor girl recognised that he was intelligent and not just an ordinary pig so she took a chance and went the whole hog – she married him.

On their wedding night she was pleasantly surprised when he shed his boar skin and revealed himself as a handsome young man. The love of a good woman had changed him from a beast into a man. However, in the daytime, he would be changed back into a boar.

Shhh… it’s a secret
The man made his wife promise never to tell anyone. If she did, he would be forever trapped in the skin of a pig and she would be turned into a frog for not being able to control her tongue.

Well, she tried to keep her secret but the story was just too incredible and she told her mother who in turn told her friends and by nightfall everyone knew the pig/man’s secret. So the wife turned into a frog and her husband stayed forever a boar. The wife/frog lived in the pool where the boar went to drink every day and chat with her. A fountain in the form of a boar now stands in this spot as a memorial to this doomed couple. And as a lesson that one must learn to control one’s tongue.

base of pig fountain, il porcellino, Florence Italy
The base of the fountain with all the little creatures that live in the water. Notice the little frog on the right who looks like she might be talking to the pig. His wife?

Another pig storyplaque at mercato nuovo for Hans Christian Anderson story of the Bronze Hog
In 1846, Hans Christian Anderson wrote a story inspired by this fountain called, The Bronze Hog. In it a poor young boy falls asleep on the back of the bronze boar and during the night, the boar comes to life and takes him through the streets of Florence. There is a plaque near the fountain commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author.

*Legends of Florence Collected from the People and Re-told by Charles Godfrey Leland 1895
*The Bronze Hog by Hans Christian Anderson, from A Poet’s Bazaar, 1846

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© 2014  Margo Lestz,  All rights reserved

31 thoughts on “The Bronze Pig of Florence

  1. Oh, I just love that story! Thank you so much for sharing it (I shall feature it in one of my weekly blogger round-ups). And, BTW, I am so jealous of your being in Florence learning Italian. I am looking forward to my retirement (in five years’ time, sadly) so that I can live in Italy for a couple of months and improve my basic Italian. Looking forward to more stories!

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it and will be honoured to be in your round-up. Florence is full of so many interesting things – I just love it here.
      Great idea to live in Italy for a few months and I’m sure your Italian will improve quickly. It’s easier when you already have French under your belt.
      And don’t worry, those 5 years will pass in no time!

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  2. Hi Margo,
    So happy to hear you’re back in Florence doing what you love! Your level in Italian must be improving every day in such a gorgeous environment. On doit parler sur Skype en français si tu veux.
    A bientôt bises
    Rose

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    • Bonjour Rose,
      I’ve only been here for a week, but already my Italian is much better. I’m doing private lessons this time and it’s working out well.
      Je veux bien te parler sur Skype. Dis-moi par email quand tu es libre.
      Bises ~Margo

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  3. Super story Margo – it made me chuckle! Lovely to hear that your Italian lessons are going well too. By coincidence I have been looking today at the idea of visiting Prato, which I understand is only about 12 kilometres from Florence. As a dress-maker I am keen to find out more about the textile industry there and, hopefully, pick up some bargains. I would also want to take advantage of this opportunity to visit Florence, so will definitely make a point of trying my luck with the bronze pig, and would love to know what other special places you recommend visiting. Best wishes, Clare

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    • Hi Clare. I’m glad it made you chuckle – it’s good for the soul.
      Just yesterday, someone was telling me that Prato is a lovely little place to visit. I didn’t know anything about the textile industry though. If you are so close you definitely should visit Florence. There is so much to see – the whole city is like a museum. Probably the best way to get an overview is to take one of the walking tours. That way you are sure to see the highlights. There is a Gucci museum here that might be interesting and I ran across this site that lists textile museums in Italy. http://www.tactiletravel.com/2012/12/5-italy-textile-embroidery-museums/ Sounds like you will have a great time. Be sure and let me know how it goes. All the best ~ Margo

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  4. Another outstanding story! I have a picture of Mary Jane petting the pig’s nose but I do not think she placed a coin in his mouth. I think we will have to make a return visit.

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    • Yes indeed, the statue is of a wild boar, or “cinghiale” in Italian – but the Italians call it “Il Porcellino” which means “little pig”. Maybe it just sounds nicer.

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  6. I remember this boar Margo. Good job ferreting out the history. It’s funny that there are bronze sculptures all over Europe that will bring good luck if you rub a certain spot. We were in Cologne recently, and a bronze statue of an attractive young woman had one of her breasts rubbed shiny. On the Charles bridge in Prague, it’s a hunting dog. I wonder where this practice originated? ~James

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    • Hi James. You’re right, bronze statues always have one shiny good luck part. In Verona, Italy there was a statue of Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet) and she also had one shiny breast. It seems that in Europe, or at least in France, there are lots of superstitions. Maybe it’s just part of the culture, but it sure is hard on bronze statues – they have to keep being replaced because they rub through. 😦 Best -Margo

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  8. I love your piece Margo. I was with friends who bought a bronze boar in florence which now greets visitors at their La Rusticana D’Orsa vineyards in Northern California. there is another superstition which I cannot locate … The turning of one’s heel in the groove of the marble floor inside La Galleria, Milano….

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    • I’m not surprised. When I was there a few years ago it was worn through in places. It’s a good idea to just replace the snout and not the whole hog. Much cheaper and it will be worn away in no time too.

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    • Hi Jim, I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you could get a statuette of the pig. I guess you would just have to do an online search.
      Unless you are in Florence, then you would be able to find them in souvenir shops or museum shops. Best of luck in your search.

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  12. Margo,
    I am making a trip to Italy this April 2017 and am eager to do a brass rubbing like the ones you can do in England. Do you happen to know of any in Florence? I have googled it, but alas nothing pops up!
    Thanks so very much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ellen,

      What an interesting idea! I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that in Florence and I didn’t find anything online either. The brass rubbing may just be a British thing.

      However, I did find a young woman who did rubbings of manhole covers in Florence. Her father does them in Pennsylvania and she went to Florence and did the same. Have a look at this site: http://artbydwight.com/the-apple-doesnt-fall-far-from-the-tree/ Of course, you need to be brave enough to sit down and work in the middle of the street, so it may not be ideal for everyone.

      Have a great time in Florence – whether you find anything to rub or not. 🙂 When you are there, you can ask around at museums and tourists offices too.

      Best of luck, and let me know how it goes.

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