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François, Alessandro

Date born: 1796

Place born: Florence, Italy

Date died: 1857

Place died: Florence, Italy

Archaeologist; discoverer of the "François Vase" (inv. 4209). François traveled widely as a young man. In 1825 he elected to excavate Etruscan sites, beginning with Cosa (until 1828) and then at Cortona in 1843. He also worked at digs in Volterra, Fiesole, Vetulonia, Populonia, Chiusi and Vulci. In 1844 François discovered black-figure vase fragments at Fonte Rotelle near Chiusi in the vicinity of several plundered tombs. The spectacular sherds immensely impressed the archaeologist Arcangelo Michele Migliarini (1779-1865), who encouraged François to search for more fragments. In 1845 François recovered five more pieces. The pieces were assembled by Vincenzo Monni and Giovan Gualberto Franceschi into a complete vase. The size and quality of the vase made it an immediate sensation. Leopoldo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, purchased it for the Uffizi in 1846. Emil Braun (q.v.), first secretary of the Archaeological Institute of Rome, was the first to published it. An additional piece was discovered and donated to the museum by Carlo Strozzi. François, who worked as the commissary of war for the Duke, had an abiding dream to found a museum comprising his finds. Together with the epigrapher A. Noël des Vergers (1805-1867) he created his own excavation society. He kept his finds in his home in Florence. When numerous attempts to found a public museum failed in Italy, he turned to the French government, also without success. In 1857 François made a second great find, an Etruscan painted tomb, now believed to be fourth century. Once again official interest in establishing a museum of his collection grew. François fell ill however and died the same year, never able to fulfill his dream.

François lent his name to two important monuments in art history: the François Vase and François Tomb. A major monument in the history of Greek pottery, the François Vase is a large (66 cm) volute krater in a black-figure design, signed both by the potter, Ergotimos, and the painter, Kleitias. The Attic work has been dated to 570 B. C. In 1900, a disgruntled museum guard threw a stool at the case and smashed the François Vase to pieces (638!). It was restored in by Pietro Zei, incorporating the Strozzi fragment, but missing another piece which had been stolen. That piece was returned in 1904. A new reconstruction was performed in 1973. Today the krater is located in the Florence Archaeological Museum.

Home Country: Italy

Sources: "François, Alessandro." Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 461-62; "François Vase." ibid, P. 463; Minto, Antonio. Il vaso François. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1960; Materiali per servire alla storia del vaso François. Rome: Istituto poligrafico e zecca dello stato, 1981.

Bibliography: [François left no published writing].