PRATO, a town and episcopal see of Tuscany, Italy, in the province of Florence, n m. by rail N.W. of Florence, 207 ft. above sea-level. Pop. (1906), 20,197 (town); 55,298 ( commune). It is situated on the Bisenzio, and is dominated by a medieval castle and surrounded by walls of the nth and 14th centuries. The cathedral of St Stephen was begun in the 12th century in the Tuscan Romanesque style; to this period belongs the narrow nave with its wide arches; the raised transepts and the chapels were added by Giovanni Pisano in 1317-1320; the campanile dates from 1340 (it is a much smaller and less elaborate version of Giotto's campanile at Florence), while the facade, also of alternate white sandstone and green serpentine, belongs to 1413. It has a fine doorway with a bas-relief by Andrea della Robbia over it ; but the most striking external feature is the lovely open-air pulpit at an angle of the building, erected by Donatello and Michelozzo for displaying to the people without risk the Virgin's girdle, brought from the Holy Land by a knight of Prato in 1130. The pulpit itself has beautiful reliefs of dancing children; beneath it is a splendid bronze capital. The contract was given out in 1428, but the work was seriously begun only in 1434 and finished in 1438. The Chapel of the Girdle has good frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi (1365), a statue of the Virgin by Giovanni Pisano, and a handsome bronze open-work screen. The frescoes in the choir, with scenes from the life of St John the Baptist and St Stephen, are by Fra Filippo Lippi (1456-1466) and are his best work; the dance of Salome and the lying in state of St Stephen are the finest of the series. Among other works of art may be mentioned the clay statue of the Madonna dell' Ulivo by Benedetto da Maiano. The massive old Palazzo Pretorio (13th century) has been somewhat modified in details; the adjacent Palazzo Comunale contains a small picture gallery 1 This combination of characters for many years led systematizers astray, though some of them were from the first correct in their notions as to the Pratincole's position. Linnaeus, even in his latest publication, placed it in the genus Hirundo; but the interleaved and annotated copies of his Systema naturae in the Linnean Society's library show the species marked for separation and insertion in the Order Grallae Pratincola trachelia being the name by which he had meant to designate it in any future edition. He seems to have been induced to this change of view mainly through a specimen of the bird sent to him by John White, the brother of Gilbert White; but the opinion published in 1769 by Scopoli (Ann. I. hist, naiuralis, p. Iio) had doubtless contributed thereto, though the earlier judgment to the same effect of Brisson, as mentioned above, had been disregarded. Different erroneous assignments of the form have been made even by recent authors, who neglected the clear evidence afforded by the internal structure of the Pratincole. For instance, Sundevall in '873 (Tentamen, p. 86) placed Glareola among the Caprimulgidae, a position which osteology shows cannot be maintained for a moment.
with works by Filippo and Filippino Lippi. A beautiful Madonna by the latter (1497) is in a small street shrine at the corner of the Via S. Margherita. The Church of S. Domenico is a Gothic edifice of 1281; that of S. Francesco has an almost Renaissance facade, fine cloisters with a good 15th-century tomb, and a chapter-house with Giottesque frescoes. The Madonna del Buon Consiglio has some good reliefs by Andrea della Robbia, by whom is also the beautiful frieze in the Madonna delle Carceri. This church, by Giuliano da Sangallo (1485-1491), is a Greek cross, with barrel vaults over the arms, and a dome; it is a fine work, and the decoration of the exterior in marble of different colours (unfinished) is of a noble simplicity. Some remains exist of the 13th-century fortress, and the large Piazza Mercatale is picturesque. The works of art visible in Prato are due, as will be seen, entirely to Florentine artists. As a whole the town has a somewhat modern aspect. The industries of Prato embrace the manufacture of woollens (the most important), straw-plaiting, biscuits, hats, macaroni, candles, silk, olive oil, clothing and furniture, also copper and iron works, and printing.
Prato is said to be first mentioned by name in 1107, but the cathedral appears as early as 1048 as the parish church of Borgo Cornio or Santo Stefano. It was subject to the Alberti until 1180, and was then under the Imperial supremacy. It appears to have freed itself from this at the end of the 13th century. In 1313 the town acknowledged the authority of Robert, king of Naples, and in 1350 Niccola Acciajoli, seneschal of Joanna, sold it to the Florentines for 17,500 florins of gold. In 1512 it was sacked by the Spaniards under General Cardona. In 1653 it obtained the rank of city.
See E. Corradini, Prato (Bergamo, 1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)