Leonardo’s horse-head lyre

I mentioned in a previous post that Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi is inspired by two unfinished paintings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, his own version of the recently restored Adoration theme (also in the Uffizi) and Jerome in the Wilderness.

As well as this Botticelli added other devices associated with Leonardo – the hanging Baroncelli figure based on a sketch from one of Leonardo’s notebooks is an example. Another is the head of the white horse resting on the arms of Giuliano de’ Medici and the assassin Francesco de’ Pazzi.

Botticelli alludes to Leonardo’s horse-head lyre resting on the arms of Giuliano de’ Medici

Leonardo was an accomplished musician. He is noted for having made a silver lyre in the shape of a horse’s head which he brought with him as a gift for Ludovico Sforza when he moved to Milan . The instrument was known as a “lira da braccio”, literally an “arm lyre”, and a forerunner of the violin – hence the horse-head resting on the arms of the two men.

But Botticelli has implied a further interpretation which connects to a participant in the Pazzi consiracy itself, the Arcbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati. For his part he shared the fate of four other conspirators when ropes were tied around their necks and they was left hanging from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria.

The poet Poliziano afterwards wrote of what had happened, stating that when the Archbishop was hung from the window he sank his teeth into the body alongside him and wouldn’t let go. It happened to be Francesco de’ Pazzi, which is the reason why Botticelli shows the horse with its mouth open ready to bite the arm of Giuliano’s assassin. The horse’s dripping ‘saliva’ is a pun on the name Salviati.

There are claims that Poliziano’s story was an exaggeration on his part, Botticelli may also have been referring to the poet’s ‘silver tongue’ when he depicted the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ swelling on Francesco de’ Pazzi’s face!

Further Leonardo connections in the next post.

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