In my previous post I revealed how the portraits of Sandro Botticelli and Hugo van der Goes featured in corresponding versions of the Adoration of the Magi, suggesting that Van der Goes may have visited Florence in connection with his painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds, commissioned for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.
Further research has produced evidence to suggest that Botticelli likely travelled to Flanders and, in particular, to the Flemish region of Brabant and the city of Leuven, now part of Belgium.
While in Louven, for whatever reason, it appears that Botticelli visited St Peter’s church and laid eyes on the famous altarpiece (still displayed there) painted by Dieric Bouts – the Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament. The triptych was commissioned in 1464 and completed four years later in 1468.
As Bouts died in May 1475, it is likely that Botticelli’s visit would have occurred sometime during a seven year span between 1468 and the early part of 1475.
Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi incorporates in detail some of the iconography and ideas embedded in the Bouts triptych, particularly in the centre panel depicting the Last Supper. I can only assume that this detailed knowledge was given to Botticelli by Dieric Bouts himself, which may further explain why Hugo van der Goes, a close associate of Bouts, placed portraits of the two artists side by side in his Adoration triptych known as the Montforte Altarpiece.
So why did Sandro Botticelli decide to include a profile of the Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes in his Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi, and Van der Goes do likewise and feature Botticelli in the Monforte Altarpiece?
Did the two artists meet at some time, perhaps in Florence after Hugo was commissioned to produce an altarpiece for the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova? Or maybe on his way to making a pilgrimage to Rome?
Botticelli’s self portrait is shown above (left). In Hugo’s painting he is depicted wearing a blue cap and staring at another artist, Dieric Bouts who was deceased at the time. The reason why Hugo painted the cap in ‘cobalt’ blue was to reference the German mythical Kobold, a house sprite reputed to play malicious tricks if insulted or neglected – and a fitting description for Botticelli’s reputation for vindictive humour, often expressed in through his paintings.
Not seen in the frame above is the piece of rock placed across the chest of Bouts. It’s there for two reasons, but in this instance relates to the Kobbold and hints at the probable cause of Bouts’ death. Wikipedia explains: “The name of the element cobalt comes from the creature’s name, because medieval miners blamed the sprite for the poisonous and troublesome nature of the typical arsenical ores of this metal (cobaltite and smaltite) which polluted other mined elements.”
As a young apprentice, Bouts was probably tasked to grind minerals and rocks as part of the process in preparing paint. It likely contributed to his health problems later in life. This may also explain why Hugo van der Goes descended into bouts of depression and odd behaviour. Botticelli also struggled with depression.
Hugo van der Goes gave himself a prominent position in the Monforte Altarpiece, almost centre stage. Draped in black, an indication of his approaching death, he depicts himself as the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Frederick III, perhaps somewhat in recognition of his own vainglory.
Botticelli paints Hugo in the role of Balthazar, said to be a Babylonian scholar, in the secondary line of Magi. The iconography relating to this is detailed and complex, but one example is the striped scarf around his shoulders, the stripes representing myrrh and its association with death.
But there is another reference Botticelli creates with the scarf – that of a goose, a play on Hugo’s name, Goes, and its pronunciation “hoose”. The goose shape with its long neck can be seen by turning the feature on its side. Another pointer to the long neck might be the inferrence that Hugo was sticking his neck out by taking on a commission in Florence and the work from the mouths of local artists. Perhaps this is why Van der Goes responded by showing the figure in front of Botticelli with a long neck and what appears to be a ‘steel’ collar pointing to Botticelli’s cheek!
As said, there is more iconography related to this section of Botticelli’s painting which I will post on another time. Enough to say at this stage the ‘spat’ between the two artists suggests the Monforte Altarpiece was painted after the completition of Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration.
Experts cleaning a supposed imitation of a Botticelli painting have discovered it was actually created in the Renaissance master’s own studio. The work had been thought to be a later copy of the Madonna of the Pomegranate, painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1487. But English Heritage conservators changed their minds after scraping thick yellow varnish off the painting. Extensive tests showed it did in fact originate from Botticelli’s 15th Century workshop in Florence. More details at this link
I recently pointed out the face of Leonardo da Vinci as one of several references to him made by Botticelli in the Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi.
Botticelli, in fact, had mirrored one of the figures in Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s version of Tobias and the Angel (1460). The model for the angel Raphael was Leonardo. You can see Botticelli’s figure of Leonardo points to the ‘wing’ of the man next to him. He has also placed a ‘red-wing’ on Leonardo’s shoulder to reference the ‘red kite’. Then there is the ‘fluted’ folds on the shoulders of the two men standing behind Leonardo to echo the ‘fluted’ wing of the stooped figure on the opposite side of the picture, also meant to represent Leonardo from behind. So we have two depictions of Leonardo – from the front and from behind.
This points to another image produced by Pollaiuolo, an engraving known as the Battle of the Naked Men (c 1370-80). Its two central figures are likely front and back versions of Leonardo da Vinci.
Pollaiuolo may have also featured Leonardo in other works depicting combat between naked men: the panel painting showing Hercules crushing Antaeus (1470-75) and, perhaps, the bronze sculpture he made on the same theme (1470s). Both items are housed at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. As to which figure portrays Leonardo, if any, Botticelli may have simply been pointing to the idea that Leonardo not only modelled for Pollaiuolo but also shared Antonio’s interest in disecting bodies to study and portray the human form, particularly of men.
Andrea del Verrocchio noted this interest and connection, hence his portrayal of the screaming angel, aka Leonardo da Vinci, depicted by Pollaiuolo as the angel Raphael and also the screaming and crushed figure of Antaeus.
There is another interpretation that can be applied to the ‘screaming angel’ on Giuliano’s protective breastplate. If we suppose that the portrait does depict Leonardo in distress, then perhaps it was Giuliano who gave his support when he was anonymously acused with four other men of sodomy. The men had to report to the courts two months later and the charges were then dropped. Some historians have speculated it was because of one of the men’s family links to the Medici. Could the Medici ‘saviour’ have been Giuliano?
Shortly after Pollaiuolo had painted Tobias and the Angel, Andrea del Verrocchio produced a similar version. The Raphael figures differ slightly – the angel’s right arm, for instance. Verrocchio’s angel is comparable to the upright figure of Leonardo in Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration. The right arm is placed across the chest; the left hand holds up his cloak; and the head is inclined slightly and turns to one side with eyes cast downward.
Another feature is the linking of arms, similar in both Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio versions. This is carried through in Botticelli’s painting. Below the chin of the stooped man with the white cap (aka Leonardo and Jacopo Saltarelli) is a pair of hands. First impression is that both hands belong to Giuliano de’Medici. The hand underneath does, but the hand placed on the back belongs to the stooped man. This relationship points to Verrochio’s version of The Angel and Tobias in which, according to Leonardo expert Martin Kemp, Leonardo may have had a hand in some of the work, particularly in painting the fish, and possibly another reason why Verrocchio chose to depict Leonardo with an open mouth on Giuliano’s protective cuirass. Hooked and presented on a breastplate.
The breastplate acting a protective shield is also mirrored by the stooped man’s cap. It represents the discarded shield of Pollaiuolo’s naked man (seen from the back).
The Belgian artist Kris Martin is putting his own spin on the Ghent Altarpiece by incorporating a site-specific piece into the armature of the famous 15th-century Flemish masterpiece. Martin’s mirrored work covers the Just Judges panel—currently represented by a reproduction—in the lower left corner of the altarpiece which was installed at St Bavo cathedral in Ghent in 1432… more at The Art Newspaper
This terracotta bust of Giuliano de’ Medici is thought to have been made sometime between 1475 and 1478 by Andrea del Verrocchio, the Florentine, goldsmith, sculptor and painter. The bust is housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
Giuliano is wearing a protective cuirass emblazoned on the front with what first appears to be a depiction of the mythological Medusa. Described as a guardian or protectress, the winged Medusa had snakes coming out of her head instead of hair.
But this motif, in fact, represents the head of an angel – a guardian angel with wings enfolded to signify protection.
I doubt if the National Gallery realises it owns a two-for-the price-of-one work of art, for not only does it depict Giuliano de’ Medici but the breastplate portrait is of the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.
Giorgio’s Vasari’s Life of Leonardo da Vinci reveals that among Leonardo’s early works was a painting of the head of Medusa, although this is doubted by some art historians, and if the painting did ever exist, it is now lost.
However, Verrocchio’s bust of Giuliano de’ Medici also points to a connection between Medusa and Leonardo, as does Botticelli in his Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi. So perhaps Varari’s report on Leonardo’s Medusa may have some merit after all.
A couple of decades later, the Italian painter Andrea Mantegna picked up on this when he painted Parnassus for Isabella d’Este – a pastiche on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration. He depicted Piero de’ Medici, eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, as wearing the breastplate and Botticelli as the ‘Medusa’ motif.
The above illustration is part of a series of preparation drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci for his unfinished painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi. He started the work in 1481 but it was never completed before he left Florence and moved to Milan. It has recently been restored and is housed at the Uffizi in Florence.
It is this work that Botticeli has utilised for his version of the Adoration of the Magi, also kept at the Uffizi. While many art historians date Botticelli’s version before Leonardo’s, it is likely that Botticelli did not complete his painting until after his return from Rome in 1482 where he was commissioned with a group of other Florentine artists to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
There are two figures from Leonardo’s sketch that Botticelli has adapted for his painting which connect to my previous post, the stooped man, and the man with his arm across his chest and hand resting on his shoulder. In the same post I pointed out that the stooped figure represnts Leonardo and connects to an early memory in his childhood.
In Leonardo’s unfinished painting, not the sketch, historians generally agree that the figure standing on the extreme right with his head turned is the artist himself. This figure is also replicated in the Botticelli version as the third standing figure from the left, wearing a red hat. Like many of the figures in Botticelli’s painting, it has two identities: the first was revealed in an earlier post as Bernardo Baroncelli, one of the assassins who took part in the Pazzi conspiracy and cleaved the head of Giuliano de’ Medici, hence his hat depicted as soaked in blood. His own head is also shown hanging from a rope above the figure and is a reference to Leonardo’ drawing of the hanging man..
Also mentioned in a previous post was the two groups either side of the painting are mirrored, and perhaps a pointer to Leonardo’s style of mirror-writing.
So when taking the faceless, stooped figure of Leonardo and his account about the fork-tailed red kite, and mirroring it to the standing Baroncelli, a second identity is revealed – Leonardo da Vinci. Confirmation is provided by features pointing to the kite story and the charge of sodomy with the young goldsmith apprentice.
The brim of the hat is wing-shaped, the underside a lghter red than the crown, representing the light underside of the fork-tailed red kite. A small, white ‘tickling’ feather is attached to the hat-band, the band itself representing a child’s baubles strung across the crib. A bird’s head with a pronounced beak forms one of the hair curls extending into the brim. Below the collar is a fork-shaped fold.
The shoulder insignia is a gold leaf, a reference to Leonardo’s early training as an apprentice goldsmith and to the young goldsmith he was accused with of sodomy. There is gold braid on Leonardo’s shoulder, and the hem of his green gown (right) is threaded with a gold knot pattern, another of Leonardo’s devices.
Leonardo’s left hand grip of his gown at waist level is a sexual signal directed to and observed by the young man at his side who has his arms wrapped around Giuliano de’ Medici. He is likely to represent Jacopo Saltarelli, the apprentice goldsmith and a recorded prostitute in Florentine court records. The waist level signal is intended to match the underbelly feature seen in the stooping figure opposite.
• You can follow this thread and earlier posts on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi by clicking on the category link below, or at my website.
More on Sandro Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi…
Behind the kneeling Lorenzo de’ Medici and his his brother Giuliano, are three figures which the artist Botticelli has grouped to relate to each other in five distinct ways.
Firstly, each figure has two identities; secondly, each experienced judgement and condemnation; thirdly, all three reached celestial heights.
Previously mentioned was that Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi is laden with references to Leonardo da Vinci and his works. This is a fourth connection that binds the group. The fifth connection is they represent a secondary group of Magi and their gifts: gold, myrrh and frankincense.
The standing bearded man represents two people mentioned in the Book of Zechariah, Zerubabbel, the governor of the Persian Province of Judah who laid the foundation of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, helped by the high priest Joshua. Zechariah’s account of the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity and a return to peace is described by the prophet in a series of eight visions. These are also referred to in part in Botticelli’s painting.
The stooping figure next in line represents the musician and companion to Leonardo, Atalante Migliorotti, and also the man who commissioned the painting, Guasparre dal Lama.
The faceless third figure – the winged man – is Leonardo da Vinci. In this scenario the second identity probably refers to Jacopo Saltarelli, an apprentice goldsmith charged with prostitution and engaging in sodomy with Leonardo and three other men. The accusation was made annonymously on April 9, 1476, but charges against all the men were later dismissed on the condition that no accusations were made against them in the future.
Leonardo never clarified his sexual orientation in any of his writings, although he did write in one of his notebooks that “the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions”.
Like Leonardo, Sandro Botticelli was once accused of sodomy, though never prosecuted. Accusations of this kind were common at the time, often as a way of harming reputations. Many of Botticelli’s paintings contain sexual imagery and he was not adverse to injecting his own brand of irreverant humour in some scenes. The Uffizi Adoration is no exception, the target being Leonardo. Whereas Leonardo dissected human corpses, animals and birds in his quest for knowledge, Botticelli dissected reputations with his cutting remarks and piercing parodies for comic effect, even to the extent of self-parody. His placement behind the winged man is akin to the assassin in the opposite corner closing in and pretending to befriend Giuliano de’ Medici before inflicting 19 wounds on his body.
In his later years Leonardo wrote about his first memory as a child in his cradle. He was making notes at the time about the flight pattern of birds and the fork-tailed red kite (milvus vulgaris) in particular. His brief note read: “Writing like this so particularly about the kite seems to be my destiny, since the first memory of my childhood is that it seemed to me, when I was in my cradle, that a kite came to me, and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips.”
Although the notebook entry is thought to be have been made around 1505, it is possible that the incident was related orally to others at earlier stages of his life. Certainly, Botticelli appears to have referenced the incident in at least two places. It may even be that Botticelli doubted Leonardo’s account and in his irreverent way put it down to fantasy or a dream sequence his contemporary may have experienced at some time.
As Leonardo held a lifelong interest in birds and their flight, even designing and constructing vehicles for men to take to the skies, it is not surprising that Botticell depicted Leonardo as a bird with wings and a cape covering a self-propelled wind source. Botticelli took the jest a step further, intimating that Leonardo’s weakness, or even strength, could be observed on the underside of his belly, an obvious reference to the sodomy charge against Leonardo and a 15th century slang defintion of ‘kite’ as a person who preys on others.
The second reference to the fork-tailed kite and Leonardo’s earliest memory is the long-tailed peacock perched above the group of men on the right side of the painting. The overhang above the peacock is meant to depict the wingspan of another bird, perhaps the kite and the shadow hanging over Leonardo if ever a charge of sodomy was brought against him in the future. A fork is formed when the shadow is combined with the peacock, a bird that not only symbolised Leonardo’s perceived vanity and desire for attention with his dimorphic style of attire, but may have also pointed to the new life Leonardo was seeking which led to his move to Milan.
• More on this in my next post.
• You can follow the thread and earlier posts on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi by clicking on the category link below, or at my website.
The Portrait of a Musician is another unfinished painting attributed in part to Leonardo da Vinci. It is thought to have been painted in 1485, which would place it in the period after the artist moved to Milan sometime between 1482 and 1483.
Various identities have been given to the sitter but a more recent suggestion is that of Atalante Migliorotti, a musician said to have been taught by Leonardo and who accompanied his tutor when he left Florence for Milan to work for the Sforza family.
Migliorotti is mentioned in a list of works noted by Leonardo: “a portrait of Atalante raising his face”. The painting is presumambly a lost work and is not the the particular portrait above, which would suggest that Leonardo made two paintings of Atalante.
However, evidence of the lost portrait of “Atalante looking up” appears in Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi. The painting also points to the surviving Portrait of a Musician which would suggest it was completed before 1485 while Leonardo and Atalante were still in Florence.
As mentioned in an earlier post Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration could not have been completed before 1480 as it includes elements related to the Pazzi conspiracy and assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici. Completion may even have been after the death in April 1481 of its patron Guasparre dal Lama.
My next post will deal with the iconography that points to Leonardo’s two paintings of Atalante Migliorotti.
The central kneeling figure in the Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi, and wearing the ermine-lined, red robe is Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici, son of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder, the figure kneeling in front of the new-born Saviour. To the right of Piero is his first-born son Lorenzo de’ Medici.
This Medici trio shared a common ailment – gout. Such was Piero’s condition that he was often confined to bed and became known as Piero the Gouty, conducting his business and political affairs from his bedroom for much of his time. It is said that his death in 1469 was a result of gout and lung disease.
Botticelli identifies Piero with two references to his illness, the hat at his feet, and the spiked crown on the ground to his right. The hat is shaped as a snail, a slow mover and invairably confined to his abode. The crown of thorns, placed next to Lorenzo, represents the transfer of Medici affairs to his eldest son, and the heriditary painful condition of gout.
Piero’s distinctive show of ermine is one of several connections made by Botticelli in this painting to Leonardo da Vinci. More on this in a future post.
The scenes above are from a painting known as the Assumption of the Virgin, said to have been completed by Francesco Botticini in 1477. It is now housed at the National Gallery in London.
Art historians recognise Botticini’s style of painting as being influenced by his contemporary Sandro Botticelli. Both painters were from Florence. Compare the twelve disciples with some of the main figures from the Uffizi Adoration painting and it’s not difficult to recognise many similarities.
Perhaps it was this resemblance that prompted Giorgio Vasari to attribute the Assumption painting in to Sandro Botticelli and not Francesco Botticini in his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550).
So which painting came first, Botticini’s Assumption or Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration? If the current attribution of 1475 is accepted for Botticelli’s painting then there is no problem in assuming it was painted before Botticini’s altarpiece (1477) and that Francesco sourced the figures for his twelve disciples from the Uffizi Adoration.
However, if it accepted that Botticelli’s painting does make reference to the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici in 1478, then (1) the chicken or egg question kicks in again, or at least (2) challenges the completion date for Botticini’s work, or even, perhaps, (3) raises the possibility of Botticelli sourcing Botticini’s painting and not the other way around. A fourth scenario is that Vasari may have been correct in the first place by attributing the Assumption to the hand of Botticell and not Botticini.
Supposedly, Botticelli’s version of the Adoration of the Magi, which is now housed in the Uffizi, Florence, was commissioned by Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama for his funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella.
While there is documentation referring to the chapel as Capella Magorum (Chapel of the Magi) and also Gaspare’s first will mentions that “the chapel is said to be under the title of, The Three Magi on the Day of the Epiphany of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Hatfield, Botticelli’s Uffizi “Adoration”, p.31), there is seemingly no evidence that Gaspare ever commissioned Botticelli to produce the painting. That the painting may have been displayed in the chapel as an altarpiece at some time is hardly proof that it was commissioned by Gaspare who died around April 25, 1481.
Some historians refer to the line of figures with their backs to the wall on the right side of the painting (see above), and suggest that the pointing man facing the viewer is likely to be Gaspare identifying himself as the patron of the work, and wanting to be seen in the company of the Medici family. But Hatfield considered him “one of the pettiest figures ever to have crossed the pages of Florentine history” – “a nobody”.
So if it is not Gaspare pointing to himself, then who could it be? The painting makes several references to the works of Leonardo da Vinci, particularly on the left hand side of the painting (a pointer to Leonardo being left-handed). The left side of the painting also depicts the poet and writer Poliziano, source for the account of Giuliano de’ Medici’s assassination, which Botticelli has referred to also in the left section.
The right side of the composition is partly a mirror effect of some of the figures portrayed on the opposite side, except there are slight differences in portrayal and narrative, and likely a reference to Leonardo and ingenuity for “mirror-writing”.
Leonardo’s creative skills were initially developed while serving as an apprentice in the Florentine studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, goldsmith painter and sculptor. He joined Verrocchio’s workshop in 1466 at the age of 14 and worked there for the next ten years.
This section of the painting also references works and ideas of Leonardo, as well as Verrocchio, and it it possible that some of the figures lined up against the back wall are other artists and craftsmen who served in Verrocchio’s workshop, including Botticelli shown in a self portrait in the corner of the frame.
This links to another self-portrait in the line-up, that of Andrea del Verrocchio, the man in the blue gown pointing to himself, and his own self portrait that is now housed in the Uffizi, and which Botticelli may have utlised for his painting.