In 1475 Pope Sixtus IV nominated Francesco Salviati Riario as Archbishop of Pisa, the position left vacant following the death of Filippo de’ Medici in October 1474. The appointment did not meet with the approval of the Medici family in Florence who had earlier blocked Salviati’s attempt to become Archbishop of Florence in 1474.
The outcome was that Salviati, a known antagonist of the Medici, never occupied his diocesan chair in Pisa but remained in Rome even though he was the Church’s official choice as archbishop.
Some years later Salviati saw his opportunity for taking revenge against the Medici when he conspired with others to assassinate both Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano, in a plot that became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy.
With the support of Pope Sixtus IV, who was sympathetic to replacing the control the Medici held over Florence, Salviati, was joined by Girolamo Riario and Francesco de’ Pazzi in planning the assassination of the two brothers.
Despite the best laid plans, the coup failed, even though Giuliano was murdered in the process. The attackers failed to see off Lorenzo and the alarm was raised, resulting in the plotters and their accomplices being captured and executed with haste and without trial or any mercy shown.
According to historian Harold Acton,“Francesco de’ Pazzi was pulled bleeding and naked from his hiding place and hanged from a window of the city palace. The Archbishop of Pisa was hanged beside him and as he fell, he bit at the dead body of Francesco; the halter tightening round his throat, he held onto the corpse with his teeth.”
Girolamo Riario, as a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, was not at the scene on the day of slaughter, even though he was one of the main instigators of the plot. In January 1473 he had married Caterina Sforza the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, duke of Milan. She was ten years old at the time. Ten years after the Pazzi Conspiracy, Girolamo himself was assassinated on April 14, 1488, by members of the Orsini family.
Girolamo Riario, Francesco de’ Pazzi, and Archbishop Francesco Salviati are all referenced in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, as is Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli who struck the first blow against Giuliano de’ Medici.
The leaning figure of Ecclesia (Venus) is not only a pointer to the leaning Tower of Pisa and so to Archbishop Salviati, but also to the nepotism practiced by Pope Sixtus IV whose nominations and appointments leaned to those of his own friends and family.
My next post will deal with uncovering the iconography that refers to the identities of the Pazzi conspirators Botticelli disguised in the Birth of Venus.