Another image of Fioretta Gorini

This will be my last post until 2023, and so I take the opportunity to wish all visitors to this blog a happy and peaceful Christmas.

And I leave you with this discovery I made today – another image of Fioretta Gorini the mother of Pope Clement VII and mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici.

On the left is Fioretta as painted by Leonardo da Vinci; on the right, Fioretta as painted by Giorgio Vasari and modelled on Leonardo’s version.

More to be revealed in the New Year!

Angels and Demons

So just how did Michelangelo translate features from Botticelli’s Venus and Mars painting to the ‘damned man’ in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement fresco?

The four satyrs (Botticelli and his three brothers) teasing and tempting the sleeping figure of Mars – aka Leonardo da Vinci  – form the group of three demons clinging to the ‘damned man’ alongside the trumpeter in the purple drape.

Michelangelo mixed and matched the features. For instance, his ‘extra’ angel with the trumpet represents the satyr sounding the conch into Leonardo’s ear, except that in this instance the trumpet’s bell end is directed to an alternative orifice.

The recipient is the smirking grey-coloured demon poking out his tongue and with both arms wrapped around the legs of the ‘damned man’. As in the Venus and Mars painting, he represents the middle of the trio of satyrs with their arms wrapped around the lance.

The Botticelli conch is symbolic of female genitalia and so the satyr can be understood as blowing ‘sweet dreams’ into Leonardo’s ear, his head ‘buzzing’ with thoughts from the humming sound of the nearby wasps . The wasps are a symbol of the Vespucci family and the woman of his dreams facing Leonardo, Simonetta Vespucci. Michelangelo echoed the sound of the buzzing with the group of trumpeters. The golden hair of the ‘extra’ angel is shaped and coloured to represent a buzzing swarm of wasps. His trumpet extending into the rear end of the grey demon can be deduced as a sting-in-the-tail feature.

The ‘extra’ angel (notice the lion face impression on his back) represents Leonardo da Vinci, and the colour of his purple drape coordinates with the rose tinted blanket beneath the Leonardo figure in the Venus and Mars painting.

Leonardo wears a pink or rose colour cloak with a winged sleeve in another Botticelli painting, the Uffizi version of The Adoration of the Magi. Notice also Leonardo’s bird-like stance.

The purple drape is also shaped in the form of a bird with an extended wing. Michelangelo has paired this with the bird-shaped white cloth covering the sleeping Leonardo. Note the bolt pressing down on the fluted tail. This is a reference to Leonardo portrayed as a fallen angel, “like a bolt of lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18), or perhaps from his failed attempt at flying that seemed like a bird falling out of the sky. A ‘fallen angel’ motif representing Leonardo can be found in another Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus, and also as a winged Medusa-type face on the breastplate of the terracotta bust by Andrea del Verrocchio depicting Giuliano de’ Medici.

As explained in the previous post, Simonetta also represents Medusa, the woman whose gaze can turn people into stone. Has this happened to the sleeping Leonardo? Notice the head of the middle satyr supporting the lance is turned to gaze at the Medusa figure. This explains why the demon gripping the ‘damned man’s legs is the colour of stone, except that his right hand isn’t. Could this suggest the process is ongoing or possibly a device to question why? 

The answer can be found by looking at the demon from a different perspective. When rotated 90 degrees to the left, the hazy cloud which the demon is facing takes on a dreamy shape representing the head of Medusa in Botticelli’s painting. It’s also another pointer to Leonardo’s presence in the painting and the ‘sfumato’ technique he perfected in his own work, where tones and colours are blended to produce soft, vague edges and outlines.

Understanding Botticelli’s satyrs as creatures of temptation helps identify the green creature biting into the ‘damned man’s‘ thigh. It represents the Botticelli satyr whose face is hidden under the helmet and the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve to bite and eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

The fruit is the circular shape formed behind the head of the serpent’s coiling body, similar to how the shield or buckle is formed out of the shaft of the lance. Truth is represented by the straight lance. The serpent’s lies and hidden deceit – represented by the helmet covering the satyr – is translated as the serpent’s twisting shaft behind the ‘damned man’. 

From this it can be determined that Michelangelo’s ‘damned man’ group also typifies the ‘Fall of Man’, the exit from Paradise into a world of lasting temptation and sin. So where is Eve, the woman who first conversed with the serpent? She can only be the dreamy cloud shape of Medusa, and the woman sat opposite Leonardo with snakes in her hair.

Michelangelo depicted the fourth satyr, Sandro Botticelli himself, as the horned demon with the walnut-shaped back, gripping the ankles of the ‘damned man’. In the Venus and Mars painting he is shown encased in a cuirass that serves as a cushion for the resting Leonardo.

Left: Leonardo da Vinci as a Fallen Hebrew and a Fallen Angel.
Right: Sandro Botticelli as a demon matched to the teasing satyr.

So what could be the reason for Michelangelo depicting the ‘extra angel’ as Leonardo, yet also doubling up as a tormentor – an angel in disguise perhaps, or even a possible falling angel? Another take on the four figures attached to the ‘damned man’ is they represent what is known as the Four Last Things in Christian eschatology – meditating on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. This descending sequence is matched by Michelangelo’s placing of the four demons.

The green serpent represents the time in the Garden of Eden when Death came into the world; the stone-colour figure gazing at the faint and hazy Medusa represents Judgement – “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror, but then we shall be seeing face to face” (1 Cor 13:12);  The ‘extra’ angel attached to the trumpeters and set aside from the ‘damned man’ represents Heaven; and the horned demon that is ready to receive the ‘damned man’ represents Hell.

The Venus and Mars painting can also be considered from another religious viewpoint, a reference to the biblical and erotic Song of Songs. From a Christian perspective the poem reads as an allegory of Christ and his bride, the Church. Botticelli depicted the leaning figure of Venus in his painting of the Birth of Venus as Ecclesia (the Church) for which the model was Simonetta Vespucci.

Very likely,  Chapter 5 of the Song of Songs inspired some of the visuals in the Venus and Mars painting  … “I come into my garden, my sister my promised bride, […] I gather my honey and my honeycomb […] friends […] I sleep but my heart is awake […] my love, my dove, my perfect one […] I have taken off my tunic […] I have washed my feet […] Then I rose to open to my Beloved, myrrh ran off my hands, pure myrrh off my fingers, on to the handle of the bolt […] My soul failed at his flight […] I called to him but he did not answer […] My beloved is fresh and ruddy […] His head is golden, purest gold…

Two decades earlier Michelangelo made other references to Leonardo da Vinci when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. More about this in a future post.

Good vibrations

Detail from Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel

Art historians generally relate this group of figures portrayed in Michelangelo’s Last Testament fresco to the angels mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and “the seven trumpets given to the seven angels who stand in the presence of God” (Rev 8 : 2)

However, for a particular reason, Michelangelo instead depicted eight angels with trumpets, the odd one out being the angel wearing the purple drape placed on the extreme right of the group. At first glance it appears that this angel has a violin tucked under his chin, but closer inspection reveals the instrument is a trumpet. The double-take was intentional on Michelangelo’s part and yet another reference to Leonardo da Vinci, said to have been an accomplished player of the “lira da brachia”, literally an “arm lyre”.

The sounds emanating from both instruments, the trumpet and lyre, are caused by vibration – a buzzing of lips on the trumpet and pulsating strings on the lyre. This connects to another distinct feature Michelangelo portrayed on his “extra angel” – his golden head of hair which is shaped and coloured to represent a buzzing swarm of wasps or bees. 

While none of Leonardo’s eight angels are shown to have any conventional wings to flap or vibrate, the purple wrap around this particular angel is meant to suggest the shape of a bird with one of its wings extended. 

The angel is placed facing the “damned man” and his demons with his focus on the horned devil. The angel’s trumpet-cum-horn is also positioned as a device to make a connection with the “damned man” feature.

In my previous post about Michelangelo’s Last Judgement I explained that the configuration of the “damned man” and attached demons was partly inspired by a scene featured in another Sistine Chapel fresco – The Trials of Moses painted by Sandro Botticelli.

However, the attributes mentioned about the trumpeting eighth angel, coupled with others found in the “damned man“ group, were all borrowed and recycled by Michelangelo from another painting by Sandro Botticelli – Venus and Mars, which is now housed in the National Gallery, London.

Venus and Mars, by Sandro Botticelli, National Gallery, London

The models for Venus and Mars are Simonetta Vespucci and Leonardo da Vinci, while the four young satyrs represent Sandro Botticelli and his three brothers, Giovanni, Simone and Antonio. Sandro is the satyr encased in the cuirass generally assumed to belong to the sleeping figure of Mars, the Roman god of war. But compare his chest size and it is very obvious the small, barrel-shaped cuirass was not designed to fit Mars but is a pointer to Sandro’s identity – Botticelli meaning “little barrel”.

Art historian Lightbown explains in his book, Sandro Botticelli Life and Work, that “The poses of  Mars and Venus were inspired directly or indirectly by a relief of Bacchus and Ariadne on an antique sarcophagus – one now in the Vatican has been claimed as their direct source.” (see image below)

Botticelli helped paint some of the Sistine Chapel frescoes in 1481, so was this a time and opportunity for him to observe the sarcophagus that would later inspire him to produce the Venus and Mars panel painting?

Another take on this is that his Mars figure may also represent Giuliano de’ Medici who was assassinated in the Duomo Cathedral of Florence on April 26, 1478 – two years to the day after Simonetta Vespucci died in 1476 at the young age of 22.

The relationship between Giuliano and Simonetta was said to have been platonic – a courtly love. On January 29, 1475, Giuliano entered a jousting tournament and carried a standard bearing the image of Simonetta portrayed as Pallas Athene which had been painted by Botticelli.

Lightbown describes the standard and its symbolism in great detail – his source being the Florentine court poet Angelo Poliziano and his poem La Giostra, written after Simonetta’s death – and which in part states that “beneath her helmet of burnished metal […] her hair, elaborately braided and ornamented, fluttered in the wind. She held a jousting lance in her right hand and the shield of Medusa in her left and gazed fixedly into the sun, which shone above her at the top of the banner.”

Lightbown adds that when Giuliano entered the tournament field he was followed by “a great troop of horsemen, friends, relatives, retainers, with three pipers, a trumpeter, and two drummers”. Seemingly this part of Poliziano’s poem was taken up by Botticelli and applied to the four satyrs who can be recognised as horsemen and relatives, even retainers working for the Medici family, as well as pipers and a trumpeter. The reference to two drummers is applied to the two hollow boughs of the tree that Mars rests against.

Simonetta’s “helmet of burnished metal” is worn by the satyr nearest her and tucked behind the lance’s buckle or shield. Notice the sun’s reflection in the helmet and the the gaze of Venus fixed on the highlight. Yes, Venus, aka, Simonetta, is also presented as Medusa whose gaze can turn men into stone. 

Later in Poliziano’s poem Mars, aka Giuliano, “sees in a dream his lady Simonetta wearing the armour of Pallas over a gown whose whiteness is itself a symbol of chastity, and protecting her breast against the arrows of love with the head of Medusa, With stern and angry face she binds Cupid to the olive tree of Pallas, plucks feathers from his wings and breaks his bows and arrows. Cupid in tears, calls on Giuliano for compassion and aid. But Giuliano answers that he can give no aid, for his lady wears the armour of Pallas, and his spirits are quelled by the terrible Gorgon head and by her countenance and helm and glittering lance. Then Cupid bids him lift up his eyes to the resplendent sun of Glory, which will kindle the courage in his breast and expel all cowardice from it. Glory descends, despoils his lady of the arms of Pallas, and clothes him in in them. Thus armed he wins the joust.”
(Ronald Lightbown, Botticelli Life and Work, pp 64-65)

Detail from Botticelli’s Primavera, Primaverai, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

There isn’t a Cupid in sight in the Venus and Mars painting but in actual fact Botticelli, punning on his identity as a satyr, is referring to the portrayal of himself as Cupid in another of his paintings, Primavera. It is said that Botticelli held an unrequited love for Simonetta. The Vespucci family were neighbours of his and may have even commissioned the Venus and Mars painting. Poliziano’s mention of Cupid calling on Giuliano for compassion and aid – for protection from the onslaught of Medusa from the fiery arrows of love despatched by Botticelli in the direction of Simonetta, explains why the artist has enclosed himself in the cuirass supposedly belonging to Giuliano.  

Notice Simonetta’s “stern and angry face” and the light shining on the face of Giuliano, his eyes lifted up to “the resplendent sun of Glory”.

The name Vespucci translates as “little wasps”, symbolised on the family’s “stemma” or coat of arms, hence the wasps featured buzzing around the head of the sleeping figure of Mars/Giuliano/Leonardo. Wasp motifs also feature on the figure of Venus/Pallas/Medusa/Simonetta as a hair braid and the plaited collar of her gown.  The Medusa attributes can be recognised in her hair’s snake tails, and the shield shape of the red cushion under her right arm, similar in shape to a snake head. The protective shield-cum-cushion mirrors the protective cuirass-cum-cushion in the opposite corner of the painting).

So why did Botticelli use the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci to portray the figure of Mars/Giuliano? A terracotta bust of Giuliano de Medici, sculpted by Andrea del Verrocchio, is kept at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It shows Giuliano wearing body armour – a cuirass.

Giuliano de’ Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The front displays a Medusa-type gorgon modelled on the face of a screaming Leonardo da Vinci. Instead of snakes protruding from the head it is encased by feathered wings. The NGA suggests that the bust may have been sculpted to celebrate the occasion of Giuliano’s victory in the joust of January 1475. If this was so, it may also explain one of the reasons why Botticelli modelled the figure of Mars/Giuliano on Leonardo da Vinci. 

The cuirass connection also points to another scenario – the assassination of Giuliano de Medici. On the day he was murdered in the Duomo on Easter Sunday, 1478, two of his assassins accompanied Giuliano to the Cathedral, supporting him on the way as he was suffering from a bout of sciatica. In reality, the two men with their arms around Giuliano, were checking to see if he was wearing a corset of any kind for protection. He wasn’t. Midway through Mass his assassins struck. Bandini Baroncelli plunged a dagger into Giuliano’s chest and Francesco de Pazzi continually stabbed him after he had fallen. Nineteen wounds were inflicted on Giuliano’s body.

My next post will show how Michelangelo embedded features from Botticelli’s Venus and Mars painting in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement fresco. 

Ferrari aids restoration of famous fresco

Luxury sports car maker Ferrari is supporting the restoration of a Cimabue fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Cimabue’s fresco Madonna Enthroned with the Child, St Francis and Four Angels – known as the ‘Maestà di Assisi’ – is to be carefully restored in a project entirely made possible by Ferrari. The conservation programme will start next January and is expected to last around a year. More details at this link.

Fresco feuds

Detail from the Trials of Moses, by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel

Moses, a man by now, set out at this time to visit his countrymen, and he saw what a hard life they were having; and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. Looking round he saw no one in sight, so he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. On the following day he came back, and there were two Hebrews, fighting. He said to the man who was in the wrong, “What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?” “And who appointed you” the man retorted “to be prince over us, and judge?” Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was frightened. “Clearly this business has come to light” he thought. When Pharaoh heard of the matter he would have killed Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian. And he sat down beside a well. 

This passage from Exodus 2 : 11-15 is referred to in a panel titled “The Trials of Moses” on the South Wall of the Sistine Chapel. It was frescoed by Sandro Botticelli and assistants sometime in 1481, about sixty years before Michelangelo completed The Last Judgement Painting on the Chapel’s altar wall.

Botticelli’s portrayal of the Exodus account highlights Moses overpowering the “man who was in the wrong” while the other fighting Hebrew is depicted being comforted and led away by the female figure dressed in blue. Moses is also featured fleeing for the land of Midian.

The Hebrew held down by Moses represents Leonardo da Vinci. His identity is explained at this link: When Leonardo was ‘murdered’ by Moses (and Botticelli) in the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo picked up on the Leonardo association in Botticelli’s fresco and recycled some characteristics to include in his own portrayal of the polymath in The Last Judgment painting – the figure generally referred to as the Damned Man

Although contemporaries, Leonardo and Michelangelo were far from being bosom pals. Michelangelo, apparently a more sensitive soul, reacted to any form of adverse criticism of his work, and Leonardo placed Michelangelo among the group of painters whose muscular figures he described as looking like a sack of walnuts or a bundle of radishes.

Seemingly, Michelangelo never forgot this slight against his work and some two decades later portrayed Leonardo as the Damned Man – inferring that misjudgment of others can lead to condemnation and downfall of oneself. 

In their studies of anatomy both artists dissected corpses to further their knowledge about the workings of the human body. Leonardo is particularly noted for his meticulous anatomical drawings of body parts. Late in his life, Leonardo claimed he had dissected more than thirty corpses.

Michelangelo’s self-portrait in the flayed skin of St Bartholomew.

The flayed skin associated with the martyrdom of St Bartholomew shown in the Last Judgment fresco, features a distorted self-portrait of Michelangelo looking down on the Damned Man. The carcass represents an empty sack, devoid of body parts, a sack empty of walnuts and radishes. Michelangelo has translated these body parts into the figure of Leonardo and the three demons dragging him down to Hell, along with some of the features Botticelli incorporated in his depiction of Moses and the two Hebrew men at odds with each other.

For instance, the green serpent coiled around the upper legs of the Damned Man and biting into his left thigh muscle is akin to some of the snake-like features embedded in the green cloak wrapped around the two figures of Moses.

The horned demon weighing down the Damned Man is meant to mirror Botticelli’s version of the Hebrew on his back, his cloak shaped to represent a shell (see here for explanation of shell connection). The back of Michelangelo’s demon is also shell-shaped and its wrinkled surface represents the shell of a walnut. 

The demon’s two horns mirror the horn-shape features protruding from the hair of the grounded Hebrew. The horns are also refer to the light that shone from the face of Moses (represented as horns) after he had received the Ten Commandments, most notable in the sculpture of Moses made by Michelangelo for the tomb of Pope Julius II and completed in 1545.

The Hebrew’s left foot and claw-shaped hands can be paired with the central demon’s extended leg and claw-shaped foot, coloured red to portray the toes as radishes.

The Damned Man, detail from the Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The demon’s head looks down on the upended demon, as the head of Moses looks down on the upended Hebrew. However, the central demon’s arms are wrapped around the calves of the Damned Man in a similar way the figure of the woman wraps her arms around the upper body of the second Hebrew. Notice also how his left hand is raised to his head in a manner the Damned Man has raised his left hand – the difference being that the second Hebrew can see his opponent with both eyes while the Damned Man is portrayed seeing out of one eye only, perhaps indicating the limit he sets on judging the work of others.

Another incident between the two men also likely stayed with Michelangelo and probably explains the placing of the Damned Man figure in the Last Judgement painting. When Michelangelo had completed his famous giant sculpture of David, a committee was convened to decide on where the work should be placed. Several artists were part of the 30-man group, including Leonardo de Vinci and Sandro Botticelli.

Left: Michelangelo’s marble statue of David. Right: Andrea del Verrocchio’s bronze sculpture of David.

In his book, The Flights of Mind, Charles Nicholl states:

“Leonardo’s opinion about the placing of David is recorded in the minutes of the meeting. ‘I say that it should be placed in the Loggia’ – the Loggia dei Lanzi, opposite the Palazzo Vecchio – ‘as Giuliano has said, behind the low wall where the soldiers line up. It should be put there, with suitable ornaments, in such a way that it does not interfere with the ceremonies of state.’ This opinion, shared by Giuliano da Sangallo but counter to the general view, already expresses an antagonism, a deliberate refusal to be impressed. Let this oversized statue be sidelined in a corner where it won’t get in the way. The true wish expressed is the sidelining of the sculptor himself: this awkward, intrusive genius. Further nuances of umbrage may have arisen in relation to that earlier Florentine David, sculpted by his master Verrocchio, for which the teenage Leonardo is said to have been the model: now, forty years on, this new David outmodes that image of his own youthful promise.”

The Seven Deadly Sins, detail from the Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The Damned Man is part of but set aside from a group of figures that represent the Seven Deadly Sins. In this group we can recognise the form of some of the angels striking down the deadly sinners in similar fashion to Botticelli’s Moses raising his sword and striking down the Hebrew “who was in the wrong”.

To the right of the Damned Man Michelangelo has portrayed a sinner with his back to the viewer akin to the figure of Moses fleeing to Midian after it became known he had murdered an Egyptian and attempted to cover up his crime by burying the corpse in sand.

So which deadly sin does the Damned Man represent? Most likely Envy, and perhaps even Sloth, as Leonardo had a reputation for not completing many of the works commissioned to him.

Both Botticelli and Michelangelo portray the two Hebrew men as two natures of man, or even Leonardo, as good and evil in conflict. Michelangelo’s Dammed Man is not shown beaten down by any heavenly angel as the sinners portrayed alongside, but instead is weighed down by a reflection of his misplaced judgement and envy of others.

More on this in a future post.

Fruits of the Spirit

A new virtual exhibition and in-person collection trail exploring sacred art and its relation to today’s world will open at the National Gallery, London, on 5 December

Devised by the National Gallery and museums throughout the UK, ‘Fruits of the Spirit: Art From the Heart’ pairs nine pictures from the National Gallery’s collection with nine from partner institutions. The exhibition is inspired by Saint Paul’s description of themes including love, joy, and peace in the Christian Bible.

More details at this link.