In a post made earlier this month – Every picture tells story – I explained how one of the figures in Vasari’s painting of the marriage of Henry II and Catherine Medici represented both Galeazzo Maria Sforza and his assassin, Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani.
But Vasari also attached a third identity to the head resting on Clement VII’s shoulder, that of Alessandro de Medici. The paternity of Alessandro, Duke of Florence, is disputed. Although generally believed to be an illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici and raised in his household, some consider Cardinal Giulio de Medici (later Pope Clement VII) was his father.
Seemingly Vasari, or his assistant Giovanni Stradano held the belief that the Pope was indeed the “Father”, hence Alessandro’s attachment to his father’s shoulder in the painting.
Like the Duke of Milan, the Duke of Florence was also regarded by many as a cruel despot with a reputation and lust for rape and murder. And, like Galeazzo, he was eventually assassinated.
Below is a splendid portrait of Alesandro de’ Medici, completed by Giorgio Vasari in 1534 and three years before the duke’s assassination. It is this painting which provides clues to revealing a third identity for the head on the Pope’s shoulder.
Note the similar shape of the armour plate – the pauldron – on Alesandro’s shoulder to the helmet-shape cap on the head seen on Clement’s shoulder. Note also the beak feature on the pauldron, a pointer to Alessandro’s ‘beaky’ nose as opposed Galeazzo’s the rather large ‘rhino’. Noses are a prominent and intended theme in the marriage scene.
It’s not without coincidence that Alesandro de Medici’s emblem was the image of a rhinoceros he adapted from a woodcut (shown below) by the German artist Albrecht Dürer. See how Dürer’s rhino is shown heavily plated, just as the duke is in Vasari’s painting. And the rhino’s horn is echoed by the pauldron’s horn-shaped beak.
What else in the Allesandro portrait can be paired with the head-on-shoulder feature in the marriage painting? The most obvious is the red cloth covering the stool to match with the Pope’s red mozzetta.
The stool is a pointer to Alessandro’s rhinoceros emblem. Its short legs, be there only three, echo the short legs of a rhino, except that in this case the animal is portrayed headless and with the feet of a lion. Its decapitated head is the helmet on the ground and facing in the opposite direction. Perhaps an indication of Alessandro de’ Medici conquering his enemy, the beast within.
The short legs theme and beast is echoed in the marriage scene by those of the dwarves and the prowling lion.
More on this in a future post.