Here’s another set of figures from Vasari’s painting of the marriage of Henry, the second son of the French king Francis I, with Catherine de’ Medici, daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino.
The way they relate to each other is by their association with the Carmelites, a religious order for men and women.
In a previous post I pointed out that the moustached man represents both Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan and his assassin Giovanni Lampugnani who attempted to escape the scene of his crime by concealing himself amongst a group of women inside Milan Cathedral. Hence the man being shown ‘veiled’.
In the mid-fifteenth century a Carmelite convent and church (Santa Maria del Carmine) was built near to Castello Sforzesco, home of the Sforza ruling family of Milan. The church and convent were patronised by the Sforza’s, including Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
Vasari has linked Galeazzo’s prominent nose to a similar profile associated with Mt Carmel, a mountain landmark referred to by ancient Egyptian seafarers as the Antelope Nose. Turn the image on its side and see how Vasari incorporated the profile of the mountain as a shadow area inside the veil.
Another connection to the House of Sforza is the veil worn by the woman opposite to Galeazzo. In this instance she represents Fioretta Gorini. Notice the shape of a snake head on the edge of the veil pointing in the direction of Galeazzo, its body represented by the veil’s wavy edge, snaking both down and across. The snake reference is to the Milanese and a Sforza emblem known as the Biacione
Fioretta was said to be the mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici, who’s was assassinated a month before she gave birth to his son and who later went on to become Clement VII, the Pope she stands behind in Vasari’s painting. After giving up her child to the Medici family she later joined a Carmelite convent in Florence, and was enclosed or ‘walled-up’ as an anchoress.
That she was walled-up links back to Galeazzo who was not adverse to walling up alive anyone who may have upset him. Enclosure or walling up is also a clue to the other veiled woman, another Carmelite, the mystic Teresa of Avila who was later declared a saint by the Catholic Church. The wall reference is associated with where she came from, Ávila, the Spanish city known for it magnificent encircling wall that still stands today.
Teresa seems to rise above the others and that’s a pointer to the occasions she is said to have levitated. It’s also another reference to Botticelli’s Primavera and it central figure depicting the Virgin Mary seen to be raised off the ground, but a feature that indicates her assumption into Heaven. Teresa of Ávila claimed she experienced moments of ecstasy as if she had been raised into Heaven.
• Vasari also applied second identities to the two women which I shall explain in a future post