An annunciation

In an earlier post I explained that Giorgio Vasari, in his painting of the Battle of Marciano, portrayed Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as two musketeers standing side by side.

I revealed in another post how Vasari placed references in the scene to Leonardo’s painting, Lady with an Ermine, and also intimated that other works attributed to Leonardo were referenced, namely the Mona Lisa and the Salvatore Mundi.

One painting for sure that Vasari utilised in the battle scene was Leonardo’s Annunciation.

Detail of the Angel Gabriel from The Annunciation, by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

I was intending to use this post to explain the connections Vasari made to The Annunciation, but having examined Leonardo’s painting in more detail, I shall delay on that and instead reveal some surprising embedded elements not normally recognised with what is said to be the earliest extant painting produced by Leonardo. 

Botticelli had knowledge of the underlying detail. He made reference to it in the Uffizi version of The Adoration of the Magi. So did Vasari in the Battle of Marciano.

By the hand of Leonardo

I mentioned in the previous post that the study and placement of hands was important to Leonardo da Vinci in his work. It is claimed that Leonardo may have suffered with ulnar palsy, or what is known as “claw hand”. I posted about this diagnosis at the link below.

Botticelli, Mantegna and Ghirlandaio are three artists who portrayed Leonardo with a clawed hand and Giorgio Vasari made reference to this disability in his Battle of Marciano fresco. He shows Leonardo’s right hand gripping the wedge-shaped flask while refilling the musket with gunpowder. Notice also the horse-tail at the side of the flask. This is a reference to the flask also representing the shape of a Greek harp or lyre. Leonardo made a similar instrument in the shape of a horse head as a gift for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. This gift is also alluded to elsewhere in the fresco.

The hand also represents a crab, the fingers its legs. An eye is depicted in the corner of the pouch between the thumb and forefinger. The crab feature is also part of a group of disguised creatures listed as forbidden food in the Book of Leviticus, written in Hebrew from right to left. Leonardo was known to write with his left hand, possibly because of the abnormality in his right hand. He generally wrote from right to left on the page in a style known as mirror-writing.

Having pointed out in my previous post the connection between Leonardo’s musket and his painting of the Lady with an Ermine, (the ermine is a type of weasel, one of the forbidden foods) are there any other Leonardo’s paintings to be found in this section of Vasari’s fresco? 

Let’s look at the honey or gold-coloured sleeve covering Leonardo’s left arm. Could this be a pointer to the rippling folds in the gold-coloured sleeves of the famous Mona Lisa painting? Cerca Trova (Seek and Find).

Another painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci is the controversial Salvatore Mundi, sold at auction in 2017 for $450 million U.S.  Could there be any indication that this work features in Vasari’s Marciano fresco. I believe there is.

My understanding is that the Salvatore Mundi is a mirror reflection of Leonardo. Observe the globe held in the claw hand of Christ’s left hand, but in reality Leonardo’s right hand if we keep in mind it is a “mirror” portrait. And so the hand raised in blessing is therefore Leonardo’s left hand, and perhaps a pointer to the Salvatore Mundi portrait being made by “the hand of Leonardo”.

There is another reference to the Salvatore Mundi elsewhere in this section of Vasari’s fresco, and to an earlier painting by Leonardo: The Annunciation. More about this in a future post.

The Annunciation, c. 1472-76, Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

About ALONg MUSKet

Having identified one of the musketeers in the foreground of Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco as representing Leonardo da Vinci, and linking this likeness to Michelangelo’s depiction of God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I can now reveal further evidence that the soldier pouring powder into the barrel of his musket is portrayed as Leonardo.

The identification is linked to Leonardo’s painting known as Lady with an Ermine. The woman is said to be Cecilia Gallerani, a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The painting is dated 1489-91 and is now housed in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland.

Lady with an Ermine, Leonardo da Vinci, Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland

The ermine or stoat excretes a strong, musky odour when excited. Musk scents were used to ward off more unpleasant smells. For instance, burnt gunpowder can smell like rotten eggs caused by sulphur dioxide gas. Vasarai linked the word musk with musket and borrowed elements from Leonardo’s painting to illustrate the connection in a novel way.

Wikipedia describes Musk as “a greasy secretion with a powerful odour, produced in a glandular sac in the abdomen of a male musk deer and used in traditional medicines and formerly in the manufacture of perfumes… It has a substance of a reddish brown colour, and when fresh the consistency of honey.”

This colour description can be recognised in the clothes of the two musketeers. The red vent and honey-coloured trim on the woman’s sleeve can be likened to the similar colours and vents on Leonardo’s pantaloons, while the white leg of Michelangelo, the soldier alongside Leonardo, can be matched to the colour of the ermine or stoat, the vents as secretions.

Leonardo’s musket is another representation of the ermine’s long body (the barrel) and short legs (the stock). The trigger is shaped as the ermine’s rounded ear. The woman’s black beads around her neck can be interpreted as a mix of black powder and musket balls that Leonardo is pouring down the throat of the musket.

Notice Leonardo’s hand gripping the musket’s barrel and his two cropped fingers. The hand appears to be shaped as a heart and the trimmed fingers as blood vessels entering the heart.

Here Vasari has not only referenced drawings of the heart made by Leonardo, but connected the shortened fingers to the left hand of Cecilia Gallerani hidden beneath her right arm. This feature is not very clear on the original painting and I’ve lightened the area in the reproduction alongside. Perhaps Cecilia’s right hand can be interpreted as having her hand on her heart.

The study and placement of hands was important to Leonardo in his work. Vasari knew this and highlighted another example of “by the hand of Leonardo” in this group of two musketeers. More on this in a future post.

• The name Gallerina connects to the word “galleria” or gallery. The long barrel of the musket, or the long body of the ermine, can be linked to read “long gallery”, the famous kilometre-long corridor designed by Giorgio Vasari that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Patti. At the time of its construction the meat market of Ponte Vecchio was moved to avoid its smell reaching into the passage. The Uffizi Museum section of the Vasari Corridor houses some of its famous paintings.

American soldiers and a Polish liaison officer pose with Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine painting upon its return to Poland in April 1946. Observe the 20th century muskets.
Photo archive, Monuments Men Foundation.

Look-a-likes and the Big Reveal

Battle of Marciano by Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Just why did Giorgio Vasari embed so many bearded look-a-likes in his Battle of Marciano fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio? A clue can be found in a similar motif, the rows of round-helmeted soldiers lined up as peas in a pod, appearing to be cast from the same mould. Musket balls, maybe?

The musket-ball motif can link to the two men firing muskets in the section of the painting I pointed out in my previous post, the “Sons of Thunder”, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Leonardo is depicted as one of the many bearded look-a-likes.

That Leonardo is placed shoulder-to-shoulder with Michelangelo is for a reason. Vasari has utilised a similar motif from one of the most famous fresco scenes in the world – The Creation of Adam – that forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo

In making this connection Vasari revealed, quite intentionally, and confirmed in another section of the Marciano fresco, that Michelangelo’s portrayal of God is, in fact, Leonardo da Vinci!

The angel portrayed behind God’s right shoulder is Michelangelo. Another artist portrayed in the “pod” is Sandro Botticelli. Here, Michelangelo, like Vasari, referenced paintings by Botticelli and Leonardo to create this scene, and I shall explain more about this in a future post.

“God created Man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.…” (Genesis 1 : 27), which explains the bearded men motif in the Vasari fresco, all made in the image of God.

But was Vasari pointing to another scenario, and two more famous paintings associated with Leonardo: the Mona Lisa, and the portrait of Christ known as Salvatore Mundi?

Some art researchers have hypothesised that Leonardo is the model for both paintings – “male and female he created them.”

The Mona Lisa (Louvre) and the portrait known as Salvatore Mundi

Brothers in arms

Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Mark Knofler, Dire Straits

This scene from the Battle of Marciano, frescoed by Giorgio Vasari on the East wall of the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, is said to cover an earlier fresco by Leonardo de Vinci depicting the Battle of Anghiari.

At that time Leonardo was battling with another artist, Michelangelo, who had been commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina on the opposite West wall. The two artists did not see eye to eye. Both were critical of each other’s work and seemingly verbally aggressive to each other. And yet both were blessed with amazing artistic talents. Brothers in arms so to speak.

Vasari depicted both men in several ways in his Marciano fresco, even as brothers in arms, matching them to the brothers James and John, who Jesus referred to as “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3 : 17).

In the clip below, Vasari portrays Leonardo (left) and Michelangelo as musket men standing side by side – “Sons of Thunder”. Notice the plumes on their helmets continuing their personal battle. Leonardo’s plume is portrayed as an ape, a reference to his claim that monkeys and humans are close cousins; Michelangelo’s plume is portrayed as an aggressive cockerel, a subtle reference to the uncompromising display of genitalia on his famous statue of David (who battled against Goliath) and other works of nudity that were later covered over after Church authorities deemed them offensive.

This narrative of twinning and covering up extends to other parts of Vasari’s painting. More on this in a future post.

More masking clues

Battle of Marciano by Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

In a post made last month, I pointed out the Dante death mask feature on the peak of a cavalryman’s helmet. A similar feature appears on another rider’s helmet and is meant to represent the head of a faun, the sculpture that Michelangelo is said to have made as his first piece of work in the garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Wikipedia states;

Head of a Faun is a lost sculpture by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo, dating from c. 1489. His first known work of sculpture in marble, it was sculpted when he was 15 or 16 as a copy of an antique work with some minor alterations. According to Giorgio Vasari’s biography of the artist, it was the creation of this work that secured the young Michelangelo the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Left: Dante’s death mask and its representation in Vasari’s fresco. Right: the lost Head of a Faun and Vasari’s version in the Battle of Marciano painting.

Vasari writes:

“[Michelangelo] set himself to counterfeit from a piece of marble an antique head of a Faun that was there, old and wrinkled, which had the nose injured and the mouth laughing. Michelagnolo, who had never yet touched marble or chisels, succeeded so well in counterfeiting it, that the Magnificent Lorenzo was astonished; and then, perceiving that, departing from the form of the antique head, he had opened out the mouth after his own fancy and had made a tongue, with all the teeth showing, that lord, jesting pleasantly, as was his wont, said to him, “Surely you should have known that old folks never have all their teeth, and that some are always wanting.” It appeared to Michelagnolo, in his simplicity, both fearing and loving that lord, that he had spoken the truth; and no sooner had Lorenzo departed than he straightway broke one of the teeth and hollowed out the gum, in such a manner, that it seemed as if the tooth had dropped out. And then he awaited with eagerness the return of the Magnificent Lorenzo, who, when he had come and had seen the simplicity and excellence of Michelagnolo, laughed at it more than once, relating it as a miracle to his friends.”

Can it be a coincidence that both cavalrymen are almost identical in facial features? Other riders in Vasari’s painting of the Battle of Marciano are also closely matched with these men as if they are made from the same mould? What could be the reason for this? Was Vasari insinuating that Dante’s death mask and the faun mask, were replicated at times? Certainly the Dante mask displayed in the Palazzo Vecchio and pictured above is a plaster copy. The Head of the Faun was the property of the Bargello Museum in Florence, but looted in August 1944 by Nazi troops.

“Counterfeiting” or emulating, or copying, is a theme that appears throughout the Marciano battle scene. Take, for instance, the repetition of files of soldiers in the painting, and Vasari’s mention of Bandinelli copying Michelanglo’s cartoon, and Daniele Volterra adapting some of Michelangelo’s drawings for his own use. Vasari, himself, also relied on portraits painted by other artists as references in his work.

This link at Visit-Florence-Italy provides some interesting detail about the Dante death mask.

A painting produced in 1638 by the Florentine artist Octavio Vannini shows Michelangelo standing by the bust of the Head of a Faun before the seated Lorenzo de’ Medici.

I shall explain in a future post why Vasari connected the Head of the Faun to this particular rider and how it links to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Greek gifts… to and fro

I came across an interesting report by Min Chen this week, published on the Artnet website.

Briefly, it stated: “Following an order from Pope Francis, the Vatican Museums has finalized an agreement with Greece to repatriate three Parthenon sculpture fragments from its collection.”

When I viewed the three images at the Vatican Museums website, they seemed familiar, and then I realised that the fragments are referenced in Giorgio Vasari’s fresco depicting the Battle of Marciano.

Could it be that the pieces arrived in Florence at some time during the 15th century as a gift for the Medici family and later placed in the sculpture garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici, so giving access to Vasari?

I’ll explain the connection in a future post.

The head of a young man, one of three sculpted fragments that Pope Francis has gifted to. Ieronymos II, archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church. Photo: Vatican Museums.

Seeing double

Pairings and couplings are a significant feature of Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco. In a previous posts I pointed out the pairing of Dante Alighieri and Virgil, his guide through the Divine Comedy’s first two parts, Inferno and Purgatorio. 

Giorgio Vasari (above) doubling as Baccio Bandinelli (below).

Another pairing is the artist himself, Giorgio Vasari, the knight featured in the bottom right corner of the frame with his head turned to the viewer. He applied a second identity to the figure, the sculptor and painter Baccio Bandinelli; the connection being that Vasari was once a pupil in Bandinelli’s workshop.

In his book of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Artists, Vasari tells of the time when the young Bandinelli, bore hatred toward another sculptor and painter, Michelangelo:

“It was at this time that the cartoon of Michael Angelo in the Council Hall was uncovered [depicting the Battle of Cascina], and all the artists ran to copy it, and Baccio among others. He went more frequently than any one, having counterfeited the key of the chamber. In the year 1512, Piero Soderini was deposed and the house of Medici reinstated. In the tumult, therefore, Baccio, being by himself, secretly cut the cartoon into several pieces.

“Some said he did it that he might have a piece of the cartoon always near him, and others that he wanted to prevent other youths from making use of it; others again say that he did it out of affection for Lionardo da Vinci, or from the hatred he bore to Michael Angelo. The loss anyhow to the city was no small one, and Baccio’s fault very great.”

Seemingly Michelangelo never forgot this act of vandalism and Bandinelli’s continued malice against him and others. Years later, when Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, he made sure that Bandinelli’s “crime” was recorded in the fresco, and in a similar way Vasari later represented his tutor as a second identity applied to a single figure.

In a previous post I explained how Michelangelo referenced his feud with Leonardo da Vinci. I wrote:

“…Michelangelo never actually put paint on the wall, although he did complete cartoons in preparation, as he was summoned by Pope Julius II to come to Rome and paint the Last Judgement. Leonardo did start to paint but encountered technical difficulties with the materials he used. It is said that because the paint or wall coating was mixed with a wax substance parts of the fresco eventually started to slide down the wall. Leonardo abandoned the project and returned to Milan.

Michelangelo was more than aware of Leonardo’s misfortune and continued the feud by referencing in a most unusual and abiding way in the Last Judgment fresco what had happened to his adversary.

Seated on a cloud at the feet of Christ is the bulky figure of St Bartholomew. He is one of many muscular men in the scene. Leonardo didn’t have a good word to say about Michelangelo’s figures. He once described them as looking like sacks of walnuts. Hence Bartholomew holding his flayed carcass, devoid of body parts and looking like an empty sack of walnuts. Michelangelo even went to the extent of painting his own face on the carcass, distorted and seemingly slipping downwards. An obvious reference to Leonardo’s failed fresco sliding down the wall and a retort to the cutting remark made two decades before about muscles and walnuts!”

Michelangelo also likened the carcass to the cartoon he prepared and laid over the wall on which he was commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina, later mutilated and cut into pieces by Bandinelli. So how does this connect to the figure of St Bartholomew? Bandinelli’s birth name was Bartolomeo (Bartholomew) Brandini.

A further connection made by Michelangelo was the second identity given to the figure of Bartholomew, that of Pietro Aretino, an influential writer and critic, and a “lover of men” who declared himself a sodomite since birth. Considered by some to be a blackmailer, he criticised the Last Judgement fresco in an open letter dated November 1545, and reminded Michelangelo he had promised to send him some of his drawings. This request may have been made in an earlier letter sent in January 1538. Michelangelo completed the Last Judgement in 1441.

Aretino wanting drawings by Michelangelo paralleled the desire of Bandinelli copying and eventually cutting up the cartoon drawings prepared for frescoing the Battle of Cascina. It is theme that Vasari links to two other identities portrayed in his Marciano battle scene – Daniele Volterra and Tommaso dei Cavalieri – shown below.

Volterra (left), a close friend of Michelangelo, was the painter assigned to overpaint and cover some of the nude features in the Last Judgement fresco. He also utilised many of Michelangelo’s drawings to produce some of his own paintings, most notably The Descent from the Cross frescoed in the church of Trinità dei Monti, Rome. (More about this and how it connects to Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco in a future post).

Tommaso Cavalieri, the figure with his right hand raised, was the platonic lover of Michelangelo. They first met in 1523. Michelangelo was 57 years old at the time; Tommaso, about 20. Vasari wrote about four drawings which Michelangelo produced and gifted to Cavalieri, two of which were a pair:  “…a Ganymede rapt to Heaven by Jove’s Eagle, a Tityus with the Vulture devouring his heart…”

Michelangelo’s drawings of The Punishment of Tityus, and The Rape of Ganymede

The name Cavalieri connects with the cavalier on the horse mounted by the dual identities of Vasari and Bandinelli. Features of the vulture and eagle are paired on the representation of Cavalieri. Face on is the moustache and beak features (the peaked hat). Tommaso’s left shoulder is shaped as the yellow beak of an eagle and points to the devoured heart in the shape of a red shield. However, in Michelangelo’s drawing it  is the vulture who devours the heart.

So how are Tityus and Ganymede depicted? They are paired as the bloodied kneeling figure, face down on the ground. The figure also represents another pairing: Aeneas from Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Michelangelo.

More on this in a future post.

On the verge of Hell

In my previous post I revealed the identity of Dante Alighieri in Giorgio Vasari’s fresco depicting the Battle of Marciano. His guide through the first two parts of the Divine Comedy, Inferno and Purgatario, was the Roman poet Virgil.

Vasari portrayed Virgil as the faceless head alongside the helmet representation of the exiled Dante, and partly overshadowed by the helmet of the rider at his left shoulder, emphasising his role as a ‘shade’ or spirit of both darkness and light.

Notice also the helmet’s egg-shape, a reference to the sea-front Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) in Naples and its egg legend associated with Virgil.

Vasari also played on the word Virgil as meaning verge or fringe, hence why he placed Dante’s guide at the edge of the frame.

The helmet’s sickle-shape weld, or fringe, suggests a merger of two parts. Here Vasari connects Virgil and the Egg Castle’s location to the sickle-shape coast-line of the Gulf of Naples; and then plays on the word gulf with Guelphs, a name associated with the political faction that supported the Papacy, as opposed to the Ghibellines who favoured the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante Alighieri took the side of the Guelphs.

Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle), Naples, Italy

Within sight of Naples and a short distance of about 20 kilometres is the volcano Mt Vesuvius, which is another pointer to the ashen colour of Virgil’s helmet and armour. Dante’s red plume – suggesting the features of “a man of sorrow” can also be visualised as a fiery eruption and a pointer to the descent and journey of both poets into Hell, or Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy.

Naples, Italy, with Mount Vesuvius in the background.

As well as embedding references in the Marciano fresco to Dante’s journey through Hell and Purgatory to finally reach Paradise, Vasari also included pointers to Virgil’s famous poem, The Aeneid, the story of Aeneas who fled the fall of Troy and made his way to Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

Vasari merged elements of these two narratives with content from other artistic works to form a framework of connections and links to produce a new creation. The work  was commissioned by the Florentine duke Cosimo I, to cover over the fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari that was started and abandoned by Leonardo da Vinci some 60 years earlier.

I shall explain in a future post how Vasari called upon and utilised a particular image from a very rare Late Antique illuminated manuscript, now referred to as Vergilius Vaticanus, as part of the process off merging narratives of myth and truth in his Battle of Marciano fresco.