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.
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…”
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.
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