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.
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.
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