Botticelli drawings head for San Francisco

The first major exhibition dedicated to the drawings of the Sandro Botticelli will open later this year at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The show will feature almost 60 works in total, including five newly attributed drawings by the Early Renaissance master. More details at this link.

Sandro Botticelli’s Study of the head of a woman in profile “La Bella Simonetta”(around 1485) was drawn using white gouache on light-brown prepared paper. © Ashmolean Museum

Parrot fashion

This striking portrait is of Marguerite de Navarre, also known as Marguerite of Angoulème. She was the sister of the French king Francis I.

Note the green parrot perched on her right hand.

The painting is attributed to Jean Clouet, thought to be originally from the Lowlands, probably Flanders, but relocated to France and worked for the French court.

The drawing alongside is also of Marguerite de Navarre, produced later in her life by François Clouet, son of Jean. Francois was known for his portraits of the French ruling family and court members. Note the lap dog.

Giorgio Vasari combined elements of both artworks to create the identity of Marguerite of Angoulème for his fresco depicting the marriage of Henry, the second son of Francis I, to Catherine de’s Medici.

Marguerite is the woman in the centre of the group shown below.

Another level of identities: Gaston de Foix, Marguerite de Navarre, and Bona, Duchess of Milan.

In this scenario, the head on the left represents Gaston de Foix, said to be Marguerite’s one real love in life. He died in the Battle of Ravenna fighting for the French against combined Spanish and Papal forces. His unfinished tomb is located in Sforza Castle, Milan, and so makes the connection to the head’s principal identity, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Note the similarity to the head of the effigy on Gaston’s tomb, to the head given to Galeazzo by Vasari.

The tomb of Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, located at Sforza Castle, Milan.
Bona of Savoy

A third identity attributed to the woman opposite Galeazzo is his wife Bona of Savoy. Two other identities are Maria Salviati and Fioretta Gorini.

Bona connects with another identity to the central woman, Teresa of Avila, as explained in a previous post. Vasari made two connections to these two women – the locations Avila and Angoulème. Bona, Duchess of Milan was born in Avigliana, Turin. The name Angoulème puns with the angle formed by Galeazzo’s nose.

Marguerite makes a connection with Teresa of Avila. The writings and actions of the Spanish Carmelite were seen as part of the Catholic Revival against the growing Protestant Reformation movement in Europe that  influenced Marguerite and her writings, particularly her poem Mirror of the Sinful Soul. Note the head of a dog – a bloodhound – over Marguerite’s chest. Perhaps a reference to Cerebus, the dog associated with Hades, but countered by the Dominican Order’s symbol of the “hound of the Lord”, and so another pointer to Botticelli’s Primavera and its similar symbolism.

The Antelope Nose and the Carmelites

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.

The Spanish city of Ávila with its centuries old walled enclosure.

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

The marriage between Henry, Duke of Orleans and Catherine Medici, Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio
Primavera, by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

A touch of the Tetrarchs

I had intended for this post to explain how Pontormo’s portrait of Lorenzino de’ Medici connected with the image of King Francis I in the Vasari painting of the marriage between Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici, but instead I shall focus on the group of four figures to the right of the French king (shown below).

Tucked in immediately behind Francis is Lorenzino de’ Medici. Next is Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici. Behind him is the Spanish priest and former soldier Ignatius Loyola, placed next to another cardinal, Girolamo Verallo.

What binds these four men together is that they all have a connection with Venice. The group can also be split into two pairs: Lorenzino connects with Ippolito; Ignatius links with Verallo.

Giorgio Vasari or his assistant Giovanni Stradano (and I’m beginning to sense it was Stradano who was responsible for the composition) connected the four-man group to a famous porphyry sculptured group of figures known as the Portrait of Four Tetrarchs and attached to the façade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The two sets of sculpted tetrarchs are located on the south corner of the Basilica and were brought to Venice as loot following the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade.

This also makes a connection to the figure of Pope Clement VII and the Sack of Rome in 1527 by rogue troops of Emperor Charles V. Clement was kept captive for six months in Castel Sant’Angelo. While imprisoned, Clement grew a beard which he kept for the rest of his life as a sign of mourning for the sack of Rome, an example followed by his successor Paul III, placed at Clement’s right shoulder and looking upwards.

An earlier Sack of Rome by Visigoths happened in 410, about a century after the figures of the Four Tetrarchs were said to have been sculpted. As to their identity one theory is “they represent a dynastic group of the Constantinian dynasty”. If so, this in turn would connect with the figure of Lorenzino de’ Medici who, in a drunken state as a youth, set about decapitating and mutilating some of the statues on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. His actions would have served as a painful reminder to Pope Clement VII of the sack of Rome and his own captivity. For his crime, Lorenzino was exiled from Rome.

Left to right: Lorenzino de’ Medici, Ippolito de’ Medici, Ignatius Loyola and Girolamo Verallo.

Now to the Venice connections. Lorenzino was assassinated in Venice on February 26, 1548; Ippolito was once a papal legate assigned to the Republic of Venice by his cousin Pope Clement VII. They are paired because of their same interest in deposing Alessandro de Medici as Duke of Florence.

Ignatius Loyola was ordained priest in Vienna on June 24,1537. He renewed his vows of poverty and chastity to the then papal legate to Vienna, Cardinal Girolamo Verallo who became the priest’s protector. Verallo was already acquainted with Pope Paul III as his father served as the pope’s personal physician. Hence Girolamo’s placing behind the figure of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, standing in line for the papacy behind Pope Clement VII. Girolamo’s head is also placed immediately behind the head of Henry, Duke of Orleans, later to become Henry II of France. After Julius III was elected to the papacy in 1550 the new pope made Girolamo legate a latere to Henry II the following year.

It’s important to note that some of the figures in the marriage scene have been assigned more than one identity by the painter.

More disclosures on this work in my next post.

Heads, helmets, hats and caps

The Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap was painted by Jacopo Carucci (also known as Pontormo). It’s dated at 1529 and said to depict a young Florentine aristocrat named Carlo Neroni.

But I believe it to be someone else: Lorenzino de’ Medici, the man who claimed he assassinated his ‘friend’ and distant cousin Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, on the eve of the Epiphany, January 6, 1537.

A few days later Lorenzino, who was a gifted writer and dramatist, declared openly the reason he murdered the duke was political, to free Florence from a tyrant and Medici rule and preserve the Republic of Florence. He compared his actions to those of the ancient Roman politician Brutus, famous as one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.

In my previous post about Giorgio Vasari’s painting of the marriage between Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Catherine de’ Medici, I explained how the head placed on the shoulder of Pope Clement VII represented three people: Alessandro de’ Medici (Duke of Florence), Galeazzo Maria Sforza (Duke of Milan), and one of the latter’s assassins, Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani. I made no mention of the name of Galeazzo’s assassin. But he is placed elsewhere in the picture, his head also on a shoulder, that of the French king Francis I (see image below).

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to source a higher resolution of this painting, so the important detail embedded in this section of the picture is difficult to pick out. Nevertheless, this group of three men provides some clues to be able to identify Lorenzino as the head in the middle.

An episode in Lorenzino’s early life confirms his connection to the cardinal featured on the right. He is Ippolito de’ Medici, an illegitimate son of Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici and therefore a distant cousin of Lorenzino. As can be seen by his attire he was a cardinal, though never an ordained priest. He was made Cardinal by another illegitimate cousin, Pope Clement VII, on January 10 1523. On the same day he was also appointed as Archbishop of the Avignon diocese in France, which explains one of the reasons Vasari has placed him on the French side of the marriage scene.

Another reason is that while he was serving in Rome he pleaded for Lorenzino who in 1538 upset Pope Clement VII by mutilating the heads of some of the statues on the Arch of Constantine. The outcome was that Lorenzino was expelled from Rome, a lighter punishment than the one the Pope had first threatened – execution. And so from this we have another ‘head’ connection.

Ippolito and Lorenzino also shared an interest in deposing Alessandro de’ Medici from his position as Governor and Duke of Florence. However, Ippolito wanted the title for himself and lobbied Clement VII for the position, but the Pope’s choice was his own son. Ippolito never tired of conspiring against Alessandro and seemingly paid the the price for his efforts when he became ill on a journey and died a few days later after claiming he had been poisoned on the orders of the Florentine duke. He was just 24 years old.

Vasari’s image of Cardinal Ippolito is probably based on his portrait painted by Titian in 1546.

It’s hardly apparent, but as in the Pontormo portrait, Lorenzino is wearing a red cap. Neither is his head completely visible. It is eclipsed by the head of Francis I.

Here, Vasari, has referenced the mythological “cap of invisibility” also known as the “cap of Hades” that turns the wearer invisible, a cunning devise to conceal their true nature – as in the perceived ‘friendship’ offered by the assassin Lorenzino to Ippolito.

Hades helmet of invisibility was also shared with the messenger god Hermes who wore the cap in his battle with Hippolytus the giant. And so this makes the connection with the name of Cardinal Ippolito, who wears a red biretta in the painting.

The cap or helmet of invisibility also features in Botticelli’s Primavera painting and in a section referencing Hades (god of the dead and the underworld) and the watchdog Cerebus. The symbolism also points to the Dominican Order of Preachers sometimes known as the “Hounds of the Lord” or “God’s Dogs”.

In the clip below (left) is the ‘shade’ of an ‘invisible’ monk’s cowl and hood; and (right) the outline of a hound’s head.

  • More on this in a future post.

The nose have it!

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.

Detail from the Room of Pope Clement VII, Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Jonathan at Flicker

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.

Alessandro de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari, Uffizi, Florence

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.

Marriage of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici, Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

More on this in a future post.

When opposites attract

This post presents more details about Vasari’s marriage scene between Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Catherine de’ Medici, and how it was inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera painting. 

The male and female mythology figures, Saturn and his consort sister Ops, placed at the right edge of Vasari’s picture, simulate the pairing of Zephyr and Chloris in Primavera, with one head turned and another looking down, except the male and female roles are reversed. Their disguised identities in both paintings are Leonardo da Vinci and Fioretta Gorini. Yes, Fioretta appears more than once in each work, and there are several references to Leonardo embedded in both, too.

A third level of identities given to the pair is Adam and Eve. This introduces another painter into the scenario, Michelangelo, and is a pointer to one of the ceiling scenes he painted in the Sistine Chapel. I shall post about this connection at another time.

Michelangelo appears in Vasari’s marriage scene and is placed at the extreme left of the painting, depicted as the Archangel Michael – hence the arch shape of the frame next to the figure. Note also the frame’s arch connected to Saturn and Ops, and how it corresponds with the arched trees and figures of Zephyr and Chloris in Primavera.

That representations of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are placed at opposite walls of the frame is also a pointer to the occasion when both artists were commissioned to paint battle scenes on opposite walls in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Five Hundred which was later extended and decorated by Giorgio Vasari.

Hall of the Five Hundred, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Matching pairs

Galeazzo Maria Forza, Duke of Milan, by Piero Pollaiuolo c1471, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This portrait is of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the fifth Duke of Milan. It was painted c1471 by Piero Pollaiuolo (also known as Piero Benci) and one which Giorgio Vasari sourced as a reference for the duke’s profile featured in his marriage picture of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici (see previous post).

Vasari also utilised the portrait to connect with the figure of Giuliano de’ Medici depicted in Botticelli’s Primavera painting, and incorporated some of the Florentine’s features to create the dwarf figure standing beside the groom in the marriage scene.

Vasari colour-matched the Galeazzo portrait to the dwarf’s clothes, red and green, and both men hold leather gloves in their right hand. 

Vasari’s dwarf wears boots and stands with a hand on hip, as does Botticelli’s figure of Giuliano. Both men look up, Giuliano at the cloud formation, the dwarf at the wool collar worn by the bridegroom intended to imitate the passing cloud, but also shaped to represent a sheep’s head and its horn. 

This was intended to echo a reference Botticelli made to John the Baptist in the Primavera painting. Vasari instead selected a biblical verse in which the Baptist points out Jesus as he ‘passed’ by at the river Jordan and says, “Look, there is the Lamb of God” (John 1 : 36).

The raising of the Eucharist (the Lamb of God) during Mass was the signal for the assassins to attack Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici in Florence’s Duomo where Giuliano died from his wounds.

The passing cloud in Primavera is a reference to the Passover but in Vasari’s painting he translates this as a passing from one side to another, a crossover – for example, the figure of Galeazzo transitioning from the men’s section to the women’s.

There are other examples of change-over in Vasari’s painting and more narratives connected to the dwarf which I shall explain at another time.

Note also Galeazzo’s pointed forefinger (and his gloves), and its match to Giuliano’s pointed forefinger. Vasari links this feature by shaping the dwarf’s gloves to represent a serpent’s head to connect with the serpent features on the caduceus raised by Giuliano in the Primavera painting.

Every picture tells a story

It is said that “Every picture tells a story”. Some may want to qualify the idiom and add, “but it’s not always clear what story is being told.”

The marriage scene above presents several narratives and characters. It was painted by Giorgio Vasari sometime between 1559 and 1562 for the room in the Palazzo Vecchio dedicated to Pope Clement VII.

Notice that the picture is generally divided into two areas – men on the left, women on the right – except for the kneeling male figure at the right edge of the frame and for the man with the heavy moustache and hook nose behind the Pope’s shoulder and looking towards the group of women. 

The latter is Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan until his assassination on December 26 1476. From this it can be clearly understood that he was not present at the marriage of Henri and Catherine fifty-five years later. So why has he been given such an important place at the Pope’s shoulder in Vasari’s painting?

It is the first of many clues and links to the work that was the source of inspiration for Vasari, the painting by Botticelli known as Primavera.

Botticelli gave more than one identity to the figures he painted in Primavera. The figure referred to as Mars, has several identities, one of which is Giuliano de’ Medici who, like Galeazzo Sforza, was assassinated in a cathedral some sixteen months later.

Notice the Mars-Giuliano figure in Primavera stands in a contrapposto pose with his back to the women in the painting and facing the edge of the frame. Vasari places Galeazzo Sforza in an opposite direction facing the group of women. Unlike the Giuliano figure, only the head of Galeazzo is shown and is covered by a cloth cap similar to the one worn by the woman next to him, Fioretta Gorini, the mother of Pope Clement VII.

Galeazzo was the son of Francesco I Sforza, a condottiere who founded the Sforza dynasty in the duchy of Milan, hence the name given to Galeazzo (meaning ‘helmet’) and the helmet shape of the cloth. But there are other reasons why the head of Galeazzo is depicted in this way.

When he was assassinated at the entrance to Milan Cathedral, three men took part in the attack, led by Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani who attempted to escape by crossing over to the seating in the cathedral reserved for women where he was caught and killed (see the red-handed figure fleeing towards the group of women in the illustration above). His head was cut off and with those of the other assassins displayed on the cathedral bell tower.

So now it can be understood why the Duke of Milan is partly disguised wearing a woman’s headdress, and why Vasari gave him a moustache to also identify him as a male with his head turned to the women’s side of the painting. The head placed on the Pope’s shoulder is also a pointer to the severed head of Lampugnani – a double-head feature borrowed from Primavera and located on the shoulder of the Flora figure.

The bell-shaped headdress refers to the bell-tower. Galeazzo is depicted in shade which indicates the dark side of his sadistic personality and the biblical reference to not hiding one’s light – or Lamp(pugnani) – under a bushel. That Galeazzo is portrayed as both a man and a woman refers to the claims of him being bisexual and who raped both women and men.

Galeazzo’s features are modelled on his portrait painted by Piero Benci which is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Vasari has also referenced and connected the portrait in another part of his painting which I will explain in future post.

Close encounter

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

My last post of 2022 compared two images of Fioretta Gorini, although one of the portraits is mistakingly identified as Ginevra de Benci by the National Gallery in London where the painting is housed. No matter. 

Two versions of Fioretta Gorini… (left) as painted by Leonardo da Vinci; (right) as painted by Giorgio Vasari and modelled on Leonardo’s version.

The source of this latest discovery is a painting displayed in the room dedicated to Pope Clement VII in the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. Clement was the name taken by Guilio de’ Medici when he was elected Pope in November 1523. He is said to be the son of Giuliano de’ Medici and his mistress Fioretta Gorini who gave birth a month after Giuliano was assassinated on April 26, 1474.

The painting is attributed to Giorgio Vasari but likely assisted by Giovanni Stradano. It depicts the marriage of Henry, the second son of the French king Francis I, and Catherine, the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino. The wedding took place at Marseille on October 28, 1533, when the couple were just 14 years old. Pope Clement VII, the central figure in the painting, conducted the marriage ceremony.

The Palazzo Vecchio is known for the many paintings in the building produced by Vasari and his assistants and for his expansion of the room known as the Hall of the Five Hundred.

Just a minute walk from the Palazzo Vecchio is the famous Uffizi Gallery, originally designed by Giorgio Vasari as offices and constructed over two decades between 1560 and 1580. The two buildings are connected by a walkway known as the Vasari Corridor.

The Vasari Corridor between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery

Although the Uffizi houses several paintings by Giorgio Vasari, there is one famous painting in the Gallery that connects him in a way that has never come to light in modern times. For all that has been researched and known over the centuries about Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera painting, I don’t know of any study that has revealed its connection to Vasari’s painting of Pope Clement VII marrying Henry II and Catherine de Medici. Botticelli’s Primavera is a primary source of inspiration for the Vasari composition.

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Vasari mentioned the Primavera painting in his two-volume work of The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects:

“For various houses throughout the city he [Botticelli] painted round pictures, and many female nudes, of which there are still two at Castello, a villa of Duke Cosimo’s; one representing the birth of Venus, with those Winds and Zephyrs that bring her to the earth, with the Cupids; and likewise another Venus, whom the Graces are covering with flowers as a symbol of spring; and all this he is seen to have expressed very gracefully.”

Vasari’s brief description gives no indication of any disguised narratives in the Primavera painting, so who was the source that later provided him or Stradano with an explanation to enable them to recycle various elements of the painting and present a new version of Springtime? Could it have been Michelangelo who was 35 years old when Botticelli died in 1510. Vasari was born a year later and Stradano first saw the light of day in Flanders in 1523.

I’m trying to source a high resolution of the Vasari painting to access more detail. The online versions are small, low resolution images and most of the detail is unclear. 

More on this in a future post.

Another image of Fioretta Gorini

This will be my last post until 2023, and so I take the opportunity to wish all visitors to this blog a happy and peaceful Christmas.

And I leave you with this discovery I made today – another image of Fioretta Gorini the mother of Pope Clement VII and mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici.

On the left is Fioretta as painted by Leonardo da Vinci; on the right, Fioretta as painted by Giorgio Vasari and modelled on Leonardo’s version.

More to be revealed in the New Year!

Angels and Demons

So just how did Michelangelo translate features from Botticelli’s Venus and Mars painting to the ‘damned man’ in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement fresco?

The four satyrs (Botticelli and his three brothers) teasing and tempting the sleeping figure of Mars – aka Leonardo da Vinci  – form the group of three demons clinging to the ‘damned man’ alongside the trumpeter in the purple drape.

Michelangelo mixed and matched the features. For instance, his ‘extra’ angel with the trumpet represents the satyr sounding the conch into Leonardo’s ear, except that in this instance the trumpet’s bell end is directed to an alternative orifice.

The recipient is the smirking grey-coloured demon poking out his tongue and with both arms wrapped around the legs of the ‘damned man’. As in the Venus and Mars painting, he represents the middle of the trio of satyrs with their arms wrapped around the lance.

The Botticelli conch is symbolic of female genitalia and so the satyr can be understood as blowing ‘sweet dreams’ into Leonardo’s ear, his head ‘buzzing’ with thoughts from the humming sound of the nearby wasps . The wasps are a symbol of the Vespucci family and the woman of his dreams facing Leonardo, Simonetta Vespucci. Michelangelo echoed the sound of the buzzing with the group of trumpeters. The golden hair of the ‘extra’ angel is shaped and coloured to represent a buzzing swarm of wasps. His trumpet extending into the rear end of the grey demon can be deduced as a sting-in-the-tail feature.

The ‘extra’ angel (notice the lion face impression on his back) represents Leonardo da Vinci, and the colour of his purple drape coordinates with the rose tinted blanket beneath the Leonardo figure in the Venus and Mars painting.

Leonardo wears a pink or rose colour cloak with a winged sleeve in another Botticelli painting, the Uffizi version of The Adoration of the Magi. Notice also Leonardo’s bird-like stance.

The purple drape is also shaped in the form of a bird with an extended wing. Michelangelo has paired this with the bird-shaped white cloth covering the sleeping Leonardo. Note the bolt pressing down on the fluted tail. This is a reference to Leonardo portrayed as a fallen angel, “like a bolt of lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18), or perhaps from his failed attempt at flying that seemed like a bird falling out of the sky. A ‘fallen angel’ motif representing Leonardo can be found in another Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus, and also as a winged Medusa-type face on the breastplate of the terracotta bust by Andrea del Verrocchio depicting Giuliano de’ Medici.

As explained in the previous post, Simonetta also represents Medusa, the woman whose gaze can turn people into stone. Has this happened to the sleeping Leonardo? Notice the head of the middle satyr supporting the lance is turned to gaze at the Medusa figure. This explains why the demon gripping the ‘damned man’s legs is the colour of stone, except that his right hand isn’t. Could this suggest the process is ongoing or possibly a device to question why? 

The answer can be found by looking at the demon from a different perspective. When rotated 90 degrees to the left, the hazy cloud which the demon is facing takes on a dreamy shape representing the head of Medusa in Botticelli’s painting. It’s also another pointer to Leonardo’s presence in the painting and the ‘sfumato’ technique he perfected in his own work, where tones and colours are blended to produce soft, vague edges and outlines.

Understanding Botticelli’s satyrs as creatures of temptation helps identify the green creature biting into the ‘damned man’s‘ thigh. It represents the Botticelli satyr whose face is hidden under the helmet and the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve to bite and eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

The fruit is the circular shape formed behind the head of the serpent’s coiling body, similar to how the shield or buckle is formed out of the shaft of the lance. Truth is represented by the straight lance. The serpent’s lies and hidden deceit – represented by the helmet covering the satyr – is translated as the serpent’s twisting shaft behind the ‘damned man’. 

From this it can be determined that Michelangelo’s ‘damned man’ group also typifies the ‘Fall of Man’, the exit from Paradise into a world of lasting temptation and sin. So where is Eve, the woman who first conversed with the serpent? She can only be the dreamy cloud shape of Medusa, and the woman sat opposite Leonardo with snakes in her hair.

Michelangelo depicted the fourth satyr, Sandro Botticelli himself, as the horned demon with the walnut-shaped back, gripping the ankles of the ‘damned man’. In the Venus and Mars painting he is shown encased in a cuirass that serves as a cushion for the resting Leonardo.

Left: Leonardo da Vinci as a Fallen Hebrew and a Fallen Angel.
Right: Sandro Botticelli as a demon matched to the teasing satyr.

So what could be the reason for Michelangelo depicting the ‘extra angel’ as Leonardo, yet also doubling up as a tormentor – an angel in disguise perhaps, or even a possible falling angel? Another take on the four figures attached to the ‘damned man’ is they represent what is known as the Four Last Things in Christian eschatology – meditating on Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. This descending sequence is matched by Michelangelo’s placing of the four demons.

The green serpent represents the time in the Garden of Eden when Death came into the world; the stone-colour figure gazing at the faint and hazy Medusa represents Judgement – “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror, but then we shall be seeing face to face” (1 Cor 13:12);  The ‘extra’ angel attached to the trumpeters and set aside from the ‘damned man’ represents Heaven; and the horned demon that is ready to receive the ‘damned man’ represents Hell.

The Venus and Mars painting can also be considered from another religious viewpoint, a reference to the biblical and erotic Song of Songs. From a Christian perspective the poem reads as an allegory of Christ and his bride, the Church. Botticelli depicted the leaning figure of Venus in his painting of the Birth of Venus as Ecclesia (the Church) for which the model was Simonetta Vespucci.

Very likely,  Chapter 5 of the Song of Songs inspired some of the visuals in the Venus and Mars painting  … “I come into my garden, my sister my promised bride, […] I gather my honey and my honeycomb […] friends […] I sleep but my heart is awake […] my love, my dove, my perfect one […] I have taken off my tunic […] I have washed my feet […] Then I rose to open to my Beloved, myrrh ran off my hands, pure myrrh off my fingers, on to the handle of the bolt […] My soul failed at his flight […] I called to him but he did not answer […] My beloved is fresh and ruddy […] His head is golden, purest gold…

Two decades earlier Michelangelo made other references to Leonardo da Vinci when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. More about this in a future post.

Good vibrations

Detail from Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel

Art historians generally relate this group of figures portrayed in Michelangelo’s Last Testament fresco to the angels mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and “the seven trumpets given to the seven angels who stand in the presence of God” (Rev 8 : 2)

However, for a particular reason, Michelangelo instead depicted eight angels with trumpets, the odd one out being the angel wearing the purple drape placed on the extreme right of the group. At first glance it appears that this angel has a violin tucked under his chin, but closer inspection reveals the instrument is a trumpet. The double-take was intentional on Michelangelo’s part and yet another reference to Leonardo da Vinci, said to have been an accomplished player of the “lira da brachia”, literally an “arm lyre”.

The sounds emanating from both instruments, the trumpet and lyre, are caused by vibration – a buzzing of lips on the trumpet and pulsating strings on the lyre. This connects to another distinct feature Michelangelo portrayed on his “extra angel” – his golden head of hair which is shaped and coloured to represent a buzzing swarm of wasps or bees. 

While none of Leonardo’s eight angels are shown to have any conventional wings to flap or vibrate, the purple wrap around this particular angel is meant to suggest the shape of a bird with one of its wings extended. 

The angel is placed facing the “damned man” and his demons with his focus on the horned devil. The angel’s trumpet-cum-horn is also positioned as a device to make a connection with the “damned man” feature.

In my previous post about Michelangelo’s Last Judgement I explained that the configuration of the “damned man” and attached demons was partly inspired by a scene featured in another Sistine Chapel fresco – The Trials of Moses painted by Sandro Botticelli.

However, the attributes mentioned about the trumpeting eighth angel, coupled with others found in the “damned man“ group, were all borrowed and recycled by Michelangelo from another painting by Sandro Botticelli – Venus and Mars, which is now housed in the National Gallery, London.

Venus and Mars, by Sandro Botticelli, National Gallery, London

The models for Venus and Mars are Simonetta Vespucci and Leonardo da Vinci, while the four young satyrs represent Sandro Botticelli and his three brothers, Giovanni, Simone and Antonio. Sandro is the satyr encased in the cuirass generally assumed to belong to the sleeping figure of Mars, the Roman god of war. But compare his chest size and it is very obvious the small, barrel-shaped cuirass was not designed to fit Mars but is a pointer to Sandro’s identity – Botticelli meaning “little barrel”.

Art historian Lightbown explains in his book, Sandro Botticelli Life and Work, that “The poses of  Mars and Venus were inspired directly or indirectly by a relief of Bacchus and Ariadne on an antique sarcophagus – one now in the Vatican has been claimed as their direct source.” (see image below)

Botticelli helped paint some of the Sistine Chapel frescoes in 1481, so was this a time and opportunity for him to observe the sarcophagus that would later inspire him to produce the Venus and Mars panel painting?

Another take on this is that his Mars figure may also represent Giuliano de’ Medici who was assassinated in the Duomo Cathedral of Florence on April 26, 1478 – two years to the day after Simonetta Vespucci died in 1476 at the young age of 22.

The relationship between Giuliano and Simonetta was said to have been platonic – a courtly love. On January 29, 1475, Giuliano entered a jousting tournament and carried a standard bearing the image of Simonetta portrayed as Pallas Athene which had been painted by Botticelli.

Lightbown describes the standard and its symbolism in great detail – his source being the Florentine court poet Angelo Poliziano and his poem La Giostra, written after Simonetta’s death – and which in part states that “beneath her helmet of burnished metal […] her hair, elaborately braided and ornamented, fluttered in the wind. She held a jousting lance in her right hand and the shield of Medusa in her left and gazed fixedly into the sun, which shone above her at the top of the banner.”

Lightbown adds that when Giuliano entered the tournament field he was followed by “a great troop of horsemen, friends, relatives, retainers, with three pipers, a trumpeter, and two drummers”. Seemingly this part of Poliziano’s poem was taken up by Botticelli and applied to the four satyrs who can be recognised as horsemen and relatives, even retainers working for the Medici family, as well as pipers and a trumpeter. The reference to two drummers is applied to the two hollow boughs of the tree that Mars rests against.

Simonetta’s “helmet of burnished metal” is worn by the satyr nearest her and tucked behind the lance’s buckle or shield. Notice the sun’s reflection in the helmet and the the gaze of Venus fixed on the highlight. Yes, Venus, aka, Simonetta, is also presented as Medusa whose gaze can turn men into stone. 

Later in Poliziano’s poem Mars, aka Giuliano, “sees in a dream his lady Simonetta wearing the armour of Pallas over a gown whose whiteness is itself a symbol of chastity, and protecting her breast against the arrows of love with the head of Medusa, With stern and angry face she binds Cupid to the olive tree of Pallas, plucks feathers from his wings and breaks his bows and arrows. Cupid in tears, calls on Giuliano for compassion and aid. But Giuliano answers that he can give no aid, for his lady wears the armour of Pallas, and his spirits are quelled by the terrible Gorgon head and by her countenance and helm and glittering lance. Then Cupid bids him lift up his eyes to the resplendent sun of Glory, which will kindle the courage in his breast and expel all cowardice from it. Glory descends, despoils his lady of the arms of Pallas, and clothes him in in them. Thus armed he wins the joust.”
(Ronald Lightbown, Botticelli Life and Work, pp 64-65)

Detail from Botticelli’s Primavera, Primaverai, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

There isn’t a Cupid in sight in the Venus and Mars painting but in actual fact Botticelli, punning on his identity as a satyr, is referring to the portrayal of himself as Cupid in another of his paintings, Primavera. It is said that Botticelli held an unrequited love for Simonetta. The Vespucci family were neighbours of his and may have even commissioned the Venus and Mars painting. Poliziano’s mention of Cupid calling on Giuliano for compassion and aid – for protection from the onslaught of Medusa from the fiery arrows of love despatched by Botticelli in the direction of Simonetta, explains why the artist has enclosed himself in the cuirass supposedly belonging to Giuliano.  

Notice Simonetta’s “stern and angry face” and the light shining on the face of Giuliano, his eyes lifted up to “the resplendent sun of Glory”.

The name Vespucci translates as “little wasps”, symbolised on the family’s “stemma” or coat of arms, hence the wasps featured buzzing around the head of the sleeping figure of Mars/Giuliano/Leonardo. Wasp motifs also feature on the figure of Venus/Pallas/Medusa/Simonetta as a hair braid and the plaited collar of her gown.  The Medusa attributes can be recognised in her hair’s snake tails, and the shield shape of the red cushion under her right arm, similar in shape to a snake head. The protective shield-cum-cushion mirrors the protective cuirass-cum-cushion in the opposite corner of the painting).

So why did Botticelli use the likeness of Leonardo da Vinci to portray the figure of Mars/Giuliano? A terracotta bust of Giuliano de Medici, sculpted by Andrea del Verrocchio, is kept at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. It shows Giuliano wearing body armour – a cuirass.

Giuliano de’ Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The front displays a Medusa-type gorgon modelled on the face of a screaming Leonardo da Vinci. Instead of snakes protruding from the head it is encased by feathered wings. The NGA suggests that the bust may have been sculpted to celebrate the occasion of Giuliano’s victory in the joust of January 1475. If this was so, it may also explain one of the reasons why Botticelli modelled the figure of Mars/Giuliano on Leonardo da Vinci. 

The cuirass connection also points to another scenario – the assassination of Giuliano de Medici. On the day he was murdered in the Duomo on Easter Sunday, 1478, two of his assassins accompanied Giuliano to the Cathedral, supporting him on the way as he was suffering from a bout of sciatica. In reality, the two men with their arms around Giuliano, were checking to see if he was wearing a corset of any kind for protection. He wasn’t. Midway through Mass his assassins struck. Bandini Baroncelli plunged a dagger into Giuliano’s chest and Francesco de Pazzi continually stabbed him after he had fallen. Nineteen wounds were inflicted on Giuliano’s body.

My next post will show how Michelangelo embedded features from Botticelli’s Venus and Mars painting in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement fresco. 

Ferrari aids restoration of famous fresco

Luxury sports car maker Ferrari is supporting the restoration of a Cimabue fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Cimabue’s fresco Madonna Enthroned with the Child, St Francis and Four Angels – known as the ‘Maestà di Assisi’ – is to be carefully restored in a project entirely made possible by Ferrari. The conservation programme will start next January and is expected to last around a year. More details at this link.

Fresco feuds

Detail from the Trials of Moses, by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel

Moses, a man by now, set out at this time to visit his countrymen, and he saw what a hard life they were having; and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. Looking round he saw no one in sight, so he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. On the following day he came back, and there were two Hebrews, fighting. He said to the man who was in the wrong, “What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?” “And who appointed you” the man retorted “to be prince over us, and judge?” Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was frightened. “Clearly this business has come to light” he thought. When Pharaoh heard of the matter he would have killed Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian. And he sat down beside a well. 

This passage from Exodus 2 : 11-15 is referred to in a panel titled “The Trials of Moses” on the South Wall of the Sistine Chapel. It was frescoed by Sandro Botticelli and assistants sometime in 1481, about sixty years before Michelangelo completed The Last Judgement Painting on the Chapel’s altar wall.

Botticelli’s portrayal of the Exodus account highlights Moses overpowering the “man who was in the wrong” while the other fighting Hebrew is depicted being comforted and led away by the female figure dressed in blue. Moses is also featured fleeing for the land of Midian.

The Hebrew held down by Moses represents Leonardo da Vinci. His identity is explained at this link: When Leonardo was ‘murdered’ by Moses (and Botticelli) in the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo picked up on the Leonardo association in Botticelli’s fresco and recycled some characteristics to include in his own portrayal of the polymath in The Last Judgment painting – the figure generally referred to as the Damned Man

Although contemporaries, Leonardo and Michelangelo were far from being bosom pals. Michelangelo, apparently a more sensitive soul, reacted to any form of adverse criticism of his work, and Leonardo placed Michelangelo among the group of painters whose muscular figures he described as looking like a sack of walnuts or a bundle of radishes.

Seemingly, Michelangelo never forgot this slight against his work and some two decades later portrayed Leonardo as the Damned Man – inferring that misjudgment of others can lead to condemnation and downfall of oneself. 

In their studies of anatomy both artists dissected corpses to further their knowledge about the workings of the human body. Leonardo is particularly noted for his meticulous anatomical drawings of body parts. Late in his life, Leonardo claimed he had dissected more than thirty corpses.

Michelangelo’s self-portrait in the flayed skin of St Bartholomew.

The flayed skin associated with the martyrdom of St Bartholomew shown in the Last Judgment fresco, features a distorted self-portrait of Michelangelo looking down on the Damned Man. The carcass represents an empty sack, devoid of body parts, a sack empty of walnuts and radishes. Michelangelo has translated these body parts into the figure of Leonardo and the three demons dragging him down to Hell, along with some of the features Botticelli incorporated in his depiction of Moses and the two Hebrew men at odds with each other.

For instance, the green serpent coiled around the upper legs of the Damned Man and biting into his left thigh muscle is akin to some of the snake-like features embedded in the green cloak wrapped around the two figures of Moses.

The horned demon weighing down the Damned Man is meant to mirror Botticelli’s version of the Hebrew on his back, his cloak shaped to represent a shell (see here for explanation of shell connection). The back of Michelangelo’s demon is also shell-shaped and its wrinkled surface represents the shell of a walnut. 

The demon’s two horns mirror the horn-shape features protruding from the hair of the grounded Hebrew. The horns are also refer to the light that shone from the face of Moses (represented as horns) after he had received the Ten Commandments, most notable in the sculpture of Moses made by Michelangelo for the tomb of Pope Julius II and completed in 1545.

The Hebrew’s left foot and claw-shaped hands can be paired with the central demon’s extended leg and claw-shaped foot, coloured red to portray the toes as radishes.

The Damned Man, detail from the Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The demon’s head looks down on the upended demon, as the head of Moses looks down on the upended Hebrew. However, the central demon’s arms are wrapped around the calves of the Damned Man in a similar way the figure of the woman wraps her arms around the upper body of the second Hebrew. Notice also how his left hand is raised to his head in a manner the Damned Man has raised his left hand – the difference being that the second Hebrew can see his opponent with both eyes while the Damned Man is portrayed seeing out of one eye only, perhaps indicating the limit he sets on judging the work of others.

Another incident between the two men also likely stayed with Michelangelo and probably explains the placing of the Damned Man figure in the Last Judgement painting. When Michelangelo had completed his famous giant sculpture of David, a committee was convened to decide on where the work should be placed. Several artists were part of the 30-man group, including Leonardo de Vinci and Sandro Botticelli.

Left: Michelangelo’s marble statue of David. Right: Andrea del Verrocchio’s bronze sculpture of David.

In his book, The Flights of Mind, Charles Nicholl states:

“Leonardo’s opinion about the placing of David is recorded in the minutes of the meeting. ‘I say that it should be placed in the Loggia’ – the Loggia dei Lanzi, opposite the Palazzo Vecchio – ‘as Giuliano has said, behind the low wall where the soldiers line up. It should be put there, with suitable ornaments, in such a way that it does not interfere with the ceremonies of state.’ This opinion, shared by Giuliano da Sangallo but counter to the general view, already expresses an antagonism, a deliberate refusal to be impressed. Let this oversized statue be sidelined in a corner where it won’t get in the way. The true wish expressed is the sidelining of the sculptor himself: this awkward, intrusive genius. Further nuances of umbrage may have arisen in relation to that earlier Florentine David, sculpted by his master Verrocchio, for which the teenage Leonardo is said to have been the model: now, forty years on, this new David outmodes that image of his own youthful promise.”

The Seven Deadly Sins, detail from the Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The Damned Man is part of but set aside from a group of figures that represent the Seven Deadly Sins. In this group we can recognise the form of some of the angels striking down the deadly sinners in similar fashion to Botticelli’s Moses raising his sword and striking down the Hebrew “who was in the wrong”.

To the right of the Damned Man Michelangelo has portrayed a sinner with his back to the viewer akin to the figure of Moses fleeing to Midian after it became known he had murdered an Egyptian and attempted to cover up his crime by burying the corpse in sand.

So which deadly sin does the Damned Man represent? Most likely Envy, and perhaps even Sloth, as Leonardo had a reputation for not completing many of the works commissioned to him.

Both Botticelli and Michelangelo portray the two Hebrew men as two natures of man, or even Leonardo, as good and evil in conflict. Michelangelo’s Dammed Man is not shown beaten down by any heavenly angel as the sinners portrayed alongside, but instead is weighed down by a reflection of his misplaced judgement and envy of others.

More on this in a future post.

Fruits of the Spirit

A new virtual exhibition and in-person collection trail exploring sacred art and its relation to today’s world will open at the National Gallery, London, on 5 December

Devised by the National Gallery and museums throughout the UK, ‘Fruits of the Spirit: Art From the Heart’ pairs nine pictures from the National Gallery’s collection with nine from partner institutions. The exhibition is inspired by Saint Paul’s description of themes including love, joy, and peace in the Christian Bible.

More details at this link.

Who is ‘The Damned Man’?

This image shows detail from Michelangelo’s Last Judgement fresco painted between 1536 and 1541 on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

I have circled two areas of interest. The upper part depicts a muscular St Bartholomew, said to have been martyred by being skinned alive, hence the skinning knife seen in his right hand and the flayed carcass held in his left hand. However, the face depicted on the carcass has been identified as that Michelangelo. It even shows his broken nose.

The second area of interest shows a man in a sitting position being dragged down to Hell by creatures from the underworld. He is usually referred to as The Damned Man or The Damned Soul. He has never been clearly identified although one commentator, Daniel B. Gallagher, writing for the New York Arts journal, has suggested the figure is a “quasi self-portrait, a tortured Michelangelo [who] assumes the role of someone who has gained the world but forfeited himself.”

For sure, there is a relationship between the distorted portrait of Michelangelo featured on the flayed skin and The Damned Man figure, but my understanding is that the man depicted weighed down by evil spirits is not another portrayal of Michelangelo, but of his rival Leonardo da Vinci.

More on this in a future post.

Clothing the naked

In a post I made some four months ago – More Hidden Gems – I explained how the figure of Mars in Botticelli’s Primavera painting also represented St Martin of Tours who, as a Roman soldier, once sliced his cloak in half to cover a naked beggar he met at the gates of Amiens.

A similar motif is presented in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. A female figure steps toward the shoreline offering a cloak to cover and support the naked Venus as she disembarks from her sea journey. The figure of Venus also represents Ecclesia, the Church, and in this instance the Church in need.

The motifs connect in more than one way, but in a biblical sense they refer to the Last Judgment passage in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus said “I was naked and you clothed me.”

St Martin Dividing his Cloak, Anthony van Dyck, c 1618

32 years ago…

This weather-worn adhesive sticker is adhered to one of the steps on ladders outside my home. It features the stick figure design by Lucio Boscardin for the Italia 90 World Cup mascot.

I was there for the event in 1990 ‘snapping’ images of the U.S. men’s national team and their games in Florence and Rome.

I still have all the images I took on file, if anyone out there is interested.