This detail is taken from the bottom right corner of the Giorgio Vasari fresco that depicts the Battle of Marciano displayed on the East wall of the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio.
Vasari erected a wall in front of Leonardo’s commission so as not to paint directly onto the earlier battle scene, but in doing so, and in order to preserve and pay tribute to the polymath’s abandoned fresco, he embedded cryptic references to the Battle of Anghiari on this corner section of his own own fresco.
The scene also makes reference to Michelangelo who was also commissioned to paint a battle fresco on the opposite wall in the Hall of Five Hundred around the same time Leonardo started working on the Battle Anghiari. The two artists were seen to be competing against each other – there was no love lost between the pair – and so, in a sense, it can be said they were also engaged in battle with each other and themselves.
As it was, 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!.
In Vasari’s corner scene the figure on its knees represents both Michelangelo and Leonardo.
Leonardo is also represented in the figures of the two men cowering beneath the horse. A second identity Vasari applied to the bearded man with his hand outstretched Is Tommaso Cavalieri, a friend of Michelangelo. The second identity of the man looking up at the horseshoe was also a friend of Michelangelo – Daniele da Volterra.
I shall explain how Vasari pieced these identities together in a future post.
In previous posts I revealed two identities Vasari applied to the woman in the centre of this group. Here’s another: Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic, and elder brother of the assassinated Giuliano de’ Medici.
It is claimed that Fioretta Gorini, one of the identities given to the other woman in the trio, was Giuliano’s mistress who gave birth to his son a month after his assassination. The boy was named Giulio and later became Pope Clement VII. Mistress she may have been, but was Giuliano the real father of Giulio?
Lucrezia Tornabuoni was a noted patron of the arts and financially supported many religious institutions. One such religious order was the Camaldolese Hermits of Mount Corona, a name derived from the Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli situated in the Tuscan Apennines. Lucrezia had a devotion to the Order’s founder St Romuald. When she became ill in 1467 she believed her recovery was due to the intercession of the saint.
St Romauld’s original hermitage still stands near to the city of Arezzo and about 70 kilometres east of Florence. Giorgio Vasari was born and spent the early years of his life in Arezzo before moving to Florence when he was sixteen. Many of Vasari’s paintings are housed in the monastery at Camadoli. One of the paintings is of the Virgin and Child Jesus accompanied by two saints, John the Baptist and Jerome. In the background can be seen Romauld’s hermitage (right) and the original monastery (left).
In a previous post I explained the Carmelite connection between the three figures. Vasari also made a similar connection between the trio taking into account the representation of Lucrezia Tornabuoni and her link with the Camaldolese monks. He word-plays on the first parts of Camaldoli and Carmelite with the camel-hump shape of the man’s nose. Mt Carmel, which the Carmelite Order takes its name from, was also given the name Camel Nose or Antelope Nose.
Lucrezia Tornabuoni was a great-grandmother of Maria Salviati, mother of Cosimo I de’ Medici, while Galeazzo Maria Sforza was Cosimo’s great-grandfather. Great as in Magnifico, the epithet applied by the people to Lucrezia’s first-born son Lorenzo di Pietro de’ Medici. This term is another clue to the identity of Lucrezia Tornabuoni who is said to feature as the Virgin Mary in one of Botticelli’s most famous paintings shown below, Madonna of the Magnificat.
However, the painting is dated at 1481. Lucrezia died the following year in March 1482, aged 54. So could the Virgin’s appearance as a young woman be based on another Medici woman, perhaps Lucrezia’s second-born child and a daughter also named Lucrezia? She was also known as “Nannina”, the nickname of her great-grandmother Piccarda Bueri, and so another reference to greatness and the biblical passage known as the Magnificat uttered by the Virgin Mary when she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant at the time with John the Baptist (cf Luke 1 : 46-55). Part of the Magnificat is the text written on the right hand page of the book in Botticelli’s painting. The Magnificat is also referenced within the group of men on the left side of the fresco which I shall explain in a future post.
So does Nannina appear in the Vasari marriage fresco? She is the woman to the right of the trio with her head raised. However, the figure also represents another woman named Lucrezia, that of the first-born child of Lorenzo the Magnificent: Lucrezia Maria Romola de’ Medici. Could she be the woman portrayed as the Virgin Mary in Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificent? This Lucrezia was the mother of Maria Salviati.
Another identity who could be added to the figure representing Nannina and Lucrezia Maria, is the latter’s sister Maddalena de’ Medici. She is named after St Mary Magdalen (note first three letters of Magdalen and Magnificat). Mary Magdalen was a “reformed” penitent who Teresa of Avila closely identified herself with. This, in turn, makes the connection with Marguerite de Navarre who was associated with “conversions” and the Reformation movement, providing sanctuary for the poor and persecuted people. The portrayals of Mary Magdalen in the New Testament show that she was a woman persecuted by the Pharisees in their attempt to rule and implement laws they perceived to fit the crime.
Finally, there is an interesting statement in the chapter on Sandro Botticelli written by Giorgio Vasari in his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Artists, Sculptors, and Painters:
“In the guardaroba of the Lord Duke Cosimo there are two very beautiful heads of women in profile by his hand, one of which is said to be the mistress of Giuliano de’Medici, brother of Lorenzo, and the other Madonna Lucrezia de’ Tornabuoni, wife of the said Lorenzo.”
The mistress he refers to is Fioretta Gorini. That her head was portrayed alongside that of Lucrezia Tournabuoni more than likely explains the juxtaposition of the heads of the same two women in Vasari’s marriage scene.
However, Vasari was mistaken in stating that Lucrezia Tornabuoni was the wife of Lorenzo de’ Medici. She was his mother.
• More on this and Botticelli’s Magnificat painting in a future post.
You must be logged in to post a comment.