Clementines

Giorgio Vasari applied more than one identity – usually two or four – to most of the figures in his fresco depicting the Marriage of Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Catherine de’ Medici.

The marriage between Henry, Duke of Orleans and Catherine Medici, Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio

In previous posts I revealed four identities to the moustached man placed at the shoulder of Pope Clement VII:
Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan
Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, assassin of Galeazzo Maria Sforza
Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence
Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, nicknamed The Thunderbolt of Italy

The central figure in the fresco, Pope Clement VII, bishop of Rome, is one of four identities. Not surprisingly two of them relate to previous popes: Clement I, and the anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva). The fourth identity connects to the two Roman mythology figures portrayed in the corner of the frame, Saturn and Ops. They parented five children, Jupiter being one of them, and it is Jupiter, representing the god of sky and thunder, who Vasari has embedded as the fourth identity.

Jupiter, the god of sky and thunder and protector of laws and the state

Two symbols associated with Jupiter are an eagle and a lightening bolt. The latter connects to the identity of the head on Jupiter’s shoulder, Gaston de Foix, the Thunderbolt of Italy. As for the eagle, noted for its large hooked beak, we can recognise this feature in another identity given to the head on Jupiter’s shoulder, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. 

The head of Jupiter can also be visualised as the head of a raptor, perhaps a bearded vulture, the red cape spread out like wings, and hands represented as claws digging into the arms of Henry and Catherine – or even the head of the bearded Jupiter as depicted in ancient statues of the chief deity of the Roman State religion.

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

This figure represented as both a god of the sky and Pope Clement VII connects to the central figure in Botticelli’s Primavera representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven and to a lost fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel was dedicated to the Assumption of Mary by Pope Sixtus IV on her feast day of that name, August 15, 1483.

A drawing made by Pinturicchio, one of Perugini’s assistants, of the lost Assumption of the Virgin, the fresco covered by Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco.

Covering the whole wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel is a fresco illustrating the Last Judgement, painted by Michelangelo between 1535 and 1541. However, the wall was originally frescoed by Pietro Perugino in the early 1480s depicting the Assumption of the Virgin

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

It was Pope Clement VII who commissioned Michelangelo to overpaint or cover up Perugino’s Assumption fresco with the Last Judgment painting shortly before his death in September 1534, less than a year after attending the wedding of Catherine de’ Medici and Henry of Orleans at Marseille in France.

A 14th-century miniature symbolising the schism.
Grandes Chroniques de France, BnF, department of Manuscripts

The French connection introduces the anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva) who was elected pope in September 1378 by cardinals who opposed the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome. His reign as anti-pope lasted until his death in September 1394, but what became known as the Papal Schism within the Catholic Church lasted until 1417. Robert of Geneva’s claim as pope was never recognised by the Church of Rome, hence Giulio de Medici taking the name Clement and listed as the legitimate Pope Clement VII. The irony is that Giulio himself was born illegitimate, the son of Fioretta Gorini. Illegitimacy is one of the themes iulioembedded in the Vasari fresco.

Giulio’s birth was legitimised with a papal dispensation issued by Pope Leo X in 1513 when it was declared that his parents, Giuliano de’ Medici and Fioretta had been “wed according to those present”. However, the declaration was made 35 years after Giulio was born and the witnesses were said to be two monks and a relation of Fioretta Gorini. Seemingly Fioretta had died by then and was not able to verify the witnesses evidence. So were the claims of the three witnesses legitimate? 

Close inspection of Pope Clement VII’s red bonnet, shows it partially covering another. This reflects the suppression of Robert of Geneva’s false claim to the papacy. It also refers to the covering up of Perugino’s Assumption fresco that showed Pope Sixtus IV kneeling among the group of the Twelve Apostles. It is said that Sixtus instigated the Pazzi Conspiracy which resulted in the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici, considered to be the father of Clement VII, hence the reason for the Medici pope wanting Michelangelo to cover the scene with a new fresco.

Sixtus IV also makes a connection to Jupiter. His birth name was Francesco della Rovere. Rovere translates as “oak”, and the oak tree was another symbol associated with Jupiter the “sky god”. Sixtus incorporated the oak tree in his papal arms. Arms and armour is another embedded them in the Vasari painting.

Pope Clement I, and the coat of arms for Pope Sixtus IV

The iconography related to Clement I is the purse hanging from the side of the papal figure. Clement I was martyred by being thrown into the sea and weighed down by an anchor. He is usually portrayed with an anchor at his side. The purse feature relates to the anti-pope Clement VII, an ambitious and stubborn man who resorted to extortion and simony – “the act of selling church offices and roles or sacred things”. Simony relates to the account of Simon Magus (Acts of the Apostles), a magician whom the people considered a divine power and called Great (another connection to the Magnificat and its meaning of greatness as explained in the previous post).

Simon Magus offered the apostle Peter money to receive the power to be able to lay hands on people for them to receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter, who had ordained Clement I by laying hands on him, dismissed the offer of money by Simon Magus and said: “May your silver be lost forever, and you with it, for thinking that money could buy what God has given for nothing” (Acts 8  20). Then Simon, weighed down by guilt and fear, pleaded with Peter to pray for him. 

Clement VII was not without his faults in a manner that drained the Vatican treasury. He assigned positions in the Church, titles, land and money, in favour of his Medici relatives. This also makes a connection to Simon Magus as a magician. Note the proximity of Catherine de’ Medici’s dark right hand to Clement’s purse. It is claimed that Catherine was a practitioner of the dark arts, who relied on soothsayers, seers, mystics and astrologers to forecast her own and family’s future.

But this juxtaposition of hand and purse is another piece of iconography adapted from Botticelli’s Primavera. With Pope Clement substituted for the figure of Mary’s assumption (Venus), Catherine is a replacement for the figure of Botticelli’s Flora dispensing flowers from her apron purse.

So now the four identities associated with the central figure in the marriage scene are:
Pope Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici)
Anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva)
Pope Clement I (Clement of Rome)
Jupiter, son of Saturn and Ops

I hope to continue posting information about this Vasari fresco when I can source a higher resolution digital image of the work. The low-res version available on the internet lacks important visual detail to explain clearly some of the narratives embedded by the artist. If anyone out there has access to a better-quality version than I have used so far for my posts on this subject, please contact me.

Lucrezia… Lucrezia… Lucrezia

Detail from the Marriage of Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Catherine de Medici; 1559-62; Giorgio Vasari
Room of Pope Clement VII, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

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.

Lucrezia Tornabuoni, c1475, attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, Samuel H. Kress Collection

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).

Detail from Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome, 1537, Giorgio Vasari
Image by Alessandro Ferrini

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.

Madonna of the Magnifical, 1481, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

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.

Left to right: Nannina de’Medici, Lucrezia Maria Romola de’ Medici, Maddalena de’ Medici

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.

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

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.

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.