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.

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.

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.