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.