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.

Uncovering a conspiracy in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

In 1475 Pope Sixtus IV nominated Francesco Salviati Riario as Archbishop of Pisa, the position left vacant following the death of Filippo de’ Medici in October 1474. The appointment did not meet with the approval of the Medici family in Florence who had earlier blocked Salviati’s attempt to become Archbishop of Florence in 1474.

The outcome was that Salviati, a known antagonist of the Medici, never occupied his diocesan chair in Pisa but remained in Rome even though he was the Church’s official choice as archbishop.

Some years later Salviati saw his opportunity for taking revenge against the Medici when he conspired with others to assassinate both Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano, in a plot that became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy.

Pope Sixtus IV

With the support of Pope Sixtus IV, who was sympathetic to replacing the control the Medici held over Florence, Salviati, was joined by Girolamo Riario and Francesco de’ Pazzi in planning the assassination of the two brothers.

Despite the best laid plans, the coup failed, even though Giuliano was murdered in the process. The attackers failed to see off Lorenzo and the alarm was raised, resulting in the plotters and their accomplices being captured and executed with haste and without trial or any mercy shown.

According to historian Harold Acton,“Francesco de’ Pazzi  was pulled bleeding and naked from his hiding place and hanged from a window of the city palace. The Archbishop of Pisa was hanged beside him and as he fell, he bit at the dead body of Francesco; the halter tightening round his throat, he held onto the corpse with his teeth.”

Girolamo Riario

Girolamo Riario, as a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, was not at the scene on the day of slaughter, even though he was one of the main instigators of the plot. In January 1473 he had married Caterina Sforza the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, duke of Milan. She was ten years old at the time. Ten years after the Pazzi Conspiracy, Girolamo himself was assassinated on April 14, 1488, by members of the Orsini family.

Girolamo Riario, Francesco de’ Pazzi, and Archbishop Francesco Salviati are all referenced in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, as is Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli who struck the first blow against Giuliano de’ Medici.

The leaning figure of Ecclesia (Venus) is not only a pointer to the leaning Tower of Pisa and so to Archbishop Salviati, but also to the nepotism practiced by Pope Sixtus IV whose nominations and appointments leaned to those of his own friends and family.

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

My next post will deal with uncovering the iconography that refers to the identities of the Pazzi conspirators Botticelli disguised in the Birth of Venus.

Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden

For “Paradise”… means nothing more than a most pleasant garden, abundant with all pleasing and delightful things, of trees, apples, flowers, vivid running waters, song of birds and in effect, all the amenities dreamed of by the heart of man…

Lorenzo de’ Medici

Another garden referenced in Botticelli’s Primavera is Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Sculpture Garden which was located on the Via Larga facing the left side of the church of San Marco. The San Marco had an extensive orange orchard to the rear of the church in view of Lorenzo’s garden which may, in this scenario, be recognised as the oranges depicted in the Primavera. The location of the church of San Marco, placed in a corner of the piazza named after it, is another parameter for identifying Lorenzo de’ Medici’s garden in the painting.

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The church, which also served as a convent, belonged to a community of observant Dominicans, a religious preaching order founded by St Dominic. If one looks to the bottom right corner of the painting, a silhouette of a monk or friar’s cowl is shaped between the legs of Chloris who can also identified as Fioretta Gorini. When rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise, the cowl takes on the appearance of a dog’s head. 

The dog motif became associated with the Order when Dominic’s name was punned as Domini canes, meaning “Hounds of the Lord”. The Order explains the “hounds” relate to the story of Dominic’s mother who, when pregnant, had a vision of a black and white dog carrying a torch in its mouth. Wherever the dog went it set fire to the earth. The dream was understood later when Dominic and his followers, clad in black and white, set fire to the earth with the Gospel message. Observe the hem of Chloris’s smokey, diaphanous dress representing the flame.

This section of the painting is seemingly prophetic in itself for it also serves another interpretation connected to Greek mythology and the “hell-hound” Cerberus that guards the entrance to the underworld. Now the hem takes on the shape of a serpent and its temptation role in the Garden of Eden.

Girolamo Savonarola (right), the Dominican friar who was assigned to Florence in 1490, and who preached and prophesied from the pulpit of San Marco that the “Sword of the Lord” would soon fall on the earth, was himself consumed by fire in 1498 when he was hanged alongside two other Dominican friars. He had confessed to succumbing to temptation and inventing his visions and prophecies. For misleading the people in this way he was excommunicated by the Church as a heretic and schismatic, and sentenced to death by the civil authorities.

So having referenced two markers in the Primavera – the orange orchard and the corner position of San Marco with its Dominican connection – a third indicator which alludes to Lorenzo’s Sculpture Garden is the statuesque appearance of the line of figures.

A fourth indicator is the patterned tunic of Mars, also identified in a previous post as Lorenzo de Medici reaching up to disperse the threatening rain cloud. The pattern represents roots, and with the figure’s feet shown firmly “planted” on the ground, Botticelli has embedded enough clues to confirm that the garden scene was  intended to be recognised as Lorenzo’s Sculpture Garden as well as the those previously mentioned. But there are more which I shall reveal at another time.

The plan below, produced a century after Botticelli painted the Primavera, shows the San Marco and its extended orange orchard. The green areas indicate what remained of Lorenzo’s Sculpture Garden.

Detail from a plan of Florence, dated 1584

Pairing Lorenzo and Sixtus

Girolamo Savonarola

I recently read a “bite size” biography of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola who preached in Florence during the Renaissance. Sandro Botticelli gets a mention. The co-authors write that Savonarola’s preaching “profoundly influenced” Botticelli “and turned him from painting pornography to producing works that honoured the God of the Bible”.

Perhaps the authors never really understood that Botticelli had profound knowledge of the Bible before Savonarola arrived in Florence when the friar was assigned to the Convent of San Marco in 1482. Botticelli’s Primavera painting exemplifies this and makes several references to biblical passages embedded in what may appear on the surface to some observers as simply a “painting of pornography” based on figures associated with Greco-Roman mythology.

In a previous post I explained that the dual figure of Hermes (Greek) and Mercury (Roman) also represents the Medici brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano, and how some of the iconography pointed to the assassination of Giuliano and the attack on his brother who managed to escape to the safety of the Duomo’s sacristy after sustaining only a slight wound to his neck.

The attack on the Medici brothers was orchestrated by members and supporters of a rival banking family, the Pazzi, with some support of Pope Sixtus IV for their removal from Florence but not their assassination. The whole affair became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. Eventually, a settlement was reached between Lorenzo and Sixtus IV. 

As part of the diplomacy process Lorenzo arranged for a number of Florentine artists to visit Rome and fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Sandro Botticelli was one of them. References to this commission are found in the Primavera painting, some of which are detailed in previous posts. Not only does Botticelli’s time in Rome provide another link to Lorenzo and Sixtus, it also introduces a painter from an earlier period, Fra Angelico Lippi, to connect to the roles of the father and son painters, Fra Filippo Lippi and Filippino Lippi, depicted in Primavera.

Fra Angelico

Like Savonarola, Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro) was a Dominican friar and after leaving the nearby convent of Fiesole in 1436 he moved to Florence and San Marco where he began decorating the newly built convent. In 1447 Fra Angelico was called to Rome by Pope Nicholas V to produce frescoes for the Niccoline Chapel. It is this work that Botticelli has sourced during his own period in Rome in 1480-82 to refer to the relationship between Lorenzo de’ Medici and Pope Sixtus IV, compared to St Lawrence – who Lorenzo was named after – and the martyr’s relationship with a predecessor of Sixtus IV – Pope Sixtus II.

The Medici banking arrangement with the Papal court was complex. There was a hesitancy on the part of Lorenzo de’ Medici to keep financially supporting Pope Sixtus IV and his aggrandizement of the Papal States and his own family. The Pope turned instead to another Florentine banking family, the Pazzi, and this eventually climaxed in what is known as the Pazzi Conspiracy and the assassination of Lorenzo’s younger brother Giuliano de’ Medici.

Lorenzo’s namesake, St Lawrence is one of two martyrs whose lives are portrayed in the Niccoline Chapel in the Vatican. The other is St Stephen. The frescoes were commisioned by Pope Nicholas V and painted by Fra Angelico Lippi. 

According to Wikipedia, “St Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome under Pope Sixtus II who were martyred in the persecution of Christians that the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered in 258”. As Archdeacon of Rome Lawrence was in care of the treasury and riches of the Church and distribution of alms to the poor.

Detail of St Lawrence distributing alms to the poor, painted by Fra Angelico for the Niccoline Chapel

The Emperor Valerian issued an edict that all Christians should be put to death. Pope Sixtus II was the first of the martyrs. Valerian then ordered Lawwrence to hand over all the riches of the Church. Lawrence requested that he be given three days to gather the wealth. In the meantime he began instead to distribute the treasures to the poor and suffering people of Rome declaring that they were the true treasures of the Church. For his defiance he was arrested and while waiting in prison for his execution he baptised fellow prisoners before he died a martyr, roasted to death on a gridiron. 

St Lawrence is usually depicted wearing a dalmatic and holding a gridiron. Fra Angelico portrayed Lawrence in his dalmatic decorated with a pattern of flames to represent the martyr’s death.

The pattern is repeated on Lorenzo’s tunic in the Primavera, except that the flames are inverted to appear as roots, suggesting that “The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Pope Sixtus II, by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel

One of the legends asociated with the martyrdom of St Lawrence was the declaration he made while being roasted on the gridiron: “I’m well done of this side, turn me over!” And so another reference why Botticelli’s figure of Lorenzo is shown turned facing away from the Three Graces representing the water of faith through baptism. The biblical reference to wandering souls given any number of fatal wounds can also be be understood in context with the wounds inflicted on Giuliano – twenty – when he was assassinated in Florence Cathedral. Lorenzo escaped with a minor wound to his neck.

A final connection in all of this is the fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting Pope Sixtus ll, the bishop of Rome who made St Lawrence an Archdeacon of Rome and also martyred by the Emperor Valerian. The fresco was painted by Sandro Botticelli during the time he and other Florentine artists were commissioned to fresco the Sistine Chapel for Pope Sixtus IV.

A stretch at the Vatican

Last month, I pointed out that one of the identities Botticelli applied to the Primavera figure reaching up to touch the clouds is the painter Filippino Lippi who, at the time, was part of Botticelli’s workshop and a team of painters engaged to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

The photograph below showing scaffolding and people in the Chapel erecting a temporary display of Raphael’s tapestries on the lower section of the walls gives an idea of the height the artists from Florence had to work at when painting frescoes at the level above the curtained section.

The walls of the Sistine Chapel… photo © Vatican Museums
A cloud formation similar to the one in Botticelli’s Primavera painting.
This appears is the Sistine Chapel fresco titled Vocation of the Apostles.
Was Botticelli suggesting that Filippino Lippi was one of his ‘followers’.

So Botticelli’s portrayal of the figure with his arm raised can also be understood as a depiction of Filippino Lippi perhaps painting a cloud formation in one of the frescoes. His comfortable stance with hand on hip and right arm flexed is balanced, almost statuesque, and reminiscent of the contrapposto style of figure developed by Ancient Greco-Roman sculptors and revived during the Renaissance. It also points to the identity of another Florentine artist, the sculptor Donatello and his famous bronze of the biblical figure of David.

The self-portrait sketch of Michelangelo… Botticelli’s man of many identities… and Donatello’s bronze David

By coincidence this scenario later connects to yet another artist and sculptor from Florence – Michelangelo who, almost 50 years later, was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and just a few years after he had sculpted his own and probably more famous version of David. 

Sometime during the four year period painting the vault of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo complained of his physical discomfort and burden in a poetic letter to a friend. He illustrated the poem with a sketch very similar to the  stance of the figure portrayed by Botticelli in his Primavera painting. It would not be surprising that Michelangelo at some time may have had access to view and study the painting and had knowledge of its many narratives, even that the reaching figure represented Filippino Lippi.

The mention of Donatello also points to the Primavera figure being portrayed as Giuliano de’ Medici. Both men were entombed at the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, and Lorenzo connects to the name of Giuliano’s brother who is portrayed as yet another of the figure’s identities which I shall explain in my next post. Chapels and churches is another theme to be found in the Primavera painting.

Below is a translation of Michelangelo’s poem.

I’ve grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

The Passover and the Primavera

Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, Christians celebrate the Last Supper, the Passover meal Jesus shared with his Apostles before his crucifixion. The Passover is a day and festival of remembrance for ever in God’s honour before he instigated the tenth plague against Egypt to convince its pharaoh to free the Israelites.

The Passover is referenced in Botticelli’s Primavera painting. The male figure with his back turned to the Three Graces is said to represent Hermes/Mercury, messenger to the Greco-Roman gods. The figure also has other identities. Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of the de facto ruler of Florence, Lorenzo the Magnificent, is another.

In his monograph on the life and work of Botticelli, Ronald Lightbown describes the figure of Mercury as inspired by a passage from The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil: “Mercury, despatched by his father Jove to Aeneas, first ties his winged shoes to his feet, then takes his caduceus, and by its power drives off the winds and the turbid clouds as he descends to earth.

So how does the Passover and Giuliano de’ Medici fit in with this section of the painting? The passing cloud and the raised caduceus are clues.

Giuliano was assassinated while attending Mass in the Duomo cathedral in Florence. His head was sliced by a sword and he was stabbed several times. The signal for the time his killers planned to strike was during the time of Consecration when a bell was rung as the consecrated host was raised and held high before the congregation, hence the raised arm of Giuliano.

The Catholic belief is that the consecrated host is the True Presence of Jesus, echoing the time at the Last Supper when he took some bread, broke it and shared it with his Apostles, saying: “Take it and eat, this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

The raising of the Host, symbolic of Jesus being raised on the Cross, can also be compared to the raising of the caduceus, the cloud being the darkness that came over the whole land at the time of his death. The caduceus with its two entwined dragons or serpents also represents the time when the Israelites complained to Moses and so God sent fiery serpents among the people. Their bite brought death to many. The people repented and God instructed Moses to make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. He added: “If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live” (Numbers 21:8), which is why some Christian crosses and the crucifix are depicted with the image of a serpent. 

As a mythological representation the dragons are seen as a sign of peace after Hermes/Mercury saw two serpents engaged in mortal combat. Hermes/Mercury separated them with his wand and brought peace between them.

The stance of the man, also relates to part of the Passover description in Exodus. “You shall eat it like this [the Passover meal]: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily; it is a Passover in honour of Yahweh” (12:11).

And then there are the strands of dark clouds which the figure is reaching up to with his wand. The elongated shapes can be likened to lentil seed pods and therefore recognised as a cloud formation known as Stratocumulus lenticularis. Here Botticelli is punning on the word Lent (meaning Spring) and Lint, the fluffy substance derived from bits of fabric, and then extending the pun to refer to Lintel, the load-bearing beam placed above windows and doors. This then connects to another biblical passage relating to the Passover when Moses instructs the people to “Take a spray of hyssop, dip it in the blood [from the slaughtered animal] that is in the basin, and with the blood from the basin, touch the lintel and the two door posts. Let none of you venture out of the house till morning. Then, when Yahweh goes through Egypt to strike it, and see blood on the lintel and on the two door posts, he will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to enter your homes and strike” (Exodus 12:22-23).

In this scenario we can understand the figure as reaching up to touch the lintel with blood, and probably his own because the man also represents Lorenzo de’ Medici who suffered a slight wound to the neck during the assassination attempt. He managed to escape death by reaching the sacristy and fastening the bronze door to keep out “the destroyer” from entering and striking again. As to the clues for also identifying the figure as Lorenzo de’ Medici, I shall explain in a future post as it connects to the time Botticelli spent in Rome engaged in frescoing some of the walls in the Sistine Chapel.