In a post made last month, I pointed out the Dante death mask feature on the peak of a cavalryman’s helmet. A similar feature appears on another rider’s helmet and is meant to represent the head of a faun, the sculpture that Michelangelo is said to have made as his first piece of work in the garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Head of a Faun is a lost sculpture by Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo, dating from c. 1489. His first known work of sculpture in marble, it was sculpted when he was 15 or 16 as a copy of an antique work with some minor alterations. According to Giorgio Vasari’s biography of the artist, it was the creation of this work that secured the young Michelangelo the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
“[Michelangelo] set himself to counterfeit from a piece of marble an antique head of a Faun that was there, old and wrinkled, which had the nose injured and the mouth laughing. Michelagnolo, who had never yet touched marble or chisels, succeeded so well in counterfeiting it, that the Magnificent Lorenzo was astonished; and then, perceiving that, departing from the form of the antique head, he had opened out the mouth after his own fancy and had made a tongue, with all the teeth showing, that lord, jesting pleasantly, as was his wont, said to him, “Surely you should have known that old folks never have all their teeth, and that some are always wanting.” It appeared to Michelagnolo, in his simplicity, both fearing and loving that lord, that he had spoken the truth; and no sooner had Lorenzo departed than he straightway broke one of the teeth and hollowed out the gum, in such a manner, that it seemed as if the tooth had dropped out. And then he awaited with eagerness the return of the Magnificent Lorenzo, who, when he had come and had seen the simplicity and excellence of Michelagnolo, laughed at it more than once, relating it as a miracle to his friends.”
Can it be a coincidence that both cavalrymen are almost identical in facial features? Other riders in Vasari’s painting of the Battle of Marciano are also closely matched with these men as if they are made from the same mould? What could be the reason for this? Was Vasari insinuating that Dante’s death mask and the faun mask, were replicated at times? Certainly the Dante mask displayed in the Palazzo Vecchio and pictured above is a plaster copy. The Head of the Faun was the property of the Bargello Museum in Florence, but looted in August 1944 by Nazi troops.
“Counterfeiting” or emulating, or copying, is a theme that appears throughout the Marciano battle scene. Take, for instance, the repetition of files of soldiers in the painting, and Vasari’s mention of Bandinelli copying Michelanglo’s cartoon, and Daniele Volterra adapting some of Michelangelo’s drawings for his own use. Vasari, himself, also relied on portraits painted by other artists as references in his work.
This link at Visit-Florence-Italy provides some interesting detail about the Dante death mask.
I shall explain in a future post why Vasari connected the Head of the Faun to this particular rider and how it links to Dante’s Divine Comedy.
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