and more…

It’s interesting to note in the Last Supper fresco which Leonardo began to paint in the mid 1490’s, both the right hand of Jesus and the left hand of Judas are shown as claw-shaped. John’s hands are joined as if symbolising the good and evil sat either side of him.

The feminised figure of John is possibly a portrayal of Leonardo’s right hand man, Salaì, who was described by Vasari as “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted” even though his master also wrote that his servant for 25 years was “a liar and a thief”.

Also very noticeable is the large knot resting on the shoulder of Barholomew standing at the left end of the table. Even in the fresco’s poor state it can be seen to represent a lion’s head to echo the fiery head of Batholomew. The arm band is also significant and symbolic of restriction. Both these motifs are repeated in Mantegna’s Parnassus painting in which he refers to the works of Leonardo.

All the figures in Leonardo’s Last Supper can be interpreted as representing a claw hand or pointing to Leonardo’s shoulder injury.

Not Gaspare, then who?

Adoration of the Magi, by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Supposedly, Botticelli’s version of the Adoration of the Magi, which is now housed in the Uffizi, Florence, was commissioned by Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama for his funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella.

While there is documentation referring to the chapel as Capella Magorum (Chapel of the Magi) and also Gaspare’s first will mentions that “the chapel is said to be under the title of, The Three Magi on the Day of the Epiphany of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Hatfield, Botticelli’s Uffizi “Adoration”, p.31), there is seemingly no evidence that Gaspare ever commissioned Botticelli to produce the painting. That the painting may have been displayed in the chapel as an altarpiece at some time is hardly proof that it was commissioned by Gaspare who died around April 25, 1481.

Some historians refer to the line of figures with their backs to the wall on the right side of the painting (see above), and suggest that the pointing man facing the viewer is likely to be Gaspare identifying himself as the patron of the work, and wanting to be seen in the company of the Medici family. But Hatfield considered him “one of the pettiest figures ever to have crossed the pages of Florentine history” – “a nobody”.

So if it is not Gaspare pointing to himself, then who could it be? The painting makes several references to the works of Leonardo da Vinci, particularly on the left hand side of the painting (a pointer to Leonardo being left-handed). The left side of the painting also depicts the poet and writer Poliziano, source for the account of Giuliano de’ Medici’s assassination, which Botticelli has referred to also in the left section.

The right side of the composition is partly a mirror effect of some of the figures portrayed on the opposite side, except there are slight differences in portrayal and narrative, and likely a reference to Leonardo and ingenuity for “mirror-writing”.

Leonardo’s creative skills were initially developed while serving as an apprentice in the Florentine studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, goldsmith painter and sculptor. He joined Verrocchio’s workshop in 1466 at the age of 14 and worked there for the next ten years.

This section of the painting also references works and ideas of Leonardo, as well as Verrocchio, and it it possible that some of the figures lined up against the back wall are other artists and craftsmen who served in Verrocchio’s workshop, including Botticelli shown in a self portrait in the corner of the frame.

This links to another self-portrait in the line-up, that of Andrea del Verrocchio, the man in the blue gown pointing to himself, and his own self portrait that is now housed in the Uffizi, and which Botticelli may have utlised for his painting.

Andrea del Verrocchio, self portrait, c 1468-70, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Hat-tip to Leonardo

Here’s another Leonardo da Vinci connection to Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi

Leonardo had a lifelong passion for creating intricate knot patterns. Some of his most complex mandala designs were later printed from woodcuts produced by the German artist Albrecht Dürer.

In yet another hat-tip to Leonardo, Botticelli has placed a knotted mandala on the head of the priest and assassin, Antonio Maffei.

Prints from Albrecht Dürer’s wood blocks based on designs by Leonardo da Vinci.
Known as the ‘Fifth Knot’ from six surviving blocks, the left version is kept at Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; the right knot at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ARCA launches Kickstarter campaign

ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) was founded in 2008 and was the world’s first research group on art crime, helping to promote and establish the interdisciplinary study of this fascinating type of crime. Since 2009 it has run a summer-long Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, hosted a major annual conference in the study of art crime, released books and the twice-yearly Journal of Art Crime, collaborated on projects and conferences with the V&A, The Courtauld Institute, University of Cambridge, the Carabinieri, UNESCO and more.
 
“This Kickstarter project seeks to raise funds to provide scholarships to students and professionals from ICOM Red List countries, nations where cultural heritage is at particularly high risk of being stolen, looted and destroyed. These scholars will be trained as part of the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Past scholars have come from Yemen, Iraq, Syria and beyond, and have brought the skills learned on our program back home with them, to protect their culture and the world’s.”

Dr Noah Charney, Founding Director ARCA

Full details at this Kickstarter link

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

I wonder if art historians are aware of how Andrea Mantegna’s Parnassus mirrors Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi – the Uffizi version – and why he chose to counter the Florentine’s work in this way?

Said to have been completed in 1497 (although this is questionable) Parnassus was painted by Mantegna for Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua. It is now displayed in the Louvre, Paris.

Will post more on this and the telling iconography in a future post.

Historian claims 15th century painting is from the 1960s

A Man Reading (St Ivo?), c 1450, Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden. The National Gallery.

To the National Gallery, the man depicted in the masterpiece that hangs in its gallery of 15th-century treasures is a holy man, possibly a saint, reading a legal text. And the portrait is believed – at least by the gallery’s experts – to have been created in the workshop of the Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden.

But to one leading art historian, it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is a 20th-century fake, of an unknown man sporting a Beatles-style haircut and reading a paper containing nothing more than nonsense.

Read the full article by Dalya Alberge at this link.

Double servings

So who are the two men framed in the serving hatch featured in The Last Supper painting by Dieric Bouts? Are they, as some historians claim, members of the Confraternity that commisioned the painting? Answers and more in my next post.

Section of The Last Supper painting by Dieric Bouts, St Peter’s Church, Leuven

Double-takes

There are multiple identities applied to the ten riders in the Just Judges panel. Soon after it completion Jan van Eyck ‘layered’ his figures in another major work – The Arnolfini Portrait.

While art historians generally assume that the two people depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, no one is really sure.

A couple of years ago I demonstrated on my website that the male figure represented both Jan van Eyck and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and not Arnolfini.

EyesThe figure of Jan van Eyck in the Just Judges panel supports this as it also doubles up as Philip the Good.

Philip later intimated the genius of his valet de chambre when in March 1435 he informed officers of the Chamber of Accounts in Lille that he would be greatly displeased if they delayed registering his letters patent granting Van Eyck a life pension, as he was about to employ Jan on “certain great works and could not find another painter equally to his taste nor of such excellence in his art and science.”

I sense that the Duke of Burgundy may have had the Ghent Altarpiece in mind when he spoke of Jan’s “excellence in his art and science.”

Double-takes