In an earlier post I explained that Giorgio Vasari, in his painting of the Battle of Marciano, portrayed Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as two musketeers standing side by side.
I revealed in another post how Vasari placed references in the scene to Leonardo’s painting, Lady with an Ermine, and also intimated that other works attributed to Leonardo were referenced, namely the Mona Lisa and the Salvatore Mundi.
One painting for sure that Vasari utilised in the battle scene was Leonardo’s Annunciation.
I was intending to use this post to explain the connections Vasari made to The Annunciation, but having examined Leonardo’s painting in more detail, I shall delay on that and instead reveal some surprising embedded elements not normally recognised with what is said to be the earliest extant painting produced by Leonardo.
Botticelli had knowledge of the underlying detail. He made reference to it in the Uffizi version of The Adoration of the Magi. So did Vasari in the Battle of Marciano.
I mentioned in the previous post that the study and placement of hands was important to Leonardo da Vinci in his work. It is claimed that Leonardo may have suffered with ulnar palsy, or what is known as “claw hand”. I posted about this diagnosis at the link below.
Botticelli, Mantegna and Ghirlandaio are three artists who portrayed Leonardo with a clawed hand and Giorgio Vasari made reference to this disability in his Battle of Marciano fresco. He shows Leonardo’s right hand gripping the wedge-shaped flask while refilling the musket with gunpowder. Notice also the horse-tail at the side of the flask. This is a reference to the flask also representing the shape of a Greek harp or lyre. Leonardo made a similar instrument in the shape of a horse head as a gift for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. This gift is also alluded to elsewhere in the fresco.
The hand also represents a crab, the fingers its legs. An eye is depicted in the corner of the pouch between the thumb and forefinger. The crab feature is also part of a group of disguised creatures listed as forbidden food in the Book of Leviticus, written in Hebrew from right to left. Leonardo was known to write with his left hand, possibly because of the abnormality in his right hand. He generally wrote from right to left on the page in a style known as mirror-writing.
Having pointed out in my previous post the connection between Leonardo’s musket and his painting of the Lady with an Ermine, (the ermine is a type of weasel, one of the forbidden foods) are there any other Leonardo’s paintings to be found in this section of Vasari’s fresco?
Let’s look at the honey or gold-coloured sleeve covering Leonardo’s left arm. Could this be a pointer to the rippling folds in the gold-coloured sleeves of the famous Mona Lisa painting? Cerca Trova (Seek and Find).
Another painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci is the controversial Salvatore Mundi, sold at auction in 2017 for $450 million U.S. Could there be any indication that this work features in Vasari’s Marciano fresco. I believe there is.
My understanding is that the Salvatore Mundi is a mirror reflection of Leonardo. Observe the globe held in the claw hand of Christ’s left hand, but in reality Leonardo’s right hand if we keep in mind it is a “mirror” portrait. And so the hand raised in blessing is therefore Leonardo’s left hand, and perhaps a pointer to the Salvatore Mundi portrait being made by “the hand of Leonardo”.
There is another reference to the Salvatore Mundi elsewhere in this section of Vasari’s fresco, and to an earlier painting by Leonardo: The Annunciation. More about this in a future post.
Having identified one of the musketeers in the foreground of Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco as representing Leonardo da Vinci, and linking this likeness to Michelangelo’s depiction of God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I can now reveal further evidence that the soldier pouring powder into the barrel of his musket is portrayed as Leonardo.
The identification is linked to Leonardo’s painting known as Lady with an Ermine. The woman is said to be Cecilia Gallerani, a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The painting is dated 1489-91 and is now housed in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland.
The ermine or stoat excretes a strong, musky odour when excited. Musk scents were used to ward off more unpleasant smells. For instance, burnt gunpowder can smell like rotten eggs caused by sulphur dioxide gas. Vasarai linked the word musk with musket and borrowed elements from Leonardo’s painting to illustrate the connection in a novel way.
Wikipedia describes Musk as “a greasy secretion with a powerful odour, produced in a glandular sac in the abdomen of a male musk deer and used in traditional medicines and formerly in the manufacture of perfumes… It has a substance of a reddish brown colour, and when fresh the consistency of honey.”
This colour description can be recognised in the clothes of the two musketeers. The red vent and honey-coloured trim on the woman’s sleeve can be likened to the similar colours and vents on Leonardo’s pantaloons, while the white leg of Michelangelo, the soldier alongside Leonardo, can be matched to the colour of the ermine or stoat, the vents as secretions.
Leonardo’s musket is another representation of the ermine’s long body (the barrel) and short legs (the stock). The trigger is shaped as the ermine’s rounded ear. The woman’s black beads around her neck can be interpreted as a mix of black powder and musket balls that Leonardo is pouring down the throat of the musket.
Notice Leonardo’s hand gripping the musket’s barrel and his two cropped fingers. The hand appears to be shaped as a heart and the trimmed fingers as blood vessels entering the heart.
Here Vasari has not only referenced drawings of the heart made by Leonardo, but connected the shortened fingers to the left hand of Cecilia Gallerani hidden beneath her right arm. This feature is not very clear on the original painting and I’ve lightened the area in the reproduction alongside. Perhaps Cecilia’s right hand can be interpreted as having her hand on her heart.
The study and placement of hands was important to Leonardo in his work. Vasari knew this and highlighted another example of “by the hand of Leonardo” in this group of two musketeers. More on this in a future post.
• The name Gallerina connects to the word “galleria” or gallery. The long barrel of the musket, or the long body of the ermine, can be linked to read “long gallery”, the famous kilometre-long corridor designed by Giorgio Vasari that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Patti. At the time of its construction the meat market of Ponte Vecchio was moved to avoid its smell reaching into the passage. The Uffizi Museum section of the Vasari Corridor houses some of its famous paintings.
Just why did Giorgio Vasari embed so many bearded look-a-likes in his Battle of Marciano fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio? A clue can be found in a similar motif, the rows of round-helmeted soldiers lined up as peas in a pod, appearing to be cast from the same mould. Musket balls, maybe?
The musket-ball motif can link to the two men firing muskets in the section of the painting I pointed out in my previous post, the “Sons of Thunder”, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Leonardo is depicted as one of the many bearded look-a-likes.
That Leonardo is placed shoulder-to-shoulder with Michelangelo is for a reason. Vasari has utilised a similar motif from one of the most famous fresco scenes in the world – The Creation of Adam – that forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo.
In making this connection Vasari revealed, quite intentionally, and confirmed in another section of the Marciano fresco, that Michelangelo’s portrayal of God is, in fact, Leonardo da Vinci!
The angel portrayed behind God’s right shoulder is Michelangelo. Another artist portrayed in the “pod” is Sandro Botticelli. Here, Michelangelo, like Vasari, referenced paintings by Botticelli and Leonardo to create this scene, and I shall explain more about this in a future post.
“God created Man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.…” (Genesis 1 : 27), which explains the bearded men motif in the Vasari fresco, all made in the image of God.
But was Vasari pointing to another scenario, and two more famous paintings associated with Leonardo: the Mona Lisa, and the portrait of Christ known as Salvatore Mundi?
Some art researchers have hypothesised that Leonardo is the model for both paintings – “male and female he created them.”
Now the sun’s gone to hell And the moon’s riding high Let me bid you farewell Every man has to die But it’s written in the starlight And every line in your palm We’re fools to make war On our brothers in arms
This scene from the Battle of Marciano, frescoed by Giorgio Vasari on the East wall of the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, is said to cover an earlier fresco by Leonardo de Vinci depicting the Battle of Anghiari.
At that time Leonardo was battling with another artist, Michelangelo, who had been commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina on the opposite West wall. The two artists did not see eye to eye. Both were critical of each other’s work and seemingly verbally aggressive to each other. And yet both were blessed with amazing artistic talents. Brothers in arms so to speak.
Vasari depicted both men in several ways in his Marciano fresco, even as brothers in arms, matching them to the brothers James and John, who Jesus referred to as “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3 : 17).
In the clip below, Vasari portrays Leonardo (left) and Michelangelo as musket men standing side by side – “Sons of Thunder”. Notice the plumes on their helmets continuing their personal battle. Leonardo’s plume is portrayed as an ape, a reference to his claim that monkeys and humans are close cousins; Michelangelo’s plume is portrayed as an aggressive cockerel, a subtle reference to the uncompromising display of genitalia on his famous statue of David (who battled against Goliath) and other works of nudity that were later covered over after Church authorities deemed them offensive.
This narrative of twinning and covering up extends to other parts of Vasari’s painting. More on this in a future post.
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.
I came across an interesting report by Min Chen this week, published on the Artnet website.
Briefly, it stated: “Following an order from Pope Francis, the Vatican Museums has finalized an agreement with Greece to repatriate three Parthenon sculpture fragments from its collection.”
When I viewed the three images at the Vatican Museums website, they seemed familiar, and then I realised that the fragments are referenced in Giorgio Vasari’s fresco depicting the Battle of Marciano.
Could it be that the pieces arrived in Florence at some time during the 15th century as a gift for the Medici family and later placed in the sculpture garden of Lorenzo de’ Medici, so giving access to Vasari?
Pairings and couplings are a significant feature of Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco. In a previous posts I pointed out the pairing of Dante Alighieri and Virgil, his guide through the Divine Comedy’s first two parts, Inferno and Purgatorio.
Another pairing is the artist himself, Giorgio Vasari, the knight featured in the bottom right corner of the frame with his head turned to the viewer. He applied a second identity to the figure, the sculptor and painter Baccio Bandinelli; the connection being that Vasari was once a pupil in Bandinelli’s workshop.
“It was at this time that the cartoon of Michael Angelo in the Council Hall was uncovered [depicting the Battle of Cascina], and all the artists ran to copy it, and Baccio among others. He went more frequently than any one, having counterfeited the key of the chamber. In the year 1512, Piero Soderini was deposed and the house of Medici reinstated. In the tumult, therefore, Baccio, being by himself, secretly cut the cartoon into several pieces.
“Some said he did it that he might have a piece of the cartoon always near him, and others that he wanted to prevent other youths from making use of it; others again say that he did it out of affection for Lionardo da Vinci, or from the hatred he bore to Michael Angelo. The loss anyhow to the city was no small one, and Baccio’s fault very great.”
Seemingly Michelangelo never forgot this act of vandalism and Bandinelli’s continued malice against him and others. Years later, when Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, he made sure that Bandinelli’s “crime” was recorded in the fresco, and in a similar way Vasari later represented his tutor as a second identity applied to a single figure.
In a previous post I explained how Michelangelo referenced his feud with Leonardo da Vinci. I wrote:
“…Michelangelo never actually put paint on the wall, although he did complete cartoons in preparation, as he was summoned by Pope Julius II to come to Rome and paint the Last Judgement. Leonardo did start to paint but encountered technical difficulties with the materials he used. It is said that because the paint or wall coating was mixed with a wax substance parts of the fresco eventually started to slide down the wall. Leonardo abandoned the project and returned to Milan.
Michelangelo was more than aware of Leonardo’s misfortune and continued the feud by referencing in a most unusual and abiding way in the Last Judgment fresco what had happened to his adversary.
Seated on a cloud at the feet of Christ is the bulky figure of St Bartholomew. He is one of many muscular men in the scene. Leonardo didn’t have a good word to say about Michelangelo’s figures. He once described them as looking like sacks of walnuts. Hence Bartholomew holding his flayed carcass, devoid of body parts and looking like an empty sack of walnuts. Michelangelo even went to the extent of painting his own face on the carcass, distorted and seemingly slipping downwards. An obvious reference to Leonardo’s failed fresco sliding down the wall and a retort to the cutting remark made two decades before about muscles and walnuts!”
Michelangelo also likened the carcass to the cartoon he prepared and laid over the wall on which he was commissioned to paint the Battle of Cascina, later mutilated and cut into pieces by Bandinelli. So how does this connect to the figure of St Bartholomew? Bandinelli’s birth name was Bartolomeo (Bartholomew) Brandini.
A further connection made by Michelangelo was the second identity given to the figure of Bartholomew, that of Pietro Aretino, an influential writer and critic, and a “lover of men” who declared himself a sodomite since birth. Considered by some to be a blackmailer, he criticised the Last Judgement fresco in an open letter dated November 1545, and reminded Michelangelo he had promised to send him some of his drawings. This request may have been made in an earlier letter sent in January 1538. Michelangelo completed the Last Judgement in 1441.
Aretino wanting drawings by Michelangelo paralleled the desire of Bandinelli copying and eventually cutting up the cartoon drawings prepared for frescoing the Battle of Cascina. It is theme that Vasari links to two other identities portrayed in his Marciano battle scene – Daniele Volterra and Tommaso dei Cavalieri – shown below.
Volterra (left), a close friend of Michelangelo, was the painter assigned to overpaint and cover some of the nude features in the Last Judgement fresco. He also utilised many of Michelangelo’s drawings to produce some of his own paintings, most notably The Descent from the Cross frescoed in the church of Trinità dei Monti, Rome. (More about this and how it connects to Vasari’s Battle of Marciano fresco in a future post).
Tommaso Cavalieri, the figure with his right hand raised, was the platonic lover of Michelangelo. They first met in 1523. Michelangelo was 57 years old at the time; Tommaso, about 20. Vasari wrote about four drawings which Michelangelo produced and gifted to Cavalieri, two of which were a pair: “…a Ganymede rapt to Heaven by Jove’s Eagle, a Tityus with the Vulture devouring his heart…”
The name Cavalieri connects with the cavalier on the horse mounted by the dual identities of Vasari and Bandinelli. Features of the vulture and eagle are paired on the representation of Cavalieri. Face on is the moustache and beak features (the peaked hat). Tommaso’s left shoulder is shaped as the yellow beak of an eagle and points to the devoured heart in the shape of a red shield. However, in Michelangelo’s drawing it is the vulture who devours the heart.
So how are Tityus and Ganymede depicted? They are paired as the bloodied kneeling figure, face down on the ground. The figure also represents another pairing: Aeneas from Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Michelangelo.
In my previous post I revealed the identity of Dante Alighieri in Giorgio Vasari’s fresco depicting the Battle of Marciano. His guide through the first two parts of the Divine Comedy, Inferno and Purgatario, was the Roman poet Virgil.
Vasari portrayed Virgil as the faceless head alongside the helmet representation of the exiled Dante, and partly overshadowed by the helmet of the rider at his left shoulder, emphasising his role as a ‘shade’ or spirit of both darkness and light.
Notice also the helmet’s egg-shape, a reference to the sea-front Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) in Naples and its egg legend associated with Virgil.
Vasari also played on the word Virgil as meaning verge or fringe, hence why he placed Dante’s guide at the edge of the frame.
The helmet’s sickle-shape weld, or fringe, suggests a merger of two parts. Here Vasari connects Virgil and the Egg Castle’s location to the sickle-shape coast-line of the Gulf of Naples; and then plays on the word gulf with Guelphs, a name associated with the political faction that supported the Papacy, as opposed to the Ghibellines who favoured the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante Alighieri took the side of the Guelphs.
Within sight of Naples and a short distance of about 20 kilometres is the volcano Mt Vesuvius, which is another pointer to the ashen colour of Virgil’s helmet and armour. Dante’s red plume – suggesting the features of “a man of sorrow” can also be visualised as a fiery eruption and a pointer to the descent and journey of both poets into Hell, or Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy.
As well as embedding references in the Marciano fresco to Dante’s journey through Hell and Purgatory to finally reach Paradise, Vasari also included pointers to Virgil’s famous poem, The Aeneid, the story of Aeneas who fled the fall of Troy and made his way to Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans.
Vasari merged elements of these two narratives with content from other artistic works to form a framework of connections and links to produce a new creation. The work was commissioned by the Florentine duke Cosimo I, to cover over the fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari that was started and abandoned by Leonardo da Vinci some 60 years earlier.
I shall explain in a future post how Vasari called upon and utilised a particular image from a very rare Late Antique illuminated manuscript, now referred to as Vergilius Vaticanus, as part of the process off merging narratives of myth and truth in his Battle of Marciano fresco.
In Dan Brown’s Inferno novel the fictional character Robert Langdon, a Harvard University professor of history of art and “symbology”, is tasked with deciphering clues embedded in the works of Sandro Botticelli, Giorgio Vasari and the first part of Dante Alighieri’s poem Divine Comedy(Inferno).
The Vasari work is the Battle of Marciano, frescoed on the south wall of the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Five Hundred. The wall is believed to cover over the surface on which Leonardo da Vinci began to paint the Battle of Anghiari.
What caught Langdon’s attention in the fresco was a green flag blazoned with the words Cerca Trova (Seek and Find). But other than that the Harvard professor “failed to see how Vasari’s Battaglia di Marciano could possibly relate to Dante’s Inferno…”.
Langdon and his colleague Sienna then moved on to seek out Dante Alighieri’s death mask, located elsewhere in the building. But when they reached the room where it was kept they discovered the mask had been stolen.
Had Langdon made a closer inspection of Vasari’s Battaglia di Marciano he might have spotted not only a reference to the Dante mask but probably also recognised characters and scenes associated with the poet’s journey through Hell as described in Inferno.
The “Harvard professor” would likely have understood as well how Vasari adapted elements from Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari fresco to include in his “cover-up”.
The section of the battle scene shown below is where Dante and the Inferno references can be found. So let’s “seek and find” the man known as il Sommo Poeta – the Supreme Poet.
Many associate the words “Seek and Find” with those recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, and said: “Search and you will find…”. But there is an earlier biblical reference to this instruction in the Book of Jeremiah. It is this particular mention that Vasari has flagged as a pointer to Dante Alighieri, linking the poet’s exile from Florence with the Jewish people’s exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
The prophet Jeremiah was inspired by God to write a letter of encouragement and hope to the people carried off into exile by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 29 : 4-23) in which was said: “When you seek me you shall find me, when you seek me with all your heart, I shall let you find me – it is the Lord who speaks” (29 : 13-14).
And when Jeremiah was first called to his vocation as a prophet he complained to God that he was still a child and did not know how to speak. But God told Jeremiah not to fear and to say whatever he was commanded to say to the people he was sent to. Jeremiah wrote: “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me: ‘There! I am putting my words into your mouth…’” (1 : 6, 9)
Along with the quotation from Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, Vasari also linked to the hand of God putting words into the prophet’s mouth to identify his portrayal of Dante.
Vasari made a third connection with Jeremiah and Dante’s identity in the Battle of Marciano. This time it referred to a verse by Dante in Canticle 20 when Dante wept with pity for the disfigured, weeping souls in the fourth trench of Hell.
Truly I wept, leaning upon a peak Of the hard crag, so that my Escort said To me: “Art thou, too, of the other fools?”
Jeremiah wept much throughout his ministry for the people of Judah who refused to listen to his call for repentance, so much so that he became known as “the weeping prophet”.
The reason Vasari made three connections between Jeremiah and Dante was to correspond with the Divine Comedy’s structure based on the number 3 which threads throughout the poem as an acknowledgement to the Trinitarian nature of God.
Pictured above is detail from Vasari’s fresco and shows two cavalry men, similar in appearance, placed side by side. The head on the right side represents Dante Alighieri; the head on the left, Cante dei Gabrielli di Gubbio, the man who exiled Dante from Florence.
The face of each man does not reveal their identity, but their helmet does. The head shape on the peak of Dante’s helmet refers to the poet’s death mask. Its mouth is covered or ‘masked’ by a scroll. The scroll refers to both Dante as a writer and the prophet Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish people in exile. The scroll also invokes the time when God touched Jeremiah’s mouth with his hand and said: ‘There! I am putting my words into your mouth…”
The scene also represents when Dante entered the fourth trench of hell and wept, while ‘leaning upon a peak’ when he saw the people there with their heads reversed on their bodies, unable to look forward and walking backwards.
And people saw I through the circular valley, Silent and weeping, coming at the pace Which in this world the Litanies assume. As lower down my sight descended on them, Wondrously each one seemed to be distorted From chin to the beginning of the chest; For tow’rds the reins the countenance was turned, And backward it behoved them to advance, As to look forward had been taken from them. Perchance indeed by violence of palsy Some one has been thus wholly turned awry; But I ne’er saw it. nor believe it can be. As God may let thee, Reader, gather fruit From this thy reading, think now for thyself How I could ever keep my face unmoistened, When our own image near me I beheld Distorted so, the weeping of the eyes Along the fissure bathed the hinder parts. Truly I wept, leaning upon a peak Of the hard crag, so that my Escort said To me: Art thou, too, of the other fools?
Notice the Dante mask feature placed on the helmet’s peak, and then observe the shape and placement of the red plume on Cante dei Gabrielli’s helmet. The lion-head shape and colour represents Rubicante, one of the twelve Malebranche demons who guard Borgia Five of the Eighth Circle in Inferno. Rubicante represents Cante dei Gabrielli who cast Dante out of Florence, and so, in turn, the poet casts his accuser into Hell.
The lion also represents the symbol of Judah and its people who refused to listen to Jeremiah and the words God put into his mouth. The helmet’s peak is also an identifier as its crescent shape forms part of the Gabrielli coat of arms.
While Dante’s ‘Escort’ at this stage in his poem is the Roman poet Virgil, Vasari infers Cante is also an ‘Escort’ accusing Dante of being “of the other fools”, those other Florentines who found themselves on the wrong side of Cante’s position of power and judgement as mayor of Florence.
Dante’s tears – another connection to Jeremiah who was known as the “weeping prophet” – can be understood as the three long streams which descend from the top of the sculpted head on the helmet’s peak. This is a pointer to the plume on the silver helmet and its embedded facial feature depicting a “man of sorrow”.
• More on this section of Vasari’s Battle of Marciano in a future post.
This detail is taken from the bottom right corner of the Giorgio Vasari fresco that depicts the Battle of Marciano displayed on the East wall of the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio.
Vasari erected a wall in front of Leonardo’s commission so as not to paint directly onto the earlier battle scene, but in doing so, and in order to preserve and pay tribute to the polymath’s abandoned fresco, he embedded cryptic references to the Battle of Anghiari on this corner section of his own own fresco.
The scene also makes reference to Michelangelo who was also commissioned to paint a battle fresco on the opposite wall in the Hall of Five Hundred around the same time Leonardo started working on the Battle Anghiari. The two artists were seen to be competing against each other – there was no love lost between the pair – and so, in a sense, it can be said they were also engaged in battle with each other and themselves.
As it was, Michelangelo never actually put paint on the wall, although he did complete cartoons in preparation, as he was summoned by Pope Julius II to come to Rome and paint the Last Judgement. Leonardo did start to paint but encountered technical difficulties with the materials he used. It is said that because the paint or wall coating was mixed with a wax substance parts of the fresco eventually started to slide down the wall. Leonardo abandoned the project and returned to Milan.
Michelangelo was more than aware of Leonardo’s misfortune and continued the feud by referencing in a most unusual and abiding way in the Last Judgment fresco what had happened to his adversary.
Seated on a cloud at the feet of Christ is the bulky figure of St Bartholomew. He is one of many muscular men in the scene. Leonardo didn’t have a good word to say about Michelangelo’s figures. He once described them as looking like sacks of walnuts. Hence Bartholomew holding his flayed carcass, devoid of body parts and looking like an empty sack of walnuts. Michelangelo even went to the extent of painting his own face on the carcass, distorted and seemingly slipping downwards. An obvious reference to Leonardo’s failed fresco sliding down the wall and a retort to the cutting remark made two decades before about muscles and walnuts!.
In Vasari’s corner scene the figure on its knees represents both Michelangelo and Leonardo.
Leonardo is also represented in the figures of the two men cowering beneath the horse. A second identity Vasari applied to the bearded man with his hand outstretched Is Tommaso Cavalieri, a friend of Michelangelo. The second identity of the man looking up at the horseshoe was also a friend of Michelangelo – Daniele da Volterra.
I shall explain how Vasari pieced these identities together in a future post.
The scene is based on the short passage from Luke’s gospel (10 : 38-42) which reads:
…Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered: “Martha, Martha,” he said “you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”
Bread is not mentioned in the passage, but features in the painting because the scene represents the two main liturgies in the celebration of the Catholic Mass – the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with Christ present in both.
While still attempting to turn up a high-resolution image of the marriage scene located in the Palazzo Vecchio’s room dedicated to Pope Clement VII, I’ve switched my attention to another Vasari fresco in the same building (in the Hall of the Five Hundred); the Battle of Marciano, also known as the Battle of Scannagallo.
The fresco is probably more famous in recent times for its mention in the Dan Brown novel Inferno and the research carried out by a team led by Maurizio Seracini to discover a fresco painted by Leonardo said to be covered and protected by a wall on which Vasari painted the Battle of Marciano. Seracini’s research proved inconclusive and was halted by local authorities to avoid any damage to the Vasari fresco.
Seracini based his theory and investigation on a small detail in the Vasari fresco, a green flag bearing the words Cerca Trova, generally translated as “seek and you will find”. This led him to believe that Vasari had not painted directly over Leonardo’s fresco that depicted the battle of Anghiari, but had instead built a wall in front with a cavity behind. A cavity was discovered by Seracini but no proof of any lasting image of Leonardo’s fresco other that some residue fragments of white paint. Had Seracini been allowed to continue his research he may have indeed discovered more evidence.
My take on the green flag inscription is that it does refer to Leonardo’s fresco of the Battle of Anghiari. However, the flag’s cryptic message was also designed to alert observers to another conflict, an ongoing antagonism between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
My next few posts will deal with how Giorgio Vasari embedded references in his Marciano painting to the conflict between Leonardo and Michelangelo by recycling elements from the Battle of Anghiari ‘lost’ fresco.
Mary’s Meals school feeding programme in Syria provides meals for children whose young lives have been scarred by unimaginable trauma. The charity works with a partner organisation, Dorcas.
Every school day, Mary’s Meals normally reaches 5,042 children across 18 schools and one community centre in Aleppo – a city which was under siege between 2012 and 2016. A dedicated team of volunteers prepare all the lunches in one school that has reliable access to water and electricity. The food is then delivered to the other locations across the city.
More information and details about Mary’s Meals emergency appeal for Syria at this link.
Giorgio Vasari applied more than one identity – usually two or four – to most of the figures in his fresco depicting the Marriage of Henry, Duke of Orleans, and Catherine de’ Medici.
In previous posts I revealed four identities to the moustached man placed at the shoulder of Pope Clement VII: Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan Giovanni Andrea Lampugnani, assassin of Galeazzo Maria Sforza Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, nicknamed The Thunderbolt of Italy
The central figure in the fresco, Pope Clement VII, bishop of Rome, is one of four identities. Not surprisingly two of them relate to previous popes: Clement I, and the anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva). The fourth identity connects to the two Roman mythology figures portrayed in the corner of the frame, Saturn and Ops. They parented five children, Jupiter being one of them, and it is Jupiter, representing the god of sky and thunder, who Vasari has embedded as the fourth identity.
Two symbols associated with Jupiter are an eagle and a lightening bolt. The latter connects to the identity of the head on Jupiter’s shoulder, Gaston de Foix, the Thunderbolt of Italy. As for the eagle, noted for its large hooked beak, we can recognise this feature in another identity given to the head on Jupiter’s shoulder, Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
The head of Jupiter can also be visualised as the head of a raptor, perhaps a bearded vulture, the red cape spread out like wings, and hands represented as claws digging into the arms of Henry and Catherine – or even the head of the bearded Jupiter as depicted in ancient statues of the chief deity of the Roman State religion.
This figure represented as both a god of the sky and Pope Clement VII connects to the central figure in Botticelli’s Primavera representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven and to a lost fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel was dedicated to the Assumption of Mary by Pope Sixtus IV on her feast day of that name, August 15, 1483.
Covering the whole wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel is a fresco illustrating the Last Judgement, painted by Michelangelo between 1535 and 1541. However, the wall was originally frescoed by Pietro Perugino in the early 1480s depicting the Assumption of the Virgin.
It was Pope Clement VII who commissioned Michelangelo to overpaint or cover up Perugino’s Assumption fresco with the Last Judgment painting shortly before his death in September 1534, less than a year after attending the wedding of Catherine de’ Medici and Henry of Orleans at Marseille in France.
The French connection introduces the anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva) who was elected pope in September 1378 by cardinals who opposed the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome. His reign as anti-pope lasted until his death in September 1394, but what became known as the Papal Schism within the Catholic Church lasted until 1417. Robert of Geneva’s claim as pope was never recognised by the Church of Rome, hence Giulio de Medici taking the name Clement and listed as the legitimate Pope Clement VII. The irony is that Giulio himself was born illegitimate, the son of Fioretta Gorini. Illegitimacy is one of the themes iulioembedded in the Vasari fresco.
Giulio’s birth was legitimised with a papal dispensation issued by Pope Leo X in 1513 when it was declared that his parents, Giuliano de’ Medici and Fioretta had been “wed according to those present”. However, the declaration was made 35 years after Giulio was born and the witnesses were said to be two monks and a relation of Fioretta Gorini. Seemingly Fioretta had died by then and was not able to verify the witnesses evidence. So were the claims of the three witnesses legitimate?
Close inspection of Pope Clement VII’s red bonnet, shows it partially covering another. This reflects the suppression of Robert of Geneva’s false claim to the papacy. It also refers to the covering up of Perugino’s Assumption fresco that showed Pope Sixtus IV kneeling among the group of the Twelve Apostles. It is said that Sixtus instigated the Pazzi Conspiracy which resulted in the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici, considered to be the father of Clement VII, hence the reason for the Medici pope wanting Michelangelo to cover the scene with a new fresco.
Sixtus IV also makes a connection to Jupiter. His birth name was Francesco della Rovere. Rovere translates as “oak”, and the oak tree was another symbol associated with Jupiter the “sky god”. Sixtus incorporated the oak tree in his papal arms. Arms and armour is another embedded them in the Vasari painting.
The iconography related to Clement I is the purse hanging from the side of the papal figure. Clement I was martyred by being thrown into the sea and weighed down by an anchor. He is usually portrayed with an anchor at his side. The purse feature relates to the anti-pope Clement VII, an ambitious and stubborn man who resorted to extortion and simony – “the act of selling church offices and roles or sacred things”. Simony relates to the account of Simon Magus (Acts of the Apostles), a magician whom the people considered a divine power and called Great (another connection to the Magnificat and its meaning of greatness as explained in the previous post).
Simon Magus offered the apostle Peter money to receive the power to be able to lay hands on people for them to receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter, who had ordained Clement I by laying hands on him, dismissed the offer of money by Simon Magus and said: “May your silver be lost forever, and you with it, for thinking that money could buy what God has given for nothing” (Acts 8 20). Then Simon, weighed down by guilt and fear, pleaded with Peter to pray for him.
Clement VII was not without his faults in a manner that drained the Vatican treasury. He assigned positions in the Church, titles, land and money, in favour of his Medici relatives. This also makes a connection to Simon Magus as a magician. Note the proximity of Catherine de’ Medici’s dark right hand to Clement’s purse. It is claimed that Catherine was a practitioner of the dark arts, who relied on soothsayers, seers, mystics and astrologers to forecast her own and family’s future.
But this juxtaposition of hand and purse is another piece of iconography adapted from Botticelli’s Primavera. With Pope Clement substituted for the figure of Mary’s assumption (Venus), Catherine is a replacement for the figure of Botticelli’s Flora dispensing flowers from her apron purse.
So now the four identities associated with the central figure in the marriage scene are: Pope Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici) Anti-pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva) Pope Clement I (Clement of Rome) Jupiter, son of Saturn and Ops
• I hope to continue posting information about this Vasari fresco when I can source a higher resolution digital image of the work. The low-res version available on the internet lacks important visual detail to explain clearly some of the narratives embedded by the artist. If anyone out there has access to a better-quality version than I have used so far for my posts on this subject, please contact me.
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.
The first major exhibition dedicated to the drawings of the Sandro Botticelli will open later this year at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The show will feature almost 60 works in total, including five newly attributed drawings by the Early Renaissance master. More details at this link.
This striking portrait is of Marguerite de Navarre, also known as Marguerite of Angoulème. She was the sister of the French king Francis I.
Note the green parrot perched on her right hand.
The painting is attributed to Jean Clouet, thought to be originally from the Lowlands, probably Flanders, but relocated to France and worked for the French court.
The drawing alongside is also of Marguerite de Navarre, produced later in her life by François Clouet, son of Jean. Francois was known for his portraits of the French ruling family and court members. Note the lap dog.
Giorgio Vasari combined elements of both artworks to create the identity of Marguerite of Angoulème for his fresco depicting the marriage of Henry, the second son of Francis I, to Catherine de’s Medici.
Marguerite is the woman in the centre of the group shown below.
In this scenario, the head on the left represents Gaston de Foix, said to be Marguerite’s one real love in life. He died in the Battle of Ravenna fighting for the French against combined Spanish and Papal forces. His unfinished tomb is located in Sforza Castle, Milan, and so makes the connection to the head’s principal identity, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Note the similarity to the head of the effigy on Gaston’s tomb, to the head given to Galeazzo by Vasari.
A third identity attributed to the woman opposite Galeazzo is his wife Bona of Savoy. Two other identities are Maria Salviati and Fioretta Gorini.
Bona connects with another identity to the central woman, Teresa of Avila, as explained in a previous post. Vasari made two connections to these two women – the locations Avila and Angoulème. Bona, Duchess of Milan was born in Avigliana, Turin. The name Angoulème puns with the angle formed by Galeazzo’s nose.
Marguerite makes a connection with Teresa of Avila. The writings and actions of the Spanish Carmelite were seen as part of the Catholic Revival against the growing Protestant Reformation movement in Europe that influenced Marguerite and her writings, particularly her poem Mirror of the Sinful Soul. Note the head of a dog – a bloodhound – over Marguerite’s chest. Perhaps a reference to Cerebus, the dog associated with Hades, but countered by the Dominican Order’s symbol of the “hound of the Lord”, and so another pointer to Botticelli’s Primavera and its similar symbolism.
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