Cosimo, Sixtus, and now Jerome

St Jerome in the Wilderness, c 1480, Leonardo da Vinci, Vatican Museums

St Jerome in the Wilderness is another unfinished painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Believed to have been started sometime in 1480 before Leonardo moved from Florence to Milan, it’s now housed in the Vatican Museums.

At sometime in its history the panel was reduced in size. However, before it was cut down it served as inspiration for the upper half of Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi. It’s not hard to recognise that the kneeling Magi before the Infant Jesus is not only meant to resemble both Cosimo de’ Medici and Pope Sixtus IV as mentioned in previous posts, but also the figure of St Jerome depicted in Leonardo’s early work.

Other elements in Leonardo’s painting are also echoed and in a future post I will refer to these and the reason why Botticelli has made the connection to Jerome and placed the Saint – one of the early “Doctors of the Church” – in such a central position in his painting.

Matching pair… Leonardo’s St Jerome and Botticelli’s Cosimo de’ Medici and Pope Sixtus IV

Stolen artworks ‘stamped’

Italy has issued a set of stamps depicting stolen artworks recovered by its “monuments men” taskforce as it tries to shake off its status as the country with the highest number of art thefts in the world.

The stamps, which show works by Van Gogh, Mantegna and Raphael, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

More at The Guardian

When Leonardo was ‘murdered’ by Moses (and Botticelli) in the Sistine Chapel

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. The milestone is being acknowledged by special events around the world.

A little further back in time, 37 years to be precise and 1482, Sandro Botticelli recorded the death of Leonardo in a novel way – by portraying him in two roles, both as an Egyptian and a Hebrew slave in a fresco painting on a wall in the Sistine Chapel. The panel depicts the Trials of Moses and was one of several commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV using Botticelli and other Florentine artists.

A section of the Trials of Moses, Sandro Botticelli, 1482, Sistine Chapel.

The section shows Leonardo as the model for the Egyptian slain by Moses, as recorded in Exodus (2 : 11-14). Leonardo is also depicted as the bloodied Hebrew making an exit from captivity in Egypt but in danger of being enslaved by a woman seemingly set on protecting him. The woman is Florentina, the symbol of Florence.

Here Botticelli is referring to Leonardo’s brush with the law when he was one of a group of four men accused of sodomy. The charges were eventually dropped, some say because one of the other men was connected to the powerful Medici family. Had the law been applied in full then the four men could have faced execution. Guilty or innocent, the risk of execution was probably one of the reasons why Leonardo eventually left Florence and moved to Milan.

So here Botticelli expresses Leonardo’s fear of the severity of Florentine law, applied justly or unjustly, as portrayed by Moses who was chosen to present God’s law written in stone but which he had earlier applied unjustly on his own account by killing the Egyptian and hiding his body.

The passage from Exodus also relates what happened after Moses had killed the Egyptian. The following day he came across two Hebrews fighting each other. He said to the man who was in the wrong, “What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?” The man retorted, “And who appointed you to be prince over us and judge? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

Moses became frightened when he realised his crime had been discovered and fled to the land of Midian. Was Botticelli using this analogy to compare the flight of Moses to the flight of Leonardo to Milan, referring to the fact his “crime” was also uncovered?

Another narrative is that Leonardo was perhaps at odds with himself, battling with his sexuality and experiencing his nature to be in conflict with the law that threatened not only his existence but also his way of life, hence the reason why Botticelli depicted Leonardo as both of the Hebrew men.

The self-conflict motif can also be read into the fighting group of Moses and the Egyptian. In Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration, Leonardo is painted in similar colours, green and yellow, to Moses in the Sistine Chapel frescos. But there are also other explanations for this match in the Adoration painting which I shall post on at another time.

The facial expression of the Hebrew on the ground is meant to relate to the screaming face of Leonardo that can be seen on the breastplate of Giuliano de’ Medici sculpted by Andrea del Verrocchio. The cuirass is hollowed as a protective piece of armour, similar to a shell. This is why Botticelli has shaped Leonardo’s cloak as a shell. Leonardo collected and made study draiwngs of shells. However, Botticelli is also suggesting that the vunerable point of any creature carrying a shell on its back and hiding underneath it, is its underside and belly region. This point is also made with a similar motif in the Uffizi Adoration painting.

There is another feature that links the face of Leonardo on the breastplate to his face portrayed on the Egyptian, and which connects with Moses. When the prophet came down from Mount Sinai for the second time “the skin on his face was radiant”. Artists generally show this as “horns of light” or what became known as the “horns of Moses”, usually depicted as two horns projecting from his head. They are meant to represent enlightenment or knowledge, as in knowing God’s law. In the fresco, Moses has yet to receive God’s law written on stone tablets.

However, the face of the Egyptian, aka Leonardo, has hair curled in the shape of horns. These are not only meant to represent the snakes associated with the image of the Gorgon Medusa and the pagan worship of the Egyptians of the time, but also suggest the brilliance of Leonardo, as gifted with knowledge and talents. The horns and the enlightened theme is also expressed on the breastpate, referring not only to Leonardo, but also the wearer Giuliano de’ Medici, considered a shining light and chivalrous knight of the Renaissance.

Giuliano de’ Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio, c 1475-78, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Heads of state

Seeing double… Cosimo de’ Medici and Pope Sixtus IV… adoring the Infant Saviour

In my previous post I pointed out that in Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi, the figure of Joseph is leaning on a stone shelf which depicts Leonardo da Vinci as the head of the Great Sphinx. It wasn’t the first time Botticelli had portrayed Leonardo as the Sphinx. He had used the motif in an earlier work when he and other Florentine artists were commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The commission was seen as a gesture of goodwill in building the peace process between Florence and the Pope in the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy and assassination of Giuliano de’ Medci.

I also mentioned that the two tree trunks supporting the roof of the building housing the Holy Family represent the Roman numeral IV – four – and made the connection to the pharaoh Thutmose IV.

Now the numeral can also be understood as a pointer to Pope Sixtus IV, born Francesco della Rovere.

The two supports are from oak trees. Some oak leaves sprout from the vertical support even though it has been stripped of its bark at the base and so starved from nutrients and therefore any future life, a likely reference to the figure below of the hanged assassin Bernardo Bandini del Baroncelli, who served on the side of Sixtus in the pope’s efforts to remove the Medici family from its power base in Florence.

The Pope’s family name of Della Rovere means “of the oaks” or “the place of the oaks”. So here we see Botticelli expressing the Pope’s desire to take control of the Florentine Republic of which Lorenzo de’ Medici was the de facto ruler.

Art historians generally agree that the figure kneeling in front of the Infant Jesus is Lorenzo’s grandfather, Cosimo de’ Medici, but it also depicts Pope Sixtus IV as head of the Church on earth, and so a bridge (pontiff) between heaven and earth, a crossing into the promised land, not only led by Moses as described in the Old Testament, but also through the death and resurrection on the new-born Saviour, Jesus – hence the hands of Cosimo and Sixtus clasping the feet of the Infant. The two families, the Medici and the Della Rovere, are shown united in a symbolic sign of reconciliation and peace.

It was Pope Sixtus IV who built the Sistine Bridge across the Tiber in Rome. Notice the river-bend shape of the white scarf draped around his shoulders. Seen as Cosimo, the drape represents a waxing crescent moon.

There is another reference to ‘the place of oaks’ – the head of Sixtus – shaped as an acorn with its cup and nut. It’s gaunt appearance is reminiscent of some of the skull studies in Leonardo’s anatomical drawings and is meant to act as a ‘bridge’ to the sculpted head of Leonardo portrayed in the ‘rockface’ above. Which brings me back to the start of this post and the mention of Botticelli painting a similar motif in an earlier work.

For this we have to return again to the Sistine Chapel and the connection to Moses leading the Israelites to freedom from Egyptian captivity. The particular fresco is the Trials of Moses (or the Youth of Moses) painted on the southern wall.

My next post wil explain how and why Botticelli has linked references to Leonardo da Vinci in this fresco and the Uffizi Adoration.

Together in eclectic dreams

The Great Sphinx of Giza, partly under the sand, ca. 1870s

The top section of Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi shows the Virgin Mary presenting the Infant Jesus on her lap to Cosimo de’ Medici, the Elder. Behind her stands Joseph, while above the group the Star of Bethlehem shines through the rafters of the temporary dwelling portrayed in a state of ruin and collapse.

What remains of the walled structure is divided into three distinct sections, the bricked corner walls to the right of the group; the dark and craggy rock that forms the back wall; and the pale outcrop which Joseph rests on. Then there is the raftered roof supported by two tree trunks.

A time to cast away stones, a time for gathering them together… (Ecclesiastes 3 : 4)

The left half of the bricked walls section is shaped to represent the sejant erect heraldic lion, the symbol of Florence known as the Marzocco. Placed alongside the infant Jesus representing the sacrificial Lamb of God, it becomes the Lion and Lamb peace symbol.

Sculpted from the rock shelf which Joseph is leaning on is a head representing Leonardo da Vinci. When this is merged with the lion feature it produces a sphinx-like form of half-man and half-lion. Botticelli is specifically drawing attention to the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt, and Leonardo’s claim in one of his notebooks that he travelled to Egypt and further East. However, historians put this down to fantasy on Leonardo’s part.

The Taurus bull and Lion of Babylon

The shape of the dark rock that forms the back wall is a bellowing bull, its horns are represented as part of the roof’s rafters. The bellowing represents thunder, the horns, lightning (next to the light from the Star of Bethlehem breaking through the darkness). The bull is Taurus and another pointer to Leonardo’s travelogue and the mysterious draft letter letter to “the Decatdar of Syria, Lieutentant of the Sacred Sultan of Babylon” found in one of his notebooks, detailing his time spent in Armenia and describing the Taurus Mountains.

The dark rock also represents the sculpted Lion of Babylon that depicts a man pinned underneath (Leonardo). Its inclusion is another reference to Egypt but particularly to a part of Cairo at the time known as Babylon. The motif may also refer to the biblical “Babylon Captivity” of the Jews and so a symbol of oppression. Leonardo as the pinned man under the lion points to the polymath’s of oppression by the Florentine authorities and the likely false and malicious charge of sodomy made against him, hence his desire to leave the city when an opportunity arose and move to Milan. The mayhem and random slaughter of citizens following the assassination of Giluiano de’ Medici was another likely factor in Leonardo’s desire to leave Florence.

The Lion of Babylon, with a man pinned underneath

That Joseph is depicted leaning on the flat cap of Leonardo’s sculpted head, seemingly asleep, reinforces the dream and journey theme. After the departure of the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod’s intention to slay the new-born child, and that he should escape into Egypt. (Matthew 2 : 13-15)

Adding support to the premise that Leonardo is portrayed in his familar peaked flat cap as the Great Sphinx are the two tree trunks supporting the timbered roof of the building. They form the Roman numeral IV –four – and refer to a period in the Sphinx’s history and that of the short reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose IV.

It was Thutmose who, as a prince, was out hunting one day and decided to rest in the shade of the Sphinx which was buried up to its neck in sand. Wikipedia explains: “He soon fell asleep and had a dream in which the sphinx told him that if he cleared away the sand and restored it he would become the next Pharaoh. After completing the restoration he placed a stone tablet, now known as the Dream Stele, between the two paws of the Sphinx. The restoration of the Sphinx, and the text of the Dream Stele would then be a piece of propaganda on Thutmose’s part, meant to bestow legitimacy upon his unexpected kingship.” (Peter Clayton, Chronicles of the Pharaohs)

This propoganda theme likely mirrors the motive and steps taken by Lorenzo de’ Medici to enhance his reputation following the Pazzi consiracy. The de facto ruler of Florence soared in popularity among the people of the Republic after the brutal murder of his brother Giuliano.

Like the Sphinx, Leonardo’s head is buried from the neck down. The shadowed area falls behind the head of Lorenzo de’ Medici. He is also in a dream-like state and focused on the face of the Child Jesus. This particular feature is a defining link to Deiric Bouts’ painting of the Last Supper from which Botticelli has adapted features to include in his Uffizi Adoration. Bouts also included Thutmose IV and the Dream Stele and linked the pharaoh to the apostle Jude Thaddeus and the Image of Edessa, the so-called Mandylion. Botticelli makes the connection to the Last Supper painting and the raising of the Host (the time during the Mass when Giuliano de’ Medici was assassinated in the Duomo) by identifying Lorenzo with Jude Thaddeus who is said to have brought the Mandylion (the cloth miraculously imprinted with the face of Jesus) to king Abdar of Edessa.

Comparing Lorenzo de’ Medici to the Apostle Jude Thaddeus in Diriec Bouts’ Last Supper

In icons of St Jude, one of his attributes is a flame around his head to indicate his presence at Pentecost. This is shown as a ‘tongues of fire’ symbol on the top of Lorenzo’s hat. Lorenzo is also draped in a cloak meant to represent the Shroud of Jesus on which the covered face of Christ is depicted. Notice also the features of the face and beard of the turbaned man to the left of Lorenzo’s hat, intended to match the profile of Jude in the Bouts painting. The fold on Jude’s left arm represents the head of the Sphinx while there is also a suggestion of the shrouded face of Christ on his back, similar to that shown on Lorenzo.

Leonardo da Vinci portrayed as the Great Sphinx

The stone carving of Leonardo is shaped as a double head. It may represent two aspects of Leonardo as well as the double-headed eagle, facing East and West, and perhaps a pointer to Leonardo’s flight frrom Florence to Milan as well as the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. It’s just possible to make out the shape of an angel (above Cosimo’s head). This winged angel is also likely a reference to the ‘winged’ shape of a nemes crown, the striped extended head cloth worn by pharaohs. The left side head of the rock is formed from the other wing of the nemes.

Another link to Leonardo being portrayed as a sphinx was his fondness for composing riddles. The mythical Greek sphinx that guarded the city of Thebes would devour any traveller unable to answer its riddle. It was classed as female with the wings of an eagle and considered malevolent, while the Egyptian sphinx was portrayed with a man’s head and seen as benevolent.

The main profile of the sculpture shows Leonardo facing two figures connected with the East, the drooped head of Bernardo Bandini del Baroncelli who escaped to Constantinople after assassinating Giuliano de’ Medici, only to be brought back to Florence and hanged while still dressed as a Turk. The other figure is the turbaned man alongside Leonardo, representing both King Agbar of Edessa and Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottaman Empire, who sanctioned the extradition of Baroncelli back to Florence. He also represents Epicurus, the Greek philosopher. More about him and his connection to the painting in a future post.

My next post will deal with how Leonardo and this particular section of Botticelli’s painting links to the Parnassus painting produced about 12 years later by Andrea Mantegna, and how it shows evidence which points to Bianca Giovanna Sforza as La Bella Principessa in the painting said to be by Leonardo da Vinci.

Mantegna’s masterpiece

La Bella Principessa part 03

“But even supposing the drawing does show Bianca, critics ask how it is possible that not a single document records the existence of such a masterpiece.”

So wrote the British art historian in the Daily Telegraph on April 12, 2010.

Well, such a document does exist and derives from an earlier 15th century painting by Sandro Botticelli, a contemporary and associate of Leonardo da Vinci. The actual document was produced by another contemporary of Leonardo, the Mantua court painter Andrea Mantegna. He took his lead from Botticelli, and particularly the Florentine’s painting of the Adoration of the Magi which is now housed in the Uffizi, Florence.

What is now known as Mantegna’s Parnassus, and exhibited in the Louvre, is essentially a pastiche of Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration. Both paintings parody aspects of Leonardo’s life and his works. Mantegna acknowledges his source of inspiration by including references to other notable works of Botticelli apart from the Uffizi Adoration.

(Top) Parnassus by Andrea Mantegna, Louvre, Paris
(Above) Adoration of the Magi by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

Whereas Botticelli’s painting accounts for the time before Leonardo left Florenece and moved to Milan around 1481-82, Mantegna has added updates to the Leonardo references, including some which point to the portrait of Bianca Giovanna Sforza, or La Bella Principessa as titled by the Leonardo expert Professor Martin Kemp.

It is said that the Parnassus painting was completed in 1497 (a year after the deaths of Bianca and her stepmother Beatrice) although some of the iconography does suggest a later date of 1498.

That there are references to the portrait of Bianca Giovanna Sforza in the Parnassus painting alongside other works of Leonardo would suggest La Bella Principessa belongs to the same period and was produced by the artist that many experts claim to be Leonardo da Vinci. While the fact that the portrait is on vellum may be considered as a negative by some critics, there is a clear reference to this material in Mantegna’s presentation, utilising the written source from one of Leonardo’s notebooks.

“…And if you want to prepare a thing, you should not have plain glass, take some skin of a goat, soft and well prepared, and then dry it; and when it is ready, use it for drawing, and then you can use a sponge to cancel what you first drew and make a second attempt.” (source)

Bianca Giovanna Sforza

La Bella Principessa part 02

La Bella Principessa. photo by Gianluca Colla

Bianca Giovanna Sforza was the illegitmate daughter of Ludovico Sforza and Bernardina de Corradis. Born in 1482 she was legitimized in December 1489 and given in marriage to Galeazzo Sanseverino shortly afterwards. ‘Little’ Bianca was seven years old at the time. An agreement was made that the marriage would be consummated only after June 20, 1496, when Bianca had reached the age of 14. Within five months of attaining her ‘maturity’ Bianca died on November 23 from unknown causes while suffering with gastric symptoms. There were no signs of pregnancy and it was speculated that she may have been poisoned.

Some six months later Ludovico’s wife Beatrice d’Este died after giving birth to the couple’s third child, a stillborn boy. Beatrice was 21.

Bianca and Beatrice had been close companions at the Milanese court. Following the death of Bianca in November 1496, Beatrice wrote to her sister Isabella d’Este:

“Although you will have already heard from my husband the duke of the premature death of Madonna Bianca, his daughter and the wife of Messer Galeaz, none the less I must write these few lines with my own hand, to tell you how great is the trouble and distress which her death has caused me. The loss indeed is greater than I can express, because of our close relationship and of the place which she held in my heart. May God have her soul in His keeping.”

Bianca was also known to Leonardo da Vinci. Her husband Galeazzo Sanseverino was a patron and friend of the polymath.

La Bella Principessa and the Botticelli connection

La Bella Principessa part 01

La Bella Principessa, private collection, attribution uncertain

This portrait is generally referred to as La Bella Principessa. The sitter is thought to be Bianca Giovanna Sforza, the illegitmate daughter of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508). Some experts attribute the portrait to Leonardo da Vinci. Others oppose the claim. Arguments for and against are presented at this Wikipedia link.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph published 12 April 2010, Richard Dorment wrote: “But even supposing the drawing does show Bianca, critics ask how it is possible that not a single document records the existence of such a masterpiece.”

But what if there is such a document, one produced around the same time the portrait of Bianca Sforza was made, one that points to Leonardo as the artist, and to this day has remained unnoticed by both camps, even though it is in the public domain?

I propose that there is such a document. It is linked to Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi, and I shall present details in future posts.

Wall to wall artists

Painters and patrons… a section from the Sistine Chapel frescoe, The Temptation of Christ, painted by Sandro Botticelli.

Shown above is detail from The Temptation of Christ, one of the frescoes that line the walls of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. This particular panel was painted by Sandro Botticelli. The frescoes were commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. Botticelli shared the work with three other artists, Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino. The three are depicted in the back line while the front row shows Sandro Botticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio and Guasparre dal Lama.

A similar line-up is featured in Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi shown in the clip below: (left to right) Sandro Botticelli, Andrea del Verrocchio, Guasparre dal Lama, Cosimo Rosselli, Pietro Perugino and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

A similar line-up of painters and patrons from Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi)

Verrocchio’s workshop trained many artists and skilled craftsmen (including Leonardo de Vinci) and was possibly a liaison link between the artists commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, while Guasparre was the man said to have commissioned Botticelli to paint the the Adoration of the Magi.

But why would Botticelli have placed Guasparre in a frescoe he had no apparent connection with, and in such a prominent position?

Botticelli’s frieze of artists

A section from Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi that depicts a lineup of artists.

A couple of months ago I pointed out here that Sandro Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi could not have been completed before 1480 and perhaps even 1481.

Since then, after further study of the iconography, I can say the painting was not finished until at least 1482, after Botticelli had returned from Rome where he had spent several months as part of a team of Florentine artists commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to frescoe the walls of the Sistine Chapel.

Evidence for this claim is the line of figures Botticelli has ‘frescoed’ against the extended wall on the right side of the painting. Most of the men represent the main artists involved in the Sistine Chapel project, and some of the iconography in the group is linked to parts of the frescoed panels.

The Trials of Moses, one of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel painted by Sandro Botticelli.

When Botticelli went to Leuven

The Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament (1464-68) by Dieric Bouts, St Peter’s church, Leuven

In my previous post I revealed how the portraits of Sandro Botticelli and Hugo van der Goes featured in corresponding versions of the Adoration of the Magi, suggesting that Van der Goes may have visited Florence in connection with his painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds, commissioned for the church of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.

Further research has produced evidence to suggest that Botticelli likely travelled to Flanders and, in particular, to the Flemish region of Brabant and the city of Leuven, now part of Belgium.

While in Louven, for whatever reason, it appears that Botticelli visited St Peter’s church and laid eyes on the famous altarpiece (still displayed there) painted by Dieric Bouts – the Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament. The triptych was commissioned in 1464 and completed four years later in 1468.

As Bouts died in May 1475, it is likely that Botticelli’s visit would have occurred sometime during a seven year span between 1468 and the early part of 1475.

Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi incorporates in detail some of the iconography and ideas embedded in the Bouts triptych, particularly in the centre panel depicting the Last Supper. I can only assume that this detailed knowledge was given to Botticelli by Dieric Bouts himself, which may further explain why Hugo van der Goes, a close associate of Bouts, placed portraits of the two artists side by side in his Adoration triptych known as the Montforte Altarpiece.

A look of admiration and appreciation from Sandro Botticelli for Dieric Bouts in the Monforte Altarpiece painted by Hugo van der Goes.
Botticelli’s Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi, inspired by not only by the works of Leonardo da Vinci but also the Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament painted by Dieric Bouts, still displayed in St Peter’s church in Leuven.

When Botticelli ‘goosed’ Hugo van der Goes

Botticelli, the mischiveous Kobold

So why did Sandro Botticelli decide to include a profile of the Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes in his Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi, and Van der Goes do likewise and feature Botticelli in the Monforte Altarpiece?

Did the two artists meet at some time, perhaps in Florence after Hugo was commissioned to produce an altarpiece for the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova? Or maybe on his way to making a pilgrimage to Rome?

Botticelli’s self portrait is shown above (left). In Hugo’s painting he is depicted wearing a blue cap and staring at another artist, Dieric Bouts who was deceased at the time. The reason why Hugo painted the cap in ‘cobalt’ blue was to reference the German mythical Kobold, a house sprite reputed to play malicious tricks if insulted or neglected – and a fitting description for Botticelli’s reputation for vindictive humour, often expressed in through his paintings.

Not seen in the frame above is the piece of rock placed across the chest of Bouts. It’s there for two reasons, but in this instance relates to the Kobbold and hints at the probable cause of Bouts’ death. Wikipedia explains: “The name of the element cobalt comes from the creature’s name, because medieval miners blamed the sprite for the poisonous and troublesome nature of the typical arsenical ores of this metal (cobaltite and smaltite) which polluted other mined elements.”

As a young apprentice, Bouts was probably tasked to grind minerals and rocks as part of the process in preparing paint. It likely contributed to his health problems later in life. This may also explain why Hugo van der Goes descended into bouts of depression and odd behaviour. Botticelli also struggled with depression.

Hugo van der Goes portrayed in Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi (left) and his own version (right)

Hugo van der Goes gave himself a prominent position in the Monforte Altarpiece, almost centre stage. Draped in black, an indication of his approaching death, he depicts himself as the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Frederick III, perhaps somewhat in recognition of his own vainglory.

Botticelli paints Hugo in the role of Balthazar, said to be a Babylonian scholar, in the secondary line of Magi. The iconography relating to this is detailed and complex, but one example is the striped scarf around his shoulders, the stripes representing myrrh and its association with death.

But there is another reference Botticelli creates with the scarf – that of a goose, a play on Hugo’s name, Goes, and its pronunciation “hoose”. The goose shape with its long neck can be seen by turning the feature on its side. Another pointer to the long neck might be the inferrence that Hugo was sticking his neck out by taking on a commission in Florence and the work from the mouths of local artists. Perhaps this is why Van der Goes responded by showing the figure in front of Botticelli with a long neck and what appears to be a ‘steel’ collar pointing to Botticelli’s cheek!

The long-necks… Botticelli’s ‘goose’ scarf version, and Van der Goes retort aptly applied to his figure of St Augustine doubling up as ‘Il Moro’, the shorn Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.

As said, there is more iconogrphy related to this section of Botticelli’s painting which I will post on another time. Enough to say at this stage the ‘spat’ between the two artists suggests the Monforte Altarpiece was painted after the completition of Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration.

Two versions of the Adoration of the Magi… The Monforte Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, and Sandro Botticelli’s Uffizi version

‘Fake’ Botticelli is the real deal

Though smaller than the original, the painting is still very detailed, with gold leaf in Mary’s halo and the wings of the angels at her side. Photo: English Heritage

Experts cleaning a supposed imitation of a Botticelli painting have discovered it was actually created in the Renaissance master’s own studio. The work had been thought to be a later copy of the Madonna of the Pomegranate, painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1487. But English Heritage conservators changed their minds after scraping thick yellow varnish off the painting. Extensive tests showed it did in fact originate from Botticelli’s 15th Century workshop in Florence. More details at this link

On the trail of Leonardo

Leonardo painted by Pollaiuolo as the Angel Raphael, and mirrored in Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration

I recently pointed out the face of Leonardo da Vinci as one of several references to him made by Botticelli in the Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi.

Botticelli, in fact, had mirrored one of the figures in Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s version of Tobias and the Angel (1460). The model for the angel Raphael was Leonardo. You can see Botticelli’s figure of Leonardo points to the ‘wing’ of the man next to him. He has also placed a ‘red-wing’ on Leonardo’s shoulder to reference the ‘red kite’. Then there is the ‘fluted’ folds on the shoulders of the two men standing behind Leonardo to echo the ‘fluted’ wing of the stooped figure on the opposite side of the picture, also meant to represent Leonardo from behind. So we have two depictions of Leonardo – from the front and from behind.

This points to another image produced by Pollaiuolo, an engraving known as the Battle of the Naked Men (c 1370-80). Its two central figures are likely front and back versions of Leonardo da Vinci.

Top left: Antonio del Pollaiulo’s Hercules and Antaeus.
Top right: Possibly Leonardo depicted in Pollaiulo’s engraving of the Battle of the Naked Men.
Above left: Central figures in the same engraving.
Above right: Leonardo depicted on Verrocchio’s terracotta bust of Giuliano de’ Medici

Pollaiuolo may have also featured Leonardo in other works depicting combat between naked men: the panel painting showing Hercules crushing Antaeus (1470-75) and, perhaps, the bronze sculpture he made on the same theme (1470s). Both items are housed at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. As to which figure portrays Leonardo, if any, Botticelli may have simply been pointing to the idea that Leonardo not only modelled for Pollaiuolo but also shared Antonio’s interest in disecting bodies to study and portray the human form, particularly of men.

Andrea del Verrocchio noted this interest and connection, hence his portrayal of the screaming angel, aka Leonardo da Vinci, depicted by Pollaiuolo as the angel Raphael and also the screaming and crushed figure of Antaeus.

There is another interpretation that can be applied to the ‘screaming angel’ on Giuliano’s protective breastplate. If we suppose that the portrait does depict Leonardo in distress, then perhaps it was Giuliano who gave his support when he was anonymously acused with four other men of sodomy. The men had to report to the courts two months later and the charges were then dropped. Some historians have speculated it was because of one of the men’s family links to the Medici. Could the Medici ‘saviour’ have been Giuliano?

Shortly after Pollaiuolo had painted Tobias and the Angel, Andrea del Verrocchio produced a similar version. The Raphael figures differ slightly – the angel’s right arm, for instance. Verrocchio’s angel is comparable to the upright figure of Leonardo in Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration. The right arm is placed across the chest; the left hand holds up his cloak; and the head is inclined slightly and turns to one side with eyes cast downward.

Another feature is the linking of arms, similar in both Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio versions. This is carried through in Botticelli’s painting. Below the chin of the stooped man with the white cap (aka Leonardo and Jacopo Saltarelli) is a pair of hands. First impression is that both hands belong to Giuliano de’Medici. The hand underneath does, but the hand placed on the back belongs to the stooped man. This relationship points to Verrochio’s version of The Angel and Tobias in which, according to Leonardo expert Martin Kemp, Leonardo may have had a hand in some of the work, particularly in painting the fish, and possibly another reason why Verrocchio chose to depict Leonardo with an open mouth on Giuliano’s protective cuirass. Hooked and presented on a breastplate.

The breastplate acting a protective shield is also mirrored by the stooped man’s cap. It represents the discarded shield of Pollaiuolo’s naked man (seen from the back).

Mirroring the Just Judges

The Ghent Altarpiece, also called Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by Jan van Eyck

The Belgian artist Kris Martin is putting his own spin on the Ghent Altarpiece by incorporating a site-specific piece into the armature of the famous 15th-century Flemish masterpiece. Martin’s mirrored work covers the Just Judges panel—currently represented by a reproduction—in the lower left corner of the altarpiece which was installed at St Bavo cathedral in Ghent in 1432… more at The Art Newspaper

Two for the price of one…

Giuliano de’ Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

This terracotta bust of Giuliano de’ Medici is thought to have been made sometime between 1475 and 1478 by Andrea del Verrocchio, the Florentine, goldsmith, sculptor and painter. The bust is housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Giuliano is wearing a protective cuirass emblazoned on the front with what first appears to be a depiction of the mythological Medusa. Described as a guardian or protectress, the winged Medusa had snakes coming out of her head instead of hair.

But this motif, in fact, represents the head of an angel – a guardian angel with wings enfolded to signify protection.

I doubt if the National Gallery realises it owns a two-for-the price-of-one work of art, for not only does it depict Giuliano de’ Medici but the breastplate portrait is of the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Giorgio’s Vasari’s Life of Leonardo da Vinci reveals that among Leonardo’s early works was a painting of the head of Medusa, although this is doubted by some art historians, and if the painting did ever exist, it is now lost.

However, Verrocchio’s bust of Giuliano de’ Medici also points to a connection between Medusa and Leonardo, as does Botticelli in his Uffizi version of the Adoration of the Magi. So perhaps Varari’s report on Leonardo’s Medusa may have some merit after all.

A couple of decades later, the Italian painter Andrea Mantegna picked up on this when he painted Parnassus for Isabella d’Este – a pastiche on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration. He depicted Piero de’ Medici, eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, as wearing the breastplate and Botticelli as the ‘Medusa’ motif.

More on this in my next post.

When Botticelli painted Leonardo

Adoration of the Magi, 1481, Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre Museum, Paris

More on the stooped figure of Leonardo da Vinci…

The above illustration is part of a series of preparation drawings made by Leonardo da Vinci for his unfinished painting depicting the Adoration of the Magi. He started the work in 1481 but it was never completed before he left Florence and moved to Milan. It has recently been restored and is housed at the Uffizi in Florence.

It is this work that Botticeli has utilised for his version of the Adoration of the Magi, also kept at the Uffizi. While many art historians date Botticelli’s version before Leonardo’s, it is likely that Botticelli did not complete his painting until after his return from Rome in 1482 where he was commissioned with a group of other Florentine artsits to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel.

There are two figures from Leonardo’s sketch that Botticelli has adapted for his painting which connect to my previous post, the stooped man, and the man with his arm across his chest and hand resting on his shoulder. In the same post I pointed out that the stooped figure represnts Leonardo and connects to an early memory in his childhood.

Matching pairs from the Leonardo and Botticell versions of the Adoration of the Magi

In Leonardo’s unfinished painting, not the sketch, historians generally agree that the figure standing on the extreme right with his head turned is the artist himself. This figure is also replicated in the Botticelli version as the third standing figure from the left, wearing a red hat. Like many of the figures in Botticelli’s painting, it has two identities: the first was revealed in an earlier post as Bernardo Baroncelli, one of the assassins who took part in the Pazzi conspiracy and cleaved the head of Giuliano de’ Medici, hence his hat depicted as soaked in blood. His own head is also shown hanging from a rope above the figure and is a reference to Leonardo’ drawing of the hanging man..

Also mentioned in a previous post was the two groups either side of the painting are mirrored, and perhaps a pointer to Leonardo’s style of mirror-writing.

So when taking the faceless, stooped figure of Leonardo and his account about the fork-tailed red kite, and mirroring it to the standing Baroncelli, a second identity is revealed – Leonardo da Vinci. Confirmation is provided by features pointing to the kite story and the charge of sodomy with the young goldsmith apprentice.

Could this be the face of Leonardo da Vinci in his late twenties, and painted by his contemporary Sandro Botticelli, probably around 1482?

The brim of the hat is wing-shaped, the underside a lghter red than the crown, representing the light underside of the fork-tailed red kite. A small, white ‘tickling’ feather is attached to the hat-band, the band itself representing a child’s baubles strung across the crib. A bird’s head with a pronounced beak forms one of the hair curls extending into the brim. Below the collar is a fork-shaped fold.

The shoulder insignia is a gold leaf, a reference to Leonardo’s early training as an apprentice goldsmith and to the young goldsmith he was accused with of sodomy. There is gold braid on Leonardo’s shoulder, and the hem of his green gown (right) is threaded with a gold knot pattern, another of Leonardo’s devices.

Leonardo’s left hand grip of his gown at waist level is a sexual signal directed to and observed by the young man at his side who has his arms wrapped around Giuliano de’ Medici. He is likely to represent Jacopo Saltarelli, the apprentice goldsmith and a recorded prostitute in Florentine court records. The waist level signal is intended to match the underbelly feature seen in the stooping figure opposite.

You can follow this thread and earlier posts on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi by clicking on the category link below, or at my website.

Birds of a feather…

More on Sandro Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi

Behind the kneeling Lorenzo de’ Medici and his his brother Giuliano, are three figures which the artist Botticelli has grouped to relate to each other in five distinct ways.

Firstly, each figure has two identities; secondly, each experienced judgement and condemnation; thirdly, all three reached celestial heights.

Previously mentioned was that Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi is laden with references to Leonardo da Vinci and his works. This is a fourth connection that binds the group. The fifth connection is they represent a secondary group of Magi and their gifts: gold, myrrh and frankincense.

The standing bearded man represents two people mentioned in the Book of Zechariah, Zerubabbel, the governor of the Persian Province of Judah who laid the foundation of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, helped by the high priest Joshua. Zechariah’s account of the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity and a return to peace is described by the prophet in a series of eight visions. These are also referred to in part in Botticelli’s painting.

The stooping figure next in line represents the musician and companion to Leonardo, Atalante Migliorotti, and also the man who commissioned the painting, Guasparre dal Lama.

The faceless third figure – the winged man – is Leonardo da Vinci. In this scenario the second identity probably refers to Jacopo Saltarelli, an apprentice goldsmith charged with prostitution and engaging in sodomy with Leonardo and three other men. The accusation was made annonymously on April 9, 1476, but charges against all the men were later dismissed on the condition that no accusations were made against them in the future.

Leonardo never clarified his sexual orientation in any of his writings, although he did write in one of his notebooks that “the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions”.

Like Leonardo, Sandro Botticelli was once accused of sodomy, though never prosecuted. Accusations of this kind were common at the time, often as a way of harming reputations. Many of Botticelli’s paintings contain sexual imagery and he was not adverse to injecting his own brand of irreverant humour in some scenes. The Uffizi Adoration is no exception, the target being Leonardo. Whereas Leonardo dissected human corpses, animals and birds in his quest for knowledge, Botticelli dissected reputations with his cutting remarks and piercing parodies for comic effect, even to the extent of self-parody. His placement behind the winged man is akin to the assassin in the opposite corner closing in and pretending to befriend Giuliano de’ Medici before inflicting 19 wounds on his body.

In his later years Leonardo wrote about his first memory as a child in his cradle. He was making notes at the time about the flight pattern of birds and the fork-tailed red kite (milvus vulgaris) in particular. His brief note read: “Writing like this so particularly about the kite seems to be my destiny, since the first memory of my childhood is that it seemed to me, when I was in my cradle, that a kite came to me, and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips.”

Although the notebook entry is thought to be have been made around 1505, it is possible that the incident was related orally to others at earlier stages of his life. Certainly, Botticelli appears to have referenced the incident in at least two places. It may even be that Botticelli doubted Leonardo’s account and in his irreverent way put it down to fantasy or a dream sequence his contemporary may have experienced at some time.

As Leonardo held a lifelong interest in birds and their flight, even designing and constructing vehicles for men to take to the skies, it is not surprising that Botticell depicted Leonardo as a bird with wings and a cape covering a self-propelled wind source. Botticelli took the jest a step further, intimating that Leonardo’s weakness, or even strength, could be observed on the underside of his belly, an obvious reference to the sodomy charge against Leonardo and a 15th century slang defintion of ‘kite’ as a person who preys on others.

The peacock and its inverted shadow combine to suggest the fork-tail of the kite. But where is it pointing to?

The second reference to the fork-tailed kite and Leonardo’s earliest memory is the long-tailed peacock perched above the group of men on the right side of the painting. The overhang above the peacock is meant to depict the wingspan of another bird, perhaps the kite and the shadow hanging over Leonardo if ever a charge of sodomy was brought against him in the future. A fork is formed when the shadow is combined with the peacock, a bird that not only symbolised Leonardo’s perceived vanity and desire for attention with his dimorphic style of attire, but may have also pointed to the new life Leonardo was seeking which led to his move to Milan.

More on this in my next post.

You can follow the thread and earlier posts on Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi by clicking on the category link below, or at my website.

A celestial musician

Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo da Vinci, Pinacoteca, Milan

The Portrait of a Musician is another unfinished painting attributed in part to Leonardo da Vinci. It is thought to have been painted in 1485, which would place it in the period after the artist moved to Milan sometime between 1482 and 1483.

Various identities have been given to the sitter but a more recent suggestion is that of Atalante Migliorotti, a musician said to have been taught by Leonardo and who accompanied his tutor when he left Florence for Milan to work for the Sforza family.

Migliorotti is mentioned in a list of works noted by Leonardo: “a portrait of Atalante raising his face”. The painting is presumambly a lost work and is not the the particular portrait above, which would suggest that Leonardo made two paintings of Atalante.

However, evidence of the lost portrait of “Atalante looking up” appears in Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration of the Magi. The painting also points to the surviving Portrait of a Musician which would suggest it was completed before 1485 while Leonardo and Atalante were still in Florence.

As mentioned in an earlier post Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration could not have been completed before 1480 as it includes elements related to the Pazzi conspiracy and assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici. Completion may even have been after the death in April 1481 of its patron Guasparre dal Lama.

My next post will deal with the iconography that points to Leonardo’s two paintings of Atalante Migliorotti.