Cinquecento Rooms

The Cinquecento Rooms, which house Florentine and Venetian works from the 16th century, were recently renovated and reopened in 2019. The rooms housing the Florentine paintings are painted gray to evoke the pietra serena (a type of sandstone used extensively in Florence; literally translated as the “serene stone”) of the Uffizi while the rooms housing the Venetian works are painted green as a nod to the draperies typically used as backgrounds by Venetian artists. Most of the Venetian works located in these rooms, including the famous Venus of Urbino, constituted part of Vittoria della Rovere’s dowry when she married her cousin Ferdinando II de’ Medici in 1634. (Vittoria della Rovere was the daughter of Claudia de’Medici and Duke Federico Ubaldo della Rovere of Urbino).

The Hall of the Dynasties is dedicated to portraits of the Medici Family, done primarily by Bronzino, which were produced to legitimize Cosimo I’s succession to the fledgling Duchy of Florence. The portraits include posthumous depictions of Medici ancestors, demonstrating the Medici’s historical links to the city, through depictions of the youngest of Cosimo’s children, demonstrating the continuation of the dynasty into the future.

Medici Family Tree

The Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari (1534) was commissioned by Ottaviano de’Medici. Alessandro de’Medici was likely the illegitimate son of Pope Clement VII, but was presented to the public as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo de’Medici, Duke of Urbino, himself the son of Piero de’Medici and Alfonsina Orsini.

Alessandro de’Medici, Vasari, Courtesy of WikiCommons

Alessandro was granted governorship of Florence by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in July of 1531 after Charles V’s imperial forces conquered the Republican city in 1530. (The Medici family had been ousted from the city in 1527). The delay in appointing Alessandro as head of the Florentine state was due to disagreement between Charles V and Pope Clement VII on how to style Alessandro’s hold on power. Pope Clement VII, who had grown up in his uncle Lorenzo il Magnifico’s household, believed Alessandro’s rule should be a continuation of the fiction that the Medici were simply the “first citizens” of a Florentine republic (a perhaps not so subtle imitation of Caesar Augustus’ role as “first among equals” in the Roman “republic”). Charles V, being the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, was a royalist to the core and therefore saw no problem in naming Alessandro as an outright duke. Thus, a compromise was made to name Alessandro as “Governor of the Republic of Florence and Head of the Government in Perpetuity.” Impetuous Alessandro was not satisfied. In 1532, after (one suspects) of much badgering and whining, the Pope relented and Alessandro was invested as the “Duke of the Republic.” Although Alessandro’s impetuousness scored him a ducal crown, it was also to prove his undoing. He was assassinated by his cousin Lorenzino in 1537 and with his death, the principal Medici line was extinguished.

In this portrait, completed several years before Alessandro was assassinated, he is depicted in full figure, which was atypical at the time. Generally, contemporary portraits depicted the sitter from his or her torso up. Using this unconventional posture, however, allowed Vasari to imbue the portrait with an abundance of symbolism, as he eloquently explains in his verse:

What do weapons mean? Love for the city, causing the great defeat of enemies.
And this round chair? A thing without an end.
And what do the truncated bodies tied to the chair say? Triumph.
And the red cloth that is covering his leg? Blood.
And the dry trunk that is sprouting green shoots? The Medici Family.
What comes from the ardent helm? Fecund peace. 

As trans. in The Medici Portraits and Politics 1512-1570. Carlo Falciani "Power and Identity in Sixteenth-Century Florentine Portraiture." 

In other words, the red cloak upon which Alessandro sits symbolizes the spilled blood of his enemies, the round stool covered by the “blood of his enemies” symbolizes his everlasting kingdom (a circle has no end), and the three bound legs of the stool symbolize the Florentine people, “with neither arms not legs, but guided by his wishes.” Behind Alessandro stands a stump with a full laurel leaf sprouting from it, which is an allusion to a portrait of Cosimo the Elder, the founder of the Medici dynasty, painted by Pontormo around 1519/20 and coincidentally hangs near Alessandro’s portrait in the Hall of Dynasties. The laurel leaf has been a potent symbol of victory since ancient times. The broken branch with a new offshoot is known as the broncone and was adopted by the Medici as a heraldic device to symbolize the family’s resilience despite multiple exiles and deaths of its members. As Vasari explained the branch symbolized “the house of Medici, once dead but now in the person of Duke Alessandro able to produce offshoots for ever.” (As trans. by Mary Hollingsworth in The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty). (Although, little did Vasari know, Duke Alessandro was soon to be dead too).

Alessandro chose to be depicted as a solider holding the baton of command and as a prince signaling that long gone are the days that the Medici proclaimed that they were simply “first among equals.” Instead, the Medici line is openly proclaiming its royal pretensions and demonstrating that their power is supported by their strength in arms. Indeed, in a letter to Ottaviano de’Medici, Vasari wrote:

White, shining armor is the mirror of the prince, so that his subjects can see themselves and their lives reflected in him.

As trans. in The Medici Portraits and Politics 1512-1570. Carlo Falciani “Power and Identity in Sixteenth-Century Florentine Portraiture.”

The Portrait of Cosimo the Elder (c. 1519-1520) by Pontormo, mentioned above, is a posthumous depiction of the founder of the Medici family, Cosimo il Vecchio, who died in 1464.

Portrait of Cosimo the Elder, Pontormo

Instead of sticking to the conventions of the time, Pontormo painted Cosimo il Vecchio in profile similar to those portraits that would have been produced during Cosimo il Vecchio’s lifetime.

Indeed, Pontormo’s choice to depict Cosimo il Vecchio in profile mimics the same choice made when humanist medals commemorating his lifetime were struck within a year of his death, a depiction of which is held by the man in Botticelli’s Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici painted in c. 1474. The medal held by the young man was cast either from the actual mold that made the real medal or from an impression of an already existing medal.

Although Botticelli used the medal to emphasize the break from tradition and the beginning of a new age by juxtaposing the ancient Roman portrait of Cosimo il Vecchio with the new Renaissance style portrait, Pontormo returns to the traditional “classical” model to emphasize continuity between Cosimo il Vecchio, the “Father of the Fatherland” and Cosimo I, thereby legitimizing Cosimo I’s rule as well as establishing a long-lived dynasty to obscure the Medici’s relative parvenu-status, as compared to the European royal families who could trace their royal ancestry back centuries.

The Pontormo portrait was commissioned by Goro Gheri, former secretary to Lorenzo de’Medici, Duke of Urbino. In the portrait is the Broncone (i.e. broken branch with new offshoot), a recurrent Medici emblem, as explained above. Curved around the Broncone is the motto “UNO AVULSO NON DEFICIT ALTER,” a corrupted line from Virgil’s Aeneid. The true line from the Aeneid is “Primo avulso non deficit alter,” meaning “When the first one is torn away, the other does not fail,” whereas the corrupted version states, “When one is torn away, the next does not fail.” The slight change suggests a continual, circular (like Alessandro’s stool) meaning, evoking notions of dynasty and the continual rebirth of the Medici.

Cosimo il Vecchio’s crimson robes allude to those worn by the Saints Cosmas and Damian when depicted in Italian art, the family’s patron saints.

Saints Cosmas and Damian are typically portrayed together, as they were brothers (in some sources twins), and as such, they were closely linked to Cosimo il Vecchio, himself a twin (his twin did not survive childhood). The two Medici brothers were named after the saints, Cosimo and Damian. Additionally, the saints, who were physicians, were linked to the Medici due to the play on the Medici name (“medici” is the Italian word for “doctors”).

A companion piece to the portrait of Cosimo il Vecchio was commissioned by Ottaviano de’Medici in around 1534. This piece is the Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent by Giorgio Vasari.

Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giorgio Vasari.

Like Cosimo il Vecchio, Lorenzo is depicted in profile, a mirror image of Pontormo’s portrait. Also like Cosimo il Vecchio, Lorenzo is wearing domestic attire, but his wealth is still conveyed to the viewer via his fur lined sleeves and the purse that hangs from his belt, an allusion to the Medici’s role as bankers to the Pope.

I wanted to portray all the great qualities that adorned his life … his outstanding leadership, not just in his eloquence but in everything, especially in his judgement, which has provided a light for his descendants and this great city.

Giorgio Vasari to Alessandro de’Medici, as trans. by Mary Hollingsworth in The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty

Behind Lorenzo, Vasari, who was exceedingly fond of allegorical symbols, as demonstrated in his Portrait of Alessandro de’Medici, above, has inserted a multitude of strange objects, including masks, vases, an oil lamp, and a pillar. An ancient oil lamp in the guise of a mask is to the left of Lorenzo. According to Vasari, oil falls from the mask’s horns onto its forehead to fuel the wick of the lamp, sticking out of the mask’s open mouth. Its significance is also explained by Vasari: just as the wick lights the world around it, Lorenzo lights the path for his descendants to follow. To the right of Lorenzo, the inscription on the pillar reads, “vitia virtuti subiacent” (“Virtue triumphs over vices”). The personification of Virtue is the vase, on which is inscribed, “virtutum omnium vas” (“the vase of all virtues”). On the spout of the “vase of all virtues” hangs a mask, which Vasari called “the reward of all virtues.” In opposition lays Vice, personified by the monstrous mask on the pillar behind the vase. All of the allegories are captured in the inscription on the pillar against which Lorenzo leans: “sicut maiores mihi ita et ego posteris mea virtute praeluxi” (“As my ancestors did with me, I too, with my virtue, shall light the way for my descendants”).

Ironically, after the murder of one of Lorenzo’s descendants (Alessandro) by another of his descendants (Lorenzino) and consequently the extinction of the principal Medici line, the Senate of Florence proposed a member of the cadet Medici branch, named Cosimo, as successor to Alessandro. Charles V, Florence’s Imperial overlord, eventually accepted Cosimo as Duke, allowing Cosimo to become Cosimo I. To cemented Imperial backing, Cosimo negotiated a marriage between himself and Eleonora of Toledo, the daughter of Pedro de Toledo, Charles V’s viceroy in Naples.

As part of Cosimo I’s propaganda war to legitimize his claim to the ducal throne, he commissioned Bronzino to produce his state portrait, which was disseminated throughout Europe.

Cosimo I, Bronzino. Courtesy of Encyclopaedia.humana – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116022946

In the Portrait of Cosimo I de’Medici (c. 1545), Bronzino chose to depict Cosimo as a man in his middle age, despite the fact that Cosimo was actually only in his twenties at the time the painting was commissioned. Aging the young Cosimo imbued the new duke with a sense of experience and wisdom; in other words, virtus, the Roman concept of manliness (Vir in Latin means “man”). Emphasizing Cosimo I’s authority is his depiction as a solider in his suit of armor, which was gifted to him by Ferdinand I, Charles V’s brother. Vasari’s statement made regarding his portrait of Alessandro, that “white, shining armor is the mirror of the prince, so that his subjects can see themselves and their lives reflected in him,” applies equally here to Cosimo’s portrait. Cosimo I’s armor also harkens back to his father Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a famous condottiere (Italian mercenary commander).

It is likely that this portrait is based on woodcut by Giovanni Britto of Charles V, which itself was a copy of a lost portrait of Charles V by Titian.

Copying the portrait of Charles V allowed Cosimo to emulate his feudal overlord, but perhaps also was his attempt to displace Charles V in the minds of his subjects and of those of the heads of states. In fact, Cosimo I appropriated much of Charles V’s “branding,” including the astrological sign Capricorn and the motto festina lente (coincidentally, or perhaps not, both the astrological sign and the motto were devices of Caesar Augustus).

Cosimo intended this portrait to be his official state portrait, and it was in fact reproduced by Bronzino and/or his workshop almost 30 times to disseminate to fellow heads of state. Some of the versions vary slightly on the details:

For example, the version housed by the Met contains a curtain and ornamental border, which may have been derived from the work of a fellow Florentine, Francesco Salviati, known as Portrait of a Gentleman, also housed in the Met.

Whereas the version from the Toledo Museum of Art shows Cosimo I with the badge of the Order of the Fleece, conferred on Cosimo I in 1545, indicating that this portrait is a later version of the Uffizi version.

The Toledo version also contains a broncone, linking him to Vasari’s portrait of Alessandro and Pontormo’s portrait of Cosimo il Vecchio. This branch, however, is an olive branch, alluding to Cosimo’s role in bringing peace to the Florentine people, which seems slightly inconsistent with his deliberate promotion of his martial prowess.

Cosimo I also commissioned Bronzino to produce state portraits of his growing family, including one of his son Giovanni, which is housed in the Hall of Dynasties. Bronzino’s Portrait of Giovanni de’ Medici as a Child (c. 1545) depicts Cosimo I’s second son at about eighteen months, based on the timing of his birth in 1543.

Portrait of Giovanni de’Medici as a Child, Bronzino

It was originally displayed alongside a companion portrait of his brother, Garzia de’Medici (now in the Prado Museum).

Both boys are dressed in crimson tunics trimmed in gold, but the portrait of Giovanni departs from Bronzino’s typical portrayal of the royal family as distant and expressionless whereas the portrait of Garzia maintains the solemnity utterly abandoned in that of his brother. Each child sports a gold chain from which several items hang. Garzia toying with his chain allows us to see a ring, which was likely a teething ring, but also attached is a crystal, which was believed to protect children by warding off witches, among other things.

Giovanni appears in another Bronzino state portrait, this time with his mother Eleonora de Toledo.

Portrait of Eleonora de Toledo and her son Giovanni, Bronzino (c. 1545)

The inclusion of Giovanni in his mother’s state portrait serves the same purpose as the broncone branch does in the portraits of the Medici men. Giovanni is the physical embodiment of the dynastic ambitions of Cosimo I. In fact, including Giovanni rather than Cosimo I’s first son, Francesco, proclaims Cosimo’s fecundity and the creation of a great and potent dynasty.

Eleonora and Giovanni are depicted with a background completely saturated with an ultramarine pigment made from Lapis lazuli, a pigment that was so expensive that it was usually reserved only for the Virgin Mary. Yet, this picture is in a sense the secular Madonna and Child. In fact, Bronzino uses light to produce a halo effect around Eleonora. Strikingly, however, is the difference between this mother/son portrait and Bronzino’s paintings of the Virgin and Child:

Mary exudes warmth towards her son whereas Eleonora’s attention is straight ahead, looking out with an almost imperial distain.

Eleonora’s portrait is echoed in that of Bianca de Medici, Cosimo’s illegitimate daughter, known as Bia.

Portrait of Bia de’Medici, Bronzino (c. 1542/45)

Bia died at the age of five in 1542, after which Cosimo commissioned this posthumous portrait. Like her step-mother, Bia is encircled in a halo of light, but rather as an allusion to the Virgin, here it is a reminder of Bia’s young and untimely death. She is dressed in white as an allusion to her name (Bianca) as well as her purity, and she wears a gold medallion with the likeness of her father, who appears in profile, like his namesake in the portrait painted by Botticelli, discussed above.

As this hall is the Hall of Dynasties, and as discussed in the intro, many of the paintings in these rooms were inherited from Vittoria della Rovere, the curators of the Uffizi have positioned the portraits of Vittoria’s great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother in this hall as well.

Duke Francesco ruled the city of Urbino, but is best remembered for his role as a condottiere of Venice and so is shown, like Cosimo I and Alessandro, dressed in armor and holding his baton of command, which displays the Venetian standard.

Francesco Maria della Rovere, Titian (1536)

Beneath his armor, however, peeks black and yellow sleeves, hinting at della Rovere’s own heritage via his mother, Giovanna da Montefeltro, daughter of Federico da Montefeltro, himself a famous condottiere. (Black and yellow were the heraldic colors of the Montefeltro house).

Duchess Battista Sforza and Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino, Piero della Francesca

Whereas della Rovere’s paternal lineage is proclaimed via the batons and oak branch in the background. The gold baton bears the papal keys to reference his uncle, Pope Julius II, and the oak branch refers to the della Rovere name (“rovere” is the Italian word for oak).

Titian used differing brushstrokes to create the look of different materials. For instance, compare the flint of steel to the sheen of the crushed velvet hanging behind the Duke. Moreover, the materials displayed in the Duke’s portrait are meant to complement those in the Duchess’ portrait.

Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, Titian (1538)

The red velvet hanging is contrasted with the green velvet tablecloth while the gold detailing of the Duchess’ dress reflects the gold detailing of the Duke’s armor. The duchess is shown rather conventionally, sitting in front of a window looking out onto the landscape. Several details are added to this convention, including a golden clock, denoting the Duchess’ wealth as well as demonstrating her constancy while waiting for the Duke to return home from war, and a sleeping spaniel, which was associated with loyalty and wifely devotion.

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