D16 The Classic Tradition

The works housed in Room D16 are those that a wealthy Italian noble would have hung in his (and perhaps her) studiolo. A studiolo was a room in a noble’s palazzo that was dedicated to contemplation and study. The works decorating these types of rooms were generally inspired by classical mythology.

One such work is known as the Allegory of Fortune (1580-1599), painted by Jacopo Ligozzi, whom we discussed in D15 Room of the Pillar. In the work here, however, Ligozzi depicts the goddess of Fortune balancing on a globe and surrounded by objects that allude to the role she plays for humankind.

Courtesy of @UffiziGalleries Twitter

Fortune’s balancing act demonstrates the precariousness with which she is associated as do the red wings attached to her left foot, which indicate flightiness, one of Fortune’s best known qualities. In fact a common medieval trope, which we have retained even today, was Rota Fortunae (Fortune’s wheel) (or as we known it now, the Wheel of Fortune), which embodied the idea that once you reach the top of the wheel, the only way left to go is back down, and you never knew when it would turn.

Fortune’s flighty behavior is emphasized by the glass vase she holds close to her body with her right arm. Into the glass vase, a purse of gold coins is poured; as the gold coins move through the vase, they transform into butterflies that escape out of the broken bottom. This transformation symbolizes both the fleeting nature of wealth as well as the transformative possibilities of alchemy. In fact, the inclusion of glass itself is a nod towards Francesco I de’Medici’s love of alchemy; Francesco was so interested in the mechanical sciences that he owned a grand-ducal foundry. Concurrent to the theme of fleeting nature is the passing of time, symbolized by the hourglass, which is offered to Fortune by a faceless winged figure, who may represent death. The hourglass sits upon flowers, a traditional motif of the passing of time and the inherent decay that all living things experience.

Not only is Fortune flighty and changeable with the time, but she exerts these qualities over the professions of man, as symbolized by the crown, scepter, inkwell, books, and ruler. These symbols of power are subverted by Fortune’s timeless power.

Another artist fond of allegories is represented in this room with his series of paintings known as The Three Ages (which is perhaps a misnomer; only two paintings in the series are known to exist).

Like Ligozzi, Jacopo Zucchi worked for the Medici family. In fact, these two pieces used to be in the Guardaroba of Cardinal Ferdinando de’Medici in the Villa Medici in Rome. The works are typical of the late Mannerist style and were likely inspired by the aria “O begli anni dell’oro,” which was sung at the wedding of Cosimo de’Medici and Eleonora of Toledo in 1539, and which was in turn was inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphosis wherein the king of the gods, Zeus, divided time into four seasons.

The first in the series is known as The Golden Age. The name of the piece, The Golden Age, refers to a mythical time in the Greco-Roman tradition during which the world was a paradise, similar to the Christian belief regarding the Garden of Eden. According to tradition, during the Golden Age of the world, men had no need of laws or civilization; instead, they lived off the land, which produced ample food, and men required no shelter because it was always spring.

The Golden Age

Ovid explains:

That first age was an age of gold: no law
and no compulsion then were needed; all
kept faith; the righteous way was freely willed. ...
In those times,
upon its native mountain heights, the pine
still stood unfelled; no wood had yet been hauled
down to the limpid waves, that it might sail
to foreign countries; and the only coasts
that mortals knew in that age were their own. ...

No one needed warriors;
the nations lived at peace, in tranquil ease.
Earth of itself—and uncompelled—untouched
by hoes, not torn by ploughshares, offered all 
that one might need: men did not have to seek: 
they simply gathered mountain strawberries 
and the arbutus’ fruit and cornel cherries; 
and thick upon their prickly stems, blackberries; 
and acorns fallen from Jove’s sacred tree. 
There spring was never-ending. 

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. Allen Mandelbaum

Zucchi employs the myth of the Golden Age as an allusion to time when Florence was ruled by the Medici. Indeed, springtime was a common allusion when speaking of the Medici. For example, when speaking of the Medici, Florentine poet Angelo Poliziano wrote:

And you, well-born Laurel, under whose shelter
happy Florence resting in peace, fearing neither
winds nor threat of heaven ...

In the lovely time of his green age, the first flower
yet blossoming on his cheeks, fair Julio, as 
yet inexperienced in the bittersweet cares which
Love provides, lived content in peace and liberty ...

The Stanze of Angelo Poliziano, trans. David Quint.

Similarly, artists had been equating the Medici with spring since the time of Botticelli and his famous Primavera (translated literally as “Springtime”).

The companion piece is known as The Silver Age, which depicts a time wherein Zeus becomes king of the gods and divides time into the four seasons:

But after Saturn had been banished, sent
down to dark Tartarus, Jove’s [Zeus] rule began;
the silver age is what the world knew then—
an age inferior to golden times,
but if compared to tawny bronze, more prized.
Jove curbed the span that spring had had before;
he made the year run through four seasons’ course:
the winter, summer, varied fall, and short
springtime. The air was incandescent, parched
by blazing heat—or felt the freezing gusts,
congealing icicles: such heat and frost
as earth had never known before. Men sought—
for the first time—the shelter of a house;
until then, they had made their homes in caves,
dense thickets, and in branches they had heaped
and bound with bark. Now, too, they planted seeds
of wheat in lengthy furrows; and beneath
the heavy weight of yokes, the bullocks groaned.

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. Allen Mandelbaum.

Thus, in this work, you can see men in the background tilling the earth because the earth no longer spontaneously produces fruit; instead, men must produce their food themselves. Also in the background, you can see the huts that men must now build to provide shelter from the winter months.

To emphasize the new way time passes, Apollo’s chariot appears in the sky, followed by the personification of time and of the seasons. Justice is also pictured, floating above the scene on a seat of clouds in a very Marian manner.

Justice is needed in the Silver Age unlike in the Golden Age where men had no need of laws and therefore no need of Justice. Yet now, in the Age of Silver, wealth and food is no longer in abundance and the previously enjoyed peace has been broken. The scroll Justice holds proclaims, “With the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” a quote from the Book of Genesis and a direct allusion to the Garden of Eden:

1. Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2. And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3. But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.  ...

17. And unto Adam he [God] said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 3:1-19

The figures in this work are clothed unlike those in the Golden Age. One of those clothed figures offers an apple to Justice. Some scholars have argued that this apple is meant to represent the apple of knowledge, offered to Eve by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and which opened her eyes to shame and her own nakedness. On the right, however, is a woman who is likely the personification of art and knowledge based on the fact that she is surrounded by the tools of the mechanical arts (a scalpel, a palette, a compass and a globe). Thus, although peace has been lost, art and knowledge have been found. Some scholars, though, believe that instead of the personification of art, this woman is meant to represent the goddess of agriculture, Ceres (Roman)/Demeter (Greek), due to her proximity to the tools of agriculture (i.e., the rake, wheat, and torch).

A final piece by Zucchi, known as The Gods of Olympus with Hercules and the Muses (1570-77), was once thought to be a companion piece to The Golden Age and The Silver Age, but recently, scholars have cast doubt on a link between it and the Ages based on the fact that The Gods of Olympus was painted on copper unlike the other two, which were painted on panel, as well as the fact that the work depicts not an “Age” but a scene from The Theogony, a work by the Greek poet Hesiod.

The Gods of Olympus with Hercules and the Muses by Jacopo Zucchi. Courtesy of Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93700976

The Theogony begins with Zeus ascending the throne of his father:

From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, [5] and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse’s Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet. Thence they arise and go abroad by night, [10] veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aegis-holder, and queenly Hera of Argos who walks on golden sandals, and the daughter of Zeus the aegis-holder bright-eyed Athena, and Phoebus Apollo, and Artemis who delights in arrows, [15] and Poseidon the earth holder who shakes the earth, and revered Themis, and quick-glancing Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetus, and Cronos the crafty counsellor, Eos, and great Helius, and bright Selene, [20] Earth, too, and great Oceanus, and dark Night and the holy race of all the other deathless ones that are for ever.

The Complete Hesiod Collection. Hesiod 

At the top-center of the painting, you can see Zeus enthroned handing his wife Hera the attributes associated with the queenship of Olympus. Beside her sits her traditional attribute, a peacock. Surrounding the royal couple are a litany of gods and goddesses, as well as the semi-divine hero Hercules, depicted in the center of the work, right beneath his father, Zeus. Hercules is shown wearing the skin of the Nemean lion and standing on the slain seven-headed hydra. To his left gather the nine muses led, as usual, by Apollo. While to Hercules’ right are Bacchus, Aphrodite, and the three Graces.

The inscription under Zeus contains the words, “CVIQ SVVM,” meaning “to each his own.” This phrase was likely derived from Adagia, a collection of proverbs published by the well-known humanist Erasmus. The proverb “suum cuique mihi meum,” translated literally as “to each his own, and mine to me,” was usually cited to explain that people prefer whatever they view as their own, whether that be their own looks, country, family, etc. The ancient Roman orator Cicero was famously fond of the proverb, and it is from one of Cicero’s letters that Erasmus quotes in his Adagia:

Suam cuique sponsam, mihi meam:
I Suum cuique amorem, mihi meam 

To each his own bride, and mine to me:
To each his own love, and mine to me.

The phrase could be linked to the painting’s theme of divine justice.

The Three Graces also appear in an eponymous work by Francesco Morandini, who was familiarly known as Poppi, (c. 1570).

The Three Graces, Poppi

The Three Graces, Euphrosyne (Joy), Aglaea (Radiance), and Thalia (Prosperity), were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, and were intended to represent beauty and grace. They are depicted here in their traditional pose, nude, holding hands and dancing. This pose was meant to convey the complete harmony found in friendship.

The ancient Romans believed that the female form was the ideal expression of beauty that needed no ornamentation. (In direct conflict with the ancient Greeks who believed the same expect in relation to the male nude). The monumentality of Poppi’s figures is likely due to Michelangelo’s influence on his work, but his figures are softer, more elegant, reflecting the contemporary mannerist style.

Continuing in the mythological vein, this room houses a small painting, thought to have been painted by Alessandro Allori, known as Venus and Cupid (c. 1570).

Courtesy of @UffiziGalleries Twitter

Scholars believe that it was commissioned by Francesco I as a symbol of love for his mistress and later wife, Bianca Cappello. Allori probably based his work on Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid and a Satyr (today preserved in the Colonna gallery in Rome) as well as Michele Tosini’s Venus and Cupid, which was in turn inspired by a famous cartoon drawn by Michelangelo, which can be seen in the monumentality of all of the versions of Venus.

In the Allori version of the subject, a small golden apple lays next to the cloth Venus lays upon, an allusion to the Judgment of Paris wherein three goddesses, Venus (Aphrodite), Minerva (Athena), and Juno (Hera) present the Trojan Prince Paris a golden apple and request that he award it to the goddess he thought to be the fairest. Each goddess bribes him with gifts, and he chooses the gift offered by Venus, which was the most beautiful woman alive, Helen of Sparta, soon to be and forever after known as Helen of Troy. Thus, the Trojan War stemmed from this “divine” encounter. (Interesting that the Christian fall from grace also began with an apple.)

Allori’s version includes roses, an attribute associated with Venus, two doves, a sacred animal to Venus, who are canoodling, and a rabbit to the left of Venus’ back foot, symbolizing fertility, reminding us that this painting was likely commissioned as a symbol of love. Indeed, in Allori’s version, Venus has taken away Cupid’s bow and arrow, holding both out of his reach. According to ancient Greek playwright Euripides, Cupid possessed two arrows: one that caused love and the other caused suffering. It is therefore important to remember that Cupid is not an instrument of happiness, but of discord and mischief. Yet here, Venus has confiscated Cupid’s tools of mischief, indicating that true, positive love inspired and cultivated by the goddess has triumphed over the love that causes suffering.

Allori and his workshop made no less than four versions of the painting, one of which is in the Musée Fabre:

Although at first glance the Musée Fabre is substantially similar to the Uffizi version, the Musée Fabre version does contain several differences, including the background, Venus’ crown, a golden sphere (as opposed to the golden apple), and the inclusion of two figures on the left. The differences are explained by the patron. Artists would modify versions of their work depending on the patron’s preferences of style and/or requests.

Venus’ husband, Vulcan, is represented in this room as well, in Giorgio Vasari’s work known as Vulcan’s Forge (c. 1564).

Vulcan’s Forge, Giorgio Vasari

The work is meant to depict the moment in the Iliad of the forging of the Greek hero Achilles’ armor.

First he shaped the shield so great and strong, adorning it all over and binding it round with a gleaming circuit in three layers; and the baldric was made of silver. He made the shield in five thicknesses, and with many a wonder did his cunning hand enrich it.

He wrought the earth, the heavens, and the sea; the moon also at her full and the untiring sun, with all the signs that glorify the face of heaven—the Pleiads, the Hyads, huge Orion, and the Bear, which men also call the Wain and which turns round ever in one place, facing Orion, and alone never dips into the stream of Oceanus.

He wrought also two cities, fair to see and busy with the hum of men. In the one were weddings and wedding-feasts, and they were going about the city with brides whom they were escorting by torchlight from their chambers. Loud rose the cry of Hymen, and the youths danced to the music of flute and lyre, while the women stood each at her house door to see them.

Meanwhile the people were gathered in assembly, for there was a quarrel, and two men were wrangling about the blood-money for a man who had been killed, the one saying before the people that he had paid damages in full, and the other that he had not been paid. Each was trying to make his own case good, and the people took sides, each man backing the side that he had taken; but the heralds kept them back, and the elders sate on their seats of stone in a solemn circle, holding the staves which the heralds had put into their hands. Then they rose and each in his turn gave judgement, and there were two talents laid down, to be given to him whose judgement should be deemed the fairest.

About the other city there lay encamped two hosts in gleaming armour, and they were divided whether to sack it, or to spare it and accept the half of what it contained. But the men of the city would not yet consent, and armed themselves for a surprise; their wives and little children kept guard upon the walls, and with them were the men who were past fighting through age; but the others sallied forth with Mars and Pallas Minerva at their head—both of them wrought in gold and clad in golden raiment, great and fair with their armour as befitting gods, while they that followed were smaller. When they reached the place where they would lay their ambush, it was on a riverbed to which live stock of all kinds would come from far and near to water; here, then, they lay concealed, clad in full armour. Some way off them there were two scouts who were on the look-out for the coming of sheep or cattle, which presently came, followed by two shepherds who were playing on their pipes, and had not so much as a thought of danger. When those who were in ambush saw this, they cut off the flocks and herds and killed the shepherds. Meanwhile the besiegers, when they heard much noise among the cattle as they sat in council, sprang to their horses, and made with all speed towards them; when they reached them they set battle in array by the banks of the river, and the hosts aimed their bronze-shod spears at one another. With them were Strife and Riot, and fell Fate who was dragging three men after her, one with a fresh wound, and the other unwounded, while the third was dead, and she was dragging him along by his heel: and her robe was bedrabbled in men’s blood. They went in and out with one another and fought as though they were living people haling away one another’s dead.

He wrought also a fair fallow field, large and thrice ploughed already. Many men were working at the plough within it, turning their oxen to and fro, furrow after furrow. Each time that they turned on reaching the headland a man would come up to them and give them a cup of wine, and they would go back to their furrows looking forward to the time when they should again reach the headland. The part that they had ploughed was dark behind them, so that the field, though it was of gold, still looked as if it were being ploughed—very curious to behold.

He wrought also a field of harvest corn, and the reapers were reaping with sharp sickles in their hands. Swathe after swathe fell to the ground in a straight line behind them, and the binders bound them in bands of twisted straw. There were three binders, and behind them there were boys who gathered the cut corn in armfuls and kept on bringing them to be bound: among them all the owner of the land stood by in silence and was glad. The servants were getting a meal ready under an oak, for they had sacrificed a great ox, and were busy cutting him up, while the women were making a porridge of much white barley for the labourers’ dinner.

He wrought also a vineyard, golden and fair to see, and the vines were loaded with grapes. The bunches overhead were black, but the vines were trained on poles of silver. He ran a ditch of dark metal all round it, and fenced it with a fence of tin; there was only one path to it, and by this the vintagers went when they would gather the vintage. Youths and maidens all blithe and full of glee, carried the luscious fruit in plaited baskets; and with them there went a boy who made sweet music with his lyre, and sang the Linos-song with his clear boyish voice.

He wrought also a herd of horned cattle. He made the cows of gold and tin, and they lowed as they came full speed out of the yards to go and feed among the waving reeds that grow by the banks of the river. Along with the cattle there went four shepherds, all of them in gold, and their nine fleet dogs went with them. Two terrible lions had fastened on a bellowing bull that was with the foremost cows, and bellow as he might they haled him, while the dogs and men gave chase: the lions tore through the bull’s thick hide and were gorging on his blood and bowels, but the herdsmen were afraid to do anything, and only hounded on their dogs; the dogs dared not fasten on the lions but stood by barking and keeping out of harm’s way.

The god wrought also a pasture in a fair mountain dell, and a large flock of sheep, with a homestead and huts, and sheltered sheepfolds.

Furthermore he wrought a green, like that which Daedalus once made in Cnossus for lovely Ariadne. Hereon there danced youths and maidens whom all would woo, with their hands on one another’s wrists. The maidens wore robes of light linen, and the youths well woven shirts that were slightly oiled. The girls were crowned with garlands, while the young men had daggers of gold that hung by silver baldrics; sometimes they would dance deftly in a ring with merry twinkling feet, as it were a potter sitting at his work and making trial of his wheel to see whether it will run, and sometimes they would go all in line with one another, and much people was gathered joyously about the green. There was a bard also to sing to them and play his lyre, while two tumblers went about performing in the midst of them when the man struck up with his tune.

All round the outermost rim of the shield he set the mighty stream of the river Oceanus.

Homer, Iliad. Book 18. Trans. Samuel Butler.

Yet, instead of depicting Thetis, Achilles’ mother, receiving the armor, as in the poem, Vasari depicts the goddess Minerva. Additionally, the shield depicted is not the one described by Homer. Instead, Vasari’s shield is decorated with a ram and a goat holding a globe. The ram is Francesco de’Medici’s astrological sign while the goat holding a globe is the symbol adopted by Cosimo I, Francesco’s father and the founder of the grand duchy.

Meanwhile Minerva is holding a a compass and a goniometer along with a drawing, and some scholars believe these tools combined with Minerva’s traditional role as the goddess of wisdom are supposed to convey that creation requires ingenuity. Perhaps this intended message is why Vasari included Minerva in his depiction rather than Thetis. Vasari links ingenuity with technique by depicting Minerva next to Vulcan. In short, Vasari sends the message that the creation of beauty requires the merger of ingenuity with technique.

In the background on the left, male nudes are drawing sculptures as real artists would do at the Academy. One of the statues that these artists are drawing is of the Three Graces, once again depicted in their traditional pose, holding hands and dancing in a circle. Here, the Three Graces are likely meant to represent the arts of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Whereas on the right of the work, nude males are metalworking, which could be an illusion to Grand Duke Francesco’s obsession with alchemy. Read together, the work represents the work of “alchemy” that must be performed to create any work of art, i.e. the blending of intellect and manual skill.

Meanwhile, above all of the working figures hovers the personification of Peace, holding an olive branch. This Peace is meant to be an illusion to the peace brought by the Medici to Florence.

A non-Italian piece is also located in this Room. Although the author is unknown, it has been identified as being produced by the School of Fontainebleu, which introduced mannerism to French artists.

Portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées, anonymous

The subject of this piece, Gabrielle d’Estrées, was the the mistress of King Henry IV of France, and the woman on the left is her sister, Julienne-Hypolite-Joséphine, Duchess of Villars. Gabrielle is pinching her sister’s ring finger, perhaps a gesture symbolizing Henry’s promise to marry her, which due to her tragic death, did not happen.

The women’s elongated graceful bodies are the result of the mannerist style. Whereas the vacant, almost alien-like faces of the women also reflect the mannerist goal of creating a stylized figure that emphasizes beauty over naturalism.

This work is just one of many versions of this subject matter. The Louvre houses a similar version:

Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d’Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars, Anonymous

In this version, Gabrielle’s sister is pinching Gabrielle’s breast instead of her finger. This gesture is thought to be an illusion to Gabrielle’s pregnancy with King Henry’s natural son, an illusion that is reinforced by the woman in the background sewing what appears to be a layette.

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