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.

Room D13 of the Uffizi. Bronzino, The Medici Court Painter.

Bronzino was the court painter for the Medici family, painting several family portraits, including some that feature in the Uffizi’s Hall of Dynasties. Bronzino typically focused on portraits and allegorical paintings, such as his Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi (1540).

Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Bartolomeo Panciatichi was a Florentine politician and humanist, but he spent his formative years in France, acting as a page at King Francis I’s court. Eventually, he moved back to Florence and became a member of the prestigious Accademia degli Umidi, a philosophical/literary group of men, where he likely encountered Bronzino, who was also a member. While in France, however, Bartolomeo picked up Lutheran tendencies, i.e., austerity, avoidance of overt sacred references, emphasis on individuality, etc., which are expressed in his portrait, as well as that of his wife, Lucrezia Panciatichi, discussed infra, which Bronzino painted a few years later. Although speaking of the portraits done by Albrecht Dürer, art historian Donald Kuspit’s analysis of same applies here as well:

[T]here was also a change of emphasis in [Martin Luther’s] doctrine; from sin to salvation. The mood has lifted, changing from one of suffering and danger to one of security and resoluteness, the new inner strength indicated as much by the absence of symbolic attributes … as by radical reduction of the portrait to little more than the face. Attributes are no longer needed––partly in acknowledgement of Lutheran sacramental simplicity and partly for the sake of stylistic concentration … But more significantly, their absence signifies a new affirmation, …. the attributes––skull and flail––all had negative connotations, being associated with the Passion rather than the Resurrection. In the … portraits we have men who have been resurrected as it were, displaying not signs of suffering but the forthrightness and self-possession of spiritual health so self-assured it is in no need of signs to mediate or interpret it.

To use Lutheran language, where the [Catholically-influenced] pictures show penitent men (poenitentiam agite), troubled by bad consciences and confessing their sins, at least to themselves, within the context of the old Christianity as their surroundings indicate, the [Lutheran] portraits show men who have come to their senses (metanoia) and have, in renewing their faith, renewed themselves, experiencing “a change in heart and love in response to God’s grace.” The late portraits show men who are spiritually renewed––“the renewal of man’s life” is a crucial Lutheran ideal––and who have experienced “inner transformation.” They are ready to accept repentance as “a lifetime matter,” for, as Benesch writes, “Life had to be mastered, and the human character had to be provided in it severely and harshly. Life was no longer an artistic (and one might add ‘intellectual’) performance of the personality, but a duty and a task. The Reformation gave to life this new meaning.” 

Kuspit, Donald. “DÜRER AND THE LUTHERAN IMAGE.” Art News, January–February 1975 issue.

Indeed, Panciatichi’s portrait contains no overt references to religion. The work is almost entirely focused on Panciatichi himself, as an individual.

As mentioned above, Bronzino also painted a portrait of Panciatichi’s wife, Lucrezia Panciatichi.

Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (c. 1541), Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Unlike her husband, who is dressed for the most part in black, Lucrezia is clothed in a strikingly red dress, which contrasts vividly with the dark, undifferentiated background. Yet, it was not so long ago that artists in the mold of Leonardo, and subsequently Raphael, depicted their female subjects overlooking verdant landscapes.

But Lucrezia’s portrait focuses on the sitter as she appears – not placed in an idealized landscape. The centering of the painting on Lucrezia herself enables Bronzino to highlight Lucrezia ‘s rich and luxurious attire, especially the soft crushed velvet sleeves and beautiful crimson satin, thereby underlining the Panciatichi’s wealth and prosperity.

The Panciatichis’ portraits are mirror images of one another: Bartolomeo’s sleeves provide only a hint of color that reflects his wife’s crimson dress while Lucrezia’s sleeves are the only dark cloth she wears, reflecting Bartolomeo’s somber Protestant attire. Unlike the background in Lucrezia’s portrait, however, the background in Bartolomeo’s portrait proclaims his identity (or perhaps more correctly Bartolomeo’s version of his ideal identity constructed for the public) to the viewer. Behind Bartolomeo stands his family’s palazzo, decorated with the Panciatichi’s family arms. Therefore, both portraits are really a reflection of Bartolomeo alone and his success, which is expressed through his wife’s luxurious ornamentation, and his piety, which is expressed through his own austere image.

Interestingly, Lucrezia’s portrait has appeared in multiple British and American literary works. For instance, her necklace, which states “Amour Dure Sans Fin” (“love is everlasting”), is gothicized in Vernon Lee’s Hauntings:

None of these portraits seem very good, save the miniature, but that is an exquisite work, and with it, and the suggestions of the bust, it is easy to reconstruct the beauty of this terrible being. The type is that most admired by the late Renaissance, and, in some measure, immortalized by Jean Goujon and the French. The face is a perfect oval, the forehead somewhat over-round, with minute curls, like a fleece, of bright auburn hair; the nose a trifle over-aquiline, and the cheek-bones a trifle too low; the eyes grey, large, prominent, beneath exquisitely curved brows and lids just a little too tight at the corners; the mouth also, brilliantly red and most delicately designed, is a little too tight, the lips strained a trifle over the teeth. Tight eyelids and tight lips give a strange refinement, and, at the same time, an air of mystery, a somewhat sinister seductiveness; they seem to take, but not to give. The mouth with a kind of childish pout, looks as if it could bite or suck like a leech. The complexion is dazzlingly fair, the perfect transparent rosette lily of a red-haired beauty; the head, with hair elaborately curled and plaited close to it, and adorned with pearls, sits like that of the antique Arethusa on a long, supple, swan-like neck. A curious, at first rather conventional, artificial-looking sort of beauty, voluptuous yet cold, which, the more it is contemplated, the more it troubles and haunts the mind. Round the lady's neck is a gold chain with little gold lozenges at intervals, on which is engraved the posy or pun (the fashion of French devices is common in those days), "Amour Dure—Dure Amour." The same posy is inscribed in the hollow of the bust, and, thanks to it, I have been able to identify the latter as Medea's portrait. I often examine these tragic portraits, wondering what this face, which led so many men to their death, may have been like when it spoke or smiled, what at the moment when Medea da Carpi fascinated her victims into love unto death—"Amour Dure—Dure Amour," as runs her device—love that lasts, cruel love—yes indeed, when one thinks of the fidelity and fate of her lovers.

Whereas the painting as a whole is immortalized in Henry James’ Wings of the Dove:

She was the image of the wonderful Bronzino, which she must have a look at on every ground. ... The Bronzino was, it appeared, deep within, and the long afternoon light lingered for them on patches of old colour and waylaid them, as they went, in nooks and opening vistas. ... the face of a young woman, all magnificently drawn, down to the hands, and magnificently dressed; a face almost livid in hue, yet handsome in sadness and crowned with a mass of hair rolled back and high, that must, before fading with time, have had a family resemblance to her own. The lady in question, at all events, with her slightly Michaelangelesque squareness, her eyes of other days, her full lips, her long neck, her recorded jewels, her brocaded and wasted reds, was a very great personage - only unaccompanied by a joy. ...Splendid as she is, one doubts if she was good.

Thus, even though Bartolomeo sought to immortalize himself through both portraits, it is really his wife alone who achieved everlasting fame.

Bartolomeo also commissioned an image of the Holy Family from Bronzino, which is located near his portrait. His role in the creation of this painting is evidenced by the Panciatichi flag flying on the tower in the upper left corner of the work.

Panciatichi Holy Family, courtesy of wiki commons

Pictured are the Virgin, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and his cousin, St. John the Baptist, identifiable not only due to his age (St. John is usually the only saint to be depicted as a child since, according to Christian belief, he was born slightly before Christ), but also due to his traditional attribute of the scroll (here at the bottom of the work) proclaiming, “Ecce Agnus Dei” (“Behold, the Lamb of God”). Although, only the “Agnvs” is visible herein.

Jesus’ sleeping figure (sleep being an allusion to his early death) is central to the picture. His feet are placed up against a rock, which some art scholars read as an allusion to Jesus’ entombment. Art historian Lubomír Konečný, however, argues that the rock is actually key to understanding the work and is not, therefore, simply a mere allusion. In his article, BRONZINO’S PANCIATICHI “HOLY FAMILY WITH SAINT JOHN” RECONSIDERED, Konečný argues that this work is really a story about the virgin conception of Christ. Indeed, if you consider the mountain behind the Virgin, which (likely intentionally) traces the outline of the Virgin’s body along with the stone at Christ’s foot (and if you know the Bible inside and out, which I don’t, but luckily we have scholars like Konečný who do), the story of Daniel and his interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king, not the ship in the Matrix) would pop into your head. The book of Daniel tells us:

Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.           

Book of Daniel, Chapter 2, Verse 45 of the King James Version

“The stone cut out of the mountain without hands” is an allusion to Christ’s miraculous birth without a human father (the mountain is a common allusion to Mary) and his destruction of petty kingdoms to create the Kingdom of Heaven. Based on this reading of the work, the depiction of the Holy Family gains an altogether more important message: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand.

The other religious work in this room that Bronzino painted is the Lamentation, also known as Pietà with St. Mary Magdalen or the Cambi Pietà (1529).

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Here, like the feet of Christ in Bronzino’s Panciatichi Holy Family, Christ’s feet rest on a stone, perhaps signaling the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the Panciatichi Holy Family.

In striking contrast is his Pygmalion and Galatea, which depicts the pagan sacrifice of Pygmalion, as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.

Pygmalion and Galatea, courtesy of wiki commons

In the story, Pygmalion is a famous sculptor who ends up falling in love with one of his statues, who he – quite literally – has placed upon a pedestal.

Meanwhile, Pygmalion began to carve
in snow-white ivory, with wondrous art,
 a female figure more exquisite than
a woman who was born could ever match.
That done, he falls in love with his own work.
The image seems, in truth, to be a girl;
one could have thought she was alive and keen
to stir, to move her limbs, had she not been
too timid: with his art, he’s hidden art.
He is enchanted and, within his heart,
the likeness of a body now ignites
a flame. He often lifts his hand to try
his work, to see if it indeed is flesh
or ivory; he still will not admit
it is but ivory. He kisses it:
it seems to him that, in return, he’s kissed.

The Metamorphoses of Ovid as trans. Allen Mandelbaum.

Due to this obsession with his statue, Pygmalion no longer finds human women attractive so he makes a sacrifice to Venus, asking that she provide him with a woman as wonderful as his statue. Understanding his true desire, Venus transforms the statue into living flesh.

Bronzino seems to have based Pygmalion’s pose on that of St. Francis in the Pucci Altarpiece, painted by Bronzino’s teacher, Pontormo, thereby likening Pygmalion’s devotion to his statue to divine worship.

The statue, known as Galatea, on the other hand takes the traditional pose of Venus Pudica, conflating the two women into a single divine entity.

By merging Galatea and Venus into one, Bronzino highlights the duality of love: earthly/physical love, which is represented by Galatea and spiritual love, which is represented by Venus.

Moreover, Venus herself appears twice – in the form of Galatea and as an engraving on the altar where she stands holding the infamous Golden Apple, a nod to the Judgment of Paris, who chose her as the most beautiful goddess and in so doing, started the legendary Trojan war. Significantly, next to Venus on the altar is her lover Mars and not her husband, Vulcan.


Venus may also be a stand in for Florence. Her pose is the exact inverse of Michelangelo’s David, which itself was a potent symbol of the Florentine Republic. (Although it is unlikely that Bronzino was advocating for the Republic since he fared very well under Medici dynastic rule; rather, he may have been attempting to evoke Florence itself.)

Halls D9-D12 of the Uffizi. Ferrara, Bologna, and (of course) Florence.

D9 – Dosso Dossi and His Circle

Giovanni Francesco Luteri, known as Dosso Dossi, worked for Duke Alfonso I d’Este of Ferrara and subsequently the Duke’s son Ercole II. His brother, Battista, was also a painter and was referred to as Battista del Dosso (Battista from Dosso) or Battista Dossi. “Dosso” was likely a small family property, hence why it was applied to both brothers. Eighteenth century historians, however, erroneously concluded that Dosso was the family’s last name, hence the double “Dosso Dossi.”

Many of Dosso’s paintings are typified by references to obscure allegories, which are made all the more cryptic due to his tendency to omit traditional iconography. His wit transcended his work, expressing itself even in his signature, which was unique in that it was a D next to a picture of a bone (which is translated as “osso” in Italian).

Dosso was also well known for his use of Venetian color schemes imbibed with Roman classicalism and was especially praised for his landscapes, in part, due to his ability to depict nature as vibrant and teeming with life. His works exhibited in Room D9 of the Uffizi include his Apparition of the Madonna and Child to Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

Apparition of the Madonna and Child to Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, Dosso Dossi (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

On the right of the work is St. John the Baptist, identifiable via his cross-staff and his hermit’s robe, and on the left of the work is St. John the Evangelist, holding his own Gospel and a golden chalice with a serpent rising up, symbolizing Christianity’s triumph over death. The chalice alludes to a legend of St. John the Evangelist, wherein a poisoned cup was given to him, but he drank it without coming to any harm due to his faith.

Dosso was clearly familiar with Raphael’s work, Madonna of Foligno (c. 1511-12), and in fact, after Dosso’s interaction with Madonna of Foligno, all his altarpieces took on the work’s formulaic composition, i.e. the Virgin and Christ Child encased in a golden ring of light, surrounded by cherubs, with saints in adoration below.

Dosso, however, does not copy Raphael’s composition categorically. Instead, he employs his typical Venetian color scheme, characterized by deep, rich colors as opposed to those bright/pure used by Raphael and his Roman counterparts.

Another of Dosso Dossi’s paintings exhibited here is Allegory of Hercules, also known as Stregoneria (Witchcraft) (c. 1540-1542). It was also once described as “a painting of portraits of the duke of Ferrara’s buffoons.” As evidenced by the painting’s numerous names, no one is quite certain what this picture is supposed to depict, and it therefore has become the subject of multiple interpretations and scholarly debates.

Allegory of Hercules or Stregoneria (Witchcraft), Dosso Dossi (courtesy of wikipedia commons)

One view is that the old man on the left is Hercules. Those that ascribe to this interpretation do so based on the distaff, i.e. a spindle usually used to spin wool and used by the hero Hercules during a period of enslavement, that is depicted in the middle of the picture (held by the seated man in green). During one of his bouts of madness, Hercules killed a prince named Iphitus, and, as punishment, Hercules was sold into slavery to Omphale, a Lydian Queen. During this period, the gender roles ascribed to the sexes by the Greeks were reversed, and Hercules used tools typically employed by Greek women, including the distaff.

“But Herakles had the misfortune to kill Iphitus, and thereupon sailed to Lydia and was for a long time a slave in that country under Omphale, which condition he had imposed upon himself as a penance for the murder of his friend. During this period the country of Lydia enjoyed peace and repose; but in Greece the old plague of brigandage broke out afresh, as there was now no one to put it down.”

Excerpt From Plutarch's Lives, Volume I trans. AUBREY STEWART.

Yet, if this interpretation is accepted, Hercules is depicted here as an old, drunk man, not in his heroic prime. The various sexual references and illusions, including the pea pods, bird, and cheese depicted in the foreground, confirm Hercules’ descent into impotency and licentiousness. Additionally, the mask and tambourine sitting on the table are items that were typically used in Greek orgies. Hercules, if indeed the man is Hercules, is too busy looking at one of the women’s chests to notice the others are laughing at him. The picture therefore becomes a commentary on the detrimental impact of vice, which can consume the vitality of even Hercules.

Heracles was a popular subject in Ferrera due to his namesake Duke Ercole II d’Este, who had succeeded to the dukedom in 1534. Based on the connection between Heracles and Duke Ercole, some scholars find fault with the theory that the old man is Heracles because it would not have been likely for Dosso to depict a decrepit man as a stand in for his patron, the young Duke. So these scholars identify the old man as Bacchus, the god of wine.

The fruit basket that the woman is holding prefigures the still-life pictures that would later become immensely popular, especially by Dutch artists.

D10 – Painters from Ferrara

Some of Dosso’s works spill over into room D10, including his Rest on the flight to Egypt (c. 1516).

Rest on the Flight to Egypt, Dosso Dossi

The work depicts the Holy Family’s sojourn to Egypt to escape King Herod’s so-called Massacre of the Innocents, as told in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2:

13. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15. And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

King James Version, Matthew 2:13-16.

Despite the work’s name, however, Dosso failed to include any indicia of the traditional story: he depicted no donkey, no traveling pack, no palm tree, indeed no indicia of travel whatsoever. Compare the Uffizi work with his later work of the same subject, which he and his brother completed in c. 1520-1530 and contains most of the traditional iconography:

Many scholars date the Uffizi Flight to Dosso’s early period because the background is far more structured than his later works and his foreshortening of the figures lacks his later finesse (e.g., if you look at Mary’s outstretched arm, it does not appear to be proportional to her body). Although more structured, the background is Dosso’s answer to the contemporary Venetian landscapes that were being produced, like Giorgione’s The Tempest, wherein the landscape itself seemed to take on the role of a protagonist in the work.

D11 – The 16th century in Bologna

Francesco Francia was Bologna’s leading painter. He stuck to religious paintings, mostly altarpieces featuring the Madonna, like the one displayed in this room. Francia was highly influenced by Perugino, which you can see in his placid figures, highly structured drapery, and rich colors. He also took heed of Raphael’s style, copying Raphael’s signature pyramidal structure.

Madonna and Child with St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, Francesco Francia

St. Francis is recognizable from the stigmata on his hands, as well as his monastic robes. He appears clean-shaven, which is in contrast to 13th century depictions of the saint showing him bearded. During the end of the 13th century, however, beards had become associated with the poor, uneducated, and sick. Therefore, the wealthy merchant class wanted to disassociate St. Francis from his revolutionary ideas of poverty and began commissioning works with a clean shaven St. Francis whereas the political factions that favored social chance favored a bearded saint. Thus, both depictions were in use during the 15/16th centuries.

St. Anthony, on the other hand, is identifiable via his traditional attribute of the white lily, which symbolized his purity. (White lilies were also associated with the Virgin for the same reason). Whereas the red roses at the based of the pedestal reference the Virgin, who is known as “a rose without thorns,” an epithet which is itself an allusion (to the garden of eden where roses grew without thorns). 

Homer’s Riddle by Bartolomeo Passerotti is the centerpiece of this room. The work was believed to be lost for centuries, but was recently rediscovered and purchased by the Uffizi.

Homer’s Riddle, Bartolomeo Passerotti, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The piece depicts a scene from The Life of Homer (the Greek edition of which was printed several times during the 16th century) wherein Homer meets a group of fishermen and asks them if they had a good catch. The Fishermen respond with a riddle:

They say he died on the island of Ios after finding himself at a loss, since he was not able to solve the riddle of the young fishermen. It goes like this:

What we caught we left behind, what we did not catch we carry with us.

And on his tomb the following epigram is inscribed:

Here the earth covers the sacred head, adorner of warrior heroes, divine Homer.

According to the story, Homer thought so hard about the answer to the riddle that it killed him. The answer was lice. Those lice that the fisherman could catch, they threw into the sea while those lice that remained un-caught were carried with them.

D12 Bacchiacca – The Florentine Portraits

Francesco Ubertini, known as Bacchiacca, was a student of Perugino, but he also incorporated the new lessons from mannerism. He is known for his smaller paintings and unusual color combinations.

In his Predella with the Life of St. Achatius, Bacchiacca depicts three scenes from St. Achatius’ life: 1. Achatius defeating the rebel host; 2. Baptism of Achatius and his men; 3. Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand. The legend of St. Achatius is first referenced is in the Catalogus Sanctorum of Petrus de Natalibus, written around 1370-1400. The legend told of a Roman commander, St. Achatius, who was dispatched with nine thousand Roman soldiers against a rebel host that vastly outnumbered them. The night before the battle, an angel appeared to Achatius and his men, telling them if they were to convert to Christianity, then they would defeat the rebel host. The Roman soldiers took the message to heart and converted to the new faith, and thereafter defeating the host the next day. The Roman Emperor, however, later hears about the conversion and leads an army against Achatius and his now Christian army. Although no battle occurs, the Achatius’ men refuse to recant their new faith so the Emperor determines he will torture them. Yet, he cannot. Stones bounce off the men without doing any harm; the whips that were meant to flog them are dashed to the ground. Seeing these miracles, one of the emperor’s other commanders, Theodorus, switches sides and joins Achatius, bringing with him a thousand of his own men, bolstering the Christian army to ten thousand men. The Christians are then crowned with thorns, in mockery of Christ’s own passion, and baptized in their own blood before being led to Mt. Ararat and crucified.

Also located here is Bacchiacca’s Deposition (1518), which depicts the moment that Christ is taken down from the Cross. It was painted for the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Milan.

The Deposition, Bacchiacca, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Another work, known as The Nun, in this room is what is known as a “blanket painting,” meaning the portrait was hidden behind a thin plate, known as “tirelle,” which could be scrolled up or down to reveal the portrait beneath.

The Nun, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Currently, this work is attributed to Giuliano Bugiardini, although its authorship has been the subject of intense debate over the years (in fact, when Grand Duke Ferdinand III acquired it in 1810, it was believed to be a Leonardo). The portrait takes on the traditional formula used by the early 16th century artists to depict females, which was derived from Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. The half length portrait depicts the lady in three quarters pose, holding a book of hours, separated from the world by a barrier behind her. Her pose so closely resembles that of a work by Raphael, that some scholars believe Bugiardini may have traced it.

Interestingly, given that the portrait is known as “the Nun,” the lady’s bodice is subtly lower than was fashionable at the time, revealing more of her chest than was typically respectable. It is therefore likely that the woman is not a nun, but instead, the work received its name due to the landscape behind the lady, which in fact depicts the Hospital of San Paolo where nuns can be seen going about their day.

Tirella of The Nun

The cover of the portrait contains the words, “SVA CVIQVE PERSONA,” meaning “to each his own mask.” 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.

Here, “sua cuique persona,” underscores that the sitter is removed from the world, i.e. the portrait itself is a theatrical mask (persona) and her inner self is not shown to the public world. This proposition demonstrates that the art of portraiture has come full circle. Indeed, in ancient sculpture, Roman Emperors portrayed themselves as the “ideal” Roman. In other words, the portraits that they presented to the public were indeed a “mask.” Subsequently, Leonardo da Vinci revolutionized portraiture in the 15th century with his Lady with an Ermine, which art historian John Pope-Hennessay dubbed the “first modern portrait” because it was “the first painting in European art to introduce the idea that a portrait may express the sitter’s thoughts through posture and gestures.” Yet here, the viewers are once again confronted with a mask, the sitter showing only what she wants to be seen. In fact, the representation of a portrait as a mask was enshrined in Cesare Ripa’s emblem book Iconologia, first published in 1593, which depicted the allegory of painting as a gagged woman with a mask hanging from her neck. Significantly, Bugiardini’s commentary seems increasingly prescient today as personally curated social media becomes the new portraits of the day.

Cinquecento Rooms D7 and D8 at the Uffizi

As I noted in my previous post, the Uffizi opened 14 new rooms following its reopening after its COVID shut down. That post discussed the rooms known as D1 through D6. This post explores the next two rooms, D7 and D8.

D7 – Corridor of the Marbles

A unique room in the new space is called the Corridor of the Marbles. Instead of paintings, viewers are confronted with Roman reliefs dating from the 1st century AD. Most, if not all, of the reliefs are copies of earlier Greek works. For instance, the first relief in the hall is likely one of the dozens of replicas of a Greek relief that was produced in the late classical period (400-300 BC).

Roman Relief

Scholars have pieced together copies of what they believe to be the original Greek relief, and, based upon this Frankensteinian creation, they have determined that the hand on the left on this replica belongs to the Greek goddess Selene, the Greek personification of the moon. (Her Roman counterpart was known as Luna). Selene would drive her moon chariot, typically led by two horses or two bulls, across the sky, giving light to the mortals during the night.

The next relief is known as the “Nike Balustrade.” Here, two women led an ox to sacrifice while the women in front is holding a thymiaterion, i.e. an incense burner, likely part of the sacrificial ritual.

This Roman relief is a copy of a frieze, depicted below, that once decorated the Nike-Athena Temple in the Pantheon in Athens.

The next relief depicts dancing maenads (female followers of the Greek god Dionysus) and, like the others, is a Roman copy of a late 5th century BC Greek original.

Courtesy of Yair Haklai, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There were more than 60 copies of the original work made, including the one pictured to the left of the Uffizi version, currently at the Louvre. Copies were typically commissioned or bought by wealthy Romans eager to demonstrate to their house guests that they were cultured and educated (and wealthy) enough to have Greek art in their homes. Obviously there were only so many of the Greek originals to go around so a booming industry developed that created copies for those who weren’t lucky enough to get ahold of an original. Thus, why we have so many Roman replicas today.

The women in the center holds Dionysus’ Thyrsus, a staff of giant fennel covered in ivy toped with a pine cone. It symbolized prosperity, fertility, and hedonism (all attributes of the god Dionysus). The first two women in the scene are carrying hunks of animals that have been physically torn apart, references to the The Bacchae, a tragedy written by the Greek playwright Euripides. In The Bacchae, the god Dionysus punishes the people of Thebes for failing to believe that he is the son of Zeus by putting the city’s women into a frenzied trance during which they perform atrocities. The Bacchae is considered by some scholars to be not only Euripides’ greatest tragedy, but the greatest tragedy ever written.

D8 – Correggio and Parmigianino

Francesco Mazzola, known as Parmigianino (“the little one from Parma”), trained in close contact with Correggio, and so their work is exhibited together in Room D8. Parmigianino tended to give primacy to art, not nature, and is therefore hailed as the leader of Emilian Mannerism. (Emilia is a region of northern Italy, roughly encompassing Ferrera, Ravenna, Bologna, and Parma). The departure from naturalism is demonstrated in his works held here at the Uffizi, including his Madonna di San Zaccaria (1531-1533), which prefigures his more famous Madonna of the Long Neck, which is also discussed below.

Parmigianino, Madonna di San Zaccaria

Parmigianino depicts John the Baptist holding the baby Jesus while John’s father, St. Zachariah, stares into the distance, perhaps contemplating the tragic – but necessary – fate of both young boys. (For those unfamiliar with Christian belief, John the Baptist was said to have been beheaded on the orders of Herod Antipas, the Roman Tetrarch of Galilee). Mary Magdalene is pictured behind the boys, identifiable via her traditional attribute of a jar of ointment. In the background stands a ruined triumphal arch and column, demonstrating the fall of the paganism that gave rise to such structures. The column also could point to the Virgin’s incorruptibility, as it likely does in Parmigianino’s later work, the Madonna of the Long Neck (c. 1534-1539).

Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck

Madonna of the Long Neck was commissioned by Elena Baiardi Tagliaferri for her private chapel in the convent church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Parma. Unfortunately, the work remains unfinished because Parmigianino died during its composition, as is evidenced by a foot without a body in the lower right corner as well as an unfinished angel’s head underneath Mary’s arm. Scholars believe that this figure was supposed to be a fellow saint (likely St. Francis) standing next to St. Jerome, who holds a scroll. The work was actually found in the artist’s studio after his death at the age of 37 in 1540. Due to its unfinished status, an inscription was added to the bottom step of the column, declaring “Adverse destiny prevented Francesco Mazzola from Parma from completing this work.” The name of the work clearly reflects Mary’s elongated neck, which mimics the ivory-colored column (likely prefiguring Christ’s death) behind her. It may also be an illusion to the Marian hymn Collum tuum ut columna (“Your neck is like a column”), which celebrated Mary’s incorruptibility. The Christ-child’s reflection in the urn on the right of the painting loosely resembles a cross, which also prefigures Christ’s death. In fact, to underscore this reference, Parmigianino painted Christ’s left arm to look as though it was dislocated, a clear reference to Michelangelo’s Pieta (located in St. Peter’s):

The other artist showcased in this room is Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio, after the city in which he was born. Along with Parmigianino, Correggio was at the forefront of the revival of Emilian painting and is known for his small devotional pictures, such as his Adoration of the Christ Child (1518 – 1520), located in this room.

Correggio, Adoration of the Christ Child

The subject of Mary’s adoration of her child had been popular in the 15th century with artists such as Filippo and Filippino Lippi, where the iconography had been cemented, but its popularity had lost some of its steam as artists explored subjects outside the realm of religion. Thus, Correggio looked to the older examples of Adorations for the visual references that should be included when depicting such a subject.

The iconography was inspired by St. Bridget of Sweden, a mystic who had religious visions, including one of baby Jesus’ birth:

[S]he gave birth to a Son, from whom there went out such great and ineffable light and splendor that the sun could not be compared to it. …

But yet, at once, I saw that glorious infant lying on the earth, naked and glowing in the greatest of neatness. His flesh was most clean of all filth and uncleanness. … And the Virgin’s womb, which before the birth had been very swollen, at once retracted; and her body then looked wonderfully beautiful and delicate.

When therefore the Virgin felt that she had now given birth, at once, having bowed her head and joined her hands, with great dignity and reverence she adored the boy and said to him: ”Welcome, my God, my Lord, and my Son!” And then the boy, crying and, as it were, trembling from the cold and the hardness of the pavement where he lay, rolled a little and extended his limbs, seeking to find refreshment and his Mother’s favor.

St. Bridget’s Revelations

Cosimo II placed exhibited Correggio’s work in the Tribuna, where it stayed for quite some time. Indeed, it is prominently featured in Johan Zoffany’s Tribuna of the Uffizi, painted 1772–1778.

Johan Zoffany, Tribuna of the Uffizi

Correggio’s other work in this room, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (c. 1520), depicts the Holy family on their sojourn to Egypt to escape King Herod’s so-called Massacre of the Innocents, as told in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2:

13. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15. And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

King James Version, Matthew 2:13-16.
Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Correggio (courtesy of wikipedia commons)

The actual scene itself, however, is based on the apocryphal gospel of pseudo-Matthew, which is part of the New Testament apocrypha, a group of writings by early Christians that were once cited as scripture. Since the early 5th century, however, the Catholic Church has limited what it believes to be the divinely inspired works to the current 27 books of the New Testament. The apocryphal gospel of pseudo-Matthew narrates a story wherein Mary is resting under a date tree and asks her husband, St. Joseph, to pick some fruit. The fruit was too high for Joseph to reach, however, so he told Mary that they should look for water instead. Jesus then asked the branch to bend down, which it did, and a spring appeared at the tree’s roots. Correggio depicts the moment that Joseph offers Jesus some fruit from the bowed branch.

The Altarpiece was commissioned for the family chapel of the Immaculate Conception in the Church of St. Francis in Correggio, the artist’s hometown and namesake, by jurist Francesco Munari, which perhaps explains the anachronistically inclusion of St. Francis (identifiable via his monk habit) kneeling on right. (The church for which it was destined was also a Franciscan church).

The palm tree marks central axis of work, and in fact the work was once known as Madonna of the Palm Tree, denoting the tree’s importance. The palm is a symbol of Mary’s perennial life, virginity, maternity because it never dries up, grows only in pure water, and provides shelter. She is likened to a palm in the Song of Songs (7, 8): “your stature is like that of a palm tree, and your breasts like its clusters of fruit.” Yet, the Palm is also a foretelling of Jesus’ sacrifice and victory over death. In fact, in Greco-Roman culture, from which the Catholic church borrowed heavily, the palm was associated with the Goddess Nike (depicted here holding a palm), the goddess of victory and triumph. In Egypt, moreover, the country in which this work is set, the palm was used in funeral processions to represent eternal life.

Cinquecento Rooms D1-D6

Since closing due to the COVID pandemic, the Uffizi reopened 14 new rooms, which show masterpieces that have not been displayed in quite some time. Here, I’m going to talk about the first seven.

D1 – Plautilla Nelli Corridor.

The new entry to the First Floor begins with the Plautilla Nelli Corridor, named after the first known female Florentine painter of the Renaissance. Nelli entered the Dominican convent of Santa Caterina di Siena when she was fourteen years old. The convent, like its brother institution, the San Marco Monastery, encouraged its initiates to paint devotional works to express their own piety and devote to God. Her Annunciation, which has never before been on permanent display, is above the new entrance.

File:Annunciation painted by Plautilla Nelli.jpg
Annunciation, Plautilla Nelli

Nelli keeps several of the conventional iconographies of the Annunciation: Gabriel holds a white lily, a symbol of Mary’s purity; Mary is interrupted while reading and is wearing her typical red and blue mantle; the white dove appears as the holy spirit; the pillar separates Gabriel from Mary, symbolizing the untouchable purity of the Virgin as well as prefiguring Christ’s flogging upon a pillar during his Passion. Yet for all this, Nelli’s Annunciation is unique in its life-like treatment of the figures’ expressions and attention to minute detail.

Living in the sister institution of San Marco, Nelli no doubt was familiar with the works of her predecessor artist, Fra Angelico, specifically, his depiction of Gabriel’s wings in his own Annunciation.

D2 – Andrea del Sarto

Gallery D2 is dedicated to the Florentine artist known as Andrea del Sarto, whose name is derived from his father’s profession as a tailor (sarto is Italian for tailor). Del Sarto was known for being an “artists without errors,” as well as for works that were highly balanced and very formalistic. Perhaps his most famous piece, Madonna of the Harpies (1517), was commissioned by the Sisters of San Francesco de’Macci.

File:Andrea del Sarto - Madonna of the Harpies - WGA00370.jpg

Del Sarto, however, disappointed his patrons by painting St. Francis instead of St. Bonaventure, as was contracted, to the left of the Virgin and Child. It is likely that he chose to do so because of St. Francis’ identification as the “angel of the Sixth Seal.” The Seals, for those who are uninitiated in the cult of the television series Supernatural, are referenced in the Book of Revelation and according to same, as long as the Seals remain sealed, they keep the apocalypse at bay. Chapter Five of the Book of Revelation reveals:

1. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

3. And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.

4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.

5. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

6. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.

8. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

9. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

11. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;

12. Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

13. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

14. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.  

(King James Version)  

Based on the belief that St. Francis was included as an illusion to the Sixth Seal, scholars have identified the pedestal as the well of Hell. In fact, figures on the base relief of the pedestal have been identified as locusts and allude to chapter nine of the Book of Revelations, believed at the time to have been written by St. John the Evangelist, although modern scholars now debate the authorship. (The work is known as Madonna of the Harpies due to an error by the artist/art historian Giorgio Vasari, who believed that the figures depicted in bas-relief were harpies). Chapter nine of the of Book of Revelations states:

1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

2. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.

3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

4. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

5. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.

6. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.

8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.

9. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.

10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.

Mary and the baby Jesus are depicted as “closing the mouth” of Hell and stand between the viewers and destruction. Indeed, the smoke referenced in Verse 2, above, appears floating past Mary’s left. On the other side of Mary stands St. John the Evangelist, perhaps writing those prophesies that appear in his Apocalypse.

Del Sarto’s formalism is demonstrated in the statuesque figures, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s depictions of the human form, as well as the use of the pyramid formation used so often by Raphael. Moreover, del Sarto used colors themselves to unify his paintings; as you can see the bluish tint in St. John’s robes is a reflection of Mary’s drapery while the orange and lavender of St. John is also reflected in Mary’s tunic.

The other painting here is Woman with the “Petrarchino” (c. 1528), which some scholars believe is a portrait of either del Sarto’s wife, Lucrezia, or Lucrezia’s daughter from a previous marriage, Maria del Berrettaino. Regardless, the woman is pointing to the verses of two love sonnets written by Petrarch: “Go, Warm sighs, to the cold heart” and “The stars, the sky and the elements complete.”

D3 – Francesco Granacci – Alonso Berruguete

In this room is Francesco Granacci’s Entry of Charles VIII (1518).

Entry of Charles VIII, Granacci

This piece depicts the moment King Charles VIII of France entered Florence on November 17, 1494 after invading Italy in September of that year to claim the crown of Naples.

Also in this room is Alonso Berruguete’s Salome (1514), one of only a handful of known paintings from Berruguete’s sojourn in Italy. (Berruguete was Spanish). As its name implies, the work depicts Salome, the step-daughter of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee who was infamously involved in Christ’s execution, as well as that of John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of Mark, Salome requested that her step-father present her with the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

Berruguete depicts Salome barely holding onto the silver platter with the saint’s dead. The beginnings of the artistic movement known as mannerism can be detected in Salome’s elongated fingers and idealized pose as well as the comparatively large size of the saint’s head. Mannerism was typified by exaggerated and complicated postures; it emphasized art over beauty.

D4 – Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino

Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino (the “red Florentine” on account of his hair), and Pontormo were both students of Andrea del Sarto, and they embraced his mannerist style. They are nicknamed the “different twins” because both discarded the teachings of the classical Renaissance, yet in different ways.

Rosso’s Madonna dello Spedalingo (Madonna with Child and Saints) (1518) is most famous for its reception, not its artistic value. In fact, the patron who commissioned this work, Leonardo Buonafé, the rector of the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital (the “Spedalingo”), actually refused the work when it was presented to him. Buonafé claimed that the saints looked like “devils.” Eventually, he was persuaded to pay 16 of the originally promised 25 florins for the piece.

File:Fiorentino Rosso, Madonna with Four Saints.jpg

Although “devilish,” the saints are still identifiable via their conventional attributes: St. John the Baptist wears an animal skin underneath his robes, St. Anthony is depicted in his habit, St. Stephen has a stone on his head, and St. Jerome holds his writings.

Rosso’s Musical Cherub (1521), on the other hand, demonstrates a sweetness to the artist’s style. This piece is probably a fragment of an altarpiece. In fact, reflectographic studies have shown that the black background covers what appears to be a step and part of a building.

Image
Courtesy of @UffiziGalleries Twitter Page

Rosso’s “different twin,” Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo, was highly influenced by German artist Albrecht Dürer, as indicated in his The Supper at Emmaus (1525), which was commissioned for the guest-room of the Charter House in Galluzzo.

To create depth in his own work, Pontormo shifts two of the figures of Durer’s print to the front of the table. Another major change is the removal of the roasted lamb from the table, which was likely done to allude to the frugal meals enjoyed at the monastery.

The work depicts the moment after his Cruxifixction when Jesus’ disciplines recognize him as he breaks bread and says a blessing over it as told in the Gospel of Luke.

13. And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.

14. And they talked together of all these things which had happened.

15. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

16. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

17. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

18. And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

19. And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

20. And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

21. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.

22. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;

23. And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.

24. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

25. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?

27. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

28. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.

29. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

30. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

31. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

(King James Version)
Supper at Emmaus

The monochromatic monks depicted in the back sharply contrast with the saints and their colorful robes. The prior (the head monk) of the Charter House for which this painting was commissioned, Leonardo Buonafede, is included as monk within the work; he is the withered monk standing on Christ’s right-hand side.

File:Anonymous Cusco School - Trifacial Trinity - Google Art Project.jpg

The (admittedly creepy) floating eye within a pyramid at the top is a symbol of God the Father within the trinity triangle. It was actually the result of a posthumous cover-up of a three-sided face meant to symbolize the Holy Trinity (known as the Trifacial Trinity or tricephalous trinity), which had been banned by Pope Urban VIII in 1628.

Pontormo’s Adam and Eve (c. 1519) as well as his Ten Thousand Martyrs (c. 1529) are also located in this room. The Ten Thousand Martyrs depicts the infrequently explored subject of the legend of St. Achatius.

Pontormo, The Ten Thousand Martyrs

The legend’s first known reference is in the Catalogus Sanctorum of Petrus de Natalibus, written around 1370-1400. The legend told of a Roman commander, St. Achatius, who was dispatched with nine thousand Roman soldiers against a rebel host that vastly outnumbered them. The night before the battle, an angel appeared to Achatius and his men, telling them if they were to convert to Christianity, then they would defeat the rebel host. The Roman soldiers took the message to heart and converted to the new faith, and thereafter defeating the host the next day. The Roman Emperor, however, later hears about the conversion and leads an army against Achatius and his now Christian army. Although no battle occurs, the Achatius’ men refuse to recant their new faith so the Emperor determines he will torture them. Yet, he cannot. Stones bounce off the men without doing any harm; the whips that were meant to flog them are dashed to the ground. Seeing these miracles, one of the emperor’s other commanders, Theodorus, switches sides and joins Achatius, bringing with him a thousand of his own men, bolstering the Christian army to ten thousand men. The Christians are then crowned with thorns, in mockery of Christ’s own passion, and baptized in their own blood before being led to Mt. Ararat and crucified.

Pontormo’s scene is a synthesis of the two most famous battle scenes known to Renaissance artists: Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina, neither of which were actually completed.

D5 – Sebastiano del Piombo and the Influence of Michelangelo in Rome

Sebastiano del Piombo worked in close contact with Michelangelo, who went as far as securing patrons and commissions for him. His name is derived from his position as keeper of the Papal Seals, which were made of lead (“piombo” in Italian is translated as lead). Del Piombo’s Death of Adonis (c. 1515) was commissioned by Agostino Chigi, a wealthy papal banker. It was damaged in the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi, but its immediate restoration was a symbol of the Uffizi’s own rebirth after the bombing.

Death of Adonis

The work depicts the moment that Adonis, a figure from Greek mythology and a favorite of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology), dies from his wounds inflicted by a boar, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

The youth, in fear of his own life, runs hard,
but he is caught: the boar sinks his long tusks
into Adonis’ groin; he fells him—and
the boy lies prone along the yellow sands.
 
On her light chariot, Venus, who was drawn
across the middle air by her winged swans,
had not reached Cyprus yet; she heard, far off,
the dying boy—his moans. She turned around
her white swans and rode back. When, from the heights,
she saw him lifeless there, a bleeding corpse,
she leaped down to the ground. And Venus tore
her hair, and—much unlike a goddess—beat
her hands against her breast. She challenged fate:
‘But destiny does not rule all. Adonis,
your memory will live eternally:
each year they will repeat this final scene—
your day of death, my day of grief, will be
enacted in a feast that bears your name.

“The Metamorphoses of Ovid.” Trans. Allen Mandelbaum.

In the work, Venus (the central figure) is shown distressed, in the posture inspired by the Hellenistic bronze Lo Spinario (now located in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome). While the background depicts Venice (identified with Venus).

Also in this room is Giulio Romano’s Virgin and Child (c. 1520-1530).

Giulio was born in Rome (hence, Romano) and worked under the tutelage of Raphael, whose stylistic influence can be discerned in the tenderness Romano treats his Madonna.

Next to Giulio Romano’s Virgin and Child is Perin del Vaga’s rendition of the same theme. Perin del Vaga worked alongside Giulio Romano in Raphael’s workshop, and the similarities of their styles are immediately apparent.

Perin del Vaga, Virgin and Child

Another artist showcased in this room is Battista Franco, known as Il Semolei). His work, Battle of Montemurlo (1537-1541) depicts its eponymous battle fought between exiled Florentines under command of Filippo Strozzi and the supporters of Cosimo de’Medici led by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s commander Alessandro Vitelli August of 1537. Two months after this battle, the Emperor bestowed on Cosimo his ducal title. The battle marked the end of the illusion that the Medici family worked within Florence’s Republican government to rule. Now, the Medici no longer hid their power behind the facade of Republican institutions, demonstrating to the city’s elite that the Medici no longer needed their support either.

In a glass case separating this room from the next is Allori Alessandro’s Allegory of Human Life.

D6 – Daniele da Volterra and Francesco Salviati

Daniele Ricciarelli, known as Daniele da Volterra, painted The Prophet Elias between 1543 and 1547.

The Prophet Elias

The work was highly influenced by Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, as evidenced in the Prophet’s musculature. The scene depicts the moment where ravens bring bread to the Prophet Elias (Elijah), as recounted in Kings Chapter 17 in the King James Version of the Bible:

3. Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

4. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.

5. So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

6. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. 

(King James Version)

This moment prefigures the Last Supper and the Eucharist. Also here is Volterra’s Massacre of the Innocents.

Francesco Salviati’s work is also displayed in this room, including Charity (1545), which Salviati painted during a stay in Florence while he was working on public works for the city.

Detail of Charity

Salviati’s composition, especially of the figures, was informed by Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo.

Charity, as the key cardinal virtue, was a common theme depicted in Renaissance art, typically through the motif of a breast-feeding mother. The contemporary concept of charity differs drastically from the modern definition of the word. “Charity” is derived from the latin word “caritas.” In Christian ideology, caritas is the highest form of love, i.e. the love shared between God and man, and the manifestation of that love in the form of man’s love of his fellow man. St. Augustine explained:

Then, after this human love has nourished and invigorated the mind cleaving to your breast, and fitted it for following God, when the divine majesty has begun to disclose itself as far as suffices for man while a dweller on the earth, such fervent charity is produced, and such a flame of divine love is kindled, that by the burning out of all vices, and by the purification and sanctification of the man, it becomes plain how divine are these words, “I am a consuming fire,” and, “I have come to send fire on the earth.”

St. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of Charity’s common attributes is a flame, demonstrating God’s love. Salviati grapples with how love is expressed in his Charity, depicting his figures with an air of sensuality not seen in earlier variations on the theme. Compare Salviati’s work with the earlier Charity painted by Piero del Pollaiuolo in c. 1469.

Confluence of the Greats: Raphael, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolomeo. Room 38

Room 38 is intended to celebrate the fortuitous moment where three of the greatest artists of the age converged together in Florence. When the present configuration of Room 38 was unveiled in 2018, Gallerie degli Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt stated, “the new installation replaces the display of isolated masterpieces side by side with the principle of dialogue among works, artists and their patrons, urging visitors to discover and to explore the artistic interaction among the great masters of the past. That is why a third figure has entered the scene, a painter whom dialogue with Raphael has restored to his proper place as a major artist in his own right. Fra Bartolomeo (1473–1517) was a Dominican friar in San Marco and a very close friend of Raphael with whom, from the moment the latter arrived in Florence in 1504, he forged an intense and extremely fruitful relationship that visitors will now be able to explore further through the paintings on display.”

The centerpiece of Room 38 is clearly Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Doni Tondo (c. 1506-1508), to which an entire wall is dedicated. It is the only known finished panel painting done by Michelangelo and is considered by some art scholars to be the most important work created in the 16th century.

Based on the timing of the work, scholars believe that it was commissioned by the Florentine merchant Agnolo Doni to celebrate either his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi or the birth of the couple’s daughter Maria. Doni is the only patron aside from the Pope to obtain works by both Michelangelo and Raphael. (Doni’s commission from Raphael, discussed below, also appears in Room 38).

Michelangelo began work on the Doni Tondo after the unearthing of the celebrated Greek sculpture known as the Laocoön in January 1506 (now displayed in the Vatican Museums).

Laocoön and His Sons

The influence this statue had on Michelangelo’s style cannot be overstated. After Michelangelo saw Laocoön and His Sons, the body-heroic permeated throughout his works, including the Doni Tondo. For instance, compare the pose of the nude behind the Holy Family in Michelangelo’s Tondo with the son to Laocoön’s right:

The influence can also be deduced in the posture of the Holy Family itself, which wraps around itself in an eerily serpentine manner reminiscent of the Laocoön. Moreover, the Holy Family is depicted as though they themselves were Greek statues, which, at this time, was highly unorthodox. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that Michelangelo hated painting as an art form and believed himself to be a student of the – in his opinion – higher art of sculpture. In fact, Leonardo famously criticized Michelangelo’s painting, stating, “You should not make all the muscles of the body too conspicuous … otherwise you will produce a sack of walnuts [un sacco di noce] rather than a human figure.” Leonardo da Vinci, quoted in Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo Da Vinci (Simon & Schuster 2017)).

Doni Tondo

Michelangelo takes his unorthodox depiction of the Holy Family even further by: omitting their typical halos from the picture; allowing Joseph, as opposed to Mary, to hold baby Jesus; and discarding the traditional contemplative, diminutive pose in favor of a dynamic scene, i.e. a story that has been captured in motion. Indeed, Michelangelo is playing with traditional themes and tropes, but twisting – both literally and figuratively – them into his own unconventional style.

Although much debate has occurred over the purpose of the nudes in the background of the Doni Tondo, the general scholarly consensus is that they represent the pagan ages, when men were naked in their ignorance. With the nudes behind the wall is a small boy who can be identified as St. John the Baptist based on his dress. (St. John is typically depicted dressed in furs, symbolizing his sojourn into the wild). St. John is known as the Harbinger of Christ, and therefore, because he was born into the pagan world (before Christ), he remains behind the wall. Another interpretation that has been put forward is that the ignudi are disrobing in order to be baptized, which also would explain John the Baptist’s presence, although not his depiction as a small child. Finally, I would like to note that the frame of the Tondo was likely designed by Michelangelo himself. It depicts Jesus and the four evangelists.

In addition to the Doni Tondo, Agnolo Doni also commissioned portraits of himself and his wife, Maddalena Strozzi Doni. These portraits, however, were commissioned from Raphael, who was working in Florence at the same time as Michelangelo. (In fact, Michelangelo felt an intense rivalry with Raphael, who he saw as the new “up and comer.”)

Raphael’s early work, like these portraits, owes much to Leonardo da Vinci. You can see Leonardo’s influence in the posture of the sitters, the setting of the portraits, as well as the depiction of the subject’s psychological state through his/her movements.

Raphael mimics Leonardo’s treatment of his sitter’s hands, using the hands to tell the story. Indeed, Maddalena’s hands are decked out in jewels, demonstrating her wealth and social status. Moreover, Raphael depicts his sitters at half-length in front of a balustrade and against a landscape, just as Leonardo places Mona Lisa. Rather than adopt Leonardo’s style in toto, however, Raphael departs from Leonardo’s teachings to enhance the brilliance of his patron’s jewels. He achieves his effect by eschewing Leonardo’s techniques of chiaroscuro and sfumatura. The jewels depicted on both of these portraits convey separate meanings, which would have been well recognized by contemporaries. For instance, rubies alluded to vitality; sapphires to wealth; pearls to purity; emeralds to fertility. The emerald jewel is actually set in a unicorn, which alluded to chastity. Thus, by placing the emerald in the belly of unicorn, Raphael symbolized that Maddalena, as a chaste and faithful wife, will provide her husband with a legitimate heir.

The portraits were once a diptych, and thus each has a drawing on its reverse side. Both drawings are based on episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem that proved popular among the so-called Renaissance men. The episode depicted on the reserve of Agnolo’s Portrait is known as “The Flood,” which tells the story of Jove’s destruction of most of humankind via a flood (very similar to the Judeo-Christian story of Noah). This episode corresponds to the one depicted on the reserve of Maddalena’s portrait, which tells the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, a couple who is allowed to survive the flood. Deucalion and Pyrrha, who were unable to have children, were allowed to survive the Flood by the Gods, and then they restored life to humanity. These episodes are believed to be the work of Raphael’s colleague, whose identity remains unknown.

Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch (Madonna del Cardelino), painted in 1506, also shows traces of Leonardo’s influence, whose own depictions of the Madonna and Child were typified by their simple yet intimate settings. This work was allegedly a wedding gift for Raphael’s friend, a merchant named Lorenzo Nasi. It is known as the Madonna of the Goldfinch because the scene depicts the Christ Child stroking a goldfinch, a symbol of his passion. According to legend, while Christ was carrying the cross upon which he was to be crucified, a goldfinch plucked a thorn from Christ’s head, splashing Christ’s blood on its chest, and from that time onwards, goldfinches have had red spots on their chest to commemorate the Goldfinch’s mercy. Interestingly, goldfinches have since ancient times been used to depict a person’s soul, which many ancient peoples believed would fly away after death.

Raphael, Madonna of the Goldfinch (middle)

Like Leonardo’s Madonnas, Raphael’s Virgin does not sit atop a throne as was typical up until this time, but atop a rock, creating the conceit that nature is her throne. Through this allusion, Raphael makes the radical statement that divinity is in nature and surrounds us all. Like in Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, the viewer is meant to recognize St. John the Baptist based on his fur loincloth while the Christ child is depicted naked, emphasizing his human nature. St. John, Christ, and the Virgin are grouped together in a pyramid, as though they are one form, yet each figure retains his/her individuality and purpose (St. John as the Harbinger, Christ as the Savior, and Mary as the Mother). Raphael pirated this formula from Leonardo, who likewise depicted the Holy Family as separate pieces of a single unit, creating depth and balance within the work.

Raphael also chose to depict Jesus contrapposto, a posture that a child would never naturally take, thereby alerting the viewers of his innate wisdom. In the past, artists would indicate Christ’s wisdom by depicting the infant as a small man, as the Maestro del Bigallo did in his Madonna Enthroned, supra.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, Maestro del Bigallo.

Fra Bartolommeo is the final of the three artists showcased in Room 38. As his title implies, Fra Bartolommeo was a Dominican Friar and lived and worked in the monastery of San Marco, in the manner of his direct predecessor Fra Angelico. Like many other Florentines of his time, Fra Bartolommeo was capitative Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the firebrand preacher who took Florence by storm and gained enough power and influence to send Florence’s ruling family, the Medici, into exile. Fra Savonarola had such a hold on Fra Bartolommeo that Bartolommeo retired from painting for a time based on Savonarola’s teachings against much of the artistic world. Yet, to many’s surprise, Bartolommeo once again took up the brush six years after Savonarola’s execution to paint The Vision of St. Bernard (c. 1504), which Bernardo del Bianco commissioned for the Bianco Chapel in the Badia Fiorentina.

Vision of St. Bernard, Fra Bartolommeo

The scene depicts the moment recalled by St. Bernard, who was too weak to perform a homily when the Virgin appeared and gave him the strength to write it. Behind St. Bernard stand Saints Barnabas and Benedict, whose presence is likely due to St. Bernard’s adherence to the Benedictine Rule.

Like Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo was clearly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Each of the figures interact with one another and respond through their expressions and hand gestures, thereby conveying to the viewer their inner emotions. Fra Bartolommeo has also employed Leonardo’s techniques of sfumato (the blurring of contours and edges of figures because the eye does not see hard lines when it processes the real world) and contrapposto. Absorbing Leonardo’s innovative style, Fra Bartolommeo added his own radical take on painting religious scenes as regards his portrayal of the Virgin Mary. Prior to this work, the Virgin Mary was typically portrayed as a passive figure that was usually seated, whether that be enthroned as before the High Renaissance or seated in nature as Leonardo and Raphael chose to place her, and disinterested. Here, however, Fra Bartolommeo depicts the Virgin as an active participant in the scene. This change may be explained by the theory of the Immaculate Conception, which was gaining traction at this time due to the Church synods at the Councils of Basel and Trent. A common misconception is that the Immaculate Conception related to Mary’s conception of Christ via the Holy Spirit, but it actually is a reference to St. Anne’s conception of Mary, who, according to the Immaculate Conception doctrine, was without sin since the moment of her conception and was therefore a worthy vessel for Christ. (Although starting to be generally accepted at this time, the doctrine did not become official church doctrine until Pope Pius IX issued the bull known as the Ineffabilis Deus on December 8, 1854).

Leonardo. Room 35

Upon the unveiling of the new Leonardo Da Vinci room, Room 35, in 2018, the director of the Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, stated,

The new arrangement has been designed not only to permit a slow, meditated visit, whereby visitors can compare the art and understand the stylistic evolution of Leonardo in his youth, but it is also correct in terms of art history, placing the artist’s works immediately after the rooms dedicated to the Florentine Quattrocento…It is part of a set of changes implemented to adjust the Uffizi to the needs of understanding by visitors as well as adhering to the museum’s educational principles.

The walls were painted grey to both enhance the mediative atmosphere as well as to mimic the church environment for which the paintings were originally meant. On the left is the Baptism of Christ (c. 1480), which was commissioned for San Salvi Church sometime around 1475-78. Leonardo worked on this painting during his apprenticeship with Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio, a Renaissance legend in his own right, although more gifted as a sculptor than a painter. (Verrocchio designed and installed the golden palla (“ball”) on lantern of il Duomo). In fact, due to his background as sculptor and engineer, Verrocchio was a master at conveying movement in his art. Leonardo would adopt his maestro’s skill to transform his own art from intrinsically static into a narrative.

Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci 

Art historians believe Leonardo painted the angel on the far left of the scene, the body of Christ, and the background. The twisting figure of the angel is typical of Leonardo (one of his many methods to demonstrate movement in his works), as are the angel’s beautiful curls.

In the work, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and harbinger, performs the first baptism of the Christian faith. He is shown pouring water from the River Jordan on Jesus’ head, as recounted in the Gospels:

4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 

5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

6. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

7. And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

8. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

9. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.

10. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:

11. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Mark 1: 4-11 (KJV).

Thus, the Holy Trinity is represented here: God the Father, represented by the arms, Jesus the Son, in the flesh and therefore no representation necessary, and the Holy Spirit, represented, as it so often is, by the dove. The scroll unfurling from John’s hand states, “ECCE AGNUS DEI,” the shortened version of “ECCE AGNUS DEI QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI” (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1: 29).

The centerpiece of this room is Leonardo’s Annunciation (c. 1472 or c. 1475-78), which is believed to be Leonardo’s first work that he completed single-handedly (although he is believed to still have been in Verrocchio’s employ). The painting ​was recently restored in 2000, revealing the work’s original luminosity, clarity of detail, and sharp perspective. According to Christian belief, the Annunciation is the moment when the Archangel Gabriel appears before the Virgin Mary to announce that she is to bear God’s only son. Leonardo departs from previous representations of this moment, which typically depicted the exchange in an enclosed space, such as a loggia, by placing the Virgin and Gabriel outside.

Annunciation, Leonardo Da Vinci

Verrocchio’s continuing influence on Leonardo is evident in the shape of the lectern, which is reminiscent of Verrocchio’s design for the tomb of Pietro de Medici, located in the Church of San Lorenzo. Moreover, although the Annunciation is no doubt a masterpiece (and way beyond the bounds of anything I could even dream of producing, as devastatingly evident in every wine and paint night I’ve ever participated in), Leonardo’s youth is discernible due to several anomalies. First, the Virgin’s right arm (the arm reaching towards the lectern) is disproportionately long. Secondly (and hypercritically, but important to point out to demonstrate Leonardo’s exponential growth in his skilled use of light and shadow), Gabriel’s shadow is too dark for dawn, which the restoration revealed was the time of day Leonardo chose to set his scene. Leonardo likely chose dawn to symbolize the Annunciation, i.e. the dawning of Christianity.

The dawn light casts a pale yellow glow on the garden wall and top of lectern, and shadows are seen where the sun light would be blocked. Moreover, the lectern’s side, however, has a blueish tint. This tint signals Leonardo’s bourgeoning interest in refracted light; indeed, Leonardo discerned that white marble sitting outside is lit by refracted light of the sky, not the light of the sun. Leonardo’s detailed observations and scientific acumen is also evident in Gabriel’s wings, which fold realistically, as though they were actual bird wings. Here, Leonardo once again departs from the conventional depiction of the Annunciation, which dictated that Gabriel’s wings should be multicolored.

Leonardo purposefully used light and shadows to create plasticity (i.e. the effect of three dimensional volume in a two dimensional space), a technique that would be later be known as chiaroscuro (derived from the Italian word for light, “chiaro,” and dark, “scuro”). To employ chiaroscuro in his works, Leonardo created a tonal range for each pigment that ran from white to black and then coordinated each tonal range with another to ensure that all hues were represented in a single overall light to dark range, creating the effect of shadows. These colors could react uniformly to where the light hit a particular object. For instance, the Virgin’s sash looks further back in the painting than the blue robes despite blue being the darker of the two hues. The previous system, known as the absolute color system, which had been in use since the middle ages, involved adding white to a pigment to make the color lighter. Problematically, adding white to pigment dilutes the pigment and therefore does not accurately capture the effects of light on color. Because the darkest tones would be the most saturated with color (since they had less white mixed in), they would be the most intense. But in reality, intensity of color corresponds to the amount of illumination and light. Therefore, Leonardo rejected this system and invented chiaroscuro.

Leonardo also used a technique known as sfumato, a method involving the blurring of contours and edges. In pursuit of his scientific studies, Leonardo realized that the eye does not register sharp edges; instead, the human eye blurs edges of objects. Therefore, when drawing, Leonardo did not outline his figures and then fill in the details. Instead, he modeled his figures from space; building their forms from inside out. In his notebooks, Leonardo wrote, “The line forming the boundary of a surface is of invisible thickness. Therefore, O painter, do not surround your bodies with lines.” Leonardo da Vinci, quoted in Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo Da Vinci (Simon & Schuster 2017). Leonardo’s use of sfumato is most clearly evident when you compare the painting’s foreground, which features detailed flowers, with its background, which fades into haziness. It is therefore counterintuitive that it is the background that is the focus of this work, more specifically, the mountain in the background. All perspective lines lead to the mountain, drawing the viewer’s eye towards it.

Moreover, it is framed by the trees. One of St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermon on the Annunciation speaks of the “Mountain of Mountains” and the sky giving forth dew, which is received by the Earth (representing Mary’s womb). From this fertilization (i.e. the Annunciation), comes forth Christ, who is spoken of as the Mountain on the Sea.

The final work by Leonardo in this room is the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1481), which was commissioned by the Augustinian monks of San Donato a Scopeto in 1481, but was never finished. It remains – even in its unfinished form – as one of the greatest works of the Renaissance.

Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo da Vinci

Art historian Kenneth Clark called Adoration, “The most revolutionary and anti-classical picture of the fifteenth century.” Kenneth Clark, Leonardo da Vinci (1939). Indeed, Adorations typically contain an ordered, stately procession, with a focus on the Holy Family, who typically wait in a lower corner of the painting. Leonardo throws that convention out completely, giving us a frenzied swirl of activity that surrounds the Christ child, pictured in the center of the work.

These frenzied and emotional figures prefigure mannerism, an artistic style that would become the mainstream in the late Renaissance (about forty to fifty years after this work was commissioned). Typical of Leonardo, the Adoration focuses on the onlookers’ reactions to the Incarnation, part of the reason for the chaos. Leonardo’s notebooks are full of doodles exploring human facial expressions. His notes make clear that his figures’ emotions are paramount and take expression in their movements: “In painting, the actions of the figures are, in all cases, expressive of the purpose of their minds.” Leonardo da Vinci, quoted in Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo Da Vinci (Simon & Schuster 2017). Leonardo even experiments with the placement of the horses. For instance, the horses on the right are actually different potential positioning of one horse:

Leonardo, as was typical, failed to finish this commission; this time, he failed to finish because the Duke of Milan accepted Leonardo’s what essentially plea for employment. Filippino Lippi was asked to replace the unfinished work. Lippi paid homage to Leonardo’s original design:

From Gothic to Renaissance. Rooms 5-8 of the Uffizi.

Rooms 5-6. International Gothic.

Like Rooms 2 and 3, Rooms 5 and 6 were curated during the 1950s. Unlike Rooms 2 and 3, however, Rooms 5 and 6 house pieces that document the transition from Late Gothic to Early Renaissance art, a period known as International Gothic. As its name suggests, the International Gothic period witnessed a blend of the elegant Gothic style favored in northern European courts with the emerging naturalism seen in Italian art over the 13th and 14th centuries. It is typified by bright, jewel colors, slender, elongated figures, increased interest in the “exotic,” detailed depictions of nature, crowded picture planes, and an increase in the movement of figures’ bodies. The depiction of Mary also changed during this period. Inspired by the chivalric tradition of the north, Italian artists shied away from depicting the Virgin as a homely, formidable matron, choosing instead to show her as the fair maiden so often mentioned in French romances. She was now a beautiful young woman, slender and elegant, dressed in luxurious robes and always gracefully posed.

This work by Agnolo Gaddi was produced during his later years, around 1390, and thus is a transition piece between the Giottesque and the International Gothic.

Crucifixion, Agnolo Gaddi

Gaddi trained in his father’s workshop, alongside his brothers Giovanni and Niccolò. This work’s relatively small size indicates that it may have been part of a predella to a larger altarpiece, which has since been lost. It is unique for its inclusion of a tremendous amount of figures, all with his or her own individual expression. At the foot of the Cross are Mary and St. John, while the unrepentant thief is shown dying on Christ’s left. His soul, in the conventional medieval motif of a newborn, is being taken by the devil. Beneath the impenitent thief are soldiers casting lots for Christ’s tunic.

Perhaps one of the greatest proponents of the International Gothic style was Piero di Giovanni, better known as Lorenzo Monaco (“Lorenzo the monk”), the name he took when he entered the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. It is likely that Lorenzo Monaco got his start doing miniatures in his monastery’s choral books, but he later trained in Agnolo Gaddi’s workshop and became the leading painter in Florence during the first decade of the 15th century. His most celebrated work, Coronation of the Virgin (1414), was commissioned to replace a panel for which Zanobi di Cecco del Frasca (a local banker) had paid for the high altar of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The inscription makes clear that Zanobi di Cecco had donated a painting that the monks at the church wished to replace, but due to the nature of donations at that time, the replacement had to remember the original painting to the viewer. Also according to the inscription, the work was finished in February 1413 (1414 according to the modern calculation of time; Florentines began their year on the 25th of March, the feast of the Annunciation, rather than on the more conventional 1st of January).

Coronation of the Virgin, Lorenzo Monaco

The work depicts Jesus crowning his mother Mary, flanked by angels and saints, including (from left to right) St. Benedict, St. Peter, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, St. Andrew, and St. Romuald. St. Benedict and St. Romuald are of special note as this altarpiece was destined for a Camaldolese church (and was painted by a Camaldolese monk). St. Romuald was the founder of the Camaldolese Order, a reformed branch of the Benedictine Order founded by St. Benedict. Lorenzo Monaco portrays the two men in white robes because, according to legend, Camaldolese monks adopted white robes after St. Romuald dreamt of men in white ascending the stairway to heaven. Mary is also depicted in white, eschewing her usual blue, to emphasize her relationship with the Camaldolese monks, especially important here due to the placement of this altarpiece at Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels).

Like his contemporaries, Lorenzo Monaco practiced a technique known as cangiante, derived from the Italian word “to change.” Cangiante was a technique used to create depth when an artist did not have the tones of color needed to depict shadows. Indeed, at the time, artists used tempera, a mixture of egg yolk, water, and pigment, to create color. This mixture lacked the layering abilities of oil paint (which was to become popular during the mid to late 15th century) meaning that it was very difficult to create shades of a particular color. Thus, rather than use a darker/lighter hue of the original color, the artist would change the color completely to a darker/lighter color. For instance, look at St. Andrew’s robe. Lorenzo Monaco changed parts of the robe from the original yellow to coral when he needed to add depth.

Lorenzo Monaco also created depth in his paintings by adding movement. Indeed, as mentioned above, the International Gothic school placed a higher importance on movement within the painting. Here, for example, Lorenzo Monaco inserted movement via angels swinging censers, giving the work depth, energy, and life.

Lorenzo Monaco’s other work in this room, Adoration of the Magi (c. 1420-1422), done in collaboration with Cosimo Rosselli, also demonstrates his desire to show movement in his paintings. For instance, the figures in the background of this piece are more contorted and elongated in an effort to convey motion. Moreover, the subject matter of this piece is not a static Madonna Enthroned or Coronation. Instead, it is a narrative subject matter, a subject matter wherein travel and motion are intrinsic to its depiction. The Adoration of the Magi tells the story found in the Gospel of Matthew where three wisemen (“Magi”) follow a star, which leads them to the newly born Christ-child. The Adoration became a popular subject during the Fifteenth Century in Florence, in part because its feast day, January 6, was also the day of celebration for Christ’s baptism, an event during which Florence’s patron saint, John the Baptist, was obviously integral (John the Baptist baptized Christ, hence his moniker). This connection between Florence and the Adoration was furthered by the ruling family, the Medici, who closely identified with the cult of the Magi.

Adoration of the Magi, Lorenzo Monaco and Cosimo Rosselli

Also incredibly innovative is Lorenzo Monaco’s choice to include a receding landscape (albeit a rather fanciful one) as the background rather than the traditional gold. The receding landscape reinforces the notion of travel, as the Magi have no doubt transversed the harsh terrain to place their gifts at Christ’s feet. Interestingly, Lorenzo Monaco also departed from the traditional tricuspid altarpiece shape, instead opting for a rectangle, although he kept the conventional three arches.

A stark contrast to Lorenzo Monaco’s Adoration is Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration (1423), which is generally thought to be the most important example of International Gothic painting in Italy. Not only does Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration retain the traditional tricuspid shape, it is also steeped in realism, as opposed to the otherworldliness of Lorenzo Monaco’s Adoration. The colors, lighting, focus on details, and naturalistic figures of Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration all combine to create a very different picture of the exact same episode. In fact, many scholars argue that it is the first painting in history to use a single natural light source. Yet, like Lorenzo Monaco’s Adoration, the piece brings courtly values and romanticism to the forefront. The Magi are distinctly European and are depicted as traveling on horseback with squires and dogs, resembling a hunting party rather than a weary group of wanderers.

Gentile da Fabriano’s work was commissioned by Palla Strozzi, a Florentine banker, for his family chapel in the Church of Santa Trinita in Florence. The Strozzi family was a chief rival to the Medici, and therefore Palla used the occasion of this commission to show off his wealth and power, hence the heavy use of gold. His desire to “out do” the Medici, as it were, likely informed the subject of the painting; the procession of eastern kings with their retinues gave occasion for Gentile da Fabriano to paint luxurious silks, rich brocades, and “exotic” animals, as the “East” was commonly associated with luxury and splendor at the time.

Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano

The altarpiece is centered on “threes.” Indeed, it depicts the journey of the three wise men in three distinct stages, each separated by the arches of the frame. First, the wise men see the star; second, they pause at Herod’s palace; third, they return home. Moreover, the three wise men represent the three stages of life: old age (represented by the kneeling wise man), middle age (the bowing wise man), and youth (the standing wise man). Indeed, Gentile da Fabriano’s style was characterized by patterns and line. He also emphasized varying surface treatments, which created the appearance of thick and luxurious fabric, exceedingly appropriate for the subject matter depicted herein.

Behind the standing wise man is a portrait of Strozzi, holding a falcon, a nod to his family name (strozzieri was the Tuscan word for “falconer”). Many times patrons would include themselves in the works of art that they commissioned. Although, here, rather than include himself as a devout worshipper, as was generally the case in previous work, Strozzi chose to portray himself looking out and connecting with the viewer, as if to say, look at what I – and my wealth – created. Art was becoming less of a means of worship and more a method of displaying power.

The predella (the platform that forms the base of the altarpiece) portrays scenes from Jesus’ childhood, including the Nativity, the Presentation at the Temple (which is actually a modern copy, the original is located at the Louvre), and the Flight into Egypt.

Beginning signs of the Renaissance can be detected in the predella, where Gentile da Fabriano used blue rather than the traditional gold background to depict the sky, thereby showing artists’ new attention to nature that would serve as a foundational element of the Renaissance.

Gentile also included the loggia of Brunelleschi’s Spedale degli Innocenti in the cityscape of the Presentation at the Temple panel.

Spedale degli Innocenti
Presentation at the Temple

Rooms 7-8. The Early Renaissance

The next room houses those paintings that began what we now call “The Renaissance.” In these paintings, the focus shifted from the simple act of worship to the more complex question of defining man’s relationship to God.

Tommaso Cassai, better known as Masaccio, is generally believed to be the first “great” painter of the Italian Renaissance. Masaccio was influenced by the great sculptors and architects of his time, Brunelleschi and Donatello, and derived his use of mathematical perspective from their work. Those influences tend to give his work a more formalized and monumental style, which is accentuated by his lack of concern for ornamentation and details, as well as his use of a single source of light. His work Saint Anne Metterza (c. 1424), done in collaboration with Masolino, was originally intended for Sant’Ambrogio Church in Florence; it was commissioned by Nofri d’Agnolo del Brutto, a cloth merchant. Art historians believe that Masolino painted St. Anne and the angels (aside from the angel on the top right), while Masaccio painted Mary and Jesus.

Saint Anne Metterza, Masaccio and Masolino

The austerity of the faces is of the Byzantine tradition, but their softness is of the 15th century. The Christ-child is also very 15th century; he is not portrayed as more-or-less a child in adult form, but as a true child. Moreover, his build reflects the emerging influence of classical sculpture.

The term Metterza was derived from the medieval latin word “met,” meaning “the same,” and tertius, meaning “third.” It was used to describe the common iconography of Mary sitting between her mother’s legs and the Christ child sitting between his mother’s legs. The depiction demonstrated St. Anne’s place as third in the hierarchy of the divine family as well as her role as protector of Mary and of Mother Church. It is not for nothing that the silhouette of il Duomo can be made out in St. Anne’s protecting embrace. As il Duomo protects Florence, so too does St. Anne protect Mary.

Although Masaccio’s overall structure was influenced by Brunelleschi and Donatello, you cannot miss Giotto’s influence in the drapery of Mary’s cloak, demonstrating Giotto’s continuing importance, even beyond the Gothic period and into the Renaissance.

The other of Masaccio’s work is located in Room 7 is known as Virgin and Child (Madonna del solletico) (c. 1426-27).

Madonna del Solletico, Masaccio

Masaccio himself was also a major influence on artists, including another of Florentine’s most famous artists, Guido de Pietro, better known known as Fra Angelico. Fra Angelico was a brother at the recently constructed San Marco Monastery, which he had a major hand in decorating. Although all of his works are of a religious nature, they took on innovations that spurred what is known as the High Renaissance. Room 7 contains Fra Angelico’s Pontassieve Madonna (c. 1435).

The Pontassieve Madonna, Fra Angelico

This piece was likely originally part of a larger altarpiece, the side panels of which have since been lost. The work is typical of Fra Angelico, however, as can be seen in the soft features of the faces, elongated fingers, monumental posture, and statuesque folds of cloth. These attributes are echoed in his Coronation of the Virgin (1435), also in Room 7 of the Uffizi.

Coronation of the Virgin (Paradise), Fra Angelico

In Fra Angelico’s Coronation, the angels act as the meditators between the divine company and the human world. Beneath the Virgin and Christ is a mass of winged heads; the blue wings indicate that they are cherubim (as opposed to the red wings of the seraphim; seraphim had red wings to reflect that they were inflamed with the love of God). Also beneath the Virgin are clouds, subtly, yet effectively, enhancing the perspective produced by the foreshortening of the angels in the background. Fra Angelico’s focus on movement goes even further than the motif of the angel swinging a censer and includes angels actually dancing, their robes swishing with motion.

Fra Angelico’s Coronation was commissioned to pair with Lorenzo Monaco’s Adoration, discussed above, in the Church of Sant’Egidio.

Whether to match the shape of its companion piece or to make some other statement, Fra Angelico also did away completely with the tricuspid shape and opted for a fully rectangular altarpiece.

One of Fra Angelico’s most successful successors was Fra Filippo Lippi, who lived from around 1406 to 1469. Filippo Lippi was a frequent house guest of Cosimo de’ Medici. He had been a Carmelite monk, but allegedly left the order after a scandalous affair with a nun. According to Giorgio Vasari:

It is said that he was so amorous, that, if he saw any women who pleased him, and if they were to be won, he would give all his possessions to win them; and if he could in no way do this, he would paint their portraits and cool the flame of his love by reasoning with himself. So much a slave was he to this appetite, that when he was in this humour he gave little or no attention to the works that he had undertaken; wherefore on one occasion Cosimo de’ Medici, having commissioned him to paint a picture, shut him up in his own house, in order that he might not go out and waste his time; but after staying there for two whole days, being driven forth by his amorous—nay, beastly—passion, one night he cut some ropes out of his bed-sheets with a pair of scissors and let himself down from a window, and then abandoned himself for many days to his pleasures. Thereupon, since he could not be found, Cosimo sent out to look for him, and finally brought him back to his labour; and thenceforward Cosimo gave him liberty to go out when he pleased, repenting greatly that he had previously shut him up, when he thought of his madness and of the danger that he might run. For this reason he strove to keep a hold on him for the future by kindnesses; and so he was served by Filippo with greater readiness, and was wont to say that the virtues of rare minds were celestial beings, and not slavish hacks.

Giorgio Vasari. “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.” Studium Publishing.

Lippi’s Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1435), once located on the main altar in Sant’Ambrogio, was produced in collaboration with various artists, including Piero di Lorenzo, Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini da Urbino, Fra Diamante, Manno de’Cori, and Domenico del Brilla.

In this Coronation, Lippi includes St. Ambrose and St. Eustace (kneeling with his two sons and wife, Theophista). On the right, in a mantle of red, is the donor, Francesco Maringhi, kneeling next to the inscription, “IS PERFECIT OPUS” (“He finished the work”) whereas some scholars believe the man kneeling in white is St. Benedict and the man next to him is a self-portrait of the artist himself.

Interestingly, Lippi’s focus is on the spectators rather than the actual coronation (unlike the depictions done by Fra Angelico, which centers on Mary and Jesus). Lippi was deeply interested in the individual and would model his angels off young women that he saw in the street. Lippi’s altarpiece moves from the sacred space of the Virgin to the intercessors who traverse between the sacred and the earthly and finally to the patrons who occupy the worldly space. This gradual transition from sacred to the profane mirrored Sant’Ambrogio’s congregation, which included a community of nuns as well as a parish. The community of nuns would identify with the Virgin, who, like them, took a profession of vows constituting a spiritual marriage with God/Christ. The lay members of the parish would identify with the patrons of the painting.

Cosimo de’Medici commissioned Filippo Lippi to paint another altarpiece, known as The Novitiate Altarpiece (c. 1445), for the recently constructed Novitiate Chapel in the Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce. Lippi paid homage to his patron by including red Medici balls across the top of the frieze and inlaid in the marble. He also included the Medici patron saints, Cosimo and his late twin brother’s namesakes, St. Cosmas and St. Damian (on the left and right of the Madonna, respectively). The other two saints are St. Francis, the patron saint of the church for which the altarpiece was destined, and St. Anthony of Padua, a member of the Franciscan Order.

The architecture is classical in nature, although the classical scallop shell ceilings allude to the Virgin and the divine conception. (Many confuse the concept of “immaculate conception” with the divine conception; the immaculate conception actually refers to Mary’s birth, free of sin, not Christ’s birth, divinely inspired). Scallop shells were often symbols of fertility in ancient times, a meaning which Christians co-opted and subsequently narrowed to signify only the birth of Christ rather than births and fertility in general. Although a single panel, the painting’s three arches recall the polyptych of old wherein the Virgin was physically separated from the saints.

Another great early Renaissance artist, Domenico Veneziano, also moved away from the traditional medieval triptych with his Santa Lucia dei Magnoli Altarpiece (c. 1445). Like Lippi, Veneziano places his Virgin in the same space as the saints (i.e. in a single panel), but still separated by columns.

Santa Lucia dei Magnoli Altarpiece, Domenico Veneziano

Additionally, Veneziano emphasizes his innovative attention to architecture by placing his scene in a classical setting, dominated by three arches inlaid with green and rose marble, remenscient of the marble used in the Duomo.

This piece is considered a masterpiece due to the innovative use of light. Indeed, you can see the shadow crossover the Virgin and Child, and St. John the Baptist’s foreshortened foot casts a shadow over the floor. In the foreground are (from left to right) St. Francis, St. John the Baptist, St. Zanobius, and St. Lucia, whose Latin name translates as “light.” Also look at St. John’s subtly defined musculature in his right arm. Such a detail looks much more classical than Gothic.

The predella is distributed between the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, U.K., and the Berlin State Museum in Berlin, Germany. One of the episodes depicted in the predella (and located in D.C.) is Saint John in the Desert.

Saint John in the Desert, Domenico Veneziano, Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington

In this episode, Veneziano depicts St. John exchanging his worldly clothes for a camel shirt. Shying away from traditional iconography of St. John as an old hermit, Veneziano chose to depict him at the moment of his spiritual conversion and thus as a young man in the classical model. Interestingly, this work is one of the earliest known depictions of such a model that would become the norm throughout Renaissance art. The piece, however, still retains several gothic elements, most glaringly of which is the representation of the mountains. They are more symbolic than realistic and are not at all in proportion to St. John.

Another episode (also in D.C.) is St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata.

Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Domenico Veneziano, Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington

Here too, the proportions of the figures are not in keeping with the landscape. For instance, look at the small red book next to Brother Leo, St. Francis’ secretary. Yet, the episode demonstrates the growing concern for realistic landscapes and increasing reluctance to depict events “out of time” as they had been so often during the previous centuries.

One of the more recognizable pieces located in Room 8 is the Diptych of the Duchess and Duke of Urbino (Portraits of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro) by Piero della Francesca (c. 1467-1470). Here at last we come to humanism in its truest form, the celebration of man, in and of himself. In a stark move away from the worship, or at least the pretense of worship, of God, Piero della Francesca focuses this piece entirely on his patron, the Duke Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482) and his wife, the Duchess Battista Sforza (1446-1472). The piece was part of Vittoria Della Rovere’s dowry for her marriage to Grand Duke Ferdinand II de’Medici. (Vittoria Della Rovere was the daughter of Duke Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, and thus a descendant of Duke Federico da Montefeltro). Interestingly, Duke Federico Montefeltro was actually Lorenzo de’Medici’s godfather (although this did not preclude the Duke from subsequently betraying Lorenzo for Pope Sixtus). Montefeltro received the title of “duke” from his papal overlord after his daughter, Giovanna, married Pope Sixtus’ nephew Giovanni della Rovere and in exchange for his services as condottiere (i.e. mercenary captain).

The Duke and Duchess are depicted in profile, in the Imperial Roman tradition. Yet, Duke Federico is depicted facing left, which is not in strict conformance with classical predecessors, which generally faced right. Some art historians posit that this break with tradition was done to hide the Duke’s missing eye, which he lost fighting in a tournament, while others believe it was intended to allow the couple to face each other. Regardless, this piece is striking due to the attention to the sitters’ features, even the more unattractive features (like the Duke’s broken nose). Some art historians believe that the Duchess’ paleness alludes to her early death (she died in childbirth at age 26). The background is the Marches landscape, over which the Duke ruled and sought to demonstrate his dominance with this portrait. The pieces were inspired by Florentine perspective and lenticular representation (a painting technique that emphasized depth) used in Flemish painting. It is no wonder that Piero della Francesca was the author of De Prospectiva pingendi, an important treatise on perspective that would influence the artists of the High Renaissance.

Finally, these room also house Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano (c. 1435-1440). The Battle of San Romano was originally supposed to be displayed with two other companion pieces wherein the set of three celebrated the Florentine victory over the Siense in 1432. These pieces were meant to be displayed in a private palazzo, where courtiers, who were enthusiastic readers of chivalric romances, would admire them. Thus, Uccello included decorative details and pageantry sufficient to recall those romances.

The Battle of San Romano, Paolo Uccello

On the brown horse on the left of the painting sits Florentine Niccolò da Tolentino, whose long lance unseats the rider of the white horse, Bernardino della Carda, the commander of the Sienese troops. Interestingly, the whole scene, although a battle, is bloodless. Instead, the battle is depicted more like a chivalric tournament/game than a gruelling assault. Uccello elevates the battle to a place of fantasy, celebrating the idealization of war.

The panel in the Uffizi is the middle episode of the cycle. The first episode, below, is located in The National Gallery in London whereas the final panel is located in the Louvre in France.

Courtesy of The National Gallery, London, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG583

Gothic Art at the Uffizi

In 1560, the Duke of Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici (later Grand Duke of Tuscany), commissioned the construction of the Uffizi to house magistrates, seats of the Florentine guilds, and judiciary offices. It is from this function that the building derived its name (“Uffizi” means “Offices” in English). To design and supervise the new building project, Cosimo commissioned Giorgio Vasari, who, for the last several years, had been restructuring and decorating the Palazzo Vecchio, Cosimo’s newly adopted ducal residence. Describing his design for the new building, Vasari is said to have proclaimed:

I have never built anything more difficult nor dangerous, being founded in the river, and almost in air.

After Vasari’s death in 1574, the project was finished by Bernardo Buontalenti.

Cosimo’s son and heir, Grand Duke Francesco I, opened the first museum exhibition of the Gallery in 1581. The ceilings of the Gallery were decorated with what was known as “grotesque” motifs, which were inspired by the paintings of the Domus Aurea (Emperor Nero’s former home) and reflected those in the recently renovated Ducal Apartments in the Palazzo Vecchio.

The collection of works built up over successive Medici dukes, each acquiring and adding new pieces to the Gallery. Ferdinando I transferred the Jovian series (a collection of portraits) from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Gallery. This collection was mixed with the Aulica Series, a collection of portraits of the principal members of the Medici family, which was commissioned by Francesco I. The dowry of Vittoria della Rovere, Ferdinando II’s wife, included several Titians and Raphaels that ended up in the Gallery. Cosimo III, the son of Ferdinando II and Vittoria della Rovere, appointed Paolo Falconieri as the curator of Gallery and obtained papal permission to transfer ancient statues from the Villa Medici in Rome (including the Venus of the Medici, the Wrestlers, and Arrotino) to Florence.

Ultimately, Gian Gastone de’Medici died in 1737 with no heirs, and so the Medici family lost their hardwon Grand Duchy of Tuscany to Francesco Stefano di Lorena (the son-in-law of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI). (Gian Gastone was too ineffectual a ruler to secure the title for his closest male relative, Don Carlos, later King Charles III of Spain, who ceded Tuscany to the Holy Roman Emperor in return for the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily). Although Gian Gastone lost the title, his sister, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici, did manage to hold on to the art collection. But, as it happens, Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici also died with no heirs. Prior to her death, she declared the collection to be “public and inalienable property,” thereby ensuring that it would remain intact and in Florence.

Francesco Stefano’s successor, Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena opened the gallery to the public in 1769. Between 1842-1856, Leopold II commissioned 28 statues for the niches of the pillars on the square. These statues were of Tuscan figures dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century.

Room 1. Transition from the 12th Century to the 13th.

This room contains works from the second half of the 12th century through the 13th, i.e. the oldest Tuscan panel paintings that the Uffizi owns. For instance, the 432 Cross of the Uffizi (named for its catalog number) is likely the oldest panel painting owned by the Uffizi (c. 1180). It was painted by an unknown Tuscan artist likely born before 1200.

432 Cross

The panel depicts Christus Triumphans (“Christ Triumphant”), as opposed to Christus Patiens (“Christ Suffering”). Images of Christus Triumphans depict Christ on the cross, but Christ is awake, stoic and without pain. There is a hint of stylized blood falling from where the nails pierce his skin (Christ’s wounds are known as the Stigmata), but otherwise Christ is alive and has therefore triumphant over death. The spiritual has triumphed over the physical.

The apron (i.e. the scenes that run along Christ’s body) is read from top to bottom, left to right. They depict Christ’s Passion: (1.) Christ washing the feet of the apostles; (2.) the kiss of Judas (the moment Judas identifies Christ to the Roman soldiers, who arrest him and eventually crucify him); (3.) the Flagellation (the moment Christ is whipped by the Romans); (4.) the Via Dolorosa (the journey to Calvary, the mountain upon which Christ is crucified); (5.) the Deposition from the Cross (the moment the apostles take Christ’s body down from the Cross); (6.) the Lamentation (the moment the Virgin kisses her son Christ, as he is being placed in his tomb); and (7.) the Resurrection.

Compare the 432 Cross with the later 434 Cross, also known as Crocifisso con Storie della Passione di Cristo (c. 1240):

Christ in the 434 Cross is clearly suffering: his eyes are closed; his brow is furrowed; his body is being pulled down by gravity. This change can be explained by the rise of the Franciscan mendicant order, a religious order that focused on Christ’s humanity and his physical form. Franciscans’ emphasis on Christ’s humanity renewed interest in his suffering on the Cross.

The blood dripping from the Stigmata in the 434 Cross is thicker and less stylized, more human. The new emphasis on Christ’s humanity was a tool that allowed Christians to feel more connected to Christ and gave Christians the ability to empathize with his suffering in order to become closer to God.

Like the 432 Cross, the 434 Cross’ apron also depicts stories from Christ’s passion: (1.) The Sanhedrin Trial (the moment Jesus is brought in front of the Jewish Elders, who send him to Pontius Pilate); (2.) The Mocking of Christ (the moment Jesus is blindfolded and beaten); (3.) The Flagellation, as explained above; (4.) the Via Dolorosa, as explained above; (5.) The Deposition, as explained above; (6.) The Entombment; (7.) The Resurrection (the moment when Jesus’ women followers find his tomb empty; and (8.) The Appearances (the moment when Jesus appears to his apostles).  

Unfortunately, the terminals of this Cross (i.e. the traditional depictions that would usually be on the ends of the Cross have been lost.

Also in this room is a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels (c. 1230) painted by an anonymous artist known only as the Maestro del Bigallo.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, Maestro del Bigallo.

Room 2. Giotto and the 13th Century.

Since the 1950s, Room 2 of the Uffizi has housed Italian works dating from the 13th century. This room has been dubbed the Sala delle “Tre Maestà” due to the three most famous Madonnas Enthroned of the 13th century. It is these three Madonnas that many art historians harken back to when discussing the origins of the Renaissance and why it began in Florence. The first of the three is Cenni di Peppi’s 12.5 foot Santa Trinita Maestà (c. 1290-1300). Cenni di Peppi, known as Cimabue (translated as “Ox-headed” or “bullheaded,” perhaps indicating that Cimabue was hotheaded or had an aggressive personality; indeed, Dante places him among the proud in purgatory in his Divine Comedy), is viewed as the dividing line between the “old” Byzantine school of art and the “new” European tradition.

Santa Trinita Maestà, Cimabue

The reason for this thinking is epitomized in Cimabue’s Maestà of Santa Trinita (destined for the main altar of its eponymous Vallombrosian church in Florence). This altarpiece fuses the traditional Byzantine style with the emerging naturalism of the Gothic. For instance, Mary is positioned as the Byzantine Virgin Hodegetria, an iconographic depiction of Mary wherein she simultaneously holds the baby Jesus and points to him, indicating that he is the salvation of the world. This depiction is also known as Our Lady of the Way, a title derived from the Greek word “Hodegetria,” translated as “she who shows the way.” It was modeled after a famous icon allegedly painted by St. Luke himself. Also typical of Byzantine paintings is Cimabue’s use of damascene, i.e. the inlay of gold within the robes of the Virgin and Child, the golden background, which was used to signify that this scene took place out of time, and the symmetrical and repetitive figures, and the solemn expressions of the angels. Moreover, the blues and pinks of Mary’s robes are reflected in the wings of the angels, symbolizing her status as Queen of Heaven. But, unlike previous renditions of this subject, Cimabue’s Santa Trinita Maestà is constructed so as to look as though the throne is receding into the background, thereby hinting at the new developments in art that were to become prominent among Florentine painters.

The Christ Child gives a blessing and is adorned with his cruciform nimbus (“ringed cross”), a halo inscribed with a cross. The cruciform nimbus was used to identify figures of the Holy Trinity, especially Christ, in early Christian/Byzantine art. Each bar of the cross in this particular halo is comprised of three dotted lines, symbolizing the dogmas of the trinity, the oneness of God, and the two natures of Christ. Christ’s overall posture, with his right foot propped up, reflects that of his mother, whose right foot is also propped up on a ledge.

Below the scene are several Old Testament prophets, whose placement allude to their role as the foundation of the Church. From left to right they are: Jeremiah, Abraham, David and Isaiah. The prophets also serve a typology role; typology was a common theme in Christian art where an Old Testament figure was paired with and served as a harbinger of a New Testament figure. For example, Jeremiah’s three days spent inside the whale was seen as the precursor to Christ’s three days in the tomb; Abraham’s sacrifice of his son and God’s staying of Abraham’s sacrifice was a parallel to God’s sacrifice of his own son and his resurrection; David’s triumph over Goliath alluded to Christ’s triumph over Satan; and finally Isaiah, like Christ, was to be sacrificed by his father and then saved by God. Moreover, the scrolls in the prophets’ hands also serve as the foundation of the Church, reinforcing the notion that the worshippers and God’s message is part of an all-encompassing plan, as well as foretell the Mary’s role as the Mother of God.

The expressive depiction of these Old Testament prophets as well as detailed personalization in the other figures had not been seen prior to this time. Compare the visages between those in this piece with those in a piece from only 20-25 years earlier.

The faces in the Cimabue are more natural while Saint Veranus’ face (in the altarpiece on the right) seems more fitted to a cartoon. Moreover, notice the differences in spatial depth. The Cimabue creates three dimensions via foreshortening of the angels near the front of the throne while the Saint Veranus altarpiece looks flat. Noticing these differences, Vasari wrote:

“[T]here being seen therein a certain greater quality of excellence, both in the air of the heads and in the folds of the draperies, than had been shown in the Greek manner [i.e. Byzantine] up to that time by anyone who had wrought anything, not only in Pisa, but in all Italy. ”

Giorgio Vasari. “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.” Studium Publishing.

Cimabue’s innovations were picked up by his (probable) student, Giotto di Bondone, who went even further and replaced the Byzantine style with a greater sense of naturalism, rediscovered the lost art of perspective, and introduced the concept of narrative painting.

In painting Cimabue thought he held
the field, and now it’s Giotto they acclaim-
the former only keeps a shadowed fame.

Dante's Purgatorio XI, 94-96 (Mandelbaum Translation).

Judging from Dante’s words in his Purgatorio (written around 1314), it is clear that Giotto’s innovative techniques are not only appreciated by us and art historians, but were acknowledged as groundbreaking by his immediate contemporaries.

That very obligation which the craftsmen of painting owe to nature, who serves continually as model to those who are ever wresting the good from her best and most beautiful features and striving to counterfeit and to imitate her, should be owed, in my belief, to Giotto, painter of Florence, for the reason that, after the methods of good paintings and their outlines had lain buried for so many years under the ruins of the wars, he alone, although born among inept craftsmen, by the gift of God revived that art, which had come to a grievous pass, and brought it to such a form as could be called good. And truly it was a very great miracle that that age, gross and inept, should have had strength to work in Giotto in a fashion so masterly, that design, whereof the men of those times had little or no knowledge, was restored completely to life by means of him.

Giorgio Vasari. “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.” Studium Publishing

It was around this time that people’s attitudes towards art was changing as well. During the Medieval period, artists were considered skilled laborers akin to stonemasons or metalworkers. After the advent of Cimabue, however, artists were becoming celebrities. Lorenzo de’Medici even organized a monument to Giotto to stand in the Duomo. Prior to that time, monuments had only been erected for military and literary heroes. Art was, in short, becoming art.

The fascination with Giotto continued well after his death. Indeed, Vincent van Gogh once said of Giotto: “Giotto touched me the most — always suffering and always full of kindness and ardour as if he were already living in a world other than this. Giotto is extraordinary, anyway, and I feel him more than the poets: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio.” Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, as translated by The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Although Giotto is best known for his tower (pictured left), his Ognissanti Maestà (c. 1310) illuminates the reason for his fame.

The Ognissanti Maestà derives its name, in part, from the positioning of Mary in a throne (maestà is the Italian word for majesty), and in part from its intended location, the Church of All Saints (Ogni is the Italian word for “each” or “all” and so ognissanti may be translated as “all saints”) where it was to be hung above the Umiliati Altar. Due to the position of the Umiliati Altar, it is believed that the altarpiece is meant to be seen from the right, and indeed, if you look at the piece from the right, it takes on a new sense of depth and spatial awareness that it only hints at when viewed headon. It is this spatial awareness that Giotto reintroduced into panel paintings that helped launch the Renaissance and earned him his fame.

Ognissanti Maestà

Giotto also strayed away from ornamental details to focus on the naturalism of his figures, giving each a different expression full of human emotion. He abandoned the use of stark outlines to define his figures, instead opting for shadow and the graduations of light, thereby ensuring that his figures appeared solid and real. For instance, look at the subtle curve of the cushion that Mary sits atop. The curl of this cushion emphasizes Mary’s presence; her body actually interacts with the other elements of the painting and has an effect on them. He also eschewed the traditional use of damascene to depict light and instead used lighter tones of blue to suggest shifting appearance of light.

Comparing the angels in the Cimabue with the ones in the Giotto, they are placed to fill the space whereas the angels in Giotto appear to stand one next to another in real space.

As for the iconography in this work: Jesus is depicted giving a blessing with his right hand and holding a rolled parchment, a symbol of wisdom, in his left. The white, blue, and gold of Mary’s robes are reflected in the coloring of her throne (as is the red of Christ’s gown); the white alludes to her purity, the blue as her role as Queen of Heaven. The red of Christ’s gown alludes to his passion. The angels at the foot of the throne are offering both roses and lilies. The roses allude to charity, Christ’s passion, and Mary herself, who was and is known as “a rose without thorns,” an epithet which is itself an allusion (to the garden of eden where roses grew without thorns). The lilies allude to purity. The angels on either side of the throne hold a crown and a pyxis, alluding to the human nature of Christ and therefore his ultimate sacrifice. The many saints depicted surrounding the throne allude to the painting’s intended location, All Saints in Florence.

The last Maestà in this room is known as The Rucellai Madonna (c. 1285) by Duccio di Buoninsegna, a painter from Siena. It is the largest painting on wood from the 13th century known to date and was commissioned for the Santa Maria Novella by the Florentine confraternity Compagnia dei Laudesi, a lay fraternity dedicated to singing devotional hymns to the Virgin. Its name was derived from the chapel owned by the Rucellai family where it hung at the end of the 16th century. Like Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna, this altarpiece is meant to be viewed from the right.

Rucellai Madonna

Also like Giotto’s Maestà, the Rucellai Madonna fuses traditional Byzantine aspects (the gold lettering and the construction of the figures’ solemn faces) with the innovative techniques of Cimabue, including the distribution of light and shade to create depth (a technique known as chiaroscuro), draped fabrics, and the foreshortening of objects to make them appear closer to the viewer, seen here in the throne and the slight angle of Mary. Behind Mary, angels hold a banner, emphasizing her status and honor.

This piece, specifically the angels holding up the throne, was likely inspired by the Belle Verrière window located in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Chartres.

Room 3. Sienese Painting of the 14th Century

Like Room 2, Room 3 was designed and curated during the 1950s. It documents the transition from the 13th century fusion of Byzantine and Gothic into the 14th century “fairytale” esque style, which emphasized courtly elegance and romanticism via multicolored fabrics, elaborate flooring and marble overlay, and increased use of gold leaf. The main proponents of this style were Simone Martini, his brother-in-law Lippo Memmi, and the Lorenzetti brothers, Ambrogio and Pietro.

Simone Martini, sometimes known as Simone Memmi due to his relationship to Lippo Memmi, worked in Avignon, where he met Francesco Petrarca, better known in English as Petrarch, the Italian poet who is often credited as the source of the modern Italian language. Petrarch wrote of Simone:

Per mirar Policleto a prova fiso 
con gli altri ch’ebber fama di quell’arte, 
mill’anni non vedrian la minor parte 
della beltà che m’àve il cor conquiso. 

Ma certo il mio Simon fu in Paradiso 
onde questa gentil donna si parte; 
ivi la vide, et la ritrasse in carte, 
per far fede qua giù del suo bel viso. 

L’opra fu ben di quelle che nel cielo 
si ponno imaginar, non qui tra noi, 
ove le membra fanno a l’alma velo; 

cortesia fe', né la potea far poi 
che fu disceso a provar caldo et gielo 
et del mortal sentiron gli occhi suoi.

Petrarch, Canz. 77.

Had Policletus seen her, or the rest
Who, in past time, won honour in this art,
A thousand years had but the meaner part
Shown of the beauty which o'ercame my breast.

But Simon sure, in Paradise the blest,
Whence came this noble lady of my heart,
Saw her, and took this wond'rous counterpart
Which should on earth her lovely face attest.

The work, indeed, was one, in heaven alone
To be conceived, not wrought by fellow-men,
Over whose souls the body's veil is thrown:

'Twas done of grace: and fail'd his pencil when
To earth he turn'd our cold and heat to bear,
And felt that his own eyes but mortal were.

As Translated by Major Robert Macgregor.

Had Polycletus in proud rivalry
On her his model gazed a thousand years,
Not half the beauty to my soul appears,
In fatal conquest, e'er could he descry.

But, Simon, thou wast then in heaven's blest sky,
Ere she, my fair one, left her native spheres,
To trace a loveliness this world reveres
Was thus thy task, from heaven's reality.

Yes—thine the portrait heaven alone could wake,
This clime, nor earth, such beauty could conceive,
Where droops the spirit 'neath its earthly shrine:

The soul's reflected grace was thine to take,
Which not on earth thy painting could achieve,
Where mortal limits all the powers confine.

As Translated by Susan Wollaston.

High praise coming from one of Italy’s foremost writers. Although the portrait Simone painted for Petrarch is lost, his Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333), which he worked on in partnership with Lippo Memmi, may just as easily be described as “one, in heaven alone to be conceived.” The piece was commissioned for the altar of St. Ansanus in the transept of the Siena Cathedral to pair with Duccio’s Maestà, discussed above (it is likely that Martini trained under Duccio).

Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus

Like Duccio’s work, this piece emphasizes fluid lines, which give the figures elongated, wiry silhouettes, reminiscent of calligraphic play of line. On one side of the work is the martyr Ansanus (a patron saint of Siena), who bears a banner with Siena’s colors (not pictured here). On the other side is another martyr, who some have identified as Maxima, the wet nurse of Ansanus, or Margaret (the inscription identifying her as Judith has been proven incorrect and not part of the original work). Gabriel points upwards towards the incarnation of the Holy Spirit with one hand, and in the other, he holds an olive branch, a sign of peace. His rippling cloak conveys motion, alluding to both his startling arrival as well as the tension it has caused; indeed, Mary is depicted as recoiling from her unexpected visitor. The vase of lilies at the feet of Mary symbolize her purity.

The Latin streaming from Gabriel’s mouth states, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (“AVE GRATIA PLENA DOMINUS TECUM”), and the rest of the prayer is embroidered in Gabriel’s robes.

Martini was interested in colorful patterns, but it was his decorative details that really took off, prompting the development of the school known as the International Gothic, the subject of a later post.

Room 4. Florentine Painting of the 14th Century.

While 14th century Sienese painting was typified by courtly elegance and otherworldly grandeur, 14th century Florentine painting continued, and further developed, Giotto’s 13th century innovations (naturalistic figures, luminosity, and spatial awareness). The major players here include Taddeo Gaddi, Gaddi’s son Agnolo Gaddi, Bernardo Daddi, Pacino di Bonaguida, Giottino, and Giovanni da Milano.

Lippo di Benivieni’s altarpiece (c. 1315), although not found in Room 4 because it was acquired as part of the Contini Bonacossi collection, is more properly discussed among its 14th century Florentine brethren.

Madonna and Child between a Pope and a Bishop

Not much is known about Lippo di Benivieni, aside from the fact that he was working in Florence during the 14th century. His skill, however, can be appreciated in this altarpiece.

The expressions, produced via shading, are much more realistic and three dimensional than those produced during the 13th century, although they do retain the austere solemnity of the Byzantine tradition. Lippo also used shading to give three dimensions to the Bishop’s collar, which gives depth to the painting not seen in prior art.

It was Bernardo Daddi, however, who was considered the leading painter in Florence at this time. Daddi was a student of Giotto and like his teacher, he sought to portray his figures as realistic as possible. To do so, he combined Giotto’s innovations with stylistic features from the Sienese school. Daddi’s first dated work is the Triptych with Virgin and Child between St. Matthew and St. Nicholas of Bari (1328) depicts the Virgin Mary with St. Nicholas of Bari on the right and St. Matthew the Evangelist on the left. The work was commissioned by Nicholaus de Mazinghis, which explains St. Nicholas’ appearance in the piece. In the tondos above each figure is Christ giving a blessing.

Triptych with Virgin and Child between Saint Matthew the Evangelist and Saint Nicholas of Bari, Bernardo Daddi (1328)

Daddi’s San Pancrazio Polyptych was likely painted after this Triptych, sometime during the 1330s. (The San Pancrazio Polyptych is mistakenly identified as an Agnolo Gaddi by Vasari).

San Pancrazio Polyptych, Bernardo Daddi

The Virgin and Child are the principal image, and they are surrounded by St. Pancrazio (who eponymous Church was the home of this altarpiece), St. Zenobius, St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Reparata, and St. Miniato (from left to right). The predella contains images from the life of the Virgin, demonstrating Daddi’s skill in miniaturist painting. It Daddi’s figure of Mary, however, that demonstrates Giotto’s influence:

The similarities between the thrones is remarkable: each decorated with inlaid marble, each with a delicately decorated ciborium (canopy of state), each surrounded by angels, and each with roses and lilies at the foot of the throne. Yet, the differences between the two are equally astounding. In Giotto’s version, the angels piously face Mary and Jesus, but the angels in Daddi’s version are interacting with each other, creating a narrative image rather than a simple icon to be worshiped. This theme is reflected in the depiction of Mary and Jesus; the Mary and Jesus in Giotto’s version face the viewer, directly connecting with him or her while the Mary and Jesus in Daddi’s version face each other, establishing the mother-child relationship while Baby Jesus reaches towards a flower held by his mother. Rather than a simple icon to be mediated upon or worshipped, Daddi’s version gives human context and emotions to his figures, indicating a move towards the Renaissance and, later, Mannerism, a style focused intensely on emotion.

Also part of the Contini Bonacossi collection, but is better discussed here is Agnolo Gaddi’s Virgin and Child with Ten Angels and the Saints Benedict, Peter, John the Baptist, and Miniatus (c. 1380). Interestingly, this altarpiece is actually a combination of two separate works by Gaddi. The side panels were likely meant for the church of San Miniato in Florence, while the central panel featuring Mary enthroned was a separate piece.

Virgin and Child with ten angels and the Saints Benedict, Peter, John the Baptist and Miniatus

As in this altarpiece, Gaddi’s compositions were characterized by harsh colors, varied visages, and  curvilinear contours. To the direct right of Mary is John the Baptist, Florence’s patron saint, recognizable via his animal skin tunic. Next to John is Prince Miniatus, Florence’s first martyr while to the left of Mary is St. Peter, holding a book inscripted with “DOMINE TECUM PARATUS SUM ET IN CARCEREM ET IN MORTEM IRE” (“And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death”) (Luke, 22:33). Next to him is St. Benedict, identifiable via his white tunic, which would have been worn by the Olivetan Benedictine monks who lived in the Florentine Benedictine monastery from 1373.

Unlike Daddi’s work, this altarpiece seems to revert back towards traditional motifs: Mary’s throne is flat, evoking the feeling of a casket rather than a chair. Although the two angels in back are interacting, the majority of the figures either look towards the viewer or towards the Christ child in adoration. Moreover, the faces of the figures seem rather generic, harkening back to Byzantine work.

A more recently rediscovered artist, known as Giottino because he was one of the most talented followers of Giotto, painted this final piece known as the Pietà di San Remigio (1360-1365).

Detail of Pietà di San Remigio, Giottino

Mary is holding her son’s head while two other women kiss the stigmata, the wounds caused during Christ’s Passion, on Christ’s hands. Standing behind Christ and the mourning women are Saints Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and John the Evangelist (not pictured). The women kneeling on the left is one of the patrons of the work. In contrast to the other figures, she is depicted on a smaller scale and wearing contemporary Florentine dress. The work was commissioned for the Church of San Remigio. It is considered a masterpiece due to the expressions of the figures and its psychological insight into the figures’ suffering.

San Marco Museum

The San Marco Museum occupies part of a complex that has served as the San Marco Monastery since its consecration in 1443. The monastery belongs to the Observant Dominican Order (also known as “The Order of the Preachers” and commonly referred to as “The Black Friars,” derived from their black cloaks as opposed to the white cloaks worn by the Carmelite Order and the grey worn by the Franciscans).

The building was constructed atop the foundations of a medieval Sylvestrian monastery and was paid for by the Medici family, the ruling family in Florence. Cosimo de’Medici (il Vecchio) commissioned Michelozzo, one of the Medici’s favorite architects, to design the new building. It was Cosimo’s intention to relocate the Dominicans of Fiesole to Florence. (Fiesole is a small town about 15 minutes outside of Florence and coincidentally, where my husband and I stayed during our honeymoon).

View of Florence from Fiesole

After the building’s completion, Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, perhaps better known as Fra Angelico, a member of the Order and a friar of the San Marco monastery, was commissioned to fresco the interior.

Fra Angelico was born around 1395 and became a Dominican friar sometime before 1423. His frescoes, intended for the friars’ private use, are typified by sparse settings meant to encourage the friars to focus on the religious purity of the work. Angelico’s frescoes may be seen in sharp contrast to his altarpieces, which were made for public consumption. Indeed, Angelico’s altarpieces reflect the ornate churches for which they were destined; they were more reminiscent of the illuminated manuscripts that he likely decorated while studying in Lorenzo Monaco’s workshop than similar to the frescoes he painted within the monastery.

Sant’Antonino Cloister

The Sant’Antonino Cloister is named for St. Antoninus Pierozzi, the first prior of the San Marco Monastery, vicar general of the Dominican Observants, and Archbishop of Florence. It is dominated by Fra Angelico’s fresco of St. Dominic and the Cross.

St. Dominic Worships the Crucifix (Fra Angelico)

St. Dominic Worships the Crucifix focuses entirely on the interaction between St. Dominic and Christ, a result achieved by the lack of substantive background. The viewer’s attention is, therefore, drawn towards St. Dominic’s adoration and Christ’s serene acceptance of such. The fresco’s fixation on the communion between Christ and St. Dominic indicates that its purpose was not merely decorative. Indeed, its location within the cloister, generally a place of study and contemplation, affirms that the work was intended to invoke a spiritual response within the friars.

This work also demonstrates Fra Angelico’s important artistic contributions that have inspired some art historians to name him as the first painter of the Renaissance. For instance, instead of the golden background that was common at the time, Angelico chose a natural blue (albeit sparse) sky. Another significant innovation is the realistic, almost portrait-like details of the figures’ faces. Such detail was generally lacking in contemporary painting, as was the technique known as perspective, without which paintings tended to look flat. But here, Angelico used perspective to create space behind the figures, giving the fresco three dimensions and a more realistic feel.

The fresco was set in a marble frame and surrounded by 17th century frescoes when the Fabroni family turned this side of the cloister into their family burial vault. In fact, St. Dominic Worships the Crucifix along with five lunettes were the only frescoes painted in the cloister until the 17th century when the other twenty-two lunettes were decorated with a cycle dedicated to the life of St. Antoninus. The coats-of-arms of the Florentine families who financed the cycle are depicted in the frescoes.

One such lunette depicts the investiture of the saint to the See of Florence.

St. Antoninus is Made Archbishop of Florence (Bernardino Poccetti and Pier Dandini)

Perhaps surprisingly, as this painting was completed during the reign of the Medici dukes, is the inclusion of Fra Savonarola on the right. Fra Savonarola, a Dominican monk and a prior of this very monastery (elected in July of 1491), was responsible for the short-lived exile of the Medici in 1494. It is therefore surprising that he should be celebrated in this fresco, especially as he was born only a few years prior to St. Antoninus’ death, making his inclusion anachronistic. Whether included as an act of defiance or simply as an act reverence towards an important member of the monastery, Fra Savonarola’s presence does demonstrate his lasting influence on San Marco and on Florence.

The Pilgrims’ Hospice

The Pilgrims’ Hospice was, as its name implies, used as a reception area for guests (“ospite” is the Italian word for “guest”). The room’s function is reflected in Fra Angelico’s fresco above the door, known as Christ the Pilgrim Welcomed by the Dominicans. Now the room functions as part of the museum, housing the biggest collection of Fra Angelico’s panel paintings.

As I mentioned above, Angelico’s panel paintings are clearly meant for public consumption as compared to his contemplative frescoes located on the monastery’s walls. For instance, compare the cooler palette used in St. Dominic Worships the Crucifix with the warm, rich colors used in his altarpieces.

The Linen-drapers’ Guild commissioned the Linaiuoli Altarpiece in 1433 to adorn their meeting house. Fra Angelico’s attention to light (an innovation of early Renaissance painting) is evident throughout the piece. Moreover, instead of the traditional flat golden background, Fra Angelico inserted a golden drape, creating depth and demonstrating his knowledge of perspective as well as the influence of Masaccio, who is credited as one of the forerunners of the technique.

Tabernacle of the Linen-drapers (Linaiuoli Altarpiece)

St. Mark is present both on the interior side of the panels as well as the exterior. “Therefore,” explains Padre Marchese, the 19th century Dominican art historian, “they wished that whether the tabernacle were open or closed, he should be always in their sight.” St. Mark was the patron saint of the Linen-drapers’ Guild.

The frame of this piece was commissioned to Lorenzo Ghiberti, and some art historians posit that he is the influence behind the statuesque bearing of the figures. The Predella depicts St. Peter preaching in the presence of St. Mark (the patron saint of the monastery), the Adoration of the Magi, and St. Mark’s Martyrdom.

The Chapterhouse

This room contains Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion and Saints. Giorgio Vasari, 16th century artist and art historian, tells us:

“This father was so greatly beloved for his merits by Cosimo de’ Medici, that, after completing the construction of the Church and Convent of S. Marco, he caused him to paint the whole Passion of Jesus Christ on a wall in the chapter-house.”

Giorgio Vasari. “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.” Studium Publishing.

Unfortunately, the sky in this piece has lost its blue coloring over time and the red used to prep the wall is now visible. The fresco, however, is still impressive.

The main scene is enclosed within a semi-circle, which contains small portraits holding unfurling scrolls. The first scroll on the right, held by the only portrait without an accompanying name, states, “Deus nature patitvr” (“The God of Nature Suffers”), words attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian judge and possibly the first bishop of Athens. Allegedly, when Dionysius witnessed the eclipse that followed Christ’s death, he proclaimed, “Aut deus naturae patitur aut mundi machina dissolvitur.” Following the unnamed portrait, from right to left are the portraits of: Daniel, Zechariah, Jacob, David, a pelican feeding its young, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, and the Erythrean Sibyl. (The imagery of the pelican feeding its young with its own blood was associated with redemption). Each of their banners are as follows:

Daniel“Post
edomades VII et LXII occidet XPS.”
“Et post hebdomades sexaginta duas occidetur Christus.”“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.”Daniel 9:26 (KJV)
Zechariah“His plagatus sum.”“Et dicetur ei quid sunt plagae istae in medio manuum tuarum et dicet his plagatus sum in domo eorum qui diligebant me.”“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”Zechariah 13:6 (KJV)
Jacob“Ad praedam descende, fili mi! Dominus accubuit ut leo.”“Catulus leonis luda a praeda fili mi ascendisti requiescens accubuisti ut leo et quasi leaena quis suscitabit eum.”“Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?”Genesis 49:9 (KJV)
David“In siti mea potaverunt me aceto.”“Et dederunt in escam meam fel et in siti mea potaverunt me aceto.”“They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”Psalms 69:21 (KJV)
Pelican“Similis factus sum pelicano solitudinis.”“Similis factus sum pelicano solitudinis factus sum sicut nycticorax in domicilio.”“I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.”Psalms 102:6 (KJV)
Isaiah“Vere languores nostros idem tulit et dolores nostros.”“Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit et nos putavimus eum quasi leprosum et percussum a Deo et humiliatum.”“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”Isaiah 53:4 (KJV)
Jeremiah“O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte, si est dolor sicut dolor meus.”“O vos omnes qui transitis per viam adtendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus quoniam vindemiavit me ut locutus est Dominus in die irae furoris sui.”“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”Lamentations 1:12 (KJV)
Ezekiel“Exaltavi lignum hile.”“Et scient omnia ligna regionis quia ego Dominus humiliavi lignum sublime et exaltavi lignum humile et siccavi lignum viride et frondere feci lignum aridum ego Dominus locutus sum et feci.”“And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the Lord have spoken and have done it.”Ezekiel 17:24 (KJV)
Job “Qui det de canibus ei ut saturem?”“Si non dixerunt viri tabernaculi mei quis det de carnibus eius ut saturemur.”“If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.”Job 31:31 (KJV)

The Erythrean Sibyl holds a banner that proclaims, “Morte morietur, tribus diebus sonno susceptus/ trino ab inferis regressus ad lucem veniet primus” (“He must die, and sleep for three days. On the third day, returning from hell, he will be the first to come to the light”).

Crucifixion with the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

The scene itself consists of the typical three crucifixes, with Jesus between the “good thief” Dismas and the unrepentant thief, who allegedly died with his mouth open to utter a final blasphemy. The skull at the base of the Cross alludes to Golgotha (also known as Calvary), translated as “the place of the skull” and so named because it is believed to be the site where Adam is buried.

Beneath the crucifixion gather a venerable group of saints, specifically chosen for their links to either the monastic orders, Florence, or the Medici. These saints surround the Virgin, evidencing the Virgin’s central role in Florentine Civic life, focused on the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The three figures on the far left are Saints Cosmas, Damian, and Laurence. Saints Cosmas and Damian were the patron saints of the Medici (and the namesakes of Cosimo and his twin, who died young) while Saint Laurence was Lorenzo (the elder) de’Medici’s patron saint. Next to the Medici saints are Saint Mark, the patron Saint of San Marco, and John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. Interestingly, these saints are dressed in colorful garments as opposed to those saints on the opposite side of the cross, who are dressed in whites, blues, and browns. These saints are the founders of the monastic orders, St. Francis, founder of the Friars Minor, Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercian order, John Gualberto, the Vallombrosan Order, St. Benedict, the Benedictine Order, and Romuald, the Camaldolese Order. The contrasting colors demonstrates the city (profane) and the cloister (sacred) uniting around the collective act of venerating Christ.

It would perhaps be prudent to briefly explain some of the differences between the major monastic orders here. The Friars Minor (Franciscans) is a mendicant order founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. The Mendicants lived in abject poverty, surviving solely on the charity of others. Franciscan ideology was focused on mirroring Christ’s life of simplicity and devotion to service.

The Benedictine Order was founded in the 6th century by St. Benedict. The Benedictines emphasized manual labor and daily prayer, in contrast to the Dominican emphasis on preaching/teaching.

The Cistercian Order was an offshoot of the Benedictine Order, founded by Bernard of Clairvaux in 1098 at Citeaux Abbey, France. The Cistercians split from the Benedictines due to perceived laxity, and therefore the Cistercians tended to emphasize extreme simplicity in all things.

The Dominicans followed the rule of St. Augustine. St. Augustine, one of the most well-known of the early Church Fathers, believed that the purpose of cloistered life was to learn and study, which brought the monk closer to God, and to teach through preaching, which brought the community closer to God (thus the order’s formal name, the Order of the Preachers). The Dominican emphasis on teaching engendered the Order’s priorities: theology and intellectual study.

Simplified Structure of Dominican Order

At the bottom of the fresco are influential Dominicans starting in the center with St. Dominic, who is holding the branches of the order, which give birth to the “fruit” (i.e. the other Dominicans).

Upon close examination, each Dominican has rays emanating from his head, demonstrating that they have been blessed; although, some halos have been subsequently added to those Dominicans who have been canonized.

Buoninsegna Cicciaporci

Gruesomely martyred at Antioch via a saw to the center of the head (which he holds in his left hand while holding a palm, the symbol of martyrdom, in his right hand).

Remigio Girolami

Successor to Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, where Aristotelianism reigned supreme. His two treatises, De Bono Communi and De Bono Pacis, emphasized the necessity of suppressing individual ambition as a means of achieving civic peace.

Nicholas of Paglia

Allegedly Nicholas joined the Order after hearing St. Dominic preach in Bologna. He served as the third prior provincial of the Roman Province.

Jordan of Saxony

Second Master General of the Order after St. Dominic.

St. Antoninus

Prior of San Marco and Archbishop of Florence.

Paul of Florence

Served as the Patriarch of Grado (the Patriarchy of Grado was incorporated into the archbishopric of Venice during the 15th century).

Hugh of Saint-Cher

The first Dominican cardinal.

Pope Innocent V

The first Dominican pope.

St. Dominic

Founder of the Order.

Pope Benedict XI

Served as Master General prior to becoming Cardinal, then Pope.

Cardinal John Dominici of Florence

Selected by Pope Gregory XII to represent him at the Council of Constance, the Council that ended the Western Schism.

Pietro della Palude (aka Peter Paludanus)

Served as Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Albert the Great

Served as Bishop of Ratisbon, taught and befriended St. Thomas Aquinas, and established the study of nature as a recognized science within the Christian tradition. Thus, he is the patron saint of those who study the natural sciences.

Raymond of Peñafort

Canonized in 1601 and known for the codification of canon law, which was promulgated in 1234.

Chiarito da Sesto

Served as the first Prior Provincial of the Roman Province.

Vincent Ferrer of Valencia

Helped end the Western Schism by persuading King Ferdinand I of Aragon to withdraw his support of Benedict XIII. He is also well known for his conversion of Spanish Jews to Christianity, although there are contradictory accounts (some rather damning) as to the means he used to do so. He was canonized in 1455.

Bernard of Florence

Martyred.

Vestibule

The Good Samaritan (Iacopo Vignali)

Vignali’s The Good Samaritan hung in the monastery’s Antica Spezieria (Old Apothecary). The Antica Spezieria, founded by St. Antoninus, was famous for its medicines, which were sold to finance the maintenance of the monastery. This painting, dated to around 1630, is believed to have been a gift for the medicines produced during successive waves of plague in the early 17th century.