D25-26 Paolo Veronese

D25 – Veronese

These next two rooms are dedicated to the artist known as Paolo Veronese (born Paolo Caliari) due to his birth city of Verona. The earliest piece here is the Portrait of Count Giuseppe da Porto with His Son (c. 1555).

Some scholars identify the Count’s son as Adriano, the oldest of Giuseppe’s children, while others believe he is the Count’s second son, Leonida, based on the dating of the portrait. These scholars believe that at the time this painting was completed, Adriano would have been much older than the age of the child depicted. Neither identification has yet been definitive.

This work is a companion piece to the Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter, which depicts Giuseppe’s wife Livia and one of the couple’s daughters (now held by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore).

The identification of the daughter has also been a matter of debate, some scholars believing that she is the oldest daughter Porzia while others believe, based on the age of the girl depicted, she is the couple’s daughter Deidamia. Regardless of the identities of the children, what is interesting is the fact that they are included at all. Up until this time, portraits were typically waist high depictions of a male or female sitter, commissioned (at least in the case of the female sitters) upon the sitter’s marriage. Veronese, however, moved away from that trend and instead produced a full-length family portrait, emphasizing the sitters’ dynastic ambitions. The inclusion of the children also allowed Veronese to demonstrate his skills in bringing a sitter’s personality to the forefront. The children playfully tug at their parents’ clothing in an innocent and endearing manner, capturing their youthfulness and the spontaneity of childhood. Additionally, the children’s luxurious silk clothing matches that of their parents, testifying to the wealth of the family and their intentions of passing that wealth down through the generations. In fact, both Giuseppe and Livia’s families were involved in the silk trade. Their wealth is further displayed via the extensive amount of fur in both portraits, as well as Giuseppe’s gloves. Interestingly, Giuseppe has taken one glove off, to place his naked hand upon his child’s shoulder. Gloves not only indicated wealth and status, but also symbolized travel and distance, i.e., the exterior world, and therefore how one presents himself to that exterior world. By taking his glove off, Giuseppe is showing his interior life and the intimacy/nearness of his relationship with his son.

It is likely that the pieces were part of Veronese’s overall design for Palazzo Porto, the Count’s newly built house, which he had been commissioned to decorate. Based on Veronese’s lighting choices, scholars believe that the portraits were meant to hang on either side of a window (the extra floor space in the Walter’s portrait was a later addition; Livia and her daughter would have been lined up with her husband and son in the original version).

The clever niche that both portraits employ is indicative of Veronese’s skill in perspective (creating three-dimensional space on a flat surface), a skill which he also employs in another early piece in this room, his Annunciation (1556).

According to Christian belief, the Annunciation is the moment that the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that God has chosen her to bear his son. The Annunciation was a popular subject in Venetian art because Mary was Venice’s patron saint, and according to legend, the city was founded on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, 421).

Veronese’s Annunciation held by the Uffizi is the earliest rendition of more than twelve Annunciations that he would paint during his career. This early attempt is much more reminiscent of central Italian depictions of the subject, especially due to its horizontal structure.

Whereas Veronese’s later versions adhere much more to the northern tradition (i.e. vertical, angel flying in from on high, closer and more intimate interaction between angel and Virgin, and the use of clouds as architectural elements):

In the Uffizi Annunciation, Veronese does use a typical Venetian palazzo as the setting instead of an enclosed garden for his work, signifying his desire to celebrate Venice despite the similarities to the central Italian Annunciations, although he give us glimpses of the iconographic garden through the centrally located arch. Through its placement at the center of the work, Veronese hints at the garden’s importance to the overall understanding of the iconography.

The walled garden (hortus conclusus) serves as a symbol of Mary’s separation from the material world as well as an allusion to her titles of the “Mystical Rose” and “The Rose without Thorns,” which in and of themselves allude to her immaculate conception. According to Saint Ambrose, the Garden of Eden contained roses without thorns, but upon the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the roses grew thorns, evidencing Original Sin. Because according to Christian belief, Mary was born without sin, i.e. she was immaculately conceived, she became known as a rose without thorns. The garden in the Annunciation, then, is not just a symbol of Mary’s own purity, but a symbol of Mary as the second Eve, the mother of us all who, unlike the original Eve, will give us redemption (i.e. through her own son, Christ).

Another religiously themed work held in this room is Veronese’s Esther and Ahasuerus (c. 1560 – 1569), which depicts the moment the Jewish heroine Esther intercedes with her husband King Ahasuerus to save her people.

3. And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews.

4. Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther arose, and stood before the king,

5. And said, If it please the king, and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king's provinces:

6. For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?

7. Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.

8. Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's ring: for the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse.

9. Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

10. And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus' name, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries:

11. Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,

12. Upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar.

13. The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, and that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.

14. So the posts that rode upon mules and camels went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king's commandment. And the decree was given at Shushan the palace.

15. And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.

16. The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.

17. And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.

Esther 8:3-17 (KJV) 

Veronese’s depiction of this moment is typical of his style: theatrical, staged, and monumental. King Ahasuerus is depicted holding out his golden scepter towards Esther, as the Biblical story recounts while Esther and her ladies are all sumptuously dressed.

Some of Veronese’s mythological pictures are also held in this room, including Venus and Mercury present Eros and Anteros to Jupiter (c. 1560).

Eros and Anteros, as their names imply, represent the opposite aspects of love, Anteros is lawful love or requited love while Eros is love without law. In other words, Eros represents bodily passion and Anteros represents divine love, a theme taken up by Titian in his work known as Sacred and Profane Love held in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Both Eros and Anteros were the sons of Venus and Mars, so it is unclear why Mercury is depicted here. Due to the fact that Jupiter is cut off at the waist, some scholars believe that this canvas was at one time part of a larger work. In other words, this work has had scholars puzzled for quite some time, and no one can agree on its meaning.

Another mythological work is Hercules between Virtue and Vice or Man between Virtue and Vice (c. 1565), a small model of the work held in the Frick Museum.

The work depicts a male figure (whom some have identified as Hercules) pulling away from the allegorical representation of vice in an effort to run away with the allegorical representation of virtue. Vice is identifiable via her dress, the back of which is unlaced, suggesting looseness, and the flowers in hair, which are cyclamen flowers, famous for poisonous love potions. Additionally, she is holding a deck of cards, a reference to the idea that the fortunes of those who live dissolute lives are apt to change (and not usually for the better). While the male figure runs away, Vice’s clawed fingers rip his tights in an effort to grasp onto him. Meanwhile, the sphinx behind Vice represents the danger inherent in allowing Vice into your life. Virtue, on the other hand, is crowned with laurel, the traditional symbol of triumph, education, and the arts. As the knife hidden behind Vice indicates, the male figure clearly chose wisely.

D26 – Veronese Corridor

In this small corridor are three religious works by Veronese, including, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Louis of Toulouse and the Donors Giovanni Bevilacqua Lazise and Lucrezia Malaspina (c. 1548), which is the sketch for the Madonna and Child with Saint Louis of Toulouse and Saint John the Baptist, Angels and Donors, the so-called Pala Bevilacqua-Lazise Altarpiece, now held in the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, Verona.

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Louis of Toulouse and the Donors courtesy of By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93701381

This piece was commissioned for the Bevilacqua-Lazise family chapel in San Fermo as one of Veronese’s earliest prestigious works. As one of his earliest works, it reflects Titian’s direct influence on his style. In fact, it was likely based on Titian’s Madonna di Ca’Pesaro.

Veronese’s work extends the ledge that the Virgin is enthroned upon to completely separate her space from that of the saints and the donors, setting her even more “on a pedestal.” The saints depicted in Veronese’s work are John the Baptist, identifiable via his hair shirt and processional cross, and St. Louis of Toulouse, dressed in his bishop vestments. The altarpiece for which is work is the model was unfortunately extensively damaged, and therefore differences between the two are visible.

For instance, changes can be seen in the restoration of the face of the Virgin, St. Louis has a beard, and St. John the Baptist’s posture is slightly different. You will notice that the appearances of the donors on either lower corner of the final altarpiece are different from those in the model. The change in the donors’ appearances, however, was likely due to a second couple outliving the original patrons, and they likely directed another artist to change the faces after the first couple had died. There is also the addition of parakeet, but that was likely Veronese’s change, not a change due to the restoration, because the ledge had been extended to accommodate it. Parrots symbolized eloquence, loquacity, as well as the Virgin Mary. The composition also resembles his work known as The Holy Family Enthroned with Young John the Baptist and Saints Catherine and Anthony Abbot (1551), commissioned for the Giustiniani Chapel in the San Francesco della Vigna.

St. Catherine appears in multiple of Veronese’s works, including another religious work in this room, known as the Holy Family with Young St John and St Catherine (c. 1565) (although some scholars identify the female saint as St. Barbara).

Catherine’s martyr’s palm is just visible above her left shoulder. St. John the Baptist is shown kissing the Christ-child’s foot while holding his traditional attribute of a processional cross. Like the children in the da Porto portraits, the boy St. John is depicted with such tenderness that his innocence and childlike naivety is clearly visible, emphasized by St. Joseph’s hand on St. John’s shoulder. St. Joseph was, after all, St. John’s uncle and thus an important father figure in his life.

The last picture in this corridor is known as The Martyrdom of Saint Justina (1572 – 1573). St. Justina was experiencing a heyday at this moment in time because it just so happened that her feast day was the same day as the Holy League’s victory at Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).

St. Justina was a Christian in Padua at a time when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. She was of noble birth, and therefore one of her attributes is a crown, which Veronese painted in this work in front of her body. According to legend, Emperor Maximian ordered her death because she was unshakeable in her vow of chastity. So, Roman soldiers took a knife to her chest.

This work is typical of Veronese: theatrical and rather staged. The two men on the right look upon the scene as though part of a detached audience. While St. Justina opens her hands to the heavens, accepting death and martyrdom.

D23-24 Rise of Naturalism

D23 – Venetian Naturalism

We continue our journey through the Uffizi, coming upon more works by Titian, including his Portrait of Caterina Cornaro as St. Catherine of Alexandria (1542).

Caterina Cornaro was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Cyprus. She was descended from an influential Venetian family and at age 14 was married to a claimant to the Cypriot throne to strengthen Venetian ties with the Island. After her husband and son died, she became Queen Regent of Cyprus until the Island was annexed by Venice. Upon her return to Italy, she became a great patron of the arts and was painted by Titian, Bellini, and Dürer, among others. Titian chose to portray her as St. Catherine of Alexandria, a royal saint identifiable via her attribute of the wheel on which she was going to be tortured, but which broke at her touch. Catherine is dressed in Turkish silk, a testament to Venice’s commercial interests in the east, and some scholars have identified the gauze she wears on her headdress as Cyprus lawn, a fabric for which Cyprus was known. Her dress is also studded with pearls, another export for which Cyprus was famous. The work, therefore, is a celebration of Caterina as an individual, but also a celebration of Venice and its commercial power.

Another work latching on to the trend of depicting real women as mythical or spiritual models is Jacopo Negretti’s (Palma il Vecchio) Judith with the Head of Holofernes (c. 1525 – 1528).

The life of the Biblical heroine Judith is told in the deuterocanonical (i.e. considered canonical by the Catholic church but not by the Protestant church) Book of Judith. Judith is a Hebrew widow, known for her beauty and virtue, and when the Assyrian troops threaten Israel, she and her maid servant confront the Assyrian general Holofernes. Using her beauty and charm, Judith manages to trick Holofernes into drinking too much so she can behead him and save Israel from his army:

16. Now when Judith came in and sat down, Holofernes his heart was ravished with her, and his mind was moved, and he desired greatly her company; for he waited a time to deceive her, from the day that he had seen her.

17. Then said Holofernes unto her, Drink now, and be merry with us.

18. So Judith said, I will drink now, my lord, because my life is magnified in me this day more than all the days since I was born.

19. Then she took and ate and drank before him what her maid had prepared.

20. And Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born.

Chapter 13

1. Now when the evening was come, his servants made haste to depart ...

2. And Judith was left alone in the tent, and Holofernes lying alone upon his bed: for he was filled with wine.

3. Now Judith had commanded her maid to stand without her bedchamber, and to wait for her. Coming forth, as she did daily: for she said she would go forth to her prayers ...

4. So all went forth and none was left in the bedchamber, neither little nor great. Then Judith, standing by his bed, said in her heart, O Lord God of all power, look at this present upon the works of mine hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem.

5. For now is the time to help thine inheritance, and to execute thine enterprises to the destruction of the enemies which are risen against us.

6. Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence,

7. And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day.

8. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.

9. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid ...

KJV Chapter 12-13.

Some believe the model in Palma il Vecchio’s Judith could be the same woman as depicted in Palma Vecchio’s Blonde Woman, held in the National Gallery in London.

This woman was considered the height of Venetian beauty: blond hair, pink cheeks but pearly skin, and voluptuous. Whoever this model was, she fulfilled the idealized checklist, making it more likely that Palma did in fact paint her multiple times.

Another so-called bella donna in this room is Alessandro Varotari’s (Padovanino) Lucretia (1620 – 1625).

This work is a copy of Suicide of Lucretia, attributed to Titian and held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Lucretia was another heroine revered by the people of the Renaissance. She was the wife of depicts Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, a member of the royal Roman family. While Collatinus was away from home, his cousin, the Roman prince Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia. When her husband came home, she told him what the prince had done and then subsequently killed herself. It was this incident that was the straw on the camel’s back, aggravating simmering tensions against the Roman monarchy. Collatinus and his more famous co-counsel Lucius Junius Brutus (ancestor of Brutus, yes the “et tu Brute” Brutus) started the revolution that created the infamous Roman Republic that lasted until Caesar.

Here, Lucretia is depicted the moment before she kills herself with her husband attempting to restrain her by grabbing her left arm (although some scholars identify him as her rapist, Sextus Tarquinius). She does not seem to notice him, instead looking heavenly in anticipation of redeeming herself (or so those in the Renaissance would have interpreted it; to the modern viewer, the story reeks of victim-shaming). The Envelopment of Lucretia in a bright light coupled with her spiritual expression transform the “pagan” story from ancient Rome into a Christian morality tale. Lucretia almost becomes a Christian martyr, thus allowing the Christian audience to revere her like a saint without any “stain” of promoting paganism.

Another artist following in Titian’s footsteps is Bernardino Licinio and his work known as La Nuda (1540), which was completed only two years after Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

Like Titian’s Venus of Urbino, nothing in this work overtly identifies the sitter as Venus, hence her title as “la nuda.” Some scholars, however, have pointed to the pair of doves in the lower left-hand corner as evidence that this work is in fact a picture of Venus. A pair of doves traditionally symbolized love, yet this could just be a reference to love itself and not the goddess.

Unlike Titian in his Venus, however, Licinio fills the entire space with his reclining nude, abandoning any pretense of a background. To further emphasize the body, Licinio surrounds the vicinity nearest to the body in cold-toned fabrics while coating the rest of the piece in warmer tones.

A non-bella donna work in this room is known as Two Dogs (1555), painted by Jacopo da Ponte (Jacopo Bassano).

Courtesy of By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70692966

During the 16th century, dogs became protagonists of works, no longer just the faithful companion. The trend was likely started by Bassano, who included dogs in almost all of his works, with Tintoretto and Veronese copying him. The trend arose at the same time as wealthy Venetians were starting to build country villas on the mainland, increasing demand for art of the countryside genre to decorate those country villas. In the background of this work is a depiction of Bassano’s hometown Bassano del Grappa.

D24 – Tintoretto Gallery

Room D24 is dedicated to the artist known as Tintoretto, although there are several works by Carlo Cannovaro Caliari (the youngest son of Veronese) located within this room as well. Tintoretto was known for his association with an intellectual group know as the poligrafi, the members of which took sardonic view of high classical culture. This association with the poligrafi comes through in many of Tintoretto’s mythological works, including his Leda and the Swan (c. 1550).

Leda and the Swan depicts the mythological tale wherein Zeus, the king of the gods, lusted after Leda, queen of Sparta. To slake his lust, he transforms himself into a swan and rapes Leda. The result of this copulation was the infamous Helen of Troy. Yet, Tintoretto takes this classical tale, depicted multiple times for wealthy patrons, and twists it into something ridiculous. Here, the Zeus-Swan has to compete with a yappy lap dog for Leda’s attention. Meanwhile to the left of the work is a wicker basket, implying that Leda keeps the swan in a wicker cage when she isn’t using him. Tintoretto uses realism to demonstrate the fallacy of the increasingly eroticization of art.

Turning to Tintoretto’s religious works in this room, we come to his Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1550-1555).

The Sacrifice of Isaac was a common subject painted by Renaissance artists. The story is found in the Old Testament wherein God asks the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his only son, only to stop Abraham prior to the knife strike:

1. And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

3. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. ...

9. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

The other Biblical painting by Tintoretto in this room is The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (c. 1550).

By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93701357

This work was commissioned as part of a series by the Scuola della Santissima Trinità in Venice. Only three other works that made up the series remain and are located in the Accademia in Venice. Those depict the Creation of animals, Original sin, and Cain and Abel. Therefore, the work in the Uffizi would have been the third of the series, to be placed after Original Sin and prior to Cain and Abel. In all of the works making up this series, Tintoretto used simple narratives involving only the necessary actors and filled in the details in the background. Here, in the foreground are Adam and Eve, covering themselves in shame while God the Father stands behind what appears to be the Tree of Knowledge.

Tintoretto’s Expulsion is complemented by a series of works on the same subject by Carlo Caliari (c. 1585), including Carlo’s Creation of Eve, Original Sin, the Expulsion from Eden, and the Toil of Adam and Eve.

Carlo’s Creation of Eve includes more compositionally complex than Tintoretto’s Expulsion due to the increase of forms and figures he chose to portray, including animals in addition to the central figures of God, Adam, and Eve.

Here, Eve emerges from behind Adam in a rather awkward posture with God watching on. Rather than idealized classical forms, the Adam and Eve are depicted in a more naturalistic manner, typical of later Venetian style. Like Bassano, discussed above, Carlo includes a multitude of dogs in the work, demonstrating their increasing importance and symbolism in Venetian naturalist art.

The next image in the series depicts the moment of Original Sin, wherein Eve tempts Adam with an apple.

This work is simpler than the Creation of Eve with only a couple of animals scattered in the foreground, but the same lush background is present. Also innovative for the period was displaying nude bodies from the back, as Eve is displayed here.

Next in the series is the Expulsion from Eden.

Unlike in Tintoretto’s version, Carlo’s work does not include God the Father as part of the expulsion, instead he depicts an angel doing the actual expulsion – keeping God at a distance from the whole affair. Once again, Carlo includes naturalistic looking animals in his scene alongside Adam and Eve, whom he has reserved postures, showing us his skill in painting a male back and a female front.

The final piece in the series is The Toil of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve are now accompanied by their two children, Cain and Abel, but their landscape is no longer as lush, and they must now work for their food.

D20-22 The Venetian High Renaissance

D20 – El Greco

This room holds the Uffizi’s only work by Domenikos Theotokopoulous, better known as El Greco (“The Greek”). Although El Greco is primarily known for the works he produced while he lived in Spain, his style was in fact developed amid Venetian influences and therefore his work is properly placed here, among the rooms housing the Uffizi’s Venetian works. El Greco was born on the Greek island of Crete, which at the time of his brith, was under Venetian control. Moreover, he traveled to Venice during the early stages of his career, absorbing the loose brush techniques and the emphasis on color that characterized Venetian art at the time. The work that the Uffizi purchased in 1973 is known as Saint John the Evangelist and St. Francis (c. 1600).

As its name implies, the work depicts the two saints, St. John the Evangelist (on the left) and St. Francis of Assisi (on the right). St. John the Evangelist is recognizable via his traditional attribute of an eagle, pictured in the lower left hand corner of the work, as well as the chalice he holds in his left hand.

The chalice with the dragon (sometimes depicted as a serpent1) is a reference to the story of St. John in Jacopo Varagine’s Golden Legend wherein a priest from the temple of the Roman goddess Diana asks St. John to demonstrate Christ’s power by drinking from a poisoned chalice. The priest ordered two prisoners to drink from the chalice, both of whom died before John’s eyes. John agrees to drink from the chalice, and not only is he immune to the poison, but he raises the two prisoners from the dead. The legend of the poisoned chalice became a metaphor of the conflict between the Church (represented by St. John) and Satan (represented, as usual, as a dragon/serpent).

St. Francis is recognizable via the stigmata (Christ’s crucifixion wounds that miraculously appeared on St. Francis) on his hands as well as his Franciscan habit (the robes worn by members of the Franciscan order of monks). St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan order, and therefore he is usually shown wearing the habit of that order. Wrapped around his waist is cord with three knots, which symbolize the three vows taken by Franciscans: obedience, poverty, and chastity.

El Greco produced multiple double portraits of saints, including a replica of this piece that is owned by the Prado in Madrid.

The Prado’s Version (left) and The Uffizi’s Version (right)

The St. Francis in this work is also strikingly similar to the St. Francis in El Greco’s Saint Andrew and Saint Francis, also located in the the Prado.

Whereas the St. John appears in a similar work, once again held at the Prado:

El Greco’s works are defined by a deep, yet tragic, spirituality expressed through his use of icy, metallic colors amid treacherous backgrounds. His elongated and elegant forms recall the icons of the Byzantine medieval period, of which he would have been deeply familiar with due to his childhood in Greece. Like those icons, the works of El Greco seek to emphasize the saints’ unworldly nature inspiring a sense of the divine.

El Greco is able to dispense with the figures’ halos, yet still suggest to the viewer that the figures are saints via their stretched and stylized forms, delicate fingers, and elegant lines. Although still of the mannerist school, El Greco’s work anticipates the coming movement later known as impressionism.

D21 – Antechamber of Venus

Introducing Titian’s more famous Venus of Urbino is his Venus and Cupid with a Lap Dog and a Partridge (c. 1550), which is located in the room directly next to its more famous sister piece.

Many critics believe that the majority of this piece was actually done by Titian’s workshop, leaving only the details to Titian’s hand, thus its sidelining when considered against Venus of Urbino. Unlike the figure depicted in the Venus of Urbino, the sitter here is clearly identifiable as Venus based on the presence of her son Cupid and the roses, which were an attribute of Venus. Venus was the patroness of martial love, and she was oftentimes invoked in what are known as epithalamia, poems written for a young bride as she progresses to her martial chamber. In these poems, Venus is typically described as asleep, only to be woken by her son Cupid, who leads her to a wedding to act as a pronuba (patroness) of the wedding. This interpretation of marital love is further confirmed by Venus’ jewels. Indeed, her pearl necklace indicates that she is not an allusion to carnal love as the sumptuary laws prohibited the wearing of pearls except for married aristocratic women. Additionally, the barking dog symbolizes fidelity while the partridge at which it is barking is the symbol of lust, but also fertility.

This Venus is just one of many that was produced by Titian’s workshop, including Venus with an Organist and a Dog (located at the Prado in Madrid), Venus with an Organist and a Cupid (also at the Prado), Venus and Cupid with a lute-player (Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge), Venus with an Organist, a Dog and a Cupid (Gemäldegalerie in Berlin), and Venus and the Lute Player (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York).

Unlike these Venuses, the Uffizi Venus does not include a musician, instead focusing solely on the figure herself. The multiple copies of this piece indicate that it was an extremely popular subject among aristocratic classes, who would typically display these type of eroticized pictures in the marital bedrooms in hopes they would increase fertility and bring about a legitimate heir.

D22 – Titian’s Venus of Urbino

The star of this corridor is undoubtedly Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1534), the first of Titian’s reclining nudes and the most written about and controversial of his paintings.

It was sold in 1538 to Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the grandson of Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino, a portrait of whom is also located in the Uffizi. In a letter offering to buy the Venus, however, Guidobaldo calls the figure depicted “la donna nuda” (“the nude woman”), not Venus. So why is she known as the Venus of Urbino? One reason may be that she is based off of a figure in a work known as the Dresden Venus or the Sleeping Venus, which was painted about 20 years prior to the Venus of Urbino by Titian’s teacher Giorgione and which clearly depicted a Venus based on the inclusion of a (now painted over) Cupid.

Dresden Venus, Giorgione

The Dresden Venus is the first known large scale reclining nude painted during the Renaissance. Prior to the Dresden Venus, however, reclining nudes regularly decorated the lids of cassoni (dowry chests or marriage chests) in the hopes of increasing fertility in the marriage bed (See the cassone decorated by Paolo Uccello, to the left). It is likely that the patrons of these innovative large scale nudes kept the aspect of private viewing by placing them in their bedrooms in hopes of increasing fertility in the marriage bed.

Although we know that the figure in Giorgione’s work is indeed Venus because a Cupid once sat at her feet, no Cupid appears in Titian’s Venus of Urbino. The posy of roses and the myrtle plant on the window sill are both symbols of Venus, but no other explicit attribute of her is present. Her pose is reminiscent of the Venus Pudica (literally “shameful Venus”), but unlike the modest Venus getting out of the bath, the Venus of Urbino makes a somewhat feeble attempt at covering herself.

In fact, she shows no shame as she looks the viewer directly in the eyes in a rather promiscuous way, giving the viewer the impression that she may not be attempting to cover herself after all. A possibility further suggested via the placement of her hand at the direct center of the canvas, drawing explicit attention to it. Rather than a Cupid at her feet, Titian places a dog, the traditional symbol of fidelity, but the dog is depicted sound asleep. Some scholars believe that the sleeping dog indicates that fidelity is also sleeping. The same dog appears (awake) in another Titian work, Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino:

(Eleonora Gonzaga is the mother of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the eventual purchaser of the Venus of Urbino).

The tactility of objections, achieved through variations in brush work, is typical of Titian, as is the celebration of Venice. The setting of the work is what a typical Venetian palazzo would have looked like, and the maids in the background are going through what appears to be the bridal chest, the lid of which, as noted above, would typically be decorated with a reclining nude. Thus, Titian plays with the viewer, transferring the nude image from the bridal chest’s lid and placing it front and center without shame. Yet, he still pays tribute to the tradition’s roots by including the cassone in the background. The maids are likely going through the cassone to collect a beautiful gold and blue gown for the bride to wear during il toccamano, a ceremony in which the bride would touch the hand of the groom to express her consent to the marriage. Some scholars disagree with this interpretation, instead insisting that the maids in the background are simply a reference to the domestic atmosphere one would find in a rich courtesan’s house. Eroticism becomes mainstream where there was one prostitute per every ten people in Venice. In short, scholars are divided over whether the “Venus” in this work is indeed intended to depict a goddess, a bride, or simply a seductive woman with no other purpose than a pin up girl would have today.

The sitter of the painting is unknown, but one theory has been put forth that she was one of Venice’s most celebrated courtesans known as Zaffetta (Angela del Moro) due to her father’s profession as a policeman (a “zaffo”). Titian emphasizes the sensuous curves of Venus by placing her against rectilineal shapes, including the windows, bed, window, chest, wall paper. Indeed, she does encompass the ideals of 16th century beauty: blond hair (even though typical Italian women were brunettes), broad shoulders, small breasts, and a full waist (to emphasize a woman’s fertility). Whoever the sitter is, Titian used her likeness in his works several times.

Next to Venus hangs Titian’s Flora (c. 1515-1517), another of Titian’s works over which debate concerning the sitter’s identity rage.

Some scholars believe that the work is a portrait of young bride based on her wedding band, which is visible on her right hand, slightly hidden by the posy she holds. Others believe that the work is simply another picture of a prostitute, especially since Venetian prostitutes would commonly give their names as Flora as a play on the Roman goddess’s role as goddess of flowers (deflowering was a euphemism even back then). Still others believe that she really is intended to depict the goddess Flora. Regardless of who she is, she, like the sitter in Venus of Urbino, display the hallmarks of sixteenth century idealized beauty: pale, luminous skin, pink cheeks, and long loose copper-blond hair (today dubbed “Titian Red” due to his constant usage of such).

Flora is indebted to Giorgione’s Laura, one of the first “belle donne” pictures, half length depictions of idealized beautiful women, who may either be brides or courtesans, which seem to be the only two roles Renaissance Italy (like many other times and places) allowed women to fill. It is telling, however, how blurred the line between the two is, making it impossible for scholars and us causal viewers to differentiate one from the other. Just some food for thought.

The other work in this room is another donna bella, known as Portrait of a Lady (1512) by Sebastiano del Piombo, a contemporary of both Giorgione and Titian.

This portrait is of a wealthy young lady, as attested by her fur collar and drop pearl earrings. The collar of her chemise is embroidered with mythological scenes in gold thread, demonstrating the Roman influence on Sebastiano del Piombo’s style, but his colors are in keeping with his Venetian training. She is wearing a twig crown, which could be made of laurel, indicating that the sitter may a poet.


1 For a fascinating article on how serpents transformed into dragons over history, check out BBC History Extra’s article “Dragons: from mythological beasts of history to the fire breathers of fantasy.”

D16 The Classic Tradition

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

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

Courtesy of @UffiziGalleries Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Age

Ovid explains:

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

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

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. Allen Mandelbaum

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

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

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

The Stanze of Angelo Poliziano, trans. David Quint.

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

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

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

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. Allen Mandelbaum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 3:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

The Complete Hesiod Collection. Hesiod 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three Graces, Poppi

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

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

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

Courtesy of @UffiziGalleries Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vulcan’s Forge, Giorgio Vasari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées, anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

Green Rooms. Rooms 33 and 34 of the Uffizi.

The Green Rooms were opened in 2014 on the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death. Perhaps surprisingly to some, given that these rooms were opened to celebrate Michelangelo, the Green Rooms actually house works from Ancient Greece and Rome. Yet, it was the ancients that inspired Michelangelo, giving him the insight into the human form that had been lacking prior to this time. In fact, while Michelangelo was busy painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the famous Laocoön, an ancient sculpture of the Trojan priest fighting snakes sent by Athena, as well as the Belvedere Torso, were unearthed. The impact of these sculptures on Michelangelo is evident in his work in the Sistine Chapel.

It is therefore fitting that Rooms 33 and 34 were opened on the anniversary of Michelangelo’s death to celebrate his life and work.

Room 33 is dedicated to Greek Portraits, most of which came from the Medici collection. The room is set up to mimic the genre of decoration known as uomini famosi (“famous men”) that was so popular during the Renaissance. In these types of cycles, each individual depicted was intended to inspire the viewers (usually the ruling elite) to a higher standard of behavior and governance. The idea was that with the uomini famosi looking upon individuals, those individuals’ actions would be informed by the illustrious examples of leadership, patriotism, etc. 

Room 34 is dedicated to the many sculptures that are of the type that would have been in Garden of San Marco. The Garden of San Marco was created by Lorenzo de’Medici to allow young artists to practice drawing and painting ancient sculptures. Sadly, it no longer exists, but it was where Michelangelo would have studied and worked as an up and coming young artist. (Allegedly Lorenzo de’Medici gave the young Michelangelo the key to the Garden so he could study the ancient sculptures whenever he so wished). Although those sculptures have since been dispersed, the pieces in this room evoke the same atmosphere that surely must have been felt in the Garden itself. These works are Roman copies of Greek marbles dating from the fifth to the third centuries B.C., some of which were intended to decorate ancient Roman residences. Also located in this room are memorials stones and altars of Greek origin, which have been unearthed in Rome.

One relief, the Processional Scene from the Ara Pacis, is a copy of the Processional Scene on the south side of the Ara Pacis, purchased, along with several other friezes, by Ferdinando de Medici at the end of the 16th Century.

Processional Scene From Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis Augustae (the Altar of Augustan Peace) was commissioned by the first emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, and completed in 9 B.C. The altar celebrated the “peace” that Augustus had supposedly brought to the Roman Empire. I think the Gauls and the Germanic tribes would dispute the term “peace,” but with Augustus, the major civil wars where Romans fought Romans did come to a respite. The Altar was presumably used for blood sacrifices to the Roman gods (not human sacrifices though – the Romans very rarely practiced human sacrifice; in fact, only a few known occurrences of Roman human sacrifice are recorded, and those occurred only during times of great upheaval, including during the Second Punic War when Hannibal invaded Italy).

Ara Pacis Augustae

The frieze in Room 34 shows Romans in traditional religious garb processing towards the physical Altar itself, as if they were about to participate in a religious rite themselves. The figures in this relief are members of Augustus’ immediate family, including his son-in-law, Marcus Agrippa (the hooded figure in the center of the piece). Agrippa is performing the role of high priest. Some scholars believe that the veiled woman to Agrippa’s left is Liva, Augustus’ wife. By placing his family on the monument, Augustus was proclaiming his dynasty and the death of the Republic. Unfortunately for Augustus, siring a dynasty proved a little problematic. It was his step-son Tiberius who inherited the role of Emperor, not a blood relative as Augustus had initially wished.

The animation and individualism of each figure demonstrates the high point of Roman sculpture that had been achieved and that was only to be achieved (at least in western Europe) once again during the Renaissance.

Another relief located in this room is a depiction made during Hadrian’s reign, i.e., 2nd Century AD, of an animal sacrifice.

On the right side of the relief are corinthian columns while on the left side of the relief are ionic columns topped with tympana. The victimarii, who are identifiable via their naked torsos and limi (plural of limus, which was a type of loincloth worn by the slaves who handled the animals during a sacrifice) have led the sacrificial bull to the victimarius known as the popa, who stuns the animal with an axe while another, known as the cultrarius, holds the sacrificial knife, known as the culter.

Also located in this room is the Sarcophagus with the Rape of Persephone (AD 160-180), the front of which depicts a scene from the Greek myth explaining the origins of the seasons.

Sarcophagus with the Rape of Persephone

According to this myth, the god of the underworld, Hades (whose counterpart in Roman mythology was called Pluto) came across a young girl playing in the fields, with whom he immediately fell in love (although as the name of the sarcophagus implies, it was more likely that he fell in lust). This young girl was Persephone, the daughter of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter (i.e., Ceres). Upon deciding that he wants to marry Persephone, Hades travels to Mount Olympus (where the gods lived) to ask his brother Zeus, king of the gods (and Persephone’s father), for her hand in marriage. This request puts Zeus in a pickle: he felt that he could not deny his brother, but he knew that Persephone’s mother (and Zeus’ sister) Demeter would absolutely be against the marriage so he answered equivocably, neither saying yes nor no. Hades took this non-answer as permission and laid a trap to capture Persephone so as to elude her mother.

Of fair-tressed Demeter, Demeter holy Goddess, I begin to sing: of her and her slim-ankled daughter whom Hades snatched away, the gift of wide-beholding Zeus, but Demeter knew it not, she that bears the Seasons, the giver of goodly crops.  For her daughter was playing with the deep-bosomed maidens of Oceanus, and was gathering flowers—roses, and crocuses, and fair violets in the soft meadow, and lilies, and hyacinths, and the narcissus which the earth brought forth as a snare to the fair-faced maiden, by the counsel of Zeus and to pleasure the Lord with many guests.  Wondrously bloomed the flower, a marvel for all to see, whether deathless gods or deathly men.  From its root grew forth a hundred blossoms, and with its fragrant odour the wide heaven above and the whole earth laughed, and the salt wave of the sea.  Then the maiden marvelled, and stretched forth both her hands to seize the fair plaything, but the wide-wayed earth gaped in the Nysian plain, and up rushed the Prince, the host of many guests, the many-named son of Cronos, with his immortal horses. 

“The Homeric Hymns.” Trans. Andrew Lang. Apple Books.

Demeter eventually discovers that Hades has kidnapped her daughter and demands Zeus order Hades to return her. But, once again, Zeus equivocates and decides that if Persephone has eaten anything while in the underworld then she has to remain there. When Persephone is questioned about her eating habits while in Hell, she claims that she has been so distraught that she hasn’t eaten a thing. It turns out, however, that she had eaten six pomegranate seeds. Therefore, Zeus decided that Persephone must stay in Hell with Hades for six months of the year, and she may return to her mother for the other six. During Persephone’s stay, her mother falls into a depression and refuses to allow anything to grow (hence fall and winter), but when Persephone is back with her mother, everything grows in abundance.

The sarcophagus itself demonstrates the moment Hades grabs Persephone from among the flowers. Here, the goddess Athena, identifiable by her helmet and shield, is shown trying to save Persephone while the goddess of passion, Aphrodite tries to stop Athena by grabbing her shield. Athena and Aphrodite represent the two warring sides of the story: the passion of Hades and the virginity of Persephone (Athena was renowned for her virginity).

Detail of the Sarcophagus with the Rape of Persephone

The scene takes on a cosmic importance as the chariot tramples the goddess of the earth, Gaia, demonstrating death’s ultimate triumph over everything in the world.

The other sarcophagus in this room is known as The Sarcophagus Depicting the Labours of Hercules, which dates from AD 150 to 160 (slightly older than Sarcophagus with the Rape of Persephone, supra).

Detail of Sarcophagus Depicting the Labours of Hercules

Six of Hercules’ Labours are depicted on the front of the Sarcophagus; from left to right there are: (1) the Nemean lion; (2) the Lernean Hydra; (3) the Erymanthean Boar; (4) the Hind of Cerynea; (5) the Stymphalian Birds; and (6) the stalls of King Augeus. As the story moves from left to right, the youthful, beardless Hercules moves through his own life and ages right before the viewers’ eyes, reiterating the Roman ethos that life is fleeting, but a man may live on through the glory of his deeds. The Sarcophagus is missing its lid, which is where the other Labours were likely depicted (the back of the Sarcophagus is blank).

Botticelli Part One

Rooms 10 to 14 once served as the upper part of the Medici theatre, but they are now filled with works by one of the Medici’s favorite artists: Sandro Botticelli. The rooms’ design as we see it today is a recent renovation, completed only in 2016. The rooms are meant to trace Botticelli’s development as an artist, which has been typically divided into three major stages: those works where the influence of his teacher, Fra Filippo Lippi, are still evident, those works that were commissioned during his time as a Medici client, and those works that reflect the mystical crisis of the late 1490s. All of his works, however, are defined by elegant lines, elongated, weightless figures, and a certain disregard for anatomical correctness, putting him somewhat at odds with the general movement of 15th century Renaissance art.

One of his first known works, Madonna della loggia (c. 1466), is based on the Byzantine iconography known as Glykophilousa (“Sweet kissing”), wherein the Virgin and Christ’s face are lovingly caressing.

Madonna della loggia, Botticelli

The painting takes its name from the loggia near which Christ and his mother appear to be resting.

Another of his Madonnas, Madonna of the Rose Garden (1469-1470), so named for the pink roses seen behind the Virgin and Child, is a rather conventional Madonna and Child.

Painting in museum Uffizi, Florence

Some scholars argue that Madonna of the Rose Garden was completed around the same time as Botticelli’s Fortitude due to the similar backdrop of a coffered arch, but others argue that it was created prior to Fortitude based on the slant of the floor. Indeed, in the Madonna of the Rose Garden, Botticelli strictly adhered to a technique known as central perspective, which allows artists to create three dimensional space on a flat surface. Problematically, however, the blind adherence to the technique causes the floor in the Madonna to look sloped rather than flat. Whereas, in Fortitude, Botticelli was willing to fudge the perspective a bit to make the floor appear more natural.

Regardless, the works are compositionally similar, albeit one secular, the other religious. Botticelli’s choice to place Mary within a rose garden was likely due to Mary’s titles as the “Mystical Rose” and “The Rose without Thorns,” which allude to her immaculate conception. According to Saint Ambrose, the Garden of Eden contained roses without thorns, but upon the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the roses grew thorns. Because according to Christian belief, Mary was born without sin, i.e. she was immaculately conceived, she is a rose without thorns; thus, Botticelli’s use of the rose motif. Mary is also depicted holding a pomegranate, a device Botticelli would continue to use throughout his career to symbolize the Virgin’s fertility as well as Christ’s Passion.

The St. Ambrose Altarpiece (The Converted Sisters) (c. 1470) is Botticelli’s first known altarpiece. Its name is a misnomer, however, because St. Ambrose is not depicted. It was, however, transferred from the convent of Ambrogio to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1808 (and from the Galleria to the Uffizi in 1946), which may have given rise to its name. Its other name, The Converted Sisters, was derived from the theory that it was from the convent of the Converted Sisters, but this theory has since been proven wrong.

Detail of St. Ambrose Altarpiece, Botticelli

The saints depicted in this altarpiece are Mary Magdalen (not pictured), John the Baptist (not pictured), Cosmas (not pictured), Damian, Francis, and Catherine of Alexandria. They are positioned, for the most part, according to late Medieval conventions, with Mary Magdalene and St. John the Baptist on the Virgin’s right (in the place of honor). St. John is placed closer to the Virgin than Mary Magdalene due to his role as the precursor to Christ and thus his appearance in the historical record before Mary Magdalene as well as his gender, which was considered superior by both the artist and (at least the male) contemporary viewers. This gendered hierarchy is mirrored on the Virgin’s left side, with St. Francis of Assisi standing closest to the Virgin and St. Catherine on his right. According to convention, however, St. Catherine, should have been placed ahead of St. Francis due to her closer proximity in time to Christ, leading art historians to believe that the altarpiece was intended for a Franciscan-linked location, which would explain his elevation over St. Catherine. That intention would also explain why St. Francis is depicted holding a reed cross, usually an attribute of St. John, and likely introduced here to emphasize St. Francis’ role as St. John’s successor.

The inclusion of Saints Cosmas and Damian have also led scholars to believe that the piece was either commissioned by a member of the Medici family or by the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries, both groups of which Cosmas and Damian were patron saints. Saints Cosmas and Damian are typically portrayed together, as they were brothers (some sources claim twins). They were closely linked to the Medici, the ruling family of Florence, due to the play on the Medici name (“medici” is the Italian word for “doctors”). Moreover, Cosimo de’Medici, the founder of the dynasty, and his twin brother (who died young) were named after the two saints, making them the patron saints of Cosimo as an individual in addition to their role as his familial patron saints.

The influence of Lippi can be made out in the work’s overall composition as well as in the figures’ expressions:

But, scholars also believe that Botticelli was working under a new teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio (also teacher to Leonardo da Vinci), or at least working within Verrocchio’s orbit, because Fra Lippi had left Florence before the production of this altarpiece. Thus, this piece also reflects Verrocchio’s influence as well, evident in the metallic nature of the robes as well as the figures’ statuesque stances.

Portrait of a Youth with a Medal (1470-75) was once owned by Carlo de’Medici, the illegitimate son of Cosimo “il vecchio” de’Medici, but it is not clear who the sitter may be. Although the most likely candidate seems to be Botticelli’s older brother Antonio based on the sitter’s middle class clothing and his work as a goldsmith, denoted by the coin he holds in his hands, copies of which Antonio would have cast himself while working at the Medici court. Moreover, some art historians have noted the resemblance of the sitter to known self-portraits of Botticelli himself, which would lend credence to the belief that the sitter is his brother. Other possible candidates include Piero de’Medici, a youthful Cosimo de’Medici, or Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’Medici, yet one would expect if the sitter was indeed a Medici, he would have been depicted in the resplendent garments more typical of an upper class family.

Portrait of a Youth with a Medal, Botticelli

What we do know about this picture is that it demonstrates Botticelli’s leadership in contemporary portraiture. Prior portraiture was constrained by the traditional profile pose of the sitter, as exemplified in ancient coins depicting Roman emperors. Botticelli and several other innovative artists began picturing their sitters in three-quarters view, in the example of the Flemish. In fact, Flemish influences had fully penetrated Florentine thought. Compare the background of this work with that of Botticelli’s Florentine teacher, Fra Lippi:

Lippi’s is mystical and fantastic while Botticelli’s is steeped in realism and naturalism, which would become the new norm for portraits. Moreover, Botticelli painted the sitter’s hands, which typically were not included in portraits, but, obviously, the hands are necessary to exhibit the medal, so whether this was deliberately innovative or simply a means to an end is unclear.

The medal itself depicts Cosimo il Vecchio and is inscribed with the words “MAGNUS COSMUS MEDICES PPP,” meaning Cosimo de’Medici the Great, Primus Pater Patriae (First Father of the Fatherland). It is a cast made of pastiglia, not metal, and was either cast from the actual mold that made the real medal, which was cast between 1465 and 1469 to commemorate Cosimo, or from an impression of an already existing medal. To insert the pastiglia into the painting, a hole was cut in the panel, and the cast was affixed to it, making this work a multimedia piece. The medal is held over the heart, an organ associated with memory and sense impressions, and emphasizes the break from tradition and the beginning of a new age by juxtaposing the ancient Roman portrait with the new Renaissance style portrait.

And what could be more emblematic of the Renaissance than one of Botticelli’s best known works, La Primavera (1477-82). La Primavera was commissioned for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, a member of the junior branch of the Medici family, on the occasion of his marriage to Semiramide Appiani in 1482.

La Primavera, Botticelli

It was the largest secular painting done in the Renaissance to date; the prior large scale representations of secular subjects were generally confined to tapestries woven in France and Flanders, which some art historians have argued explains the two-dimensional feel of La Primavera and the lack of linear perspective. Like those tapestries, the scene is sprinkled with flowers upon a dark grassy field.

Unlike most secular tapestries, however, the scene Botticelli chose to depict is thoroughly classical in nature. It is believed to be the story of Zephyrus, God of the West Wind, and the nymph Chloris as retold through multiple sources including, most famously, Ovid’s Fasti. According to the story, Zephyrus kidnaps Chloris, who, at Zephyrus’ touch, transforms into Flora, the latin goddess of the spring, and then marries Zephyrus.

Detail of La Primavera, Botticelli

[T]his is what the goddess replied to my questions (while she speaks she breathes from her mouth spring roses): ‘I who am called Flora used to be Chlōris. … ‘It was spring, I was wandering. Zephyrus caught sight of me. I began to leave. He pursues, I flee, he was stronger. ‘Boreas, having dared to carry off a prize from the house of Erechtheus, had given full right of rape to his brother too. The violence, however, he made up for by giving me the name of bride, and I have no complaint in my marriage-bed. ‘Spring I enjoy always, always the year is full of bloom, always the tree has leaves, the ground has fodder. I have a fruitful garden in the fields that are my dowry; the breeze warms it, it’s kept moist by a spring of clear water. This my husband has filled with noble flowers, and he says to me, “Goddess, have control of the flowers.”

Ovid, “Fasti,” Trans. Anne Wiseman & Peter Wiseman.

To modern viewers, the depiction of what really amounts to a violent sexual encounter would not be the most ideal of wedding gifts, but to Botticelli’s contemporaries, it served as a fitting conceit for marriage in 15th century Florence. At the time, women had little to absolutely no choice in husband, just like Flora. Once married, women, like Flora, were supposed to bring forth new life. Notice that no fruit nor blossoms are present in the upper right hand corner of the painting; it is only when Zephyrus touches Chloris and she is transformed into Flora that the trees begin to bear fruit, a nod towards fertility. Moreover, the Zephyrus is placed in front of two laurel trees (laurus nobilis), a reference to bridegroom, Lorenzo (Laurentius) di Pierfrancesco. Allegedly, the goddess Flora is a portrait of Giuliano de Medici’s mistress Simonetta Vespucci, although recent scholarship has questioned that assumption.

To the left of the Chloris/Zephyrus scene is Venus and her son Cupid, flying above her while firing his arrow of love, eyes covered to denote love’s blindness.

Spring comes, and Venus, and Venus’ winged courier Cupid runs in front. And all along the path that they will tread dame Flora carpets the trail of Zephyr with a wealth of blossoms exquisite in hue and fragrance.

De Natura Rerum V.737, Lucretius.

The trees around Venus act almost as a halo, radiating from her figure to create a semi-circle embracing her. Some scholars argue the clearing in the trees represent wings, and one even went so far as to claim that the clearing was a depiction of human lungs, signaling the recent phenomenon of human dissection increasingly practiced by Renaissance artists.

To the left of Venus and Cupid are the Three Graces. The Three Graces were a very popular subject in the ancient sculpting world, as it allowed an artist to show three different vantage points of the human body at once.

Detail of La Primavera, Botticelli

Mercury, the leader of the three graces and the messenger of the Gods, is also present; he is identifiable via his winged shoes and his caduceus (staff with serpents winding around it). Mercury was associated with the month of May, due to his mother, Maia, hence his inclusion in a picture depicting the spring. According to Virgil, he was also associated with dispersing the winter clouds: “Shepherding the winds before him with his want, he swam through the murk of the clouds.” Aeneid IV, 242-46.

Nourishing Venus comes, companion to her sister, and is followed by the little loves; Flora offers welcome kisses to her eager husband (Zephyr); and in their midst with hair unbound and bared breasts dances Grace, tapping the ground with rhythmic step.

Poliziano, Angelo, “Rusticus,” as translated by Miles J. Unger in Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’Medici.

Scholars have identified at least 138 species of different plants that have been accurately portrayed, one of which is an orange tree. Oranges were linked with Medici family, and in fact, oranges were commonly known as mala medica or palle medicee. Allegedly, this link had its roots in the belief that an orange grove located in the garden of the old Medici palace could foretell the family’s fortunes. If the orange grove blossomed, so too did the family, but if the orange grove failed to bear fruit, it was said that bad things were in store for the Medici.

Interestingly, the overall composition of La Primavera is likely based on Buonamico Buffalmacco’s Triumph of Death.

Triumph of Death, Buonamico Buffalmacco (early 14th century)

Like the figures in La Primavera, the figures here are in an orange grove, standing on meadow punctuated with flowers. Above the figures, winged putti hover, just as Cupid hovers over the gathered figures in La Primavera. Similarly, no fruit is in the top corner (albeit the left-hand corner) of the trees, closest to the figure of death, who is approaching the gathering from a violent scene into a peaceful event – reminiscent of winged Zephyrus, who moves from the violent rape into the peaceful marital scene. Thus, Primavera begins with violence, while The Triumph of Death ends in violence. The theme of each piece is obviously drastically different, but the similarities in the composition are striking.

Interestingly, Flora and Zephyrus feature in Botticelli’s other large-scale secular painting, the Birth of Venus.

e drento nata in atti vaghi e lieti una donzella non con uman volto, da zefiri lascivi spinta a proda. gir sovra un nicchio, e par che ‘l cel ne goda.

and within, born with lovely and happy gestures, a young woman with nonhuman countenance, is carried on a conch shell, wafted to shore by playful zephyrs; and it seems that heaven rejoices in her birth.

Poliziano, Angelo. Stanzas Begun for the Joust of the Magnificent Giuliano de Medici, as Translated by David Quint.

Birth of Venus, Botticelli

The title, Birth of Venus, is actually a misnomer, as the episode does not depict Venus’ birth, but instead depicts Zephyrus and his wife Chloris/Flora blowing Venus towards the coast of Cyprus where she is greeted by a young woman, whom scholars believe is either one of the Graces or one of the Horae (also known as the Hours). Behind the Hora, there is an orange grove, but no blooms, indicating that Venus’ arrival is necessary for fertility. This work is first recorded by Giorgio Vasari, who described it as having been owned by the cadet branch of the Medici family since the mid-15th century, which makes sense as the scene depicts oranges, an emblem of the Medici family.

I will sing of stately Aphrodite, gold-crowned and beautiful, whose dominion is the walled cities of all sea-set Cyprus. There the moist breath of the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Hours welcomed her joyously. They clothed her with heavenly garments….

Homeric Hymns VI 1-6.

The figures themselves are inspired by classical statues, such as the Venus de’Medici, a Hellenistic marble statue owed by the Medici family and of an iconographic type known as the Venus Pudica (“Chaste Venus”). For an in depth discussion of the Venus Pudica, I highly recommend Mary Beard’s two-part documentary series, The Shock of the Nude.

Despite its classical nature, the overall composition of The Birth of Venus borrows from the scheme commonly used to depict the Baptism of Christ.

Like St. John the Baptist, the Hora steps forward with her right arm raised. There are two figures to the left. Venus and Jesus stand still in the center. Thus, rather than a break from gothic tradition and a “rebirth” of so-called lost arts, the Renaissance was really about the fusion of the holy and the profane, the emphasis on community and the elevation of the individual, and science and the arts to create something startling and completely new.

The Quartiere Degli Dei Terrestri

The Studiolo of Francesco I:

Francesco de’ Medici, Duke Cosimo’s eldest son, commissioned Giorgio Vasari to design this room, located off the Hall of the Five Hundred. Francesco used it as his study as well as to house family heirlooms, as was typical at the time (during the 16th and 17th century, collecting and categorizing objects was in vogue, influenced, no doubt, by the beginnings of the scientific revolution). Each side of the room was designed to resemble one of the four elements, which then corresponded to the items held within each built-in cabinet. The doors to those cabinets were also designed with the particular cabinet’s contents in mind, decorated with Biblical, mythological, or historical events that corresponded to its inner treasures.

The room’s apotheosis is the vault, which depicts Nature handing a stone to Prometheus. Nature’s handoff of the stone demonstrates the convergence of science and art (two of Francesco’s passions) because, it is assumed, Prometheus will transform the stone into a beautiful gem. Prometheus is depicted holding a flaming branch because it was he, according to the Greek writer Hesiod, who gave man the secret of fire. Zeus retaliated by chaining Prometheus to a mountain and ordering an eagle to eat Prometheus’ liver, which would then regrow every night only to be eaten the next day. For men’s punishment in Prometheus’ scheme, Zeus allegedly created women.

[600] even so Zeus who thunders on high made women to be an evil to mortal men, with a nature to do evil. And he gave them a second evil to be the price for the good they had: whoever avoids marriage and the sorrows that women cause, and will not wed, reaches deadly old age [605] without anyone to tend his years, and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives, yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them. And as for the man who chooses the lot of marriage and takes a good wife suited to his mind, evil continually contends with good; [610] for whoever happens to have mischievous children, lives always with unceasing grief in his spirit and heart within him; and this evil cannot be healed. So it is not possible to deceive or go beyond the will of Zeus: for not even the son of Iapetus, kindly Prometheus, [615] escaped his heavy anger, but of necessity strong bands confined him, although he knew many a wile.

Hesiod. “The Complete Hesiod Collection.” Acheron Press edition.

It seems Hesiod did not have much luck in his love life.

Surrounding the center fresco is a typical 16th century cosmogram (i.e. the four elements, the four qualities (cold, damp, hot, dry), the four humours (melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric), and the four seasons).

The Quartiere Degli Dei Terrestri

Also next to the Hall of the Five Hundred are apartments that were dedicated to housing guests of the Medici. In light of this function, Cosimo I commissioned Vasari to decorate the rooms with typical ducal trappings of power. Vasari did just that – and more. Rather than simply celebrate ducal power, the rooms serve to equate the Medici to “Dei Terrestri” (“earthly gods”).

Indeed, each room is dedicated to one of the Medici heroes, with frescoes celebrating major events of his lifetime. Each of these lower level rooms, however, corresponds to the room located directly above, which was dedicated to a mythical god and/or hero (the “Dei Celetri”). Through this linkage, Vasari mythologizes Cosimo’s more famous ancestors, elevating them to Dei Terrestri.

Room of Cosimo il Vecchio

The first room is dedicated to Cosimo il Vecchio (also known as “Pater Patriae” or “father of the nation”), arguably the most famous member of the Medici Family and Duke Cosimo’s namesake. Vasari decided to focus the room on Cosimo’s return from a year long exile in 1434.

Cosimo the Elder Returns from Exile, Giorgio Vasari

The ceiling fresco depicts throngs of Florentines meeting Cosimo as he returns to Florence, a depiction which would seem more appropriate for a triumphal return from battle rather than a return from exile. By emphasizing the people’s happiness over Cosimo’s return, however, Vasari refocuses the story on Cosimo’s popularity with the people rather than on the treason of which he was found guilty.

How did the Pater Patriae get himself exiled from the nation he had allegedly birthed? To understand, it is important to note that Florentine politics were rife with violence, internal conflict, mistrust, and petty jealousies. Indeed, Cosimo’s exile can be boiled down to one faction’s animosity towards the Medici’s increasing wealth and power. Rinaldo degli Albizzi and his conservative allies had been in control of Florence’s government for four decades when the Medici family was just beginning to assert its power. As the Medici attained more wealth and supporters, known as amici (translated as “friends”), tensions with the Albizzi grew. It all came to a head in 1429 when hostilities broke out between Florence and the city of Lucca. Albizzi and his conservatives favored a full blown war with Lucca while the Medici and the amici cautioned against it. The Albizzi won out and Florence went to war, which turned out to be a fiasco. As the costs of the war began mounting, Cosimo’s bank loaned the city money to cover the shortfall, eventually loaning Florence so much money that one third of the city’s debt was financed by the Medici bank. The result of this debacle was the people’s loss of confidence in Albizzi and an increase in respect for the Medici, who, as the Medici propagandists argued, had counseled against the war yet still risked financial ruin for the good of the republic to ensure its victory.

To avoid losing any more power and perhaps to save face, Albizzi tried Cosimo for treason, alleging Cosimo had prolonged the war for his own financial benefit. Cosimo was found guilty and subjected to exile, which, to Albizzi’s horror, was overturned after the election of a majority of amici to the Signoria. In an about-face, the newly elected Signoria brought Cosimo home and exiled Albizzi and many of his allies, purging the government of all those opposing the Medici and allowing Cosimo to take full control of the government. And so began the Medici’s tight hold on Florentine government (aside from a couple more periods of exile).

To improve their social standing both within Florence and without, the Medici family portrayed themselves as “renaissance men,” i.e. patrons of the arts, sciences, and culture. Vasari sought to capture Cosimo’s renown for artistic patronage in the painting below, Cosimo the Elder Surrounded by Literati and Artists, painted by Marco da Faenza (a collaborator to Vasari).

Here, Cosimo il Vecchio is depicted surrounded by key artists of his time, including Marsilio Ficino, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, Luca della Robbia, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, many of whom he had commissioned numerous artworks.

Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Show Cosimo the Elder the Model for the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Marco da Faenza. Cosimo il Vecchio is also credited for building the family church, San Lorenzo.

Room of Lorenzo il Magnifico

The next room is dedicated to Lorenzo il Magnifico, Cosimo’s grandson. Lorenzo’s father, known as Piero the Gouty, delegated much of the family authority to Lorenzo due to his poor health, Moreover, he was not as politically astute as his father or son, thus his lack of a room.

The second day after [my father’s] death, although I, Lorenzo was very young, being only twenty years of age, the principal men of the city and of the State came to us in our house to condole with us on our loss and to encourage me to take charge of the city and of the State, as my grandfather and my father had done.

Lorenzo de’Medici, Ricordi

In contrast to his father, Lorenzo operated on an international stage, thereby expanding the family’s influence beyond the bounds of Tuscany. It is therefore fitting that the ceiling in this room depicts foreign dignitaries presenting Lorenzo with gifts, including lions, Barb horses, jewels, and a cardinal hat, which was given to his son Giovanni, the first Medici to become pope.

Lorenzo was a living representation of the Medici’s move from solidly middle class stock to nobility. Indeed, Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice Orsini, came from an ancient Roman family, a match which was notable both for the bride’s foreignness and for her blue blood. Moreover, Lorenzo successfully lobbied for a cardinalship for his son, Giovanni de’Medici (later, Pope Leo X). With Giovanni’s cardinal’s hat, Lorenzo’s son was now a prince of the church, giving him the same status as any lay prince. Lorenzo had elevated his family from its commercial roots to nobility (via his wife Clarice), then royalty (via his son Giovanni).

This [hat] was a ladder enabling his family to rise to heaven.


Lorenzo also continued his grandfather’s patronage of the arts and sciences. In the painting to the right, he is depicted sitting amongst such humanists as Pico della Mirandola, Politian, Marsilio Ficino, Leon Battista Alberti, and Leonardo Bruni. Indeed, Lorenzo himself was an amateur philosopher and poet.

Interestingly, in both of these rooms, Vasari depicted Cosimo and Lorenzo in strikingly similar poses to that taken by Roman Emperor Constantine in the Aurelian Relief known as Liberalitas (located on the Arch of Constantine in Rome), further strengthening the link of the Medici to royalty/power. In the Liberalitas, Constantine is shown distributing money and protection to Roman citizens. So too, Vasari’s designs proclaim, Cosimo and Lorenzo distributed money and protection to the artists and intellectuals that surrounded them.

Room of Leo X

In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Pope Leo X’s motto, taken from Psalm 120

Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo il Magnifico. He became a cardinal at thirteen (at this time it was common to be made a cardinal prior to attaining adulthood and even prior to taking holy orders) and was eventually elected to the papacy in 1513 (at age 37), taking the name Leo X (after the Florentine lion).

The Election of Giovanni de’Medici to the Papacy, Vasari

The piece below captures Pope Leo X’s visit to Florence in 1515. The procession into Florence was led by eighty mules and was rumored to have over 3,000 participants, including mace-bearers, squires, valets, secretaries, lawyers, ambassadors, cardinals, archbishops, and trumpeters.

The Arrival of Leo X in Florence, Vasari

Since the pope had left Rome to go to Bologna to meet the king of France … Leo decided that on the way he would pass through Florence to show his homeland the glory and grandeur God had vested in him, after so many different vicissitudes.

Vasari, Ragionamenti

Unfortunately, the rooms dedicated to Clement VII, Giovanni delle Bande Nere, and Cosimo I are not open to the public, as they are used as the offices of the mayor of Florence, so I don’t have any pictures, but I can tell you about them.

First, there is a room dedicated to Clement VII, the second Medici to hold the papal throne, who was elevated to the cardinalship by his uncle, Pope Leo X. He was elected to the papacy in November of 1523, and it was under his papacy that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome and the advent of the Protestant reformation. He, however, was the one responsible for installing the Medici as Dukes of Florence in the person of his illegitimate son, Alessandro de’Medici, via his alliance with Charles V, who had recently taken over the city.

The next room is dedicated to Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Cosimo I’s father. Giovanni was a commander in the papal army, serving under both his cousins Leo X and Clement VII. He died, likely from gangrene, after being wounded during a skirmish against Imperial troops. Upon Giovanni’s marriage to Maria Salviati (granddaughter to Lorenzo il Magnifico), the two branches of the Medici family were reunited.

Finally, Cosimo I dedicated a room wholly to none other than Cosimo I, thereby including himself among the legendary Medici heroes. A clear indication of how highly he thought of his political prowess.

Cosimo I became duke after his cousin, Duke Alessandro, made himself highly unpopular during his short-lived reign as Duke of Florence. Indeed, he was assassinated by another Medici cousin, Lorenzino, in January of 1537. Rather than install Alessandro’s illegitimate four year old son as duke, the Florentines promoted Cosimo as Alessandro’s successor. Charles V agreed and invested him with the duchy. It was Cosimo who lobbied Pope Pius V to grant the Medici the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany, a royal elevation from the (“simple”) dukedom of Florence.

The Old Palace and The Hall of the Five Hundred

The Palazzo Vecchio has had many names throughout its storied past, including the Palazzo dei Priori, the Palazzo della Signoria, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Palazzo di Piazza. Each of these names reflects the period of Florentine history with which it coincided, but it is its final and lasting name, the Palazzo Vecchio, that is the most revealing of all. It testifies to the winner of Florence’s internecine struggles: the Medici. Indeed, the palace’s surviving name, il Palazzo Vecchio (the “Old Palace”), is a nod towards the Medici’s use of the Palazzo as a familial residence and their ultimate move to the Palazzo Pitti, their “new palace.”

The Palazzo Vecchio began its life as the Palazzo dei Priori and served as the principal seat of government, and in fact remains to this day, Florence’s city hall. Construction began in 1298 on top of a 1st century AD Roman theatre, the ruins of which may be seen by visiting the bottom floor of the Museum. The building was built in celebration of the foundation of the Florentine Republic. To emphasize the Republic’s core values, distaste for nobility and a love of economy, the building was constructed with local stone without decoration.

Outside you can see Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine Woman, the Medici Lions, and Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa. Perseus and Medusa was Cellini’s answer to Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes. In fact, Cellini insured that his sculpture was placed so that the head of Medusa was looking straight at Michelangelo’s David, effectively “turning” David into stone.

Perseus and Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini

Salone dei Cinquecento

The Palazzo is home to the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), which was built in 1494, during the short lived Republic of Fra Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola led a popular uprising against the Medici, ousting them from both power and the city. Upon installing his new republican government, Savonarola increased the number of Florentines eligible to participate in the government to (purportedly) over 1,000 people. Thus, a large hall was needed to accommodate at least five hundred Florentines at a time.

Fra Savonarola was eventually condemned to death, paving the way for the return of the Medici, but prior to their return, gonfaloniere Pier Soderini commissioned Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to decorate the hall. Michelangelo painted the Battle of Cascina; Leonardo, the Battle of Anghiari, but neither mural was ever completed. Michelangelo was recalled to Rome by the Pope, and Leonardo, who rarely finished his commissions, abandoned the project.

The Battle of Anghiari centered on the fight for the Milanese standard during the climax of the battle. Leonardo’s focus on the standard may have been inspired by his patron, Gonfaloniere (“Standard-bearer”) Pier Soderini, but the gruesome action was influenced by his recent employment as a military engineer under the vicious warrior Cesare Borgia. The cartoons captured frenzied movement as only those of Leonardo could. Displaying emotion through movement was one of Leonardo’s specialties. In fact, as one of the pioneers of human dissection for art’s sake, Leonardo’s knowledge of anatomy enabled him to correctly depict the facial muscles that corresponded to his figures’ facial expressions. Moreover, his preparatory sketches and horse dissections for a planned (but never executed) equestrian statue for Duke Ludovico Sforza enabled him to render the horses’ movements perfectly.

They are among the greatest evocations of movement in the entire history of art. … Movement, something that had obsessed Leonardo ever since he had tried to catch the blur of a cat’s squirming limbs in an early drawing, is here clarified as a theme with blood-red intensity.

Jonathan Jones, British art critic

In his book Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson posits that Leonardo abandoned his work on the Battle of Anghiari because “[h]e was a perfectionist faced with challenges other artists would have disregarded but that he could not.” Indeed, Leonardo struggled with achieving the proper visual perspective of a large mural that would be seen from multiple vantage points, causing figures to look distorted when observed at those vantage points. According to Isaacson, “Other painters would not have noticed, or would have chosen to ignore, the way figures in a large painting could seem disproportionate when viewed from different parts of the room. But Leonardo was obsessed by the optics, mathematics, and art of perspective.” Regardless of the reason the Battle of Anghiari was never finished, Leonardo’s cartoons for the project became a point of reference for future artists. Raphael traveled to Florence for the sole purpose of seeing the work, inspiring his move towards mannerism. Indeed, Benvenuto Cellini wrote of the cartoons, “As long as they remain intact, they were the school of the world.”

After Fra Savonarola was burned at the stake and the Medici regained power, Duke Cosimo de’ Medici made the Vecchio his residence in the 1540s, moving his court from the Palazzo de’ Medici (now Palazzo de’ Medici-Riccardi) and renovating the Hall to exude princely power, demonstrating his absolute rule. The palace was renamed the Palazzo Ducale, cementing the Medici as the ruling party in the once republican Florence.

Cosimo commissioned Baccio Bandinelli, Giuliano di Baccio d’Agnolo, and Giovanni Caccini to design a public audience chamber (known as the Udienza), where the Duke would receive foreign dignitaries, guests, and messengers. The result was a design reminiscent of imperial Roman triumphal arches; a connection that I am sure was not lost on those visiting the ducal receiving chambers.

The figure in the middle arch is Pope Leo X, the first Medici (but not the last) to sit on the papal throne. To the left of Pope Leo is Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Duke Cosimo’s father (as well as a famous condottiere) while to the right is Duke Alessandro de’Medici, the first Duke of Florence. Above each Medici are the devices associated with that particular individual. For instance, above Giovanni dalle Bande Nere is a winged firebolt, symbolizing his physical prowess and speed while above Duke Alessandro is a rhinoceros, symbolizing power.

The entire itinerary was meant to impress upon the viewers the magnificence (real or imagined) of the Medici House and reaffirm its claim to be within the upper echelons of royalty.

Meanwhile, the ceiling was commissioned to Giorgio Vasari, Duke Medici’s court painter. Vasari raised the ceiling by around seven meters and decorated it in the Venetian style with frescoes that celebrated Cosimo I’s pivotal role in the creation of the Duchy of Tuscany.

Every day I draw for the Great Hall and façades so that it will reflect all your mastery, and this has redoubled my creativity.

Giorgio Vasari to Cosimo I

For a comparison to the “Venetian Style” that Vasari was mimicking, I’ve included images below of two different ceilings located in the Doge’s palace (Venice).

As you can see, the Venetian style is epitomized by golden borders offsetting each episode.

On the left of the Palazzo Vecchio ceiling are scenes from the Florentine-Pisan war, in the center are scenes from Florence’s domestic history, and on the right are scenes from the Florentine-Sienese war during which the Duke led the Florentines to victory. Side by side the frescoes demonstrate the stark contrast between the disastrous war led by the republican government against Pisa and the successful one fought under absolute power. The Pisan war was won at great cost to the Republic, lasting over fourteen years while the Sienese war lasted a mere fourteen months.

The central tondi, however, is the Apotheosis of Cosimo I, which depicts Cosimo I in all his glory. Here, Cosimo is wearing a purple mantle (the color of royalty), accompanied by the ducal crown, the cross of the Order of St. Stephen (a chivalric order he himself founded in 1541 and dedicated to Pope Stephen I), and the Golden Fleece, which had been awarded to him by Emperor Charles V in 1545. Chivalric orders were princely trappings that helped promote the royal families across Europe. He is surrounded by the coasts of arms of the city and the insignias of the Florentine Guilds.

Apotheosis of Cosimo I, Vasari and Giovanni Battista Naldini

One of the several middle panels is known as The Foundation of Florentia. This panel reflects the traditional foundation story that haunted Florentines for centuries.

The Foundation of Florentia, Giorgio Vasari and Giovanni Stradano

Here, Mark Antony, one of the members of the Second Roman Triumvirate presents the Florentines with a banner of a white lily embroidered on red. It is what is in the background, however, that alludes to Florentine foundation anxiety: the Roman temple to Mars, the god of war.

Indeed, Florentines blamed most of their strife on this single moment in their history. When Caesar’s army founded Florentina, so the story goes, they also built a temple to Mars. The early Florentines, however, betrayed Mars when they reconsecrated his temple to St. John the Baptist, a saint known for his pacifism. (According to archeological evidence, the oldest parts of San Giovanni are from the 4th century AD and were indeed built on Roman foundations). Though at odds with our modern sense of religion, even the most pious of Florentines believed that the God of War inflicted social upheaval on the city because of their abandonment of him.

This belief intensified when, at the foot of the displaced Mars statute, one of the most famous murders in Florentine history occurred, the murder of a Messer Buondelmonte. Allegedly, it was this murder that set off the start of the Guelf and Ghibelline conflicts.

And so it is clear that this life-destroying enmity comes from no other source than the sin of the pagan Florentines themselves who in ancient times worshiped the idol of Mars, since at his feet they committed the murder from which so much evil followed.

Giovanni Villani

Also interesting about this panel is Mark Antony’s posture. Notice the similarities to the Belvedere Torso? Click here to read more about the famous Torso and its influence on generations of art.

The frescoes on the walls of the hall also reflect the juxtaposition of the Sienese and Pisan wars. Recording the “disastrous” war with Pisa are the following frescoes:

Maximilian of Austria Attempts the Siege of Leghorn, Vasari and Naldini, depicts the moment that Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian comes to the aid of the Pisans, but, alas, to no avail. The Emperor’s attack on the Florentines failed, in part due to a terrible storm that shipwrecked the imperial fleet, forcing the imperial forces to withdraw. The Storming of the Fortress of Stampace, pictured below, depicts the Florentine capture of Stampace.

The Storming of the Fortress of Stampace, Vasari, Naldini, and Jacopo Zucchi

As explained above, the frescoes on the other wall are episodes from the Sienese War. In 1552, Siena rebelled against its overlord, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, prompting Charles to request Florentine intervention whereas the Sienese turned to the French for help claiming their independence. It wasn’t until January of 1554, however, that Florentine troops marched in support of the Emperor. The frescoes depict the most famous of the battles.

The first, Capture of the Fort near the Porta Camollia, depicts the January 1554 attack on Siena led by Giangiacomo Medici, Marquis of Marignano (Giangiacomo was not a relation of the Medici family, but a member of a Milanese family of the same name). On January 26th, the ducal army attacked the Sienese fort located near Porta Camollia and surprised the guards while they slept. The Florentines marked this event as the beginning of the war.

Capture of the Fort near the Porta Camollia, Vasari

The second, The Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana, depicts the August 2, 1554 battle in Val di Chiana, which was decisive for the Florentines’ victory the next spring. Here, Florentine exiles, who had fled the Medici rule and sided with Siena, Frenchmen, and Grisons attacked the Florentine army, but the Florentines routed the Sienese troops.

The Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana, Vasari and Zucchi

The last, The Capture of Porto Ercole, Vasari, depicts the capture of Porto Ercole, Siena’s last holdout. Those who had been loyal to Siena fled to Porto Ercole after Siena had fallen on April 21, 1555. After a twenty-four day siege, however, the final bastion of Sienese independence fell.

Also found in the Hall is Vincenzo de’ Rossi’s series of statues known as The Labors of Hercules. Significantly, Cosimo I identified with the ancient Greek hero, going so far as to include Hercules’ likeness on his official seal. It was no coincidence that Hercules was also the symbol of Florence and had been on Florence’s official seal (the seal was engraved with the words, “Herculea clava domat florencia prava,” roughly translated as Hercules’ club smashes Florentine crookedness).

Moreover, take another look at the Foundation of Florence panel, discussed infra. Hercules makes an appearance! He is a little blurry, but there he is, identifiable via the club slung over his shoulder.

Thus, Cosimo was appropriating republican propaganda, “becoming the state” (perhaps beating Louis XIV to the concept of l’état, c’est moi). Ironically, Florentines idealized Hercules as the hero that destroyed tyrants.

It was Cosimo’s objective to become the “new” Hercules. In fact, Cosimo’s dominions over the 12 Etruscan cities were likened to Hercules’ 12 labors. I should mention here that some mythologies have Hercules performing more than the famous 12. Twelve, however, seems an opportune number as the 12 labors may be illusions to the 12 months, linking Hercules with time itself.

Time was a recurrent theme in Medici propaganda. Lorenzo il Magnifico’s motto was “Le tems revient” (“The time returns”), a play on his father Piero’s motto “Semper” (“Always).

The rest of the palazzo contains subtle and some not-so-subtle allusions to Hercules (indeed, here is an entire room named for him) in a further effort to link the Medici with greatness. Alas, I think I have probably spent way too long in this post talking about all the neat artwork to see in a single room that the next rooms will have to be saved for later. Thanks as always.