Friday, November 28, 2008

Alessandro de’ Medici

Giorgio Vasari, (Arezzo 1511-Firenze 1574)
Alessandro de’ Medici, 1534
Oil on panel
Uffizi Gallery, Firenze

Anon, but possibly Jacopo Pontormo (b. 1494, Pontormo, d. 1557, Firenze)
Alessandro de' Medici 1525
Oil on panel 46.5 x 31.2cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jacopo Pontormo (b. 1494, Pontormo, d. 1557, Firenze)
Alessandro de' Medici
Oil on panel, 100 x 81 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Possibly by Domenico de' Vetri (about 1480-1547)
Cameo, with a portrait of Alessandro de' Medici
Plasma (green chalcedony) in gold setting
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cristofano Di Papi dell Altissimo 1530 - 1605
Alessandro de' Medici 1511-1537
Oil on lime panel
The Uffizi Gallery, Firen

After Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556)
Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici
About 1550
Oil on lime panel
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The first hereditary Duke of Florence was not a very nice man.

Alessandro de' Medici (July 22, 1510 – January 6, 1537) called "il Moro" ("the Moor"), Duke of Penne and also Duke of Florence (from 1532), ruler of Florence from 1530 until 1537 was the last member of the "senior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence

He was illegitemate.

He was recognized as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de' Medici (grandson of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent)

Historians now believe that he was in fact the illegitimate son of Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII)- nephew of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent

His mother was a black or moor slave-woman in the Medici household, identified in documents as Simonetta da Collavechio, Contemporary references to Alessandro's dark skin, curly hair, wide nose and thick lips, as well as visual evidence from surviving portraits, suggest that he was indeed of mixed heritage.

His appearance and mixed heritage led him to being nicknamed "Il Moro" - "the Moor".

Alessandro's descendants married into eminent houses all over Europe.

His mixed heritage has led to a renewed interest into his life and rule.

His racial forebears did not prevent him from governance. However Florentine contemporary exiles regarded him as tyrannical. He was assassinated. He was succeeded by Cosimo I.

For more about his racial origins and new studies into his rule , see The Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the PBS website.

Two artists who were in his Court and knew him were Pontormo (1494-1556) and Vasari (Arezzo 1511-Firenze 1574). They were Court artists. They painted his portraits. These were Court portraits. These portraits had significance in a political sense.

In his Lives of the Artists, Vasari describes the painting of the portrait by Pontormo (now in Philadelphia) thus:

"Jacopo [Pontormo], having executed ... the portrait from life of Amerigo Antinori ... and that portrait being much extolled by everyone, Duke Alessandro had him informed that he wished to have his portrait taken by him in a large picture. And Jacopo, for the sake of convenience, executed his portrait in the time being in a little picture of the size of a sheet of half-folio, and with such diligence and care ... From that little picture, which is now in the guardaroba of Duke Cosimo, Jacopo afterwards made a portrait of the same duke in a large picture, with a style in the hand, drawing the head of a woman; which larger portrait Duke Alessandro afterwards presented to Signora Taddea Malaspina .."

From this passage it has been assumed that the portrait was meant to be a private painting, that is not for public consumption or viewing. It was meant as a gift for Alessandros mistress.

However the painting was widely known and copied.

During Alessandro`s life it was in public display in Alessandro`s house: the Palazzo Pazzi, the Lady’s home, which had become the duke’s “unofficial court.”

The date of the portrait has been placed sometime between late 1534 and 1535: early in the Duke`s reign. He had been placed in power in 1531 by collusion of Pope Clement VII de’ Medici (his father) and the Emperor Charles V . Pope Clement VII de’ Medici died on 25 September 1534. The Duke is dressed in black, mourning for the late Pope.

Black clothing may also have been interpreted as a reference to Charles V, whose preference for black garments was well known, and by whose power Alessandro had been invested with the principate.

The duke is depicted in the act of drawing.

In Castiglione`s The Book of the Courtier (trans. Charles S. Singleton (New York 1959)) [the sixteenth century`s guide for princes and their court] it is stated:

"“... another matter which I consider to be of great importance and which I think must therefore in no way be neglected by our courtier: and this is a knowledge of how to draw,” which, “besides from being most noble and worthy in itself, proves useful in many ways, and especially in warfare.”

The concept of disegno, or drawing, was central to artistic theory of the Renaissance: the art of disegno became a pure symbol, an attribute evidencing the intellect of the ruler. This concept would cause contemporary viewers to bring to mind Lorenzo the Magnificent, well known as a patron of the arts, an admirer of beauty, and a poet in his own right, who also considered himself an artist.

In other words, Alessandro is trying to depict himself as the new Lorenzo the Magnificent, the benevolent and intellectual despot, the founder of a new Golden Age.

Vasari`s portrait of Alessndro is less subtle.

Vasari`s portrait is the first of a Medici in armour.It is generally read as a first attempt at the development of an imagery appropriate to the new Medici regime, an imagery focused on military might and the ostentatious display of power.

In a letter to Ottaviano de’Medici, Vasari explained the iconography of the painting. He wanted to to create a visual manifesto of Medici power and dynastic continuity

Of the stool upon which the duke sits, supported by the figures of the armless, legless Florentines who represented the duke’s subjects without a will of their own, Vasari wrote:

“they are his people, who guided by the will of he who is above them and commands them, have neither arms nor legs.”

The pose of the figure, seated and holding the bastone del dominio, recalled most pointedly that of Michelangelo’s Giuliano de’ Medici, Duke of Nemours, in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo. Vasari’s included the broncone, the dead laurel trunk from which a new branch springs forth, beside the seated duke. The laurel, was used by Lorenzo the Magnificent as a device, and adopted by Lorenzo, duke of Urbino. The aim of such symbols was to stress the link of Alessandro to Lorenzo the Magnificent and the other great figures of the Medici leadership.

The pictures illustrate the service of art in the upholding of an absolutist regime. Art has its wrong uses as well as its right uses.