Showing posts with label 1503. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1503. Show all posts

28 December 2017

Piero the Unfortunate – Medici ruler

Ill-fated son of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment  earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero the Unfortunate's poor judgment
earned him his unenviable moniker
Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, later dubbed Piero the Unfortunate or The Fatuous, died on this day in 1503, drowning in the Garigliano river, south of Rome, as he attempted to flee following a military defeat.

The eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Piero was handed power in Florence at the age of 21 following the death of his father.

He was a physically handsome young man who had been educated specifically so that he would be ready to succeed his father as head of the Medici family and de facto ruler of Florence.

Yet he turned out to be a feeble, ill-disciplined character who was not suited to leadership and who earned his unflattering soubriquet on account of his poor judgment in military and political matters, which ultimately led to the Medici family being exiled from Florence.

Piero took over as leader of Florence in 1492. Initially there was calm but the peace between the Italian states for which his father had worked tirelessly to achieve collapsed in 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led an army across the Alps with the intention to march on the Kingdom of Naples, claiming hereditary rights.

The young leader’s first bad decision had been to ally Florence with Naples rather than Milan, where his father had striven to maintain an even-handed relationship with both.

Ludovico Sforza, the former regent of Milan, was unimpressed, but at the same time saw an opportunity to re-assert his power in the city by scheming with Charles VIII to eject his nephew, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, and replace him as Duke.

Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII of France
In return he allowed Charles’s army, some 30,000 strong, to proceed unchallenged through his territories and arrive at the borders of Tuscany.  Piero’s decision to ally with Naples meant that Florence, by association, was France’s enemy

Piero at first attempted to mount some resistance, but at a time when the fanatical Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola was undermining the authority of the Medici court he struggled to garner support from the Florentine elites.

He then made the extraordinary decision to seek a deal with Charles, taking the lead from his father’s great act of diplomacy in 1479, when Lorenzo reached a settlement with Naples by making a personal visit to the King of Naples.

Piero persuaded Charles to give him an audience, yet returned home having given away several important Tuscan castles along with the ports of Pisa and Livorno.

His poor handling of the situation and failure to negotiate better terms led to an uproar in Florence, and the Medici family fled. The family palazzo was looted, the Republic of Florence was re-established and the Medici formally exiled.

A member of the Medici family would not rule Florence again until 1512, after Piero’s younger brother, Giovanni, was elected Pope Leo X.

Piero and his family at first fled to Venice. In 1503, as the French fought the Spanish over the Kingdom of Naples, he travelled south. The two armies engaged in the Battle of Garigliano, named after a major river between Naples and Rome, and after the French were routed Piero attempted to escape to the south but was drowned as he tried to cross the the Garigliano river.

French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
French artist Henri Philippoteaux's depiction of a scene from
the 1503 Battle of Garigliano
Travel tip:

The Garigliano river, which flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea near Marina di Minturno, south of Formia, marks the border between Lazio and Campania.  Its strategic position has led it to be the scene of several notable battles. In 915 a coalition of the papal army, the Byzantines, Franks, Lombards and Neapolitans defeated the Garigliano Arabs there and in 1503 came the fateful Battle of Garigliano after which Piero drowned and Medici power transferred to his brother, Giovanni.  During the Italian Campaign of the Second World War, the Liri and Gari-Garigliano rivers were key elements of a system of German defensive lines around which the battle of Monte Cassino took place in 1943-1944.

The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

Piero the Unfortunate’s body was buried in the cloister of Monte Cassino abbey, one of the most famous abbeys in the world, established in the sixth century when Saint Benedict chose its mountain location as a place to host him and his fellow monks as they travelled from the monastery at Subiaco, outside Rome. At a height of 520m (1,700ft) it is a landmark for travellers on the A1 motorway and the Rome-Naples railway. The abbey has been destroyed four times – by the Lombards in 577, the Saracens in 887, an earthquake in 1349 and by the ferocious Battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War, when the Allies made the controversial decision to bombard the site, which they suspected was being used by the Germans to launch artillery attacks.  Fortunately, the Germans smuggled out most of the priceless books and artworks to a place of safety prior to the bombardment and the abbey was rebuilt after the war had ended.

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Paintings: Portrait of Piero by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora (1494); portrait of Charles VIII by unknown painter in the style of Jean Perréal, Musée Condé, Chantilly; Battle of Garigliano by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1840), Palace of Versailles) 

(Picture credit: Monte Cassino Abbey by Ludmiła Pilecka via Wikimedia Commons)

17 November 2017

Bronzino – master of Mannerism

Florentine became Medici court painter

Bronzino's portrait of Eleonora of Toledo, wife  of Cosimo I de' Medici, with her son, Giovanni
Bronzino's portrait of Eleonora of Toledo, wife
of Cosimo I de' Medici, with her son, Giovanni
The Mannerist painter Agnolo di Cosimo – better known as Il Bronzino or simply Bronzino – was born on this day in 1503, just outside Florence.

Bronzino is now recognised as the outstanding artist of what has become known as the second wave of Mannerism in the mid-16th century.  His style bears strong influences of Jacopo Pontormo, who was an important figure in the first wave and of  whom Bronzino was a pupil as a young man in Florence.

The Mannerist movement began in around 1520, probably in Florence but possibly in Rome. In the evolution of art it followed the High Renaissance period.

Typical of Mannerist painters is their use of elongated forms and a style influenced by the attention to detail allied to restrained realism that was characteristic of the Renaissance masters Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Bronzino became best known for his portraits, which were detailed and stylishly sophisticated, in which the subjects were superbly realistic but also tended to wear stoical, rather haughty expressions.

He also paid particular attention to fabric and clothing, his works often notable for his recreation of textures. He often used strong colours - sometimes cold blues, at other times warm reds – and created effects that were almost like theatrical lighting.

Cosimo I de' Medici in armour, as portrayed by Bronzino in 1545
Cosimo I de' Medici in armour, as portrayed by
Bronzino in 1545
He painted many religious works, in which the influence of Michelangelo could be seen in his use of dramatic body shapes, but his greatest contribution to the Mannerist period was his portraiture, particularly during his time in the Medici court, where his ability to give his subjects an air of elegant nobility made him very popular.

Born in Monticelli, then a small town just outside Florence but now essentially a neighbourhood of the Tuscan city, Bronzino became apprenticed to Pontorno in 1515, their relationship developing almost as that of father and son. Indeed, when plague swept the city in 1522, Pontorno took his pupil with him to stay in the relative seclusion of the Certosa di Galuzzo, a monastery.

When they returned, Pontorno’s trust in Bronzino – who is thought to have acquired his nickname mainly on account of a dark complexion, possibly due to a pigment disorder – was such that he enlisted his help in creating what is seen as his own masterpiece, the Deposition from the Cross, an altarpiece in the church of Santa Felicità in Florence, not far from the Ponte Vecchio, where they also worked together on a sidewall fresco, Annunciation.

Indeed, Bronzino became so adept as following his master’s methods that there has at times been fierce debate between experts over whether certain paintings were the work of Pontorno or his pupil.

Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man, painted in around 1540, is seen as one of his finest works
Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man, painted in
around 1540, is seen as one of his finest works
Bronzino left the city for a second time in 1530 when it came under siege from the armies of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, who were seeking to overthrow the Florentine republic established in 1527 and restore the Medici family to power.

When he rejoined Pontorno in Florence some years later, he had revealed his talent for portraiture while in the employ of the Duke of Urbino and it was not long before he was appointed by the Medici court as official portraitist, a role he would keep until he died in 1572, at the age of 69.

Bronzino’s figures influenced portraiture in Europe for almost a century. His best-known works include portraits of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici, and his wife, Eleonora, and other members of their court such as Bartolomeo Panciatichi and his wife Lucrezia.  He also painted idealized portraits of the poets Dante and Petrarch.

By the time of his death he had developed a relationship similar to that he had enjoyed with Pontorno with his own pupil, the late Mannerist painter Alessandro Allori.

The church of Santa Felicità in Florence
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Felicità is described as the oldest religious building in Florence, apart from the Basilica of San Lorenzo.  Although the current structure was built in 1739, it is thought that the first church on the site was probably built in the late fourth century.  As well as Pontorno’s painting, assisted by Bronzino, the church is famous for the fact that the Vasari Corridor, the enclosed passage built by the Medici to link the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria with the Medici’s family residence, the Palazzo Pitti, passes through the façade.

Piero della Francesco's Flagellation
Travel tip:

The town of Urbino in Le Marche has long been associated with art, most famously as the birthplace of Raffaello Sanzio – better known by the anglicised name, Raphael.  Its Galleria Nazionale delle Marche houses many fine works, including Raphael’s La Muta, several paintings by Titian and Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesco’s Flagellation, measuring 59cm by 82cm and once described as ‘the greatest small painting in the world’.

Also on this day: 

28 June 2016

Giovanni della Casa - advocate of good manners

Bishop and poet remembered for his manual on etiquette

A portrait of Giovanni della Casa by the artist Jacopo Pontorno
A portrait of Giovanni della Casa by the
artist Jacopo Pontorno
Giovanni della Casa, the Tuscan bishop whose witty book on behaviour in polite society became a handbook for generations long after he had passed away, was born on this day in 1503 in Borgo San Lorenzo, 30 kilometres north-east of Florence.

Born into a wealthy family, Della Casa was educated in Bologna and followed his friend, the scholar and poet Pietro Bembo, into the church.

He became Archbishop of Benevento in 1544 and was nominated by Pope Paul III as Papal nuncio to Venice. Disappointed at not having been elevated to Cardinal, however, he retired to a life of writing and reading.

At some point between 1551 and 1555, living at an abbey near Treviso, he wrote Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behaviour, a witty treatise on good manners intended for the amusement of a favourite nephew.  He thought it would be regarded as frivolous compared with other books he had written. Little did he know it would become one of the most celebrated books on etiquette in European history.

Published in Venice in 1558, it is considered one of the three great books on Italian conduct, alongside Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano, which discusses the qualities required of a 16th century courtier, and Niccolo Machiavelli's Il Principe (The Prince), which was less about manners than about political pragmatism and achieving objectives.

Della Casa's work goes into considerable detail in describing how to behave without causing offence to others, particularly in the areas of eating, drinking and personal hygiene.

He advised that tearing food apart with the hands and with hunting knifes was vulgar, as a result of which Italians began using dainty forks some two centuries before other European countries. He also cautioned that sniffing another person's wine should be avoided for fear of something unpleasant falling out of one's nose.

Reprints of Della Casa's book, such as this 2013 edition, still sell today
Reprints of Della Casa's book, such as this
2013 edition, still sell today
It was not good form, in his opinion, to spit, yawn or scratch and he cautioned that handwashing should take place in private because, if done in public, those witness to it risked their minds being drawn to thoughts of the bodily functions that might have necessitated it.

One should dress, he proposed, in clothes that conformed to prevailing custom and were reflective of social status and in conversation one should seek to interest all parties present with words that were 'orderly and well-expressed'.

His guidance in other areas could apply to the modern world.  It was not good manners, he said, to brag about one's children, or to sing off key.  Grooming in public was uncouth and making jokes at the expense of the disabled was unacceptable. And even in an age that could not have imagined telephones, let alone mobile ones, it was rude, he counselled, to read one's mail in company.

However, taking someone to task over their social shortcomings was also considered out of order, unless somehow you could be complimentary at the same time.  In short, he advised that people should be pleasant, appropriate and polite in all but the most extreme circumstances.

A Latin scholar, Della Casa is thought to have named the book in honour of Galeazzo Florimonte, a bishop and man of letters from whom he took his own inspiration.  The title entered the Italian language and for a time people who were impolite or crude were said to 'not know the Galateo.'

Della Casa died in Rome in 1556, aged 53. Modern editions of Galateo are still being reprinted today.

Travel tip:

Borgo San Lorenzo is the largest of nine towns and villages that make up the Mugello, a green hilly area overlooking the Sieve valley.  The Medici family have their roots in the Mugello, as does the artist, Giotto, the most important Italian painter of the 14th century.  Its Romanesque Church of San Lorenzo has a belltower dated at 1263. The medieval Palazzo del Podestà was rebuilt in the 1919 earthquake.

Photo of the ruins of the Abbey of Sant'Eustachio near Treviso
The ruins of the Abbey of Sant'Eustachio near Treviso
Travel tip:

Little remains now of the Abbey of Sant'Eustachio, the Benedictine monastery of the early 11th century where Della Casa is thought to have been staying when he wrote Galateo.  Situated close to the small town of Nervesa della Battaglia, about 20km from Treviso in the Veneto, it had already been abandoned when it suffered substantial damage during the Battle of the Piave River during the First World War.

(Photo of the Abbey of Sant'Eustachio by Franco CC BY-SA 2.0)

More reading:

Cosimo II de' Medici - patron of Galileo

Pietro Bembo - poet and scholar who was Lucrezia Borgia's lover