Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Botticelli and the Medici

I've been keeping busy over the last couple of days with Niall Ferguson's entertaining history of finance, The Ascent of Money. I've been meaning to read it for some time, and I've finally gotten around to it! (It's been easier to make time for reading, now that the World Cup is drawing to a close). Anyway, I'm having a grand old time - finance has always been one of my favourite subjects. And when art and finance intersect, all the better!

The first chapter of Ferguson's book is largely devoted to the financial machinations of the Medici. The Italian Renaissance was a time when art blossomed, thanks in a large part to the generous funding of wealthy patrons  like the Medici. The painting above, entitled "Adoration of the Magi" was commissioned by the Banker's Guild as a tribute to the Medici family. Ferguson notes that all three of the wise men are actually modeled on members of the Medici family. Cosimo the Elder is washing the feet of baby Jesus, while Piero (center, in red) and Giovanni (white) complete the trinity. Other family members featured in the picture are Lorenzo and Giuliano. Philosopher Pico della Mirandola (who was also patronized by Lorenzo de' Medici) is also pictured in the left foreground, wearing a dark robe and red hat. And if you ever wondered what the painter looked like, the young blond man to the far right is actually Botticelli. The painting really is a "who's who" of the Italian Renaissance.

The Medici were certainly trumpeting their success with this painting, though I should note that Cosimo, Piero and Giovanni (the three kings in the picture), were all deceased at the time the work was produced. That did not stop Lorenzo the Magnificent from getting in on it, though. Ferguson says that Lorenzo appears in the painting in a pale blue robe, though I've noticed others online that seem to think he's posing with the sword (which seems unlikely to me). I saw one posting that flags the man in black as Lorenzo, which makes the most sense to me. He's centrally located within the painting, but not too obvious...if I was a wealthy patron, that's where I'd put myself! Anyway, it certainly looks the most like Lorenzo...does anyone know for sure? I have been trying to find a more authoritative source, but so far, no luck.

So I'm doing a poll (unless any readers can offer a definitive ID). Where's Lorenzo? (you can click on the picture above to take a larger look)

Here's a head shot of Lorenzo, for comparison:

Let the debate begin!


My Castle in Spain said...

I can't spot Lorenzo but this is is a fascinating who's who painting as you say !

Now about the world cup, yes yes everybody is very happy here and proud...
i'm not a football fan but i did watch the match last night and i will on sunday too !

Margaret said...

Thanks for the comment!

I still think Lorenzo is the guy on the right in the dark mantle - he has a pretty distinctive nose! I am curious what others will say. Too bad Niall Ferguson doesn't read my blog. I'd be curious to find out where he heard Lorenzo was the guy in blue... though I'm assuming he went to the gallery where the painting is held. Perhaps he made a mistake in his notes?

As for the World Cup, my mom, my husband and I are all huge football fans, but even if you aren't, this has to be exciting! I'm a little torn between Spain and the Netherlands. I probably will cheer for Spain, though. Honestly, it will just be nice to see a new team win the World Cup!

Tracy said...

Thanks for this great reading recommendation, Margaret--this one is going on my must-read list! :o) The World Cup has been so exciting this time--so many great matches. I'm torn too for the weekend... but think I'll be cheering Spain on! Many thanks for visiting my place, and your very kind words. Happy Summer ((HUGS))

Lorenzo said...

Hi, Margaret. In a Taschen book by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen, they identify Lorenzo as the main in the left-center with the white robe and gold and red cap who is looking toward Jesus. The book says the work was commissioned by the banker Guaspare di Lama, who wished to win favor with the Medici family. He is in the middle of the top row of men on the right, looking at the painter and pointing a finger at his chest.

acornmoon said...

Do you think that the Medici's played Where's Lorenzo rather like we play Where's Waldo, or in Britain "Where's Wally?"

Margaret said...

@Lorenzo - I knew you'd have the answer, Lorenzo! Well, I think that's what Ferguson meant too, though he considers the robe pale blue rather than white. Perhaps the robes look more white in the original? Anyway, thank you for the research!

@acornmoon - love your comment, Valerie.

Alexandra said...

I love that you posted such a geeky question on your blog!!
Thanks to my blogging art history friend H. Niyazi for the tip - i'll be keeping tabs on your blog from now on!

H Niyazi said...

Hi Alexandra! I'm glad you found Margaret's wonderful blog. I was led here by a tweet by M from Alberti's Window :) What a treasure for Art History fans!

As for the topic - Botticellian mysteries are my favourite!

It is unfortunate that we have no definitive document that lists these figures. Vasari is decidedly sketchy on it, preferring to address the grace of Sandro's execution rather than dwell on a who's who.

I personally like the idea of the kneeling Lorenzo as well, situated directly behind his brother Giuliano. This way, the reverence shown for the Magi was a very public display of piety, which the Medici excelled at.

It is sad to know that just two(or so) years after the date of this painting that Giuliano would be killed in the Pazzi attack.

In this sense, this work immortalised him alongside his forbears within living memory of when it was first painted.