Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The High Renaissance

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper

Raphael, The "School of Athens" (Philosophy), from the Stanza della Segnatura

Bramante, Tempietto

Michelangelo, David

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Michelangelo and Bramante, St. Peter's Basilica


Leonardo da Vinci
--atmospheric perspective
--Lisa Gherardini Giocondo
--The Grand Manner
--Pope Julius II
--Sistine Chapel
St. Peter's

read Chapter 16

The Sistine Chapel in Use

The Sistine Chapel was built for the election of new popes.  Here are the cardinals processing from the Pauline Chapel into the Sistine Chapel for the recent election of Pope Francis.  The Vatican Master of Ceremonies orders everyone not involved in the election to leave and shuts the doors before the voting begins.

The Mystery of the Mona Lisa Solved ... Maybe.

For reasons that have never been clear to me, the identity of the sitter of this painting has been controversial since the mid 20th century. Vasari in his chapter on Leonardo in Lives of the Artists identifies the woman in this painting as Lisa Gherardini Giocondo, the wife of a young Florentine silk merchant by the name of Francesco Giocondo. Vasari says that Leonardo painted it on the occasion of their marriage. Ever since, the painting has been known as Mona Lisa (old Florentine dialect that means "My Lady Lisa"), or La Gioconda, "The Smiler" which is a play on the name Giocondo. Until the 20th century, no one ever thought to question that identity.

Since the mid-20th century, there have been all sorts of proposed alternative identifications such as the Duke of Milan Francesco Sforza's mistress Cecilia Gallerani, or the Duke's long suffering Duchess Caterina Sforza, or Isabella d'Este, or Leonardo's mother (supposedly done from memory), or Leonardo's boyfriend, bodyguard, and assistant Salai, or even Leonardo himself.
In the 1990s, the best scholar on Leonardo in the English language, Martin Kemp, did something no one thought to do, and that was to go looking through the city records in Florence for information on Lisa Gherardini. It turns out that there was a lot about her. She had married young (as did most women of the time). The Gherardinis were very close friends with Leonardo. He lived at their country villa for many years, including the years 1503 and 1504 when the painting was made. It was probably painted at that villa (which still exists). Lisa Gherardini would have been the right age for the woman in the painting. The artist probably knew her very well, and they may have been close friends. Kemp believed that despite all the laser scans and computer analyses of the mysterious face comparing the sitter to this or that person, Vasari may have been right all along, that the sitter was indeed Lisa Gherardini.

In 2005, a scholar in the University of Heidelberg made a discovery that appears to have ended the controversy once and for all. While cataloging rare books in the university library, Dr. Armin Schlechter discovered a note written in the margin of a 1477 edition of Cicero's Epistulae ad Familiares. It was written by Agostino Vespucci, cousin of the famous explorer Amerigo and a secretary to Niccolo Machiavelli when he was Chancellor of the Florentine Republic. In that note, Vespucci praises Leonardo as a new Apelles (a celebrated painter from Antiquity) for his work on the portrait of the wife of Francesco Giocondo, Lisa Gherardini, that the painting was made to commemorate the birth of her son Andrea, and writes a date of October 1503. That appears to be the end of the controversy and since then, there have been no more "experts" coming forward to claim that the painting is Leonardo in drag.

Agostino Vespucci's note from October 1503 in the margin of Cicero's Epistulae.