In Renaissance Florence, a number of designated boxes placed throughout the city allowed citizens to make anonymous denunciations of various moral crimes—in , for example, the artist-monk Filippo Lippi was accused of fathering a child with a nun. But the crime that the government was really trying to control was sodomy, so notoriously prevalent that contemporary German slang for a homosexual was Florenzer.
The common nature of the offense did not erase the threat of serious consequences. There is little doubt that Leonardo was arrested. Although any time he may have spent in jail was brief, and the case was dismissed, two months later, for lack of corroborating witnesses, he had plenty of time to ponder the possible legal punishments: a large fine, public humiliation, exile, burning at the stake. Private notebooks of all sizes, some carried about for quick sketches and on-the-spot observations, others used for long-term, exacting studies in geology, botany, and human anatomy, to specify just a few of the areas in which he posed fundamental questions, and reached answers that were often hundreds of years ahead of his time.
Why is the sky blue? How does the heart function? Music, military engineering, astronomy. Fossils and the doubt they cast on the Biblical story of creation. In the following centuries, at least half the pages were lost. What survives is an unparalleled record of a human mind at work, as fearless and dogged as it was brilliant. And yet, despite occasional jottings—a grocery list, a book to be borrowed—these notebooks were in no way a diary or a personal journal; they contain none of the self-exploration of Augustine or Thoreau. Consumed with the desire for knowledge, Leonardo told us more about the world than seems possible, and next to nothing about himself.
His biographers have a hard time, at once starved and overwhelmed, tasked with constructing a man around the spectacular evidence of this disembodied mind. The paintings offer little more in the way of knowledge. Arguments persist even about the identity of the woman known as Mona Lisa, or why Leonardo never delivered the portrait to the husband who commissioned it, if indeed it was her husband who commissioned it. Our deepest sense of this most famous artist remains subject to change. The systematic publication of the notebooks, beginning in the late nineteenth century, tipped our understanding of his goals from art toward science, and opened questions about how to square the legendary peacefulness of his nature with his designs for ingeniously murderous war machines.
Who will he be for us today? For all the unfamiliar challenges this book presents, in terms of history and culture, Isaacson is working a familiar theme. As always, he writes with a strongly synthesizing intelligence across a tremendous range; the result is a valuable introduction to a complex subject. The codex is currently owned by Bill Gates, who as Isaacson does not point out had some of its digitized pages used for a screen saver on the Microsoft operating system.
His Leonardo is lucky to have been born illegitimate—because he was not expected to follow his father into the notary business—and lucky, too, to have been only minimally educated, in math and writing, rather than schooled in the Latin authors reserved for youths of higher rank. Untrammelled by authority, he was free to think creatively.
As for being easily distracted, Isaacson warns that a young Leonardo today might well be medicated out of his creative urges. Beneath its diligent research, the book is a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it.
Speculation about Caterina has been rampant. But many questions remain. Did the boy ever live with his mother? Whom did he love, and who loved him? Still, he was a country boy of few prospects. All he could certainly do was draw. The city must have been a revelation to Leonardo: enormously wealthy, with numerous palazzi built by the newly dominant business class, room after room to be filled with art. There were more wood-carvers in town than butchers, and the streets were a living gallery of works by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Brunelleschi—the revolutionary generation that had just passed.
Verrocchio provided a practical education, not only in painting and sculpture but also in metalwork and engineering. And Leonardo, even in his teens, made a strong impression. The identification is appealing if not the established fact that Isaacson ultimately suggests.
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Most fascinating, however, is the way that Leonardo transformed this lightly boyish charm into a radiantly pure yet sensual ideal of male beauty. He had an affinity for angels. The divide between the two is technical as well as imaginative: Leonardo used oil paint, not old-fashioned egg-based tempera, and applied it in multiple thin layers, each a luminescent veil, so that his angel appears to be modelled in light.
He does not seem to have been conventionally ambitious: he stayed with Verrocchio for roughly a decade, far longer than the usual term, both working and living with the Master. Although they were crudely overpainted sometime later, one can make them out, short and strong: real wings to give fantasy flight. He was still living with Verrocchio when he was charged with sodomy in But precisely because the papacy could so easily be misused for familial aggrandisement and enrichment, these ecclesiastical abuses were all too familiar.
Though formally classed as a sin, simony was common. In , for example, Baldassare Cossa borrowed 10, fl. Nepotism, too, was widespread. In the early fifteenth century, Martin V had secured immense estates for his Colonna relatives in the kingdom of Naples, but within a century, nepotism had become so extreme that even Machiavelli felt obliged to attack Sixtus IV — who had elevated six of his relatives to the Sacred College — for this crime.
Similarly, there is no doubting that Alexander VI was a lusty and sexually adventurous pope. He openly acknowledged fathering a bevy of children by his mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei, and later enjoyed the legendary affections of Giulia Farnese, renowned as one of the most beautiful women of her day. But here again, Alexander was merely following the norms of the Renaissance papacy, and it is telling that Pius II had no shame about penning a wild, sexual comedy called Chrysis. Popes and cardinals were almost expected to have mistresses. Julius II, for example, was the father of numerous children, and never bothered to hide the fact, while Cardinal Jean de Jouffroy was notorious for being a devotee of brothels.
Homosexual affairs were no less common, and in that he seems to have limited himself to only one gender, Alexander VI almost seems straight-laced. Sixtus IV was, for instance, reputed to have given the cardinals special permission to commit sodomy during the summer, perhaps to allow him to do so without fear of criticism, while Paul II was rumoured to have died while being sodomised by a page-boy. He was, of course, a ferociously ambitious figure who indulged in some pretty low tactics. In all this, murder seemed not an occasional necessity, but an integral part of everyday existence.
Later, he even slaughtered three of his own senior commanders at a dinner in Senigallia after rightly suspecting them of plotting against him. But from a certain perspective, all of this was only to be expected. It was quite normal for the relatives of Renaissance popes to set their sights on conquest and acquisition. This meant war. And in an age in which war was the preserve of mercenaries, war meant cruelty on a grand scale. The wild, bisexual Pier Luigi Farnese, for example, was infamous for his brutality, and not only pillaged at will, but also made a habit of hunting down those men who resisted his advances.
So too, Francesco Maria della Rovere, was nothing more than a soldier for hire, who ordered his troops to slaughter Cardinal Francesco Alidosi after his own failure to capture Bologna. Indeed, if anything, Cesare was unusual only in his tactical brilliance and in his comparative self-restraint. Yet this leaves us with a problem. Why did observers turn on them quite so comprehensively, and what was the reason for so dramatic a smear campaign? The first is simply that they were Spaniards , and as such, were yoked to shifting perceptions of Spanish influence in the Italian peninsula.
The fact that the Borgias hailed from Valencia, and that Alexander VI had helped to involve the Spanish more closely in Italian affairs meant that the family was almost inevitably tarred with the same brush. The second reason is that they were outsiders. Gli Uffizi nella prima epoca lorenese , Firenze , pp. Galerie Galerie Imperiale et Royale de Florence.
Galluzzi J. Galluzzi, Istoria del Granducato di Toscana sotto il governo della casa Medici , 9 voll. Gialluca B.
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Gialluca, Thomas Dempster a Pisa , in Seduzione etrusca. Dai segreti di Holkham Hall alle meraviglie del British Museum , exhibition catalogue Cortona, Palazzo Casali, 22 marzo — 31 luglio ed. Bruschetti, B. Gialluca, P. Giulierini, S. Reynolds, J. Swaddling, Milano , pp. Heikamp D.
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Langedijk K. Langedijk, The portraits of the Medici. Firenze Lanzi L. Lanzi, Storia pittorica dell'Italia , 3 voll. L'arme e gli amori L'arme e gli amori , exhibition catalogue Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina, 21 giugno ottobre , ed. Fumagalli, M. Rossi, R.
Spinelli, Livorno Leighton-Castelino Leighton, C. Meijer B. Meijer, Le sale dei pittori fiamminghi e olandesi agli Uffizi , in V. Conticelli con M. Guccini ed. Studi e ricerche, Sale dei pittori stranieri , Firenze , pp. Muscillo A. Muscillo in course of publication.
Muscillo, Iscrizioni di carta: la collezione epigrafica della Galleria degli Uffizi nell' Inventario disegnato coordinato da Benedetto Vincenzo de Greyss, in F. Paolucci ed. Paolucci F. Paolucci, Un museo perduto: la sala delle iscrizioni agli Uffizi , in , in Villa Corsini a Castello , Firenze , pp.
Due secoli di vicende del collezionismo di ritrattistica romana agli Uffizi , in Volti Svelati , exhibition catalogue Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi, Sala delle Reali Poste, 15 dicembre gennaio ed. Conticelli, F. Paolucci, Livorno , pp. Principe dei collezionisti , exhibition catalogue Firenze, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Tesoro dei Granduchi, 7 novembre 28 gennaio , ed. Conticelli, R. Gennaioli, M.
Sframeli, Livorno , pp. Alcune osservazioni sul Vaso Medici restaurato , in E. Bazzechi, C. Parigi ed. Studi in memoria di Vincenzo Saladino offerti dai suoi allievi , Roma , pp. Paolucci-Romualdi F. Paolucci, A. Romualdi ed.
Books in the Bag – Literary Affairs
Pelli G. Pieraccini E. Pieraccini, Catalogo della R. Galleria degli Uffizi in Firenze , Firenze Pollard J. Graham Pollard, Il medagliere mediceo , in Gli Uffizi. Prisco-De Vecchi M. Prisco, P. Ridolfi E. Ridolfi, Il mio direttorato delle Regie gallerie fiorentine , Firenze Rigoni C. Rigoni, Catalogo della R. Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze , Firenze Romualdi A. Simon I. Spalletti E. Spalletti, La galleria di Pietro Leopoldo.
Spinelli R. Spinelli, Giovan Battista Foggini. Warren J. Zacchiroli F. Zacchiroli, Description de la Galerie Royale de Florence. Accessible version Standard version.
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Search the website. Home Magazine Insights. The forgotten Grand Duke. The series of Medici-Lorraine busts and their commendation in the so-called Antiricetto of the Gallery of Statues and Paintings. This display came about thanks to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Peter Leopold to honour the by then extinct Medici family in a period in which the study of pictorial history began to reflect on a period in Florentine history that had come to an end.
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