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: Giorgio Vasari's Portrait of Six Tuscan Poets


Edgar Peters Bowron



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), like many of his Florentine contemporaries in the reign of Cosimo I de'Medici, applied his talent and influence to a broad range of humanistic activities. Painter, architect, and academician, Vasari was also an indefatigable traveler and correspondent and a collector of drawings. He is most familiar to modern students of the Renaissance as a writer: his Lives of the most eminent Painters Sculptors, and Architects, first published in 1550 and dedicated to Cosimo I, remains the most important contribution ever made to the history of Italian art.Vasari proved himself, in the Lives, a brilliant historian, biographer, and critic, and the judgment is accurate that his writings were destined to be a contribution of more universal value to the history of art than what he accomplished as a painter.1 Nonetheless, Vasari's remarkable artistic activity has not received sufficient critical recognition. His real sensibility and talent can be appreciated in the impressive and important example of his art acquired by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1971, the Portrait of Six Tuscan Poets.2Commissioned in July, 1543, by Luca Martini, a Florentine humanist of certain historical interest, the painting was completed before September of the following year, 1544.3 So great was its popularity that many copies were made.4 One of the most important was a replica on canvas for historian Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, who influenced Vasari to write his Lives and who had assembled in his “museum” on Lake Como several hundred portraits of viri illustrissimi ranging from Aristotle to Leonardo da Vinci.5The portrait has enjoyed a history of fame and distinction equal to that of the literary and humanistic Florentine culture in which it was created. The painting was recorded in the Grand Siècle in the collection of Cardinal Mazarin, Minister to Louis XIV, in his palace in Paris.6 Philippe d'Orléans, who became Regent of France upon the death of Louis XIV and who brought together at the Palais Royal the most magnificent private collection ever seen in France, owned the painting.7 In the nineteenth century the painting passed through several private English collections.8The principal sitter, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), is seated before a table in the traditional Florentine chair known as a sedia dantesca, his head in profile to the right. Holding a volume inscribed VIRG-ILI-US which he has consulted, he appears absorbed in discussion with the poet on his left. Over an under-cap with white ear flaps, Dante wears the characteristic cappuccio crowned with laurel. The sleeveless lucco, a loose-fitting tunic worn in the fourteenth century by persons of various ranks and occupations, ranges from red in shadow to a lustrous pink in highlight; the cassock worn underneath, buttoned at the throat and on the sleeves, is pale violet; the red cuffs of a third garment are buttoned at Dante's wrist. His profile reflects a portrait image formulated in the fifteenth century which emphasized the poet's eminent features: the break in the nose, the heavy jaw, and the decided drawing down the corner of the mouth.9Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) can be recognized by his ecclesiastical habit and by the book he holds, on the cover of which a cameo portrait of Laura. Four of the poets are wreathed with laurel, and emblem de rigueur in the sixteenth century for assertions of the great destinies of verse and for the triumphal crown of poetic achievement. For Petrarch, who received his garland on the Capitol in Rome, April 8, 1341, laurea is further associated with his beloved Laura.The identities of the remaining portraits are provided by Vasari himself in the autobiographical pages of the Lives. The laureated poet in discussion with Dante and pointing with his right forefinger to the volume of Virgil is Dante's intimate friend Guido Cavalcanti (ca. 1255-1300), the poet translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and admired by Ezra Pound. In the Vita Nuova dedicated to Cavalcanti (xxx.3), Dante refers to their close friendship and to the poet as mio primo amico (xxxiv. 3,6), including him among the famous poets of the day. In the Divina Commedia Dante again refers to Cavalcanti as Guido Vostro and, indicating his guide Virgil, hints that Guido held him in disdain (Inf. 7, 61-63).10 This dispute about Virgil, to which Dante alludes, is the probable subject of discussion between the two poets in the painting.The tonsured poet between Petrarch and Dante, seen only in three-quarter face, is Boccaccio (1313-1375), author of Il Decamerone, poet, and biographer of Dante. It is difficult to specify which of the remaining two poets is Cino da Pistoia (1270-1336), Dante's friend and, with Dante and Cavalcanti, one of the principal poets of the new lyric school (Il Dolce Stil Novo) in Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The remaining portrait would be, according to Vasari, Guittone d'Arezzo (ca. 1230-1294), usually credited with having first brought the Italian sonnet to the perfect form which it has since preserved.11The immediate artistic and practical problem facing Vasari in the creation of the group portrait for Luca Martini was that of obtaining trustworthy likenesses of the poets. In the early Renaissance a common practice had developed in Europe, and especially in Italy, of decorating the walls of private residences and public buildings with frescoes depicting people and events belonging to the realms of history and legend. The fourteenth-century portrait of Dante in the chapel of the Palazzo Podestà, known as the Bargello, is ascribed to Giotto by Vasari and is an important example of such representations.12 The portraits of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti painted by Taddeo Gaddi after 1345 in Santa Croce, Florence, provided another source (which Vasari himself caused to be destroyed in 1566 in the restoration and reconstruction of the church).In the early fifteenth century, representations of four Florentine poets of the trecento (Dante, Petrarch, Zenobio da Stradana, Boccaccio) were commissioned by the Guild of Judges and Notaries in Florence.13 Another series in a minor Florentine palace represented the Florentine poets with such ancient heroes as Alexander, Scipio, Cicero, and Camillus. Dante was the principal writer honored by portraits in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; but Boccaccio, for example, appears among the blessed in the Strozzi Chapel and elsewhere. A profile bust of Petrarch was introduced in a late fourteenth-century manuscript of his writings, and he was shown at his desk in a fresco of this period in the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua.14 Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch were included in Andrea del Castagno's cycle of famous men for the Villa Pandolfini at Legnaia. In Italy, and especially in Florence, the wish to perpetuate the images of Dante and his literary successors provided an important stimulus for the development of the portrait.15Vasari described the likenesses of the Tuscan Poets as “accurately copied from their ancient portraits,”16 but the teste antiche of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries were not his sources. A more likely source would have been a late fifteenth-century profile miniature of Petrarch which presents the characteristic features of Vasari's portrait and which is a portrait type existing in other media.17 In examining the early representations of Dante, for example, one becomes aware that Vasari painted a generalized and recognizable transcription of the poet's features in profile as they had evolved in portrait images during the two previous centuries.18In Vasari's Ragionamenti, an explanation of the allegorical cycle of paintings he executed for Cosimo I de'Medici in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, he provides the information in the form of a series of imaginary conversations with Don Francesco de'Medici. In order to portray the deceased descendants, friends, and servants of Cosimo Vecchio, Vasari replied upon contemporary portrait likenesses. He used those painted by such fifteenth-century masters as Masaccio, Domenico Veneziano, Alessio Baldovinetti, and Domenico Ghirlandaio.19In the Tuscan Poets Vasari has adapted portrait images from a style that originated in painting in larger forms, and usually in fresco, to a style suitable for the independent panel portrait. Except for Dante, whose profile was distinctive and well-known, the poets are all depicted in three-quarter face. This suggests that their likenesses depend upon the collective portraiture in earlier Florentine fresco cycles where this view was employed.20 Vasari has, in fact, directly adapted the features of the poet at the extreme left, Guittone d'Arezzo, from a portrait he believed represented the Florentine historian and Dante critic, Cristoforo Landino, painted in 1485 by Domenico Ghirlandaio in a fresco cycle in the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella.21 The portrait of Cino da Pistoia, second from left, is derived in reverse from an adjacent figure in the same scene of Zacharias in the Temple, believed by Vasari to portray the Neo-Platonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino. This adaptation would explain the phenomenon of the thirteenth-century poets wearing the close-fitting caps contemporary to the fifteenth century and would account for the interpolative character of the portraits. The fifteenth-century Santa Maria Novella portraits were again used by Vasari in the lunette depicting Lorenzo Magnifico amongst His Scholars in the Sala di Lorenzo Magnifico, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Here Landino is seated and holding a globe and a pair of dividers, while Ficino appears on Lorenzo's immediate right.The confusion concerning the identities of the two minor poets is increased by the existence of a rare and anonymous sixteenth-century engraving, possibly Roman, after Vasari's painting.22 The Tuscan poets are identified here as Angelo Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino—understandable in a view of the fact that confusion about the identification of the individual portraits in Ghirlandaio's narrative cycles seems to have existed even in the fifteenth century.The frozen countenances and formalized poses of Vasari's poets suggest the influence of one of the many literary portraits painted in Florence in the second quarter of the sixteenth century in the manner of Pontormo and Bronzino.23 The ease with which maniera artists borrowed and adapted these literary images from one another is suggested by the magnificent Florentine portrait of Dante in the National Gallery of Art, Washington,24 in which the poet's head and shoulders are posed approximately as in the Minneapolis painting. Dante is shown in the setting of the Commedia, reaching out with one hand to ward off the flames of Hell from Florence, its dome and towers touched by the glow from the spheres of Paradise beyond the Mountain of Purgatory. This profile of Dante appears again in a woodcut title vignette of a 1564 edition of the Commedia with commentary by Cristoforo Landino.Having resolved the particular difficulty of obtaining satisfactory physiognomic likenesses for the portrait, Vasari faced the problems inherent in the integrated group-portrait. The solution was part achieved by reference to Raphael's portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de'Medici and Luigi de'Rossi, Florence, Galleria Piti, of which Vasari himself had painted a copy.25 The pose of the principal sitter and his relation to Giulio de'Medici, the steep angle of the chair and table, the arrangement of the cloth, and the objects upon the table relating to the sitters' identities—these elements provide the substructure of Vasari's composition.The physical and psychological character of Raphael's portrait, however, has undergone a severe transformation as Vasari reinterprets the vocabulary of a High Renaissance classical style of portraiture. In accordance with the principles developed in his recent group portraits as The Supper of Saint Gregory painted in 1540 for the refectory of San Michele in Bosco, Bologna, Vasari creates an extraordinary spatial tension in the painting in several ways. He flattens the figure of Dante parallel to the picture plane and twists his pose in two directions; he inserts the remaining portrait heads around Petrarch and Dante and eliminates the background; he momentarily disperses our attention with the abundance of details and secondary figures in the composition; and finally, with his sober draughtsmanship and pale, tinted coloring, he polishes and idealizes the forms into abstract images, fixed and separate from one another.In the sixteenth century a complex symbolic language had been elaborated for secular paintings, as Vasari's notebooks show. He employed animals, vegetables, and minerals in the service of his allegorical programs and expressed himself in the language of astrology and classical mythology as well.26 Vasari was careful to explain the hidden meanings of the complicated allegorical elements of his paintings, like those in the portrait of Alessandro de'Medici, Florence, Uffizi; and these descriptions suggest that the furnishings in the Minneapolis picture refer allegorically to the poets.27 In eliminating any suggestion of physical setting, Vasari heightens the intellectual setting established by the objects in the foreground: an inkstand, a solar quadrant, a pair of books, a pair of dividers, and a celestial and terrestrial globe.In the Renaissance, as Professor Gombrich demonstrates, all the arts were thought to have a common link.28 The theme of the essential unity of all humane learning is a feature of much humanistic thought of the period, and the manifold activities of the Renaissance poet provided no exception to this fact. Poets frequently dealt with such mysteries as Astronomy or Philosophy and by necessity commanded excellence in the various subjects of the medieval Quadrivium and Trivium. The objects on the table in our painting were usually employed in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance to convey learning in general; here they allude to the learning required in the vocation of Poetry. The quadrant indicates the Arts of Astronomy and Astrology; the celestial globe is the traditional symbol of Astronomy as well as Geometry and Cosmography; the compass, an instrument of mathematical measure, signifies Geometry and Geography; books are attributes of Grammar and Poetry itself; a pen and inkstand are almost universal symbols for the writer and scholar.29In the sixteenth century terrestrial and celestial globes frequently constituted a part of library furnishings and appeared on title-pages and in paintings.30 Their significance, as one might expect, was often intended to be allusive to learning in general and to certain of the scientific disciplines in particular. The identifiable constellations clockwise from the zenith are Ursa Major, Cancer, Gemini, Hercules, Leo, Taurus, Erichthonius, and just faintly legible, Perseus.31 The terrestrial globe, with a red horizon dividing the northern and southern hemispheres, is rotated to show Italy and Southern Europe, Africa, and the geographical area of the present Near East. The celestial constellations are likely shown with the intention of characterizing the cosmological and astrological aspects of the sky at a certain time. Vasari may have intended both globes to refer to specific moments in Dante's journey through Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.32The Renaissance academician was, of course, an expert on mythology and symbolism, well-versed in the contemporary literature on the subjects and ready to advise poets and artists on the choice of scheme or program. Vasari, in discussing his own artistic career, frequently acknowledges his indebtedness to “many common friends, men of learning” for ideas and information related to the iconography of his paintings.33 The selection of the sitters, the controversy between Dante and Cavalcanti, and the allegorical still-life objects suggest collaboration among Vasari, his patron, and their scholar-friends in the invention of the subject.Luca Martini was energetic in the service of Duke Cosimo I de'Medici as an unofficial political and cultural advisor. He served also as provveditore of his fortifications at Portoferraio on Elba and as hydraulic engineer supervising the draining of the marshes and the construction of canals for irrigation around Pisa.34 The latter achievement is emphasized in the Pitti portrait painted in the mid-fifties by Agnolo Bronzino, in which Martini is represented holding a plan of the Pisan canal system. Moreover, he was an active member of the Florentine Academy with an influential rapport with such contemporary artists as Bronzino, who composed sonnets on the occasion of his death in 1561, and Michelangelo. Himself a poet in the tradition of Francesco Berni, Martini possessed an intense interest in Dante and in the traditional criticism of the Commedia.35The cultural and historical significance of the Minneapolis painting must be sought within the context of the activities of the Florentine Academy in the 1540s. Originally founded in November, 1540, as the Accademia degli Umdi, the Accademia Fiorentina fostered discussions of such traditional subjects as linguistics, versification, textual criticism, and the nature of poetic activity. They debated the issues involved in the establishment of a common literary language for Italy. A common thread in the discussion of these critical issues was the writings of Dante and Petrarch.The sixteenth century was, par excellence, the century of interest in the work of Dante and Petrarch: fifty editions of the Commedia and some one hundred sixty-seven editions Petrarch's canzoniere appeared therein. The lectures delivered to the members of the Academy examined Dante's vocabulary and diction, the presence of materials from other disciplines in his poetry, and the relative merits of his and Petrarch's poetry. In 1543 Giovanni Battista Gelli discussed Dante's handling of scientific materials (astrology, geography, physiognomics, theology, philosophy). Pierfrancesco Giambullari, in his Lettioni sopra Dante delivered to the members of the Academy in 1547, expressed his high estimate of Dante's capabilities as a man of science. His greatness, argued Giambullari, is attributed in large measure to his competence in every field of human thought, and especially in the domains of theology, astrology, and cosmography.36The problem of establishing a common Italian literary language, the questione della lingua, continued as an issue of special importance in the sixteenth century. During the period from the end of the tenth to the twelfth century, when Italian dialects were commonly spoken throughout the peninsula, medieval Latin continued to dominate literary expression. In the thirteenth century a rapid development of lyrical poetry in the three schools of Sicily, Bologna, and Tuscany occurred, leaving the impacts of their dialects upon the resulting literary language. The Tuscan school, led by Dante, dominated the last phase of this development and produced the greatest poets. Thus, the common literary language in Italy around 1300 became the Tuscan dialect, the lingua tuscana. This language then made further progress during the fourteenth century which produces a large amount of vernacular literature and at least two great Tuscan writers, Petrarch and Boccaccio.37The defenders of the use of Latin, however, persisted in their cause even into the sixteenth century.38 Partly in response to this attitude, one of the stated purposes of the Florentine Academy was the translation of all sciences into the Tuscan vernacular.39 The Academicians understandably looked to the unquestioned literary fame and achievements of the Tuscans Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Cavalcanti, and Cino in support of the common language of all Italy.40 Dante himself had vigorously championed the Tuscan dialect in De Vulgari Eloquentia (“On the Vulgar Language”) and had maintained that the vernacular language is primary and natural and that Latin is a secondary and artificial language.The campanilismo, or local patriotism, of the sixteenth-century Florentine heirs of the poets found its visual expression in the many panegyrical literary portraits and allegorical subjects painted in the second and third quarters of the century. The glorification of Tuscan poets and of early Tuscan poetry served a cultural, political, aesthetic, and even a social function in Florence under Cosimo I.41 The accomplishments of these early Tuscans in the literary arts—the antecedents of contemporary Florentine literary and intellectual achievements under the régime of Cosimo I—are related to the endeavors of the early Tuscans in the visual arts: Arnolfo di Cambio in architecture, Niccola and Giovanni Pisano in sculpture, and especially, Cimabue and Giotto in painting. For Vasari and his academic Florentine colleagues, convinced of the superiority of their own over all previous ages, these thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Tuscan artists were the sowers of the seeds of a new kind and conception of art which slowly flowered and finally flourished in their own day. In the arts of poetry, Dante and other early Tuscan poets fulfilled a similar historical role and stood to remind that the “Tuscan genius has ever been raised high above all others.”42Edgar Peters Bowron, former Registrar of the Institute, is a present Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art at The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. He is the author of several articles on Italian painting to be published in the near future.Endnotes
  1. J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy: 1500-1600 (Harmondsworth, 1970), p. 308.
  2. 71.24. The John R. Van Derlip and William Hood Dunwoody Funds. Oil on wood, 52” x 51 5/8”.
  3. Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite d' piu eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori ed. G. Milanesi (Florence, 1896), VII, pp. 673, 674, “Fui forzato tournarmene a Fiorenza; dove feci alguni quadri, e fra gli altri uno, in cui era Dante, Petrarca, Guido Cavalcanti, il Boccaccio, Cino da Pistoia e Guittone d'Arezzo; il quale fu poi di Luca Martini, cavato dalle teste antiche loro accuratamente: del quale ne sono state fatte poi molte copie.” In his note to this passage Milanesi observed that “una di queste esisteva nella galleria del Duca d'Orleans.” For the document of payment see Alessandro del Vita, Il Libro Delle Ricordanze de Giorgio Vasari (Rome, 1938), p. 45, no. 45.
  4. R. T. Holbrook, Portraits of Dante from Giotto to Raphael (New York, 1909), pp. 154, 157, 158, discusses and reproduces an indifferent contemporary copy of the Minneapolis painting, now in the Senior Common Room, Oriel College, Oxford. Once in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna, it was lent to Charles of Lorraine by his sister-in-law Maria Theresa when he was appointed Viceroy of the Low Countries in 1744. After his death in 1780, “it was most improperly sold, at Brussels, and came to London, where it was bought in 1790 by James Clutterbuck Smith, a member of Oriel College.” I wish to thank Mr. K. C. Turpin, Provost, Oriel College, and Mr. Ian Lowe, Assistant Keeper, Ashmolean Museum, for providing a recent photograph of this painting. A replica of the Minneapolis painting is reportedly in the Palazzo Albani, Rome.A small copy on parchment (43 x 44 cm.) is reproduced in L'Oeil no. 204 (Dec. 1971), 46, as in the Galleria Vangelisti, Lucca.
  5. Del Vita (1938), p. 59, no. 66.
  6. Inventaire de tous les meubles du Cardinal Mazarin. Dressè en 1653, et publie d'apres l'original, conserve dans les archives de Candée (London, 1861), p. 313, no. 170; Gabriel-Jules Cosnac, Les richesses du Palais Mazarin (Paris, 1884), p. 303, no. 1004 (inventory of 1661).
  7. G. Stryienski, La Galerie du Régent Phillippe, Duc d'Orléans (Paris, 1913), p. 163, no. 176.
  8. The Italian pictures of the Orléans collection were sold in 1792 to the Belgian banker, Walkuers. He sold them to Laborde de Méréville who fled with them to England where they were bought by Jeremiah Harman and subsequently by a syndicate consisting of the Duke of Bridgewater and Lords Carlisle and Gower. The three agreed to select certain of the pictures for their own collections and to sell the remainder by private contract. A sale was arranged by Bryan who exhibited the entire collection of Italian pictures for six months beginning December 26, 1798, at the Lyceum and at Bryan's own gallery, Pall Mall, London. The painting was bought by either Thomas Henry Hope or Henry Philip Hope, who were brothers, and bequeathed by the latter to his nephew, Henry Thomas Hope of Deepdene. It was subsequently bequeathed by Mrs. Henry Thomas Hope to her grandson Lord Francis Pelham Clinton Hope. Sold to E. D. Winkworth, Christie's, 20 July 1917, no. 126, the painting was sold again to Wildenstein & Company, New York, at Sotheby's, 17 May 1961, no. 34.
  9. For an introduction to the literature on Dante portraiture and iconography, see Addison McLeod, “Portraits of Dante,” The Art Journal, vol. 68 (1906), 365-369; R. T. Holbrook, Portraits of Dante from Giotto to Raphael (New York, 1909); Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., The Portraits of Dante (Princeton, 1921).
  10. Charles S. Singleton, “Guido's Disdain,” MLN, vol. 77 (1962), pp. 49-65.
  11. Paget Toynbee, A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante, revised by C. S. Singleton (Oxford, 1968), s.v. “Guittone,” pp. 348, 349.
  12. Vasari-Milanesi, I, p. 372. The original portrait was not painted by Giotto; see Millard Meiss, “The Smiling Pages,” in Peter Brieger, Millard Meiss, Charles Singleton, Illuminated Manuscripts of the Divine Comedy (Princeton, 1969), vol. I, p. 41.
  13. Theodore Mommsen, “Petrarch and the decoration of the Sala Virorum Illustrium,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 34 (1952), p. 114.
  14. Mommsen, op. cit., p. 114, figs. 3, 6.
  15. Meiss, op. cit., I, p. 42.
  16. Vasari-Milanesi, VII, p. 668.
  17. Florence, Biblioteca Medicca Laurenziana, ms. Plut. 41, 1. See Mostra Storica Nazionale della Miniatura (Rome, 1953), p. 330, no. 521.
  18. Honbrook, op. cit., pp. 157-59, correctly rejected the possibility that Vasari utilized the Giottesque portrait in the Bargello and suggested a more modern source for Vasari's Dante: the fresco portrait by Luca Signorelli after 1500 for the chapel of S. Brixio, Orvieto Cathedral, in which the poet is seated before a table of books, his head in profile to the right.
  19. Vasari-Milanesi, VIII, p. 87.
  20. John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance (New York, 1966), pp. 17-28.
  21. Vasaru-Milanesi, III, pp. 266, 267, “Il primo è messer Marsilio Ficino, che ha una veste da canonico; il secondo, con un mantello rosso ed una becca nera al collo, è Cristofano Landino, e Demetrio Greco che se gli volta: e, in mezzo a questi, quello che alza alquanto una mano è messer Angelo Poliziano; i quali sono vivissimi e pronti.”Milanesi noted and published in his notes to the Vite a document which correctly identified the figures as Landino, Poliziano, Ficino, and, at the extreme right, the Bishop of Arrezzo de' Becchi.
  22. Rio de Janeiro, Private Collection, 16” x 11 1/4”. See Leo Olschi, “Questionario degli Eruditi,” La Bibliofilia, vol. 25 (1924), pp. 342-344, repr. 343. We are grateful to Señor M. H. Cavalcanti de Lacerda for providing photographs of the engraving and for bibliographical information concerning its provenance.Hieronimus Cock's contemporary engraving after the Tuscan Poets, Le Blanc, II, p. 31, no. 93, also identifies the poets as “Portraits de guido Cavalcantes, de Dante, Gio. Bocacci, Franc. Petrarca, Angelo Poliziano, Marsilius Ficinus.”The engraving by Cathelin and Mondet after the painting was published in La Galerie du Palais-Royal Complete, Gravée d'apres (Paris, 1786-1806), vol. I; G. J. Cosnac, Les Richesses du Palais Mazarin (Paris, 1885), plate 20, includes an anonymous engraving of the upper portion of the painting.
  23. Vasari-Milanesi, VII, p. 595, describes Bronzino's lost lunette portraits of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, painted for Bartolomeo Bettini perhaps in 1533, as “figure dal mezzo in su, bellissime.” The room was decorated with the portraits of these poets and other Tuscans who had written of love.A survey of the Florentine literary portraits in the style of Pontormo and Bronzino would be useful and would include such paintings as G. B. Naldini's portrait of Petrarch, Florence, Galleria Corsini; a pair of oval pendant portraits on panel, representing Dante and Petrarch, in which the head and shoulders of the former, his left arm and hand and the upper half of the book repeat the pose of the poet in the Washington painting and the pose of the latter is similar to that of Petrarch in the Minneapolis group portrait, Roman Arts Market, 1973; and the anonymous portraits of Dante at Cleveland and Yale published by Mather and Holbrook, op. cit.
  24. Allegorical Portrait of Dante, oil on wood, 50” x 47 1/4”. See Fern Rusk Shapely, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Italian Schools XVI-XVIII Century (London, 1973), pp. 21, 22, no. K 2154, fig. 44, who attributes the painting to the “Circle of Giorgio Vasari” with a date about 1575/85. Attributions of authorship have included Bronzino, G. B. Naldini, and Girolamo Machietti.
  25. Vasari-Milanesi, VII, p. 662.
  26. See Jean Rouchette, La Renaissance que nous a léguée Vasari (Paris, 1959), and the same author's essay on “La domestication de l'esoterisme dans l'oeuvre de Vasari,” in Enrico Castelli, ed., Umanesimo e Esoterismo (Padua, 1960).
  27. Hayden Huntley, “Portraits by Vasari,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 31 (1947), p. 34, translates the artist's pertinent letter on the painting: “The chair on which he sits is round without beginning or end to illustrate the perpetuity of his reigns. Those three truncated bodies on each of the three legs of the chair, being of the perfect number, are his people who being guided according to the will of Him above who commands them, have neither arms nor legs. The end of these figures is converted into a lion's paw, a part of the emblem of the city of Florence. Also there is a mask bridled with some bands, which stands for Volubility to show that the people are tied and bound by the new fortress and by the love which they bear for his excellency. That red cloth which comes across the top of the seat which has the truncated bodies, stands for the blood spilled over those who fought against the grandeur of the illustrious house of the Medici; and a fold of it covering a thigh of the armor, points out that also those of the house of the Medici have shed blood...”
  28. E. H. Gombrich, “Raphael's Stanza della Segnatura and the Nature of its Symbolism,” in Symbolic Images: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance (London, 1972), pp. 91, 92.
  29. Guy de Tervarent, Attributs et Symboles dans l'Art Profane, 1450-1600 (Geneva, 1958), passim.
  30. E. L. Stevenson, A Terrestrial and Celestial Globes (New Haven, 1921), I, p. 61 and passim for an introduction to the subject in the sixteenth century.
  31. This identification is derived from the celestial globes designed by Albrecht Dürer for Johannes Stabius, Vienna, in 1515, and the ceiling fresco by Giovanni Antonio Vanosino da Verese, 1575, Sala Bolognese, Vatican. See Jacob Hess, “Celestial Maps and Globes,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institues, 30 (1967), pl. 49 and appendix, p. 409.
  32. Rouchette (1960), op. cit., pp. 352, 353.
  33. Vasari-Milanesi, VII, p. 668.
  34. On Luca Martini, see P. Giulio Negri, Istoria degli Scrittori Fiorentini (Ferrara, 1722), pp. 384, 385; Detlef Heikamp, “Rapporti fra accademici ed artisti nella Firenze del '500,” il Vasari, 15 (1957), p. 145; Annibal Caro, Lettere Familiari, Aulo Greco, ed. (Florence, 1957), I, p. 14, no. 7; W. Chandler Kirwin, “Vasari's Tondo of Cosimo I with his Architects, Engineers and Sculptors in the Palazzo Vecchio,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, XV (1971), p. 120, has identified a portrait of Martini by Vasari in the background of this tondo in the Sala di Cosimo I.
  35. Corell University Library, Catalogue of the Dante Collection, additions 1898-1920 compiled by Mary Fowler (Ithaca, 1921), p. 87, s.v. Martini; Ludovico Guerrini, An account of a copy of the Commedia, printed by Aldus, with ms. annotations by Luca Martini (Florence, 1899); O. Gigli, “Roscontro e scelta delle varianti di sette manoscritti della Divina Commedia, fatto nel 1546 da Baccio Valori, Benedetto Varchi, Luca Martini, etc.,” in Studi Sulla Divina Commedia (1855).
  36. Bernard Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago, 1961), II, pp. 821-823; see also Marcello Vannucci, Dante nella Firenze del ‘500, Florence, 1965.
  37. On the questione della lingua, see Paul O. Kristeller, “The origin and development of the language of Italian prose,” in Renaissance Thought II (New York, 1965), p. 121, passim.
  38. Cecil Grayson, A Renaissance controversy. Latin or Italian? (Oxford, 1960), p. 9, suggests that it is Bembo's view of the two languages in his Prose della Volgar Lingua that initiates sixteenth-century debates and largely determines their form and conclusions. He there establishes clearly for the first time, and in historical perspective, that Italian is narrative and modern, Latin foreign and remote, declaring that whoever now writes in Latin may be said to write for the dead rather than the living. This view was the exact opposite of the belief long nurtured by humanists in the unbroken vital continuity of Latin.
  39. Kristeller, op. cit., p. 137, no. 51.
  40. E. H. Wilkins, A History of Italian Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1954), p. 26; Grayson, op. cit., p. 17.
  41. Vasari-Milanesi, VIII, p. 527, describes the festive preparations for the entry of Giovanna d'Austria into Florence on December 16, 1566, preceding her marriage to Don Francesco de'Medici. The decorations included a series of allegorical paintings, one of which represented “that Tuscan Apollo who infuses Tuscan verse in Tuscan poets.” Under his feet was painted the summit of Helicon, from which rose the sacred spring of Aganippe. In the shade of laurels were seen various poets, “portrayed from life,” discoursing as they walked, or singing to the sound of lyre. These included Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Cino da Pistoia, Guido Cavalcanti, and Guittone d'Arezzo, as well as a number of minor poets.On Cosimo I and his uses of the heritage of the Florentine past, see Eric Cochran, Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527-1800 (Chicago, 1973), pp. 80-87, passim.
  42. Vasari-Milanesi, VII, p. 136.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Giorgio Vasari. Italian, 1511-1574. Portrait of Six Tuscan Poets. Oil on wood, 52” x 51 5/8”. The John R. Van Derlip and William Hood Dunwoody Funds, 71.24.
  2. Anonymous Italian artist. Portrait of Petrarch. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, ms. Plut. 41, 1.
  3. Domenico Ghirlandaio. Zachariias in the Temple (detail). Santa Maria Novella, Florence (Photo: Alinari).
  4. Giorgio Vasari. Lorenzo Magnifico amongst His Scholars. Palazzo Vecchio, Sala di Lorenzo. Magnifico, Florence (Photo: Alinari).
  5. Anonymous Italian engraver. Engraving after Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Six Tuscans. Private Collection, Rio di Janeiro, Brazil.
  6. Anonymous Florentine artist. Allegorical Portrait of Dante. Oil on wood, 50” x 47 1/4”. The National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection, Washington, D.C.
  7. Woodcut title vignette. Christoforo Landino and Alessandro Vellutello, Dante con lespositions sopra la sua Comedia dell'Interno, del Purgatorio, e del Paradiso, Venice, 1564.
  8. Raphael. Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de'Medici and Luigi de'Rossi. Galleria Pitti, Florence (Photo: Alinari)
  9. Detail: table with celestial and terrestrial globes.
  10. Agnolo Bronzino. Portrait of Luca Martini. Galleria Pitti, Florence (Photo: Brogi).
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Source: Edgar Peters Bowron, "Giorgio Vasari's Portrait of Six Tuscan Poets," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 60 (1971-1973): 42-53.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009