Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Anghiari’

Allegory with Venus and CupidAgnolo di CosimoCalled Bronzinoca. 1545

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Agnolo di Cosimo
Called Bronzino
ca. 1545

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, studied from the age of fourteen in the bottega of Jacopo da Pontormo. In 1545, he received a commission (most likely from Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany though some attributions list this as a commission from Francesco Salviati) for a painting to be given to King Francis I of France. The oil on wood painting is called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” or “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”

What many people do not know is that Bronzino included an homage to the master, Leonardo da Vinci, in this complicated and convoluted work.

From Venus’s intimate embrace with her son, Cupid, to the upper right  bald figure of Time who holds the hour glass in his hand, most of the foreground of the work is relatively easy to understand. Move to the background and interpretations dissolve in what is a surreal backdrop of shadow and mannerist painting.

One particular figure is the subject of this article.

To the left of Cupid, whose naked buttocks disconcertingly intrudes on the left, is the figure of someone – a woman? a man? – in the midst of agony, anger and despair. Various interpretations have this figure representing jealousy or, by some, as the figure of syphilis, representative of unwise (out of wedlock?) intercourse. Regardless, it is clearly the image of someone in great distress.

Now, more back story.

In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission for a fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari to be completed on a wall in the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. His cartoon, long lost, depicted a tortuous configuration of horses and men engaged in the heat of battle.

It was to one particular figure that Leonardo gave the most fearsome features-one Niccolò Piccinino. A condottiero (military leader) of considerable fame and success, he succumbed to the forces of Ludovico Sforza at the Battle of Anghiari (1440). In the throws of that battle, as Leonardo portrayed the action, Niccolò’s fierce and focused face is grimaced in a combination of determination and madness.

battle of AnghiariCartoon copy by RubensOrig by Leonardo da Vinci1505Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Detail, Battle of Anghiari
Cartoon copy by Rubens – 1603
Orig by Leonardo da Vinci
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Now, back to Bronzino.

It is believed that Bronzino was given the opportunity to study Leonardo’s design, most likely from a 1553 engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia. Historians believe Zacchia created the engraving from studying the actual cartoon. Leonardo’s figures made a deep impression on the young Bronzino.

During some recent discussions with friends in Florence, it was posited that Bronzino was so affected by the face of Niccolò Piccinino that he created a mirror of the condottiero’s face, and used it (in homage to da Vinci) for a face in his Allegory.

Below is a close up detail of the Anghiari face, flipped horizontally and a close up the Bronzino’s figure.

Bronzino, Leftda Vinci, Right

Bronzino, Left
da Vinci, Right

Whether this recent interpretation will stand the test of time remains to be seen. What is true is that there is a startling similarity in the faces – one on a cartoon created by Leonardo, and the allegorical figure included in Bronzino’s work.


The Bronzino work, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, is in the National Museum in London

Battle of Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.

There has been a great deal of inquiry recently about whether some of Leonardo’s work existed behind a ‘second wall’ in the Sala dei Cinquicento (once the Council Chamber) in the Palazzo Vecchio. In March of 2012, the search for this possible fresco was terminated, though these articles are interesting. Listed below are a few links for those who are interested.

New York Times

U.K. Telegraph

Discovery News

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Many tourists walk past the city hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, and never realize the treasures inside.

In the mid 17th century, if you wanted to hide a huge fresco (painting on a plaster wall) painted by a master artist, where would you hide it? The answer is, as it has always been, right in front of everyone’s eyes. Read on.

Michelangelo and Da Vinci are two artists whose paths rarely crossed. Cross they did, however, in early 16th Century Florence.

Ruben’s Copy of Da Vinci’s Study – Battle of Anghiari

In 1503, the governing political body of Florence, lead by Gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, commissioned Da Vinci to paint the Battle of Anghiari. The fresco was to cover a portion of the wall in the city hall’s Salone dei Cinquecento, the Hall of the 500.  Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco the Battle of Cascina on the wall opposite Da Vinci’s work.

Why these subjects and location?

Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina celebrated the defeat of Pisa in 1364. The Italian League, led by Florence, defeated Milan in 1440 at the Battle of Anghieri. This victory firmly placed the Florentine republic at the forefront of Italian politics for centuries.The Hall of the 500, largest meeting room in city hall, was an appropriate place for symbols of Florence’s major victories.

Study for Michelangelo’s
Battle of Cascina

Da Vinci, fed up with the frustrations of his consuming experiments with fresco techniques, fled the city in frustration. The project lagged in the midst of infighting and the ever present pressures of city budgets. The Battle of Cascina was abandoned when Pope Julius II called for Michelangelo’s  return to Rome. The study for Michelangelo’s work was later destroyed by his jealous rival, Bartolommeo Bandinelli.

Move ahead a little over one hundred years. In the mid-17th century, Georgio Vasari, a passionate admirer of Da Vinci’s work, accepted and completed the commission to complete the decorations in the Hall of the 500.

Endoscope through Vasari’s Fresco
Salone dei Cinquecento, Florence

In the 1970’s a certain art ‘engineer’, and National Georgraphic Fellow, by the name of Maurizio Seracini noticed a cryptic note on the south center panel of Vasari’s work: cerca trova (seek and you shall find).

Seracini’s interest was piqued. Ever since discovering those words, he has believed that Vasari was sending a message: “Seek the master’s work and you will find it.” Seracini believes that Vasari built a wall in front of Da Vinci’s work so that the 1503 work would be protected.

After decades of study, in late 2011, Seracini’s team used an endoscope to explore the space behind Vasari’s work. They made four important discoveries:

  • Samples of pigment that are nearly identical to those used on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
  • Red pigment, associated with lacquer and unlikely to have been used on a plastered wall, was identified.
  • There are beige colored brush strokes on the wall behind Vasari’s work.
  • Scientists have confirmed that an air gap does, indeed, exist behind Vasari’s wall.

There is growing confidence, within the art and scientific communities, that there is a strong likelihood that a long last Da Vinci is about to be discovered.

Banner showing scale of Da Vinci’s
Planned Fresco for the Salone dei

When in Florence, visit the Salone dei Cinquecento inside the Palazzo Vecchio to see what all the fuss is about.


Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Piazza della Signoria

Opening times and days: Use this link to verify. Odd/varying hours and open days.


Tickets: Euro 6.50 Full Price. Reduced Euro 4.50 for ages 18 – 25, over 65 and university students.

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