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Giorgio Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo
The Magnificent: A Ciceronian Symbol of Virtue and a Machiavellian Princely Conceit

Liana De Girolami Cheney
Professor of Art History, Chairperson Department of Cultural Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowel


« indietro


Behind him is an aerial view of his beloved city, Florence. Lorenzo's red Florentine attire is an investiture of a man of letters. He holds a letter or a document in his right hand, also a testimony to his diplomatic and political role. The frozen expression of the face and stiff right hand are likely simulation from the Lorenzo portrait's dead mask and hand conserved at the Uffizi as a memento mori or relics (Fig. 11). Macchietti's background of the city and placement of the laurel tree harkens back to Vasari's earlier depiction of the Portrait of Alessandro de'Medici of 1534 at the Uffizi (Fig. 12), the pendant painting to Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent of 1533 (Fig. 1)14.


Fig.11. Lorenzo de'Medici, 1490s, death mask (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). Photo: author


Fig.12. Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Alessandro de'Medici, 1534 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

In turn, Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent is conceived as well as a pendant to Pontormo's Portrait of Cosimo Il Vecchio of 1518 at the Uffizi, the grand-father of Lorenzo (Fig. 13)15. Vasari's parallels Pontormo's gravitas and princely por-trayal of the Medici ruler, Cosimo Il Vecchio, in his depiction of Lorenzo.


Fig.13. Pontormo, Portrait of Cosimo Il Vecchio, 1518 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

By focusing on the iconography of the painting a brief interlude to review Lorenzo's life is helpful here. This will assist in understanding the significance of the portrait imagery oLorenzo The Magnificent in Renaissance and Mannerist paintings.

Lorenzo de' Medici is born on January 1, 1449 and dies on April 9, 1492 in Floren-ce16. He is the grandson of one of the wealthiest men in Europe during the early Re-naissance, Cosimo de' Medici, The Elder, who is a successful banker, astute politician and generous philanthropist. Lorenzo's father, Piero de'Medici, «The Gouty», called due to his physical malady, is also an avid collector and patron of the arts. Lorenzo's mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, is a poet and frequented the literati gatherings with the known poets of the time, including Luigi Pulci and Agnolo Poliziano. Lorenzo's mother becomes the educator, advisor and mentor in her son's life. Lorenzo is the most accom-plished of her five children17.

Lorenzo receives a very sophisticated education. Gentile Becchi, a famous Latinist, tutors him during his childhood in the classics. He learns Greek from Argyropulos and Platonic philosophy from Marsilio Ficino18. But his most important teacher is Cristo-foro Landini, a professor of poetry and rhetoric at the University of Florence, who is promoted to the Chair of Greek and Latin. Landino translates Aristotle's writings from Greek into Latin, and writes a commentary on Dante's Divine Comedy19. Landino's vernacular approach to the classics, influences the writings of Lorenzo, in particular his Canti Carnascialeschi, which are licentious songs, composed for masquerades and sang in company with other young nobles at joust, e.g., «How beautiful is youth, that is always slipping away! Whoever wants to be happy, let him be so: about tomorrow there's no knowing»20. Lorenzo's poetic inclination extends to religious Laude and to other poems alluding to concepts of love and the beauty of nature21.

During his educational training, Lorenzo also assists his family politically, learning about the diplomatic affairs of state. In 1469, he marries a noble woman from Rome, Clarice Orsini, a marriage of convenience orchestrated by his mother. A few months after Lorenzo's marriage, his father Piero dies. The citizens of Florence ask him to assume the political position occupied by his father and grandfather to oversee the affairs of the Florentine government22. But highly criticized for being young and inexperien-ced, Lorenzo instead creates an advisory council consisting of the best minds in the area to act as political and financial counselors to him23. He rapidly learns and develops political judgment and a prudent sense of diplomacy. In 1471, Lorenzo renews the Medici's connection to the Papacy, and is granted management rights over the Pa-pacy's finances once again24. And in 1478, after the Pazzi conspiracy, where his bro-ther Giuliano is killed, but he miraculously escapes death, Lorenzo gains more popularity as the master of Florence25. Bertoldo di Giovanni's two bronze medals of Lorenzo and Giuliano of the 1470s in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC commemo-rate this cruel crime (Fig. 14)26. In the succeeding years, Lorenzo's skillful resolution of wars and political conflict with Naples, Milan and Rome lead to prosperity in Floren-ce in terms of an abundance of business, festivities and artistic activities27.


Fig.14. Bertoldo di Giovanni, Lorenzo and Guliano de'Medici, 1470s, medal (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)

Although Lorenzo's physical appearance is less than magnificent, «he was tall and well built, but of a plain, pale face, with a flat nose and expressionless eyes; with awk-ward movements; and thin and harsh voice»the Florentines call him «Lorenzo The Magnificent», not for his physical looks but for his astuteness in diplomacy and as a benefactor of the arts28. In the Renaissance, «Magnificent» is a common title indicating respect and admiration. But Lorenzo raises it to the highest honor with his artistic creativity and political wisdom.

Lorenzo is a clever diplomat but a poor businessman. His lavish expenses include the purchasing of ancient books, sculptures and gems and organizing masques and joust festivities29. In the same manner that he supports the Platonic Academy (Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola), Lorenzo assists Florentine artists in the study of ancient art by opening his private garden along the side of San Marco, where his ancient collected treasures are displayed. As a patron of the arts, he sponsors inno-vative techniques, such as engraving on copper, carving on stones and gems, and mosaic decorations with inlay wood and metal30. His favored artists are the painters Benoz-zo Gozzoli, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Lorenzo's passion for music connects him with poets and philosophers, in particular, Ficino, who played the lyre and the flute, and Squarcialupi, who played the organ.

On April 8, 1492, in the Villa of Careggi, Lorenzo dies at the age of 43. Lorenzo's body is moved to the monastery of San Marco, then to San Lorenzo, Old Sacristy, where he is buried next to his brother Giuliano. Florentines honor his premature death by attending his stately funeral. But in 1534, Giuliano's and Lorenzo's remains are transported to a new location, Michelangelo's New Sacristy in San Lorenzo, where they presently rest.

Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent reveals a different type of imaging that those portraits of Lorenzo executed during his lifetime by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Leonardo and Verrocchio. Vasari depicts a mythical portrait of Lorenzo, a prince of Justice and Wisdom or Prudence31. As a member of the Medici family, Ottaviano, father of the Medicean Pope Leo X, commissions this portrait to commemorate the anniversary of Lorenzo's death, the purpose being three-fold: to honor a famous member of the Medici family, to continue to celebrate the history of the Medici family, and to keep their reputation and fame alive.

It is not by accident that in 1532 when the portrait is commissioned, Niccolò Ma-chiavelli's Prince is published. Although this book is written in 1513 asDe Principati-bus (About Principalities), its publication takes place five years after the death of Ma-chiavelli. In his book, Machiavelli's opines: «A prince may be perceived to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, but he should only seem to have these qualities». He concludes: «The most important virtue [for a prince] is having the wisdom to discern what ventures will come with the most reward and then pursuing it courageously». Ma-chiavelli notes, «The virtues of prince are prudence, wisdom, and good judgment. A good prince should avoid flatterers. A prudent prince should have a select group of wise counselors to advise him truthfully on matters all the time. All their opinions should be taken into account». Machiavelli also observes, «A prince should command respect through his conduct, because a prince that is highly respected by his people is unlikely to face internal struggles». He assures, «a prince should have no fear of conspirators and attempt to avoid contempt and hatred». When Machiavelli addresses issues on cruel-ty and mercy of a ruler, he states, «The answer is of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared». He also asserts, «Commitments made in peace are not always kept in adversity; however, commitments made in fear are kept out of fear». Machiavelli summarizes, «That guarding against the people's hatred is more important than building up a reputation for generosity. A wise prince should be more willing to be reputed a miser than be hated for trying to be too generous»32.

These Machiavellian perceptions inspired Vasari's visual imagery. He is familiar with Machiavelli's writing, in particular his book on the Art of War33. In depicting the pendant painting, Portrait of Alessandro de'Medici in 1534 (Fig. 12), Vasari con-nects the imagery of Alessandro as a condottiere with Machiavelli's artistry in ruling in times of war. With the Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent (Fig. 1), Vasari also alludes to Lorenzo's prudent and benevolent governance, and links these qualities with Machiavelli's recommended behavior of astuteness and generosity in a ruler, which are prescribed in his book on The Prince. Thus, in depicting both Medici portraits, Va-sari praises the political accomplishments of the Medici family in relation to Machia-velli's governance role of a benevolent and munificent leader.

It is possible to imagine that when Vasari and Giovio conceive the program for the painting, the Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent, they connect the image of a prin-cely ruler such as Lorenzo with Machiavelli's a princely utopia and leadership. With this allusion to the Medici family dynasty and power, Vasari's imagery and symbolism of the political connection of the Medici with Florence and with the symbol of the lau-rel, seem to derive from commemorative coin imagery, such as Niccolò dei Forzore Spinelli's (Niccolò Fiorentino) bronze medal of Lorenzo de'Medici «Il Magnifico» of 1480 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Fig. 4)34. The obverse of the medal reveals a profile portrait of Lorenzo. The reverse depicts a female personification of Florence wearing a tunic and mantel, and seated to the right under a laurel tree. In her stretched right hand, she holds a stalk of three lilies. The legend reads, Tutela Patri[a]e (Guar-dian of the homeland). Below the figure is her name, Florentia[e] (Florence). Thus, the Medici family is identified with Florence. Years later, in the Dialogo dell'imprese militari et amorose, Paolo Giovio creates an impresa in honor of Lorenzo de'Medici, depicting a laurel tree between two lions (Fig. 15).


Fig.15. Paolo Giovio, Dialogo dell'imprese militari et amorose, 1574, Impresa 5 (Glasgow University Library) in www.italianemblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/impresa

The flourishing laurel tree is deco-rated with a fanciful ribbon with a Latin inscription, «Ita et Virtus» («The Same as Virtue» or «Also as Virtue»)35. Perhaps Giovio is familiar with a Leonardo's sketch de-picting in a shield two rampant lions, framing a tree36. Outside the shield, words like Prudence and Strength correspond to the two felines. Leonardo designs this shield for a carnival honoring the political virtues of Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan. Donato Mansueto explains the meaning of this impresa 5 and its motto, which signifies that a virtue is constant and perpetual like a laurel tree, which is everlasting green. The two lions guarding the tree ensure that tree is protected from the vicissitudes of nature37. Giovio connects the laurel tree with the name of Lorenzo and the lion with the symbol of fortitude and courage, alluding to the cultural accomplishments and political triumphs of Lorenzo recorded in the Florentine history.

Furthermore, it is not by mere accident that the Medici, wanting to glorify their heritage and deeds, commission Machiavelli to write a Florentine History in 151938. Vasari, too, is a recipient of the patronage of the Medici and their humanistic circle, as indicated by his knowledge of Machiavelli's military and political ideas, in particular his concept of Fortune. Years later, in 1548, in his house at Arezzo, Vasari decorates the ceiling of his studio with the personification of Fortune and its complex symbo-lism39.

In decoding Vasari's painting the Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent, it is helpful to review his letter to his patron. Protruding from Lorenzo's marble armchair, the per-sonification of Bugia (Falsehood) bites her tongue as Lorenzo uncovers her infamous deeds. In his right hand, Lorenzo holds a letter or a document alluding to Bugia's trea-cheries. The inscription incised in the marble chair reads «Sictu maiores mihi, ita et ego post mea virtute praeluxi», referring to Cicero's notion «Wanting my parents ancient glory, I outshone my ancestors virtue» in Salustium Crispun invectiva40. Lorenzo's lineage is to follow the virtue of prudence, in this case, in order to overcome deception and dishonesty. Vasari's usage of the Latin inscription demonstrates how Cicero's moral and political perceptions are praised and assimilated not only in the visual imagery of the Cinquecento, but also in the writings of Machiavelli as well as of Giovio.

Behind Lorenzo's shoulders, there is a bronze ancient goblet in the shape of an ugly mask crowned with a horn. The mask's open mouth is on fire and paper is burning from the drips of oil gathered in the mouth. Although Vasari explains this imagery, this conceit is visibly unclear:

Atop there is a mask with a bizarre expression, showing oil descending from the mask's horn, above the forehead, into the mask's mouth, where the tongue, like a sheet of paper, supplies the flame. This is to signify The Magnificent Lorenzo's singular excellence in government; not only in eloquence, but also in everything, maximized by his good judgment, he was a beacon to his illustrious descendants and his magnificent city.

Perhaps Vasari is alluding that the burning oil producing flames signifies the light of the insight and perception acquired by Lorenzo. In his Iconologia, in the figurazione or emblem on Wisdom (Sapienza) Cesare Ripa associates a burning oil lamp with a light of the intellect41. Or Vasari may allude to the nature of Falsehood (Deceit), which is self-destructive and self-consuming as a burning fire.

Vasari depicts Lorenzo in an attentive and listening pose similar to Michelangelo's Prophet Isaiah of 1510 in the Sistine Ceiling, who is receiving instruction from a divine genii (Fig. 16). Vasari likely selected this reference because of all the prophets, Isaiah is the most political. The Judean Isaiah witnessed one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Jerusalem, the expansionism of the Assyrian empire, from both the reli-gious and the political perspective (Isaiah 24). Because of his social status as a ruler, he played an active and in some cases, central role in the course of events; familiar with the biblical passage, Vasari is paralleling Lorenzo's political upheavals during his leadership with Isaiah's unstable government and political turmoil. Both Biblical and Renaissance rulers survive their political controversies with shrewdness and courage. Vasari is also praising and comparing Isaiah's cleverness of judgment and strength of character with Lorenzo's wise decisions and adroit character.


Fig. 16. Michelangelo, Prophet Isaiah, 1510 (Sistine Ceiling, Sistine Chapel, Vatican) [Photo: author]

In the painting, Vasari conveys how Lorenzo prudently listens to the suggestions offered by a beautiful mask crowned with laurel, which pours water from a spout through a mast into a vase. A Latin inscription in the mast,«Praemium virtutis» («Virtue rewards» or «Honor is the Reward of Virtue»), is Ciceronian42. In the painting, the motto al- ludes to how Lorenzo is recognized by his compatriots and the country for his political triumphs. This scene contrasts with the other objects next to Lorenzo, an ancient vase with a Latin inscription, «Virtus omnium vas» or «Virtus omnium veritas» («Virtue conquers all things or Truth conquers all things») or «Virtutum omnim vas» («The vessel of all virtues»)43. This motto further emphasizes Lorenzo's virtues of courage and fortitude exercised in moments of political treachery. These Latin inscriptions allude to Lorenzo's ability to triumph over slander and calumny with truth, courage and pru-dence. Vices such as slander and calumny tend to camouflage or conceal their intent. A mask covers their deceit and shields their weakness44.

The vessel with the last inscription, «Virtus ommium vas», stands over the head of another ugly mask of a severed head, representing another immoral conduct, which Vasari calls this personification Vice (Vizio). The ugly severed head, recalling the bi-blical tale of David and Goliath, lays above a marble base with the Latin inscription, «Vitia virtuti subjacent» («Life supports virtue» or «Vices are dominated by Virtue»), alluding to the triumph of virtue over vice. All these Latin inscriptions pay homage to Lorenzo The Magnificent prudent actions in diplomacy and governance during his controversial political reign. Furthermore, the motto and the image suggest that Lorenzo The Magnificent not only acts prudently but also with temperance. The pouring water from the vase is associated with the personification of Temperance, a cardinal virtue that Lorenzo The Magnificent pursues in order to be a just and a successful ruler.

In Vasari's painting, the masks are of different types. Four masks are depicted, but only one is beautiful, alluding to a virtue, such as Veritas (Truth). The others are ugly and unveil the vices of treachery, deceit and falsehood. At once, masks reveal and con-ceal the truth. In depicting these masks, Vasari is inspired by Renaissance paintings and drawings depicting treachery, such as the Calumny of Apelles45 in the works of Botticelli's Calumny of Apelles of 1495 at the Uffizi (Fig. 17), and Andrea Mantegna's Calumny of Apelles, 1490s drawing at the British Museum46. The Renaissance sub-ject is inspired by Lucian's essay on Slander (Calumny). The ancient essay analyzes a famous painting by Apelles of Kos' Calumny, painted in the fourth century BCE. Apelles depicts this scene after a dramatic personal controversy. A corrupt artistic rival Antiphilos accuses him of conspiracy in front of Ptolemy I Soter, a weak King of Egypt. After the judicial trial and prove of innocence, Apelles revenges himself by composing a painting depicting a gullible ruler listening to vicious and corrupt individuals who seek malice and falsehood. Renaissance painters familiar with the subject depicted how vice of fraud (slander) alludes to the damaging of a good name of another by imputing to him a fault of which the person is not guilty. In the painting of the Portrait ofLoren-zo The Magnificent, Vasari addresses to this subject of slander and indicates how Lo-renzo's temperate and prudent political know how prevents him from following into a trap of deceit and recklessness, in particular, after the Pazzi's conspiracy and papal political scheme against the Medici family47.


Fig.17. Botticelli, Calumny of Apelles, 1495 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

As a prudent ruler and a mythical symbol of Prudence, Lorenzo The Magnificent must look back and study the past to learn from unsuccessful and successful accomplish-ments, and look forward to formulate and envision the future. However, Vasari visuali-zes Lorenzo The Magnificent as a prudent ruler but with a different mythical image. Vasari does not portray the traditional Janus face of Prudence with a head of an old man, depicting the past, and a head of a young woman, alluding to the future48. In- stead, he places Lorenzo's portrait in semi-profile, attending at present to the benevolent suggestions of a beautiful mask, and depicting a burning ancient lamp behind Lorenzo, demonstrating that he has learned from past experiences how to adroitly lead. Vasari alludes to this signification of the imagery behind Lorenzo in his descriptive letter to Ottaviano de'Medici:

This is to signify The Magnificent Lorenzo's singular excellence in government; not only in eloquence, but also in everything, maximized by his good judgment, he was a beacon to his illustrious descendants and his magnificent city.

Furthermore, Vasari adorns the attire of Lorenzo The Magnificent with specific Renaissance accessories, such as a leather belt with a large metal ring to hang a mer-chant's purse or a banker's pouch and a silk sash or pocket-handkerchief (Fig. 18)49. These fashionable accessories are part of the attire of Lorenzo as Vasari describes them in his letter:

I shall depict him [Lorenzo de' Medici] sitting, dressed in a long gown of purple, lined with fur of white wolves. In his right hand, he holds a sash, hanging from the center of a large antique belt. Also hanging from the belt is a red velvet purse.


Fig.18. Anonymous, Merchant-banker, 1470s, engraving Marcello Vannucci, I Medici(Newton & Compton, Rome, 2005), p.47.

However, these accessories are not just selected for decorative purposes but the signification of their functions reveals a specific meaning. In Florentine Quattrocento engravings, the attire of a Renaissance merchant and banker consists of a tunic with a leather belt with a large metal ring to hold a hanging pouch or a purse. Vasari embel-lishes this traditional imagery by portraying Lorenzo's wearing also a white sash or a white silk scarf, a purple-like tunic with trims of feline's fur around the collar and the edges of the sleeves, demonstrating the role of the sitter, which is of an established merchant-banker. Lorenzo's belt reveals not only the functional nature of his role as a banker, thus wearing a large leather belt to hang a purse carrying money, but also alludes to privilege role of the person who wears the belt. The belt like the sash because they encircle the person, they become symbols of demarcation as well as symbols of protection, binding the power of the person's social status and role50. Lorenzo's red purse or pouch suggests the precious content carried by the banker. After all, at this time, the Medici family are the Merchants of Florence as well of Europe. With eagerness and false expectation, the mask depicting Deceit or Falsehood looks directly at Lorenzo's purse; not realizing that the benevolent merchant has discovered his treachery and is requesting a truce51.

On the pier is the head of Deceit or Falsehood [Bugia], biting her tongue at being discovered by The Magnificent Lorenzo.

Traditionally, the purse is an attribute of Mercury, the God of Commerce and In-dustry. In the Imagini delli Dei de gl'Antichi, Cartari portrays Mercury carrying a pouch full of money referring to his trade and its implications of abundance and richness as well as the virtues of liberality and charity (Fig. 19)52. Vasari parallels the indu- strious role of Mercury with Lorenzo's merchant endeavor, and identifies Lorenzo with Mercury, comparing the benevolence of Mercury with the generosity of Lorenzo. Purpo-sely, Vasari places the mask of Deceit, personifying the vice of Avarice, facing Lorenzo, who embodies the virtues of liberality and charity. For Vasari, the inclusion of the purse, hanging from belt and surrounded by the sash, alludes to the skillful business qualities of Lorenzo The Magnificent as well as his munificent nature. Lorenzo's magnanimity and love for the arts and culture benefited the citizen of Florence and enriched the beau-ty of the city.


Fig.19. Vincenzo Cartari, Mercury, 1557, engraving  Imagini delli Dei de gl'Antichi (Nuova Stile Regina, Genova, 1987) [Photo: author]

In the painting of the Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent, Vasari is not only re-ferring to ancient literary or artistic representations and interpretations of political con-flicts or corruptions, but also he is alluding to ancient artistic theory of representations and their connection, e.g., a verbal form versus a visual form. In his painting, Vasari is addressing to Horace's ut pictura poesis(«as is painting, so is poetry» or «painting is like poetry»). The Mannerist painter, imitating the ancient poet, views a painted por-trait as an emblem, a moral and didactic image of Ciceronian and Machiavellian virtù. In the emblematic tradition, an emblem is composed of three parts: an inscription (title or motto), a picture (an image), and a subscription (a written explanation of the meaning of the motto and the image). Vasari parallels this literary structure in his pictorial ima-gery: 1) the Latin inscription originally painted on the marble bases and vessels can be equated to an emblem's inscription; 2) the portrait or image of the Lorenzo represents an emblem's pictura; and 3) an emblem's subscription is indicated by Vasari's account of the painting in his writing, such as his autobiography and letter to Ottaviano de'Me-dici explaining the meaning of the painting. Thus, Vasari's Portrait of Lorenzo The Magnificent alludes to Lorenzo The Magnificent as a personification of Justice and Prudence or Virtue and Good Judgment and as an embodiment of Machiavelli's image of a prince.

Furthermore, in the painted imagery and its composition including a painting within a painting (portrait) and simulated sculptures (vases and pillars), Vasari also refers to another type of paragone, the superiority of painting over sculpture or vice versa. A debate long discussed in humanistic circles of the Cinquecento and initiated by the literato Benedetto Varchi53. In the compositional construction of the painting, Vasari reveals many levels ofparagone. The painted portrait (Lorenzo), a painting within a painting, is on the foreground, affirming a physical proximity, while the vases and the architectural elements are placed in the background of the painting, implying a metaphy-sical distance. In the completed painting and in the painted portrait, Vasari reveals the focus of the past istoria, the significance of Lorenzo The Magnificent, and the present istoria, the Medici family, the patron (Ottaviano de' Medici) and acquired collector (Ales-sandro de'Medici) of the painting, continuing the cultural, moral and political pursuits of their ancestors. In contrast, in the simulated sculpture and architecture, Vasari addres-ses not only at the proximity of time with the depiction of an extraordinary Medici personage, Lorenzo The Magnificent, but also at a historical time with the Latin inscrip-tions in the vases and in the classical architectural elements, which allude to universal values, munificence, goodness and justice.

Years later, 1560-65, in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Apartments of Leon X orSala di Lorenzo il Magnifico, Vasari repeats and expands the earlier portrait composition of Lorenzo, surrounding him among ambassadors and dignitaries from other nations, who are praising his prudence in diplomacy by offering various exotic gifts (compare Figs. 1 and 20). In this composition, Vasari depicts Lorenzo seated in a marble throne. He is wearing a purple tunic with a merchant belt and a banker's purse. In addition, Lorenzo holds a pocket-handkerchief or ceremonial fazzoletto. Important dignitaries offering unusual gifts, including exotic animals to expand the Medici's zoo collection, surround Lorenzo The Magnificent. Some of the depicted personages are actual figures, who are gesticulating and actively energized by the celebratory event of honoring Lo-renzo The Magnificent, while other figures are symbolic or allegorical; their action are staged and frozen; their cast down gaze or closed eyes denote a spiritual connection. These figures are personification of virtues, Prudence and Fortitude.


Fig.20. Giorgio Vasari, Lorenzo the Magnificent Receiving the Ambassadors of the Major Powers, 1560-1565 (Sala di Lorenzo il Magnifico, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence) [Photo: author]

Theatrical decorations ornament the reception scene, in one of the banners, for exam-ple, painted with colored plumes, a golden diamond ring and a ribbon with the word «Semper» decorate the background of the celebratory scene (Fig. 21).


Fig.21. Giorgio Vasari, Banner in Lorenzo the Magnificent Receiving the Ambassadors of the Major Powers, 1560-1565, detail (Sala di Lorenzo il Magnifico, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence) [Photo: author].

This conceit de-rives from Giovio's impresa for the Medici family (Fig. 22)54. The impresa is based on a Medici family design of three intertwined diamond rings with the motto «Semper» («Forever»). Cosimo Il Vecchio, Lorenzo's grandfather, selects this design to indicate the close royal connection of the Medici with France and Spain. Lorenzo adds three plumes with different colors, green, white and red, indicating that when an individual follows God's love, three virtues will flourish in one's life: Faith (Fides), Hope (Spes) and Charity (Caritas). In the painting, Vasari appropriates Giovio's description for the Medici Impresa 36, associating the white plume with Faith, the green plume with Hope, and the red plume with Charity (compare Figs. 21 and 22).


Fig.22. Paolo Giovio, Dialogo dell'imprese militari et amorose, 1574, Impresa 36 (Glasgow University Library) in www.italianemblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/impresa


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