In 1559 Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned eight tapestries on the subject The Life of Man. These tapestries were destined for the room in the Palazzo Vecchio where Cosimo and his family dined during the winter season. Giorgio Vasari designed the series and Jan van der Straet was responsible for its cartoons; the tapestries were woven by Benedetto di Michele Squilli and Giovanni di Bastiano Sconditi. Until now three tapestries of the series are known to have been preserved. In this article I shall argue that a fourth tapestry can now be added to these three. I will also reconstruct the original appearance of the full series on The Life of Man and put forth a hypothesis as to the purpose it may have served in its original setting.
In 1559 Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to design a series of tapestries which had The Life of Man as their subject. The cartoons for this parata were made by Jan van der Straet and the tapestries were woven with wool and silk thread by the ducal weavers Benedetto di Michele Squilli and Giovanni di Bastiano Conditi. The Life of Man, which stood out for its brightness of colours, consisted of eight tapestries including a sopracamino. It was delivered to the minister of the ducal weavery, Tanai de’ Medici, before March 20, 1561. This essay intends to answer the question of what the series may have looked like in its original form and what may have been its purpose.
The Context in Which The Life of Man Came About
The Life of Man was part of a large project of restructuring and decorating which Duke Cosimo ordered Vasari and his team of assistants to carry out in the Palazzo Vecchio between 1555 and 1565. This project built forth on earlier expansions and renovations which were realized in the palazzo from the moment when, in 1540, Cosimo and his wife Eleonora di Toledo moved there from the Medici family palace. The works included the building of an apartment for Eleonora on the second floor and the expansion of the palazzo with a new wing in the southeastern direction.
Vasari and his team were active in a number of locations in the palazzo, but their main focus was on the newly built southeastern wing. Here, on the first and second floors, respectively, they realized the Quartiere di Leone X and the Quartiere degli Elementi. On the second floor of the old building they changed the recently created apartment of the duchess into the present Quartiere di Eleonora. Their interventions entailed providing the wooden ceilings of the rooms of these three quartieri with painted panels and friezes. As wall coverings for these rooms various series of tapestries were produced. Together paintings and tapestries put forth the stories and themes – many of them supplied by the polymath Cosimo Bartoli – to which the rooms were dedicated. Whilst the tapestries did more than just contribute to the decorative system, they certainly added lustre to the rooms with the brightness of their colours and the preciousness of the materials they were made of. For the purpose of producing the tapestries needed, Duke Cosimo in 1546 called on two Flemish weavers, Nicolas Karcher and Jan Rost, and commissioned them to set up a weavery in Florence. Earlier on, the two had been in the service of Duke Ercole II d’Este of Ferrara, which means that in calling them into his service, Cosimo added a new chapter to the political and cultural rivalry between himself and his Ferrarese peer. Designing the tapestries became the task of some of the most prominent court artists of Florence. An early highlight was the Old Testament series with the story of Joseph woven for the Sala de’ Duecento (1545–1553), based on cartoons by Francesco Salviati, Jacopo Pontormo, and Agnolo Bronzino. Gradually, young Florentine weavers learnt the trade from Karcher en Rost and in the mid-1550s two of them, Benedetto di Michele Squilli and Giovanni di Bastiano Sconditi, took over the direction of the weavery. They signed for the series of tapestries that were made for the quartieri which Vasari and his collaborators realized in the palazzo from 1555 onwards. It was in the context of these series that The Life of Man was made.
The Location of the Tapestries
The Life of Man was destined for a room which in the archival sources is alternately referred to as “un paramento d’un salotto del palazzo ducale”, “la saletta”, “un salotto del Palazzo Ducale dove magnia l’avernata S. E. I.”, “un salotto dove magniano la invernata loro ecc[entie] Ill[ustrissi]me.”, and “la saletta per suplimento a li altri di detta storia e per detta stanza fatti fare per essersi tramutato le porte.” According to Candace Adelson, this room should be identified with the salotto mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Francesco Salviati: “Dopo questa [i.e., la Sala dell’Udienza], fece Francesco per Sua Eccellenza il palco del salotto ove si mangia il verno, con molte imprese e figurine a tempera, e dun bellissimo scrittoio che risponde sopra la camera verde.” Adelson remarked that this salotto “with its earlier Salviati ceiling must have been an exception to Vasari’s basic decorative organisation”, for it didn’t conform to Vasari’s practice which entailed “painted ceilings of panels set into complex carved, painted and gilded frames, and painted friezes in fresco or on panel, connected with tapestries coordinated to and continuing the decoration.” However, Adelson refrained from trying to locate the salotto mentioned by Vasari. Previously, Alfredo Lensi as well as Ettore Allegri and Alessandro Cecchi tentatively identified this room as the salotto – still known under that name – which is located between the scala piana and the Sala delle Sabine and which formed the entrance to the Quartiere di Eleonora (fig. 1). This identification was accepted by Lucia Meoni, who indeed argued that The Life of Man was made for this salotto. This room, however, does not feature a painted wooden ceiling, but a vault displaying a fresco with the Medici-Toledo coat-of-arms in its centre. Ilaria Hoppe suggested that the painted ceiling by Salviati must have been removed from the salotto during Vasari’s 1561–1562 renovation campaign, which entailed the raising and the renewal of the existing wooden ceilings in the Quartiere di Eleonora. After this campaign, the Medici-Toledo coat-of-arms, which supposedly figured in Salviati’s ceiling (albeit in tempera), would have been “replaced” on what Hoppe describes as “the newly composed ceiling” of the salotto. Bruce Edelstein, too, thinks that the salotto mentioned by Vasari should be identified with the salotto of the Quartiere di Eleonora, which Edelstein describes as “a multi-purpose space that may have served as an occasional dining room”. Edelstein points out that “the function of the Salotto as an occasional dining room would have been especially practical due to its location directly underneath the palace kitchens, connected to it by spiral staircases hidden in the thickness of the walls.” He had to admit, however, that the Medici-Toledo coat-of-arms on the salotto’s ceiling “is clearly neither by Salviati nor a wooden ceiling.”
The identification of the salotto mentioned in Salviati’s Life with Eleonora’s salotto is problematic for various reasons. It was in the 1568 edition of Vasari’s Lives that Vasari wrote about Salviati’s painted wooden ceiling and apparently at that moment this ceiling still sat in the place where it was when Salviati painted it. Apart from this, the assumption that Vasari would have removed a wooden ceiling from Eleonora’s salotto without replacing it with a new one is implausible. Painted wooden ceilings were a crucial part of Vasari’s project for the palazzo, not only in the Quartiere di Eleonora, but also in the Quartiere degli Elementi and the Quartiere di Leone X. A more likely assumption is that the salotto, just like the neighboring Camera Verde, always was vaulted and never featured a wooden ceiling. That this indeed was the case is strongly suggested by the 1553 inventory of the palazzo’s holdings. Possibly, in analogy with what he planned to do in the Sala delle Sabine, the Sala di Esther, the Sala di Penelope, and the Sala di Gualdrada, Vasari wanted to provide the salotto with a painted wooden ceiling as well, but was forbidden to do so by Cosimo. This at least is what can be gathered from a missive the duke directed to the painter in January 1561: “Che alzi li palchi de tutte le 4 camere [i.e., those of the Sabine, of Esther, of Penelope, and of Gualdrada], non toccando il Salotto …” All this leads to the conclusion that the salotto decorated with Salviati’s painted ceiling, the room where ‘one dined in wintertime’, wasn’t Eleonora’s salotto. It must have been a different room in the palazzo and it would be to this room that the archival sources pertaining to The Life of Man refer. It would have been there that the ensemble of this magnificent parata and Salviati’s ceiling could be admired. Unfortunately, the alterations the palazzo underwent in subsequent years make it impossible to establish the original whereabouts of this room.
Cosimo Bartoli’s capriccio
When drawing up the program for the tapestries, Vasari leant heavily on a capriccio which Cosimo Bartoli had written in the early 1550s and had published much later in his Ragionamenti accademici. Bartoli’s conceit has it that the Florentine patrician Ferrante Pandolfini was the auctor intellectualis of the capriccio. Bartoli alleged that Pandolfini had it depicted in a series of five quadri in the garden loggia of his family palace on via San Gallo in Florence. The capriccio had as its subject The Six Ages of Man and it showed “tutta l’actione del’huomo, quale ella dovrebbe essere.”
The first quadro, consisting of two scenes, represents Infancy and Childhood. The first of these scenes shows the mother in her maternity bed holding her husband’s hand, and the newborn nourished by Hope, Pleasure, and Charity and accompanied by the three Fates. In the second scene, Hope, Pleasure, and Charity watch over childrens’ games.
The second quadro shows Adolescence and has three scenes. In the first, Saturn is holding a watch and leading by the bridle a black horse and a white one, which the two adolescents are to choose between. The virtuous adolescent, counselled by Verity (whose ‘naked truth’ is barely veiled by a thin garment) to take the white horse, is seen riding off in the direction of a mountain. The depraved adolescent, counselled by Deceit (clad in rich and colourful clothes) to take the black horse, is seen riding off into a wide open plain: he had not recognized Deceit’s ugly face. In the second scene, the virtuous adolescent on his mountainous path is met with old and wise astrologers who teach him worldly knowledge. In the third scene, the depraved adolescent indulges in worldly pleasures, then falls from his horse into an abyss, watched by Fraud, who with the help of Deceit conducts him into her realm.
In the third quadro, Youth is depicted in two scenes. The first represents the virtuous young man received by the four cardinal Virtues. Prudence helps him dismount from his horse, while Ignorance vainly tries to hit him with her arrows. In the second scene, the virtuous young man on his ascent up a mountain is led by Faith and Innocence. Faith hands him a small golden bowl representing Memory, which contains a silver and a gold wing, symbolizing Intellect and Will, respectively. Innocence takes the young man by the hand and encourages him to move on. From Heaven descends a beam of light which illuminates the scene.
The two scenes of the fourth quadro have Youth and Virility as their subjects. In the scene depicting Youth, the virtuous young man is led by Faith and Innocence halfway up the mountain, where Religion and Piety are waiting for them: they came down from the top of the mountain in order to meet them. The scene depicting Virility shows the adult man being conducted to an altar by Religion and Piety, who dress him as an antique priest. He takes the golden wing from the bowl, offers it reverently to Heaven, and then places it on the altar, sprinkles it with water and wine, renders it aromatic with myrrh and incense, and leaves it there. Then, after having picked up the other wing and the bowl, the adult man continues his journey.
The fifth quadro represents Old Age and consists of two scenes. The first of them shows Man, old and bold by now, ascending, accompanied by Religion, Piety, Faith, and Innocence, a narrow, nebulous, and steep path leading from the top of the mountain onto God. The second scene of this quadro depicts God, seated on a throne, receiving the old man with arms wide open. He emanates such radiant light that the old man, still clad in the wrappings of his human flesh, cannot bear to look Him straight in the eye. After having placed the bowl with the wing of Intellect at the feet of the throne and after having, with the help of Religion and Piety, removed his clothes – which were thrown down on the earth below by Innocence – and after having, naked by now, folded his hands, Man, free at last, lifts up his eyes to admire God’s face.
Vasari had already made use of Bartoli’s capriccio before, namely when, in 1553–1554, assisted by Cristofano Gherardi, he provided the façade of the Palazzo Almeni in Florence with a painted decoration. Whilst these chiaroscuro paintings soon faded, their subjects were described by Vasari in his Life of Gherardi. Part of the decoration was a series of seven ovals respectively representing Infancy (first quadro, scene 1), Childhood (first quadro, scene 2), Adolescence (second quadro, scene 1), Youth (second quadro, scenes 2 and 3), Manhood (third quadro, scene 2), Old Age (fourth quadro, scene 2), and Decrepity (fifth quadro, scene 2). As will be shown, in his design for the tapestry series The Life of Man Vasari harked back not only to Bartoli’s capriccio itself, but also to these ovals.
Some years after the completion of the tapestry series, Jan van der Straet – the maker of the cartoons for the tapestries – revisited Bartoli’s capriccio in his design for a series of six engravings on The Life of Man executed by Pieter Furnius and published by Hieronymus Cock in Antwerp in 1570. These engravings represent
Infancy and Childhood (first quadro; fig. 2),
Adolescence (second quadro, scene 1; fig. 3),
Adolescence (second quadro, scene 3; fig. 4),
Adolescence (second quadro, scene 2; fig. 5),
Youth (third quadro, scene 2, and fourth quadro, scene 1; fig. 6), and (6) Virility and Old Age (fourth quadro, scene 2, and fifth quadro, scenes 1 and 2; fig. 7). As will become evident, Van der Straet’s series of engravings helps to shed light on the question of how the scenes from the capriccio were divided over the tapestries.
The Tapestries that Have Been Preserved
With the aid of a fragment of Bartoli’s capriccio inserted by Vasari in his Zibaldone, Wendy Hefford – who was unaware of Bartoli’s Ragionamenti accademici – identified the tapestry (fig. 8) in the Victoria and Albert Museum as belonging to the Life of Man series. The fragment in the Zibaldone referred to the fifth quadro of the capriccio and mentions the bowl depicted on the Victoria and Albert tapestry, the same bowl Vasari referred to in his description of the fifth oval. Thanks to Van der Straet’s fifth engraving (fig. 6), Hefford could establish in a more precise manner what was represented on the Victoria and Albert tapestry (the scene did not figure among the ovals). From the dystichs at the bottom of the engraving Hefford learnt that the two women conducting Man up the mountain were Faith and Innocence, and that they were awaited there by Religion and Piety. Because Hefford was not aware of Bartoli’s Ragionamenti accademici and because the allegorical meaning of the four female figures is not explained in the dystichs on the engraving, she could not make out this meaning. Not long afterwards, the riddle was solved by Gosbert Schüssler, who systematically compared Van der Straet’s engravings with the capriccio.
Conspicuously, in the tapestry in the Victoria and Albert Museum the young man from the third quadro of the capriccio was turned into an adult, as is shown by his posture, his full beard, and his hairdo. In this, the tapestry followed the fifth oval, in which scene 2 of the third quadro was placed not under the aegis of Youth, but under that of Virility instead. In Van der Straet’s fifth engraving the adult is changed back into the young man he was in the third quadro and in scene 1 of the fourth (fig. 6).
Once Hefford had made the connection between the tapestry and the background scene of Van der Straet’s fifth engraving, she could do likewise with the tapestry from the Mobilier national in Paris (fig. 9). She observed that this tapestry showed Man being led up the mountain by Faith and Innocence. Had Hefford been aware of Bartoli’s Ragionamenti accademici, then of course she would, as Schüssler did later on, have realized that the tapestry from the Mobilier represented scene 2 of the third quadro (fig. 4). Because in Van der Straet’s fifth engraving this scene was integrated with scene 1 of the fourth quadro, in this engraving the beam of light had to be omitted which according to the capriccio and the tapestry descends from the top of the mountain on Man and his two conductresses (fig. 7). As neither Vasari’s description of the fifth oval nor the dystichs in Van der Straet’s fifth engraving make mention of this beam of light, Hefford was at a loss as to its meaning. In the capriccio it is explained that it symbolised the light of God bestowed on those who were prudent, temperate, righteous, strong, innocent, and full of faith. Just as in the Victoria and Albert tapestry, the young man from the Mobilier national tapestry is made into an adult man.
The subject of a third tapestry, held by the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale at Pisa (fig. 10), identified by Candace Adelson, could easily be recognized by way of a comparison with Van der Straet’s fifth engraving. As Schüssler observed, this tapestry depicts scene 1 of the second quadro (fig. 3). The woman to the right, with her sumptuous, colourful dresses and her ugly face, clearly represents Deceit.
To the three tapestries that have been identified thus far, a fourth can now be added. Some years ago Florian Härb convincingly connected a drawing (fig. 11) in the Albertina in Vienna after a lost drawing by Vasari with Van der Straet’s first engraving. Härb suggested that this drawing keeps the memory of the first tapestry of the series The Life of Man. This tapestry is considered lost, but it appears to have been preserved in a sixteenth-century reweaving (fig. 12) in a private collection in Vicenza. The reweaving has been associated with the Storie di Saturno, a three-
partite tapestry series commissioned by Duke Cosimo for the Terrazza di Saturno in Palazzo Vecchio and woven before July 13, 1559. The tapestry in question is thought to represent the Birth of Jupiter. However, there can be no doubt that it depicts the theme that was represented on the first quadro and on Van der Straet’s first engraving (fig. 2).
In 1980 Wendy Hefford associated an early seventeenth-century weaving (fig. 13) from a private collection in Florence with the tapestry series The Life of Man, identifying it as The Downfall of the Depraved Youth, scene 3 of the second quadro, depicted in the third oval and in Van der Straet’s third engraving (fig. 4). Angelica Frezza in turn linked this tapestry to a weaving which according to archival sources represented the “Vita dell’uomo” and on May 11, 1612, was delivered to the Florentine patrician Bernardo Corsi by the Medici weaving factory, from which it had been ordered by Corsi. Frezza observed that the Corsi family arms were woven into the upper border of the tapestry, and that the tapestry’s borders resemble those of the three surviving tapestries from the series The Life of Man. While designing the borders of the tapestry – which was woven by Guasparri Papini – Bernardo Poccetti and his bottega availed themselves of the cartoons which at the time Van der Straet had produced for the series. All this suggests that the tapestry in question indeed took its inspiration from a now lost tapestry from the Life of Man series.
The Other Tapestries of the Series
Archival sources show that in 1563 two tapestries, destined “per la saletta per suplimento a li altri di detta storia e per detta stanza fatti fare per essersi tramutato le porte”, were woven as a supplement to the original series of eight. They represented “il giovane buono che seguita la astrologia” and “quando il giovane buono si trova a inpararla”, respectively. In 1564, Sconditi wove a second supplement to the series, consisting of two “pannetti d’arazzo” respectively depicting “quando le dua donne si trovano a ragionamento per custodire i dua giovani” and “quando sono con loro per custodirli”. Clearly these two pannetti were variations on what is represented on the tapestry (fig. 10) from the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale. Analogously, the two tapestries added in 1563 will have been based on another lost tapestry from the series, one that represented scene 2 of the second quadro which was depicted both in the fourth oval and in Van der Straet’s fourth engraving (fig. 5), i.e., the virtuous young man meeting with the astrologers on the mountain.
Once it has been established that the original series of eight tapestries included weavings representing scenes 1, 2, and 3 of the second quadro, respectively, as well as tapestries depicting scene 2 of the third quadro and scene 1 of the fourth quadro, it must be assumed that the series also included a tapestry which had as its subject scene 1 of the third quadro – the young man who chooses virtue and thus becomes receptive to divine truth. This scene, shown by Van der Straet in the foreground of his fifth engraving (fig. 6), was too important to pass over. It marks the moment in which the virtuous young man had laid down his “appetite for worldly sciences” and started to learn to know himself and his Creator. Without a tapestry depicting this scene, the meaning of the two subsequent tapestries in the series from the Mobilier national and the Victoria and Albert Museum (figs 8–9) would have been open to interpretation.
To sum up, the original series The Life of Man included tapestries representing scenes 1 and 2 of the first quadro (sixteenth-century reweaving, private collection, Vicenza; fig. 12); scene 1 of the second quadro (Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa; fig. 10); scene 2 of the second quadro (lost); scene 3 of the second quadro (early seventeenth-century variant, private collection, Florence; fig. 13); scene 1 of the third quadro (lost); scene 2 of the third quadro (Mobilier national, Paris; fig. 9); and scene 1 of the fourth quadro (Victoria and Albert Museum, London; fig. 8). The question is what the lost eighth tapestry of the series may have looked like. As we have seen, in the series scene 2 of the third quadro and scene 1 of the fourth quadro were not, as had been the case in the capriccio, associated with Youth but rather with Virility. It may therefore be assumed that in the series scene 2 of the fourth quadro was not, as had been the case in the capriccio, associated with Virility but rather with Old Age, and that accordingly Old Age was the subject of the eighth tapestry. The tapestry would also have shown the subject matter that was represented in the fifth quadro. In the tapestry this subject matter, just as in the ovals, must have been made to refer to the Age of Decrepity. Hence the eighth tapestry must have represented both Old Age and Decrepity. It thus must have responded to the first tapestry of the series, which was dedicated to both Infancy and Childhood. In other words, the series, just like the ovals but unlike the capriccio, had as its theme The Seven Ages of Man.
As we saw, in the eighth tapestry the adult from scene 2 of the fourth quadro was turned into an old man. It has also been pointed out that in the tapestries in London and Paris (figs 8–9) the young man from scene 2 of the third quadro and from scene 1 of the fourth quadro was changed into an adult. This implies that in the third and fourth tapestries the adolescent from scenes 2 and 3 of the second quadro must have been turned into a young man.
Thus it may be assumed that the Ages of Man were represented as Infancy and Childhood (tapestry 1; fig. 12), Adolescence (tapestry 2; fig. 10), Youth (tapestries 3–5; fig. 13), Virility (tapestries 6–7; figs 8–9), and Old Age and Decrepity (tapestry 8).
Focus on Education
Six of the eight weavings of the tapestry series The Life of Man were dedicated to the ages of Adolescence, Youth, and young Virility. In the series ample attention was thus paid to education, formation, and personal growth. The same appears to have been the case in the four supplementary tapestries. As we saw, the first two of these respectively showed the young man while he followed astrology, and while he was busy learning it. In the second set of supplementary tapestries – the two pannetti – a remarkable twist was given to the theme of the tapestry on which they were based: the choice between good and evil. Judging from the way the pannetti were described, the first of them showed the two women consulting with one another on how to take care of the two youngsters and the second the same two women while busy taking care of them. In contrast to the way the women were portrayed in the tapestry from the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, in the pannetti they no longer seem to have personified Verity and Deceit and there seems to have been no question in these pannetti of a virtuous versus a depraved adolescent. In fact, it is hard to imagine Verity and Deceit consulting with each other on how to take care of the youngsters and taking a joint effort to this effect. It thus seems plausible that the pannetti did not have as their subject the choice between good and evil, but the care for and the protection of youngsters instead. If indeed this was the case, it may be argued that traces of this subject were retained in Van der Straet’s second engraving (fig. 3). When comparing this engraving to the tapestry in the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, several important differences spring to the eye. The woman who in the tapestry represents Verity in the engraving, rather than wearing a transparent garment, is clothed the same way as her counterpart. The woman representing Deceit in the tapestry was not given an ugly and deceitful face in the engraving. On the contrary, in the engraving she looks like a twin sister of the woman representing Verity in the tapestry. Whereas in the tapestry Verity emphatically indicates the white horse to the virtuous adolescent, with Deceit ostentatiously turning her back on it, in the engraving the two women are placed in the same direction making an identical, gently admonishing gesture. In short, without the help of the explanatory dystichs at the bottom of the engraving it would have escaped the viewer that the two women and the two adolescents were meant to convey an allegorical meaning. Indeed, the engraving would have left the viewer with the impression that the two women were just taking care of the two children – “per custodirli.” To sum up, it can be established that the four supplementary tapestries had as their topic the protection and the education of youngsters and the furthering of their knowledge and insight. In this way, these tapestries strengthened the message which the original series intended to convey.
Location and Function of the Series
The conspicuously pedagogical and didactic character of The Life of Man may be explained by referring to the location for which the tapestries were made and where they actually were hung. This was, as we saw, a room in the Palazzo Vecchio where Cosimo and Eleonora dined during wintertime. In the report on his embassy, which ended at the beginning of 1561, the Venetian ambassador in Florence, Vincenzo Fedeli, stated: “… così come è grande nel maneggio e nel governo dello stato, così già soleva usare tutte le grandezze in tutte lecose; ma da un tempo in qua è molto rimesso e ritratto e nelle cose di casa non vive in vero da principe con quella grandezza esquisita che sogliono usare gli altri principi e duchi, ma vive come un grandissimo padre di famiglia, e maneggia sempre unitamente con la moglie e con i suoi figliuoli, con una tavola moderatamente ornata…. Soleva già questo principe dare la spesa e fare una tavola per chi voleva andare; ora l’ha levata del tutto.” The words “da un tempo in qua” suggest that Cosimo started to dine together with his family not very long before Fedeli wrote his report. Thus it may be conjectured that the duke commissioned the tapestry series at the moment he decided to adopt this habit. The series, then, must have served as a daily reminder to the younger sons of the ducal couple to eschew evil manners and to acquire the virtues a grown man was expected to practice. The urgency of this admonishment got through to Cosimo after the alarming reports sent to him in the late 1550s about the behaviour of his eldest son, Francesco.
It was in 1559, the year in which he commissioned the tapestries, that the duke really began to worry about the lack of character shown by the crown prince, then 18 years old. Two years later the situation had reached the point where, on August 6, 1561, Cosimo wrote a letter to Francesco full of bitter reproaches, accusing the youngster of leading a “vita stracurata et poco conveniente” for a heir-apparent. According to the father, Francesco is no longer a boy, but almost a grown man, and yet he does not know how to rule himself. He surrounds himself with wicked sycophants whose interests he serves. He will have to show awareness of the “honore et utile” of the prince and stop harming his reputation – in short, Francesco will have to direct himself to the “modo che tiene et ha tenuto tuo padre.” The admonishments uttered in this letter bear a conpicuous resemblance to the moral lessons as imparted by the tapestries. Cosimo must have realized that these lessons came too late for his eldest son, but that they could admonish his younger sons not to follow in the footsteps of their eldest brother. Giovanni (b. 1544) and Garzia (b. 1547) could nourish themselves on the morals conveyed by the tapestries for the period of only one winter, for these two princes, together with their mother, Eleonora di Toledo, died of malaria by the end of 1562. Their younger siblings Ferdinando (b. 1549) and Pietro (b. 1554), however, had a chance to profit from the exempla taught by the tapestries for a much longer time. Judging from their later paths of life, Ferdinando must have been reasonably susceptible to the tapestries’ lessons, whereas Pietro must have remained utterly immune to them.
About the author
HENK TH. VAN VEEN is professor emeritus of Art History at the University of Groningen. He has published widely on Florentine art and art patronage. Together with Alessio Assonitis he most recently edited A Companion to Cosimo I de’ Medici (Leiden and Boston 2021), and, together with Klazina Botke A Cultural Symbiosis: Patrician Art Patronage and Medicean Cultural Politics in Florence (1530–1610) (Leuven 2022).
Photo Credits: 1 from: Ilaria Hoppe, A Duchess’ Place at Court: The Quartiere di Eleonora in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, in: Konrad Eisenbichler (ed.), The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo, Aldershot 2004, 100. — 2–7 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. — 8 Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A Images), London. — 9 Mobilier national et manufactures nationales, Paris. — 10 Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Artie Paesaggio, Pisa. — 11 Albertina, Vienna. — 12 Bridgeman Images UK. — 13 from: Antichità viva 16, 1977, no. 2, cover.
© 2023 Henk Th. van Veen, published by De Gruyter
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.