Benedetto Pagni: The Medici Madonna Italian
1504-1578
SN 34 oil on panel, 1547

Docent to docent presentation by Sue Johnson 2008

Subject:
This is a painting in which the City of Florence, in the guise of the Roman Goddess Flora, offers thanks to the Virgin for the glories. She has bestowed upon the Medici and especially on the Duke Cosimo I. The Virgin Mary was one of the saintly protectors of Florence. Her feast days were deemed propitious for major civic undertakings. In times of crisis, as well as joy, the Florentines paid particular devotion to miraculous images of the Virgin Mary. It should not be surprising therefore, that the theme of the Virgin should be used advantageously in Medici iconography. One of the fundamental ideas in political usage under the Medici rule over the city of Florence under Duke Cosimo I, was that God had fore ordained Medici rule and most especially his own. This notion evolved as a reaction against waves of politically embarrassing popular prophecies predicting the fall of the Medicis. Duke Cosimo saw his future as divinely ordained (since the Medici family had been expelled from Florence three times in the past but had always returned). Benedetto was certainly familiar with family history, other works that had been completed for the Duke and genealogical relations with the extended Medici clan.

Historical Background:
The events following constitute a very important historical background to the literature and art commissioned by Duke Cosimo I and the painting under consideration.

Cosimo, the elder (11 Vecchio), was the founder of the Medici political legacy He had been arrested and imprisoned and fearing his food was poisoned, refused to eat for four days. He was threatened with death, however a guard (Frederigo Malavolti) agreed to taste his prisoner's food and with the cooperation of a servant (Falganaccio) helped Cosimo to obtain funds to bribe officials and instead of death he was expelled. Cosimo was repatriated through the assistance of the Portinari family (a branch of the Medicis). Cosimo, the elder had been saved from death during the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin in 1433. This day became holy to the Medici's who believed that the intervention of the Virgin was a sign of the divine presence protecting the Medici family. Subsequently the Medici bank helped finance art projects and a four-day holiday in Florence celebrating the Medici family. The family developed a special regard for the Spedale di S. Maria Nova Hospital, calling it a "Pillar of preservation of the Republic and its liberty." The director the S. Maria Nova was customarily a godparent of the Medici family offspring.

In 1478, Lorenzo de Medici , narrowly escaped an assassination attempt at High Mass in a cathedral.. He wrote to Louis XI of France that he was spared by the protection of God. Two years later when Lorenzo returned home from a battle an accord was published with the Pazzi conspirators and special consideration was given to the Virgin in honor of his safe return.

On March 25th, 1480, peace was proclaimed. Subsequently, due to a Turkish invasion in Southern Italy, all foreign troops were withdrawn from Tuscan soil and this was seen as the intervention by God and the Virgin Mary in honor of Lorenzo. Domenic Ghirlandaio , the artist immortalized Lorenzo as representing the heavenly protector of Florence.

Pope Leo X revived public esteem for Cosimo and Lorenzo de Medici , citing in particular the family's connection with the Virgin Mary. This event occurred in 1512, after the family returned to Florence after being forced to flee by enemies. The Medici had their coat of arms repainted on their palace and in many other places in Florence. The following February , Lorenzo escaped another assassination plot. Leo made Giulio de Medici the Archbishop of Florence and the rites were scheduled for the Feast of Assumption of the Virgin. (Later, Giulio was to receive a Cardinal's hat).

In 1513-14, Andrea del Sarto painted a f resco (the Birth of the Virgin) on the wall of the cloister at the SS. Annunziata. The image contains, the Medici arms paired with those of Servi di Maria (an "S" entwined around a lily stalk, the flower of Florence). In 1522 Giulio survived an assassination attempt by plotters. He later became Pope Clement VII. He subsequently signed an accord with Charles V" . allowing for the recapture of Florence from foreign invaders and arranged the marriage of Alessandro de Medici to the Emperor's daughter, Margaret of Austria.

Duke Alessandro was murdered and 17 year old Cosimo De Medici was elected as head of state in Florence, three days after the murder. No one expected him to be chosen and the event was attributed to divine intervention. Propaganda was circulated that Cosimo's election represented an evolving divine plan — Cosimo acquired his position from God – not from Charles V. His entourage persuaded the people that he was a creature of God.

Cosimo needed a legitimate heir to ensure continuity in the Florentine government and after much negotiation married Eleanora of Toledo. The subsequent birth of a male heir in 1541, caused much joy in Florence. The symbolism of the date of the birth (March 25th, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin) was promulgated all over Florence. The infant was christened Francesco. Benedetto Pagni, desirous of pleasing Cosimo, painted a picture illustrating the Virgin Mary's benevolence toward the Duke and his forebearers.

Artist:
Benedetto Pagni came from Pescia and was trained as a very young man, in the Raphael studio. He assisted Giulo Romano in Rome and went with him in 1524 to Mantua to work on the decorations of Palazzo del Te. He is known to have still been there in 1532. In 1533, he was probably in Florence on his return from Pescia. Meanwhile, it is important to note that Francesco Salviati, a contemporary of Benedetto , born in Florence , acquaintance of Vasari, was active as a painter in Florence and studied with del Sarto in- Pisa.

The following story outlines a complex political intrigue that enabled Benedetto to be employed by Cosimo de Medici and also details the intriguing thread of Salvato's work in this story.

Lorenzo d' Andrea Pagni, was the former secretary to Pope Clement III counselor Archbishop Niccolo Schomberg, later an official in the bureaucracy of Duke Alessandro de' Medici and occasional envoy of Cosimo I. He was intimate with Lord Granvelle,who negotiated a disputed Medici inheritance for Catherine De Medici. Lorenzo Pagni in 1543, was assisted in handling ducal correspondence by a relative Christiano, a lawyer who was Benedetto's cousin. At the same time, 1543, Salviati was working in Florence and wanted to gain employ with the Duke Cosimo.

Riccio had been a tutor to Duke Cosimo and through the years had become an important advisor to the Duke. He and Tasso (the wood sculptor) and others had formed a "clique" and it was extremely difficult to obtain employment with the Duke if an artist was not part of this "influence peddling group, full of intrigues and vicious back stabbing and misguided patronage" (G. Vasari). Salviati knew it was important politically, that he impress Peierfrancesco Ricco as well as Tasso, if he was to gain a position in the Ducal court. Tasso recommended Salviati to Riccio who then hired him.

In 1546 Romano, Benedetto's patron had died, Pagni needed employment. He decided to apply to the Count of Florence where other Mantuan associates had gone and where he had highly placed relatives. He had heard rumors that painters were needed to decorate the Palazzo dells Signora as a ducal residence. He enlisted his Florentine kin and painted a sample for Cosimo I (the Medici Madonna). Christiano . Benedetto's cousin furthered his appeal for Florentine employment.

Inspired by the methods used by Salviati, Benedetto conspired for the Duke to see his painting The Medici Madonna, knowing that he needed to win over Riccio, who as mentioned. controlled Medici patronage since 1545 and was in league with Tasso to hire only painters they recommended. Christiano his cousin, wrote a flattering letter to Riccio and managed to show The Medici Madonna to the Duke who liked Benedetto's painting and the Duke indicated he would hire Benedetto. Riccio was informed and accepted the decision. At the same time, Salviati was pressing his influence at court through a gift of a painting to the Duke's uncle. Both were then commissioned to be part of the court. However, Benedetto did not long survive the cornpetative Florentine atmosphere. Pagni, was probably eclipsed by Bronzino and then forced to quit Florence. Pagni, after painting the Medici Madonna and helping with other work, had been put to work before leaving Florence, on cartoons for the short-handed ducal tapestry works.

Salvati continued to paint but had emotional problems and "acted strangely" said his friends. Riccio in 1553 became senile and had to be relieved of his duties. Vasari, newly hired by the Duke, set up new directions for the Ducal Palace and instituted many changes in the formulation of programs. Tasso died in 1555. Salviati went to France where his health suffered and eventually returned to Florence, where he died in 1563. Benedetto Pagni, died in 1578 at the age of 74.

Painting:
The Medici Madonna had been described as "one of the most fascinating paintings in the Sarasota Museum". "The modest name of the artist from Pescia lends a new and surprising luster to the beautiful and historically extremely interesting picture in Sarasota." (Art in America) Suida, identified both the artist and the subject from Vasari's description: "a personification of Florence offering to the Virgin the symbols of the House of Medici. The symbols are: the six balls (coat of arms of the Medici); the blue palle (balls) are symbols of Cosimo the Elder(this blue field adorned with three gold fleur-de-lis was a heraldic augmentation granted to Cosimo the elder by Louis XI of France); a genealogical tree and two papal tiaras (the Medici Popes, Leo X and Clement VII ). a crown (the Duchy of Tuscany); the diadem of pearls encircling a sheaf of Valois lilies (Catherine de Medici and Henri d’Orleans married in 1533). Pagni suggests Cosimo's princely nativity and its promise for the future. The scroll entwined about the stalk is meant to indicate new beginnings, spring – great sprouts will occur. There is a continuing religious and political tone to this painting - :"he shall grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon" – Hosea's messianic message in the Bible. The papal tiaras also signify Cosimo's I princely inheritance from his ancestors and his ambitions for his own progeny.

Suida had originally thought the painting could be dated somewhere between 1533 and 1547, but after it was authenticated in 1944, it was agreed that it had been painted by Pagni in 1547.

Vasari had seen the painting, in the house of Signor Mondragone. (The signor was a friend of Eleanora of Toledo, wife of the Duke, who came to Florence to marry the Duke in 1539.) It is interesting to note, that when John Ringling with the help of Julius Bohler obtained the painting in 1927, it was attributed to Pontormo. It was determined to be by Benedetto Pagni through further investigation and the connection with the Romano school was recognizable.

The fleur-de-lis, a variety of lilies, is the emblem of royalty. King Clovis adopted the fleur-de-lis, as an emblem of his purification through baptism, and this flower has since become the emblem of the Kings of France. The fleur-de-lis was also the emblem of the city of Florence.( If you recall, it was mentioned earlier that the fleur-de-lis was granted to Cosimo the Elder by Louis of France. ) As an attribute of royalty, the fleur-de-lis appears on crowns and scepters of kingly saints and is given to the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven. The lily is a spring flower noted for its nobility and it's fecundity. Pagni used it purposefully as the flower of Florence and it's association with the annunciation, instead of the "Broncone" which was actually the family's impressa. Pagni is again calling the viewer's attention to the Duke's princely birth.

"Flora" is the woman giving gifts. She personifies the city of "Florence". She is also the Roman Goddess of Spring — suggesting a state of Peace and Prosperity under Medici rule. The Madonna, is the Medici protectress. The genealogical chart shows the lineage of Cosimo . The picture , which is full of religious and political undertones, probably pleased the Duke very much.

The style of the picture is Maniera — showing fastidious refinement and style (in all its connotations). We call it Mannerist, and exaggeration of the Renaissance idealized norm. By elongating the human body, it was thought the figures would appear more courtly and elegant. In Mannerism, details are important and decorative qualities are emphasized; while iconography is complex.

Vasari used the term "maniera". It essentially referred to the visual arts movement that spread through Europe between the High Renaissance and Baroque period. It originated in Italy and lasted from 1520 to 1600. Del Sarto, although rooted in High Renaissance artistic ideals inspired the first generation of mannerist painters; (expressive use of color, varied, complex poses). Pontormo was one of his students and Bronzino, a student of Pontormo, became the leading artist in this style in Florence and was also court painter to Duke Cosimo 1. Ducal patronage played an ongoing important part in Bronzino's career along with others, such as Pagni and Salviati.

Note:
Tomory felt that the painting was made between 1533 and 1534. He felt that the painting was commissioned in the year of the marriage (1533) since the Madonna holds the diadem around the stalk of lilies between the two Papal tiaras and the prominence given these tiara must indicate the continuing presence of a Medici Pope and Clement VII did not die until 1534. But later investigation confirmed the date of 1547 – the iconography portraying the Duke, his political position and success as NN ell as his genealogy and the statements by Vasari, having seen the painting confirmed the dating.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
ARTIST: Pagni, Benedetto (1504-78) Italian
TITLE: THE MEDICI MADONNA 1547 SN 34

Art in America, Vol,32, January 1944, No. I; William Suida: Three Newly Identified Paintings in the Ringling Museum, page 5

Cochrane, Eric, Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527-1800, University of Chicago Press

Fryde, E.B., Chapter 41 The Courts of Europe, Politics, Patronage and Royalty 14001800, McGraw Hill, New York, 1977

Goldin, Amy, Art News, Vol. 74, No.4, April 1976

Hibbert, Christopher, The House of Medici, It's Rise and Fall Morrow Quill Paperbacks, New York, 1960

Jacob, E.F. editor, Italian Renaissance Studies, Faber and Faber Lmtd. 1960, Politics and Constitution in Florence at the end of the 15'h c. — pages 279- 311

Micheletti, Emma, The Medici of Florence, edited by Becocci

Merling, Mitchell , Ringling the Art Museum, 2002

Suida, William F. Letter from William Suida to Mrs. Murray. Forest Hills, Queens, NY, October 29, 1949

Suida, William F., A Catalogue of Paintings in the John & Mable Rinuling Museum Art, 1949

Tomory, Peter, Catalogue of Italian Painting Before 1800, published 1976

Wright, D.R. Edward Dr., Benedetto Pagni's Medici Madonna in Sarasota: A Study in Patronage and Iconography, Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, February 1986, pp.90-99 (also followed by a lecture at the Ringling Museum)

ringlingdocents.org