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Due quadri del Botticelli eseguiti per nascite in Casa Medici.

The two paintings to which professor Levi D'Ancona refers in the title of this fascicle are Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus. Her arguments both extend and alter those put forward in her book on the Primavera, published by Olschki in 1983 and reviewed by me in this journal (Spring 1984). I refer the reader to that review since the comments I made then apply equally here. This especially pertains to Levi D'Ancona's understanding of the state of the question as it has evolved over more than a century of scholarship, as well as to her own handling of texts. I would in particular caution readers to keep alert to the distinctions between literary descriptions, metaphors, symbols, devices, etc.

Thus, the ancient physicians prescribed hellebore as a specific against madness, and so we are told by Levi D'Ancona that this plant symbolizes madness, pazzia in Italian, and hence appears in the Primavera as a device identifying Flora as a Pazzi. Again, Politian in the Stanze describes the hunter Julio shading his face from the heat of the sun with impromptu garlands fashioned from pine needles or beech leaves, and so the pine cone on Mercury's sword in the Primavera is identified as a personal device designating him as Giuliano de' Medici. Levi D'Ancona goes on to argue that the Primavera was commissioned by Giuliano, 1) to commemorate his secret marriage to a Pazzi, 2) to celebrate the imminent birth of his son Giulio (later Clement VII), and 3) to state his ambition to usurp his brother Lorenzo's position in Florence and to secure dynastic succession for himself and his heir. She hypothesizes that the painting was unfinished when Giuliano was murdered in 1478 by order of Lorenzo, who blamed the Pazzi; and that it was afterwards adapted for the marriage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici to Semiramide Appiano in 1482, and its iconography slightly altered so as to elide any dangerous dynastic implications.

The argument runs in this wise. Ficino once wrote Lorenzo Bonincontri in reply to his question of which was the greater, Providence, Fate, or Liberty: "You know of the judgment Paris was asked to make between three goddesses, but I would not wish to offend any divinity by making such a discrimination." Ficino's elegantia, it is claimed, directly refers to an initial program for the Primavera which showed the Judgment of Paris instead of Mercury and the Graces on the left. This was to show Giuliano's claim to royal descent. He was to appear as Paris, the son of a king, and his bride was to be portrayed as Venus, the central of the three dancing maidens. After Giuliano's murder Paris was changed to Mercury merely by adding a wing to one boot and serpents to his sceptre. The dancing Venus, Minerva, and Juno became the Graces by the simple expedient of renaming them. This is proven by another letter from Ficino to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco characterizing the Graces as planets, which Levi D'Ancona claims openly refers to the second program for the Primavera, explaining how Giuliano's dynastic imagery was to be cleverly erased and the painting adapted to Lorenzo the younger's marriage.

Nevertheless, traces of the first program remain. Flowers (fioretti) woven into the mantle of a second Venus appearing in the center of the painting, the pregnant Venus Genetrix (mother of the ancient gens Julia), identify her too as Giuliano's bride, and establish her name as Fioretta. The pregnant Flora's name confirms that she also is Fioretta, which we know to be the name of Giulio de' Medici's mother from Pieraccini's discussion of the historical sources identifying her ambiguously either as Fioretta Gorini or as Fioretta del Cittadino. However, for Levi D'Ancona the hellebore shown (with many other flowers) at Flora's feet proves Giulio's mother must have been a Pazzi. No Pazzi named Fioretta is known, but there is an Oretta dei Pazzi (born 1457). Accordingly Levi D'Ancona decides that Fioretta, as proven by the Primavera, is Oretta's poetic name and that she was secretly married to Giuliano de' Medici and was the true mother of Giulio de' Medici. When Lorenzo the Magnificent learned of his brother's legitimate marriage and her pregnancy he was prompted to have his henchmen murder Giuliano (who was bravely defended by Francesco dei Pazzi that fateful Sunday), and so safeguard the Florentine succession for himself and his children.

In a brief coda, Levi D'Ancona suggests that Botticelli's Birth of Venus also alludes to a Medici birth, that of Margerita e Romola de' Medici. Venus appears on the sea (mare), standing on a shell in which pearls (margherite) are formed. She is about to be covered by a mantle, decorated with daisies (also margherite), carried by an Hour who stands on the shore near some orange trees (the Medici palle). As for the Primavera, her arguments might have been shaped differently had they taken into account a close attention to questions of method, especially as deployed in the extensive (and excellent) scholarship that has been devoted to Botticelli.

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Author:Dempsey, Charles
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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Next Article:The Art of Ercole de' Roberti.

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