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Simonetta Vespucci (1453-1476), “la bella Simonetta”, was the most beautiful woman in Florence, Italy in her day. She was so beautiful that men were still painting her more than 20 years after her death. She is the woman you keep seeing over and over again in Botticelli’s paintings, like the “Birth of Venus”.

Botticelli painted her as the Virgin Mary, Venus and Athena. Piero di Cosimo painted her as Cleopatra and Procris. Poliziano and Lorenzo the Magnificent wrote about her in verse – as did Gabriele d’Annunzio in our own age. Many other poets and painters honoured her as well with their works. You can see her today on some of the money in Europe.

She had brown eyes, white skin and long, flowing dark yellow hair. She had what in those days was considered to be a perfect figure.

In Botticelli’s paintings she looks a bit sad, but also like she is in a dream.

Lorenzo the Magnificent read her look differently: that she was not just beautiful on the outside but had a beautiful soul too: she was serious, never had an unjust feeling, was not proud or stuck on herself and had an excellent mind. She walked and danced with grace, a sign of the inner balance of her soul.

She was the perfect Renaissance woman.

She was born in either Genoa or Portovenere, the place where they say Venus arrived in Italy. At 15 she married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named. Her husband brought her to Florence, the city ruled by the Medicis. Because her father-in-law was an important man there, the Medicis soon came to know her.

Two Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, fell in love with her. Lorenzo was too busy with affairs of state, but Giuliano pursued her.

At the La Giostra games in 1475 Giuliano rode into battle under a flag with her picture on it and the French words “La Sans Pareille” – the woman without parallel. Botticelli had made the flag. At the games she was named the “Queen of Beauty”.

Some say that Giuliano won her heart that day and they became lovers. Others say that she refused him.

A year later, at the age of 23, she became very sick and was coughing up blood: she had tuberculosis.

There is a strange story that Giuliano tried to keep her alive as a vampire: better that than to see her die. In that story she becomes a vampire and hides in the tower overlooking the main square. When she is cornered she jumps to her death.

In any case she died that spring. At her funeral thousands followed her body to its grave.

It seems that Botticelli had fallen in love with her too: after he first saw her, she was the only woman he ever painted, even after her death. He never married and was laid to rest at her feet.

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– Abagond, 2007.

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Botticelli

The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.bau.pt/weblog/botticelli-venus-768.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was a Renaissance painter from Florence. He is famous for two paintings: “The Birth of Venus” (part of it pictured here) and the “Primavera”. Both hang in the Uffizi in Florence.

Although he was famous in his own day, he was soon outdone by Leonardo and Raphael. By 1500, when he was 55, his work already seemed old-fashioned. He was forgotten for centuries till the late 1800s when Pater, Ruskin and the pre-Raphaelites rediscovered him. He has influenced not just the pre-Raphaelites but also the Art Nouveau style of the early 1900s.

He painted for the powerful Medici family and the churches of Florence. In 1481 and 1482 he went to Rome to help paint the Sistine Chapel for the pope.

A true son of the Renaissance, he painted not just Christian themes – including many Madonnas and angels – but Greek and Roman themes too. He was one of the first.

“Primavera” means spring. The three women you see dancing in the painting are the three months of spring. The painting is set in the Garden of the Hesperides

The “Birth of Venus” was the first painting in the Christian West of a naked woman. It is based on “Venus Pudica”, a statue from ancient times – and yet his Venus is very much like his Virgin Marys.

The woman Botticelli painted as Venus is believed to be Simonetta Vespucci. You see her in the “Primavera”, “Venus and Mars” and some other paintings.

Simonetta was a beauty of her day and perhaps a lover of one of the Medicis. She is a cousin by marriage of Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named. She died at 23. When Botticelli finished the “Birth of Venus”, she had been dead for nine years. He asked to be laid to rest at her feet when he died. And so he was.

Botticelli’s real name was Allessandro di Mariano Filipepi. He did poorly in school, so his father sent him to a goldsmith to learn a trade. Later, however, Botticelli was sent to Fra Lippi to learn painting.

Botticelli was influenced by the philosophy of the Renaissance Neoplatonists Ficino and Poliziano. Love and Beauty and all that.

Botticelli took his art theory from Leon Battista Alberti. Like Alberti, he wanted to bring back the lost glories of Greek and Roman art.

Although the people in his paintings seem natural they are not. The neck of his Venus is too long, for example. But Botticelli was not interested in making painting “true to life”.

To Botticelli, painter and poet were brothers, not painter and scientist. People did not see this quality in him until the invention of photography changed the way they looked at art.

Botticelli was working on drawings for Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, a book he loved. He never finished but we have 92 of his drawings.

Botticelli could make 50 to 100 florins (100 to 200 crowns) a painting. His best years were from 1475 to 1495.

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The florin of Florence, 3.5g of gold. Used all over Europe by 1300.

The florin of Florence, 3.5g of gold, used all over Europe by 1300, what Grimm fairy tales call a piece of gold.

Leonardo da Vinci mentions money and prices in his notebooks, almost in passing. He tells how much he paid gravediggers, for instance, and how much it costs to have your fortune told.

Leonardo counted money in lire, soldi and dinari:

  • 1 lire = 20 soldi
  • 1 soldo = 12 dinari

It is one soldo, two soldi.

Like the English pound, shilling and pence, these come from the Roman system of of libra, solidus and denarius. But the money in Italy lost its value far more quickly than in England so that by Leonardo’s time the soldi had pretty much the same value as Shakespeare’s penny.

The coins that Leonardo mentions (with their rough value in metric pennies, which have 0.5 grams of silver):

  • ducat (120)
  • florin (120)
  • Rhenish florin (120)
  • scudo (110)
  • grossoni (40)
  • lire (20)
  • carlino (4-8?)
  • soldo (1)
  • dinari (0.083)

Ducats and florins were two crowns each ($26 in current money) , while a lire was a third of a crown.

The ducat was the gold coin of Venice, just as the florin was the gold coin of Florence. Both had 3.5 grams of gold and were accepted all over Europe. They are called “pieces of gold” in the Grimm stories.

The soldo and lire are silver coins. I put six lire to a florin, but in practice it was not that fixed. You might get anywhere between four to seven lire for a florin, depending on the going rate between silver and gold.

Leonardo generally got paid in ducats and florins. His income went up and down a lot, but in the long run he made about 50 to 100 ducats a year. That is equal to about a painting a year.

At the end of his life Leonardo worked for the king of France, who paid him 400 ducats a year. Compare that to Michelangelo, who got between 200 to 450 ducats for his sculptures.

One ducat was spending money for Leonardo, but for one of his students it was ten days’ pay.

In 1499, just before the fall of Milan, Leonardo had 600 ducats in the bank. In his will he gave his brother 400 ducats.

Some prices from his notebooks (in soldi):

    225 a metre of velvet
    140 bed
    140 ring
    120 to bury someone - bier, gravediggers, priests, the works
    100 lined doublet
     45 crockery
     40 cloak
     40 jerkin (up to 120)
     40 pair of hose (up to 120)
     30 for canvas
     23 a metre of cloth (for a shirt)
     22 gardener
     21 sword and knife
     20 anise comfits
     20 cap
     20 glasses
     20 lock
     18 for paper
     16 for gravediggers to bury someone
     13 shirt
     13 jasper ring
     11 sparkling stone
     11 what a student of his could make in a day
     11 to the barber
      6 have your fortune told
      5 pair of shoes (up to 14)
      4 a dozen laces
      3 rent a room for a day
      3 melon
      1 salad

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