|Benedetto Pagni: The Medici Madonna Italian
SN 34 oil on panel, 1547
Docent to docent presentation
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 dOrleans 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 (the famous Austrian art historian) 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
Vasari (16th century Italian paintyer and art historian) 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
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.
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.
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
Fryde, E.B., Chapter 41 The Courts of Europe, Politics, Patronage and Royalty 1400 1800,
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
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,
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)