What would the Renaissance be without its mysteries and tantalizing gossip? Stories like the transgendered rumors of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” or Michelangelo’s clash with Biagio da Cesena over the nudity in his “Last Judgement” are what make Renaissance masterpieces the subject of continued controversy today.
In the spirit of Giorgio Vasari’s original Renaissance art tabloid, The Lives of the Artist, we’ve compiled a cheat sheet of the latest controversies, headlines and other voci (rumors), as the Italians say, in Renaissance art.
The rumor of Leonardo da Vinci’s largest painting hidden within the walls of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence has been a juicy bit of art gossip for quite some time.
Back in 1975, Italian engineer Maurizio Seracini went all Dan Brown on the idea when he noticed a tiny flag on the Georgio Vasari fresco that currently adorns the walls of the Palazzo. The flag reads “Cerca Trova,” or seek and ye shall find, and Seracini took this as Vasari’s clever way of saying: “da Vinci was here.”
Now, after years of shooting beams of nuetrons, lasers and any of the other latest scientific technologies at the Palazzo walls to prove his find, Seracini is drilling holes in the Vasari, cultural heritage be damned.
According to the New York Times, art historians are molto arrabiato (look it up) at this new development, and have signed a petition to Florence’s mayor to stop the project. Povero Vasari, why does his painting always seem to get the shit end of the stick? Probably because his Michelangelo knock-offs pale in comparison to the work of his superstar contemporaries, but at least he will always be remembered as the father of Renaissance art history, and more importantly, art gossip.
Will the mysteries of the “Mona Lisa” ever end? As long as the painting still hangs at the Louvre and isn’t hidden beneath someone’s bed, probably not.
The Sun reports that artist Ron Piccirillo has discovered animals hidden in the landscape behind our enigmatic lady. After examining the painting on its side, Piccirillo claims to have found a lion, a buffalo and an ape in the background, and a crocodile and snake protruding from the left side of the Mona Lisa’s body.
Piccirillo also believes that this cast of animals symbolize envy in the painting, a reading that may be proven by passages from da Vinci’s journal. A graphic in the article lets you go on a “Mona Lisa” safari to see Piccirillo’s animals, but I don’t think the mystery of Mona has been cracked just yet. The lion is a maybe, but the ape and the buffalo are a definite stretch to make out.
Here’s another tidbit from the latest da Vinci headlines. We promise this whole post won’t be devoted to him, but with his dabbling in painting, sculpture, engineering, cartography and even botany, he’s the reason they call them Renaissance men. And now he’s even rising from the dead, as an automaton.
Swiss artisan Francois Junod, who builds mechanical men, has created a wind-up da Vinci figure that can spit out everything from intricate drawings to mirror-inverted texts in Latin. With da Vinci resurrected as basically a factory version of himself, Damien Hirst and Murakami should just give up.
As always, the latest Renaissance gossip is filled with unexpected finds of new works or attributions that equal huge dollar signs for their lucky owners. Lyon & Turnball auctioneers have discovered a rare and unrecorded plate by the Italian ceramicist, Francesco Xanto Avell, dated 1537.
The plate is estimated to be worth £100,000 (about $156,020) but actually sold for almost £400,000 (roughly $620,000). More of a D-list celebrity of the Renaissance, Avell is best known for his painted maiolica, or tin-glazed pottery works that he created in the mid 1500s.
Frankfurt’s Städel Museum is preparing to display a work by Raphael that was once considered a copy, but is now believed to be his authentic portrait of Pope Julius II.
Finally, sometimes a Michelangelo hangs in the Vatican, and sometimes it’s stored behind your couch. At least that’s true for retired fighter pilot Martin Kober, who last year started looking into the history of a painting of the Pietà that had been collecting dust behind his couch for years. Kober dubbed the painting “The Mike” and was convinced it belonged to the hand of Michelangelo.
After much investigation, and the insistence of one Italian art restorer, Antonio Forcellino, the painting is now worth $300 million and was featured in the Rome Foundation museum’s recent exhibition Rome in the Renaissance, From Michelangelo to Vasari along with questions surrounding its attribution.
If the painting is truly a Michelangelo is still unclear, but the scavenger hunt for clues and arguments among scholars make this ripe for Renaissance gossip. We know Mike would be loving it.
Oh, and wait, why isn’t there ever any good gossip about Il Sodoma? With a name like that, you’d assume there would be a lot more.