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Raphael's Lorenzo de' Medici

A Portrait Rich in History on
Auction at Christie's London
A Special Report by Stan Parchin

Christie's London announced on May 21, 2007 that Lorenzo de' Medici (1518), a portrait of sound provenance by renowned Italian Renaissance master Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael (1483-1520), will be available for purchase as part of its Important Old Master and British Pictures auction on Thursday, July 5, 2007. On display at the esteemed auction house's King Street salerooms, beginning June 30, will be Raphael's painting, one of a handful by the artist still privately held. Owned by Ira Spanierman since 1968, issues of the work's attribution to Raphael were tackled by Sir Charles Robinson (1824-1913) and firmly resolved in 1971 by the prolific Konrad Oberhuber, former director of Vienna's Albertina Museum. The masterpiece is expected to garner up to £15 million at auction. Lorenzo de' Medici was last exhibited publicly more than 40 years ago.

Image © Christie's Images Ltd. 2007; Used with permission
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi)
(Italian, Marchigian, 1483-1520)
Lorenzo de' Medici, 1518
Oil on canvas
38 x 31 in. (97 x 79 cm)
© Christie's Images Ltd. 2007

Interest in Raphael's works and Medicean portraiture has escalated in the wake of three recent special exhibitions: Splendor of Florence at Wall Street's Federal Hall National Memorial (October 1-November 12, 2004); Raphael: From Urbino to Rome (October 24, 2004-January 16, 2005) at London's National Gallery and Raphael at the Met: The Colonna Altarpiece at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 20-September 3, 2006).

Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (Lorenzo II) (1492-1519) was the grandson of Lorenzo de' Medici, il Magnifico (the Magnificent) (1449-1492), the Florentine Republic's ingenious statesman, supporter of the Neoplatonic Academy and patron of the arts. He was also the nephew of Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (1475-1521), eventually elected Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21). Lorenzo II's uncle is best remembered for granting Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545) permission to sell indulgences (remissions from the temporal punishment in purgatory for sins already absolved by the Church) in the lands within his jurisdiction. The funds raised through their purchase by the faithful were to help Albrecht repay his debt to the German Fugger banking dynasty that the cardinal incurred as a result of his elevation to various offices. Half of the sum was intended for Leo X's papal coffers to continue construction and ornamentation of New Saint Peter's Basilica. The abuse of the indulgences' widespread sale provoked Martin Luther (1483-1546) to pen and post his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences or Ninety-five Theses in 1517, culminating in the Protestant Reformation.

Image © Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; Photograph provided by Art.com
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi)
(Italian, Marchigian, 1483-1520)
Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici
and Luigi de' Rossi
, 1518
Tempera on wood
155.5 x 119.5 cm (61 7/32 x 47 in.)
© Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Raised in Rome, Lorenzo II (Lorenzino) reluctantly accepted the mantle of Florentine government from Pope Leo X in August 1513. He was subsequently made Captain General of the Florentine Republic in 1515 and received the title of Duke of Urbino from the nepotistic pontiff in 1516. His authority in Urbino was briefly eclipsed in 1517 by Francesco Maria I della Rovere (1490-1538), a condottiere (hired mercenary), the duchy's ousted ruler and nephew of Giuliano della Rovere (1443-1513), the deceased "Warrior Pope" Julius II (r. 1503-13). During the War of Urbino (1517) that ensued between the bitter rival factions, Lorenzo was wounded by the ball of an arquebus or matchlock gun and retired to Tuscany. With the excommunicated Francesco's infantrymen overwhelmed by the sheer number of Lorenzo's troops, the penurious leader and his unpaid soldiers retreated from the duchy to Mantua. By treaty with Leo X that September, Francesco ceded control of Urbino back to Lorenzo until the Florentine's untimely demise in 1520 and the pope's death the following year, at which time the region reverted to della Rovere rule. An act of despicable treachery in 1538 sealed Federico's fate; the reinstated duke was insidiously poisoned and died in Pesaro, where he was lord since 1513.

A favorable consequence of the War of Urbino was the Medici pope's acquisition of the vast library of Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482), the duchy's former ruler (r. 1474-82), from Francesco della Rovere. Federico's manuscripts, encyclopedic in scope and numbering more than 1000, included studies in astrology, geography, history, poetry and theology as well as works in Latin, Greek, Arabic and Hebrew. The books, musical and scientific instruments, armor and various objects depicted in the trompe l'oeil cabinets from the duke's two intarsia (wood inlay) studioli (rooms designed for intellectual contemplation and the reception of important guests) recall Federico's intellectual interests and military pursuits. One studiolo remains in Urbino's Ducal Palace; another is on permanent display in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It was to Lorenzo II de' Medici that the exiled philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) dedicated his Il principe (The Prince) in 1513, the text exhorting him to unite Italy under Florentine dominion. This dream was never to be realized, especially with the disinterested Lorenzino. Strategically arranged marriages were a tool of dynastic politics and diplomacy in Renaissance Europe. And by 1518, Lorenzo once again found himself to be a pawn in the plans of his wily uncle, Pope Leo X, to consolidate Medici power domestically and strengthen it on an international scale. The pontiff arranged for his nephew to marry Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne (ca. 1500?-1519), the cousin of François I (r. 1515-47), the Valois King of France.

As was customary at the time, portraits of Lorenzo and Madeleine, who had not yet met, were to be exchanged well before their nuptials as a means of visual introduction. So Leo X commissioned the accomplished Raphael to paint his nephew's image for the French princess to see. Lorenzo de' Medici features the artist's dignified subject outfitted in a gold tunic, standing upright against a deep green background. Over the noble's shoulders is draped an abundant red and gold cape, luxurious fur on its neck and in its lining. These elements of fashion befitted a person of aristocratic status during the Italian High Renaissance. Raphael's ability to record texture accurately through paint is evident in his remarkably sensitive rendering of the delicate details in the fabrics of the Duke's sumptuous attire. Lorenzo carries in his right hand what is quite possibly a portrait miniature of his bride-to-be.

Lorenzo II arrived in France; he married Madeleine in the château d'Amboise on May 2, 1518. In attendance at the couple's subsequent wedding banquet in Florence was Raphael. The artist represented the Medici pontiff and his portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi (1518) was displayed at the occasion.

The adolescent Madeleine conceived a child shortly after her marriage to Lorenzo. Tragic events in the couple's brief life together unfolded very quickly thereafter. Within days of the birth of Caterina (1519-89), her parents died in rapid succession. Madeleine perished first, possibly from complications after childbirth or the plague. Lorenzo then succombed to syphilis, the plague or tuberculosis. (Their exact causes of death remain a mystery.) Years later, Caterina married King Henri II (r. 1547-59) and emerged as Catherine de' Medici, the queen of Reformation France during its tumultuous Wars of Religion (1562-98). Raphael's Lorenzo de' Medici, a portrait of Caterina's father, reflects the rich history of Italian Renaissance culture from which the Florentine ruler's privileged daughter emerged.

Image © Musée de la Ville de Paris, Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France; 
Photograph provided by Art.com
Attributed to François Clouet
(French, ca. 1516-1572)
Portrait of Catherine de Medici
Oil on panel
© Musée de la Ville de Paris,
Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France

For further reading:

Chapman, Hugo, Tom Henry and Carol Plattozza,
et al. Raphael: From Urbino to Rome (exh. cat.).
London: National Gallery Company, 2004.

Dixon, Annette (ed.). Women Who Ruled: Queens,
Goddesses, Amazons in Renaissance and Baroque
(exh. cat.). Merrill Publishers Limited, 2002.

Hibbert, Christopher. The House of Medici: Its
Rise and Fall
. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.

Raggio, Olga and Antoine M. Wildering. The
Liberal Arts Studiolo from the Ducal Palace at
. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

Thoenes, Christof. Raphael.
Köln, Germany: Taschen Verlag, 2005.

Wolk-Simon, Linda. Raphael at the Met:
The Colonna Altarpiece
(exh. cat.).
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006.

"Lorenzo de' Medici" is on view as part of Important Old Master and British Pictures from June 30 through July 5, 2007 at Christie's London, King Street saleroom (Website). Please contact the saleroom on +44 (0)20 7839 9060 for viewing hours.


From your Guide: Stan Parchin, Senior Correspondent for Museums and Special Exhibitions, is a specialist in ancient, late-medieval and Renaissance art and history, and a regular contributor to About Art History. You may read all of his Special Exhibition and Catalogue Reviews here.

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