So now we enter the Sforza era. My main source will be Kirsch's article "Bonifacio Bembo's Saint Agostino Altarpiece," in Studia di Storia del' Arte in onore di Mina Gregori
, 1995. Although she attributes the altarpiece to Bonifacio, she does not attempt to justify this attribution. I assume that she was simply accepting Bandera's attribution: although Bandera says "Bembo workshop" for the cards, she attributes the similarities between these panels and the card to a common model book. Kirsch's article, 1995, is before Welch's challenge of 1996. On the other hand, it is also before Roettgen's Italian Frescoes: The Early Renaissance
(also 1996), p. 365, which attributes the one thing that Welch thought was securely Bonifacio's, the church pillar frescoes of Francesco and Bianca Maria, to another member of the workshop, Benedetto. If so, that would make the attribution of most of the other frescoes to Bonifacio more likely, given the difference in style. To discuss the problems of attribution further would make this post unbearably long and complex. Indeed, it seems to me that Bonifacio probably did do these frescoes, as frescoes were his specialty; the cards, as Bandera recognizes, are a different matter, of which we can only say "the Cremona workshop of the Bembo family" (p. 16). But to err on the side of caution, acknowledging Welch, even for the frescoes I will simply say "Bembo workshop," with the understanding that this attribution includes especially Bonifacio.
Bandera at one time, according to Kaplan (vol. 2 p. 132), in 1977 and 1981, considered the altarpiece we are going to see as showing God giving the crown of martyrdom to Sts. Grisante and Dario. However by 1991 she has abandoned this view. She maintains instead, according to Kirsch's summary, that an altar to the two saints was made but now is lost. Kirsch says (n. 2, p. 49):
What remained of the Sforza altar was lost during the redecoration of the church in 1736-37 by Giovann Batista Zaist. An inscription now lost but recorded in early sources (see G. B. Zaist, Notizie istoriche de' pittori, scultori ed architetti cremonese, Cremona 1774, p. 53), as well as documents considered by Bandera Bistelli Documenti... [per I Bembo: una bottega di pittorri, una citta ducale del Quattrocento e gli Sforza in "Arte Lombarda", 80/81/82, 1987, pp. 155-181, esp. p. 173f], cit., indicates that in 1441 Francesco and Bianca Maria endowed an oblation to Sts. Crisantus and Daria to commemorate their marriage that year on the feast day of these saints, October 25. The inscription states that the altar was completed in 1468. ... In 1462 Bonifacio Bembo painted the frescoes of Francesco and Bianca Maria that in 1827 still appeared on the pilasters flanking the altar (G. Grasselli, Abecedario biografico dei pittori, scultori, ed architetti cremonese, Milan 1827, p. 38f). In 1464 he was commissioned to paint "l'ancona dell'altare del Santo Grisante in la chiesa de sancto Augustino de la nostra Citta di Cremona" (S. Bandera Bistoletti, Documenti..., cit., p. 173) and was paid for this work in 1468/1469 (S. Bandera Bistoletti, Documenti..., cit., p. 163).
I have left out a discussion of hypothetical lost sculptures associated with this altar, a speculation of Bandera's which has been challenged by Tanzi. It is enough for me that there was likely an altar dedicated to the two saints, as amply demonstrated in 1464, 1468/9, and 1736-37. This shows the likelihood of an altar commemorating not only the saints but the marriage, since they were married on their feast day.
Kaplan (p. 132) says additionally that they are the patron saints of newlyweds, but I have found no confirmation of that. Their legend is an example of chaste love: Grisante, who had become a Christian against his father's will, was forced to marry Daria, a Vestal Virgin. Grisante converted her to Christianity, and they lived together virginally until their martyrdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saints_Chr ... _and_Daria
Now I turn to the three pieces of an altarpiece that do exist. Scholars agree that all three of the pieces, two now in Denver and the third in Bergamo, belong together. They were in fact a triptych, as Longhi first hypothesized, at least in the 16th century, during restoration in Denver: a crack extended from one painting to the others at what would have been the same height above the floor. Kirsch provides reasons, which I will skip, for thinking that they were part of a planned polytych.
Here is the center section, an image posted on tarotpedia by Marco:
Who are the lower figures? Grisante and Daria would be an apt memorial to Francesco and Bianca Maria's wedding on their feast day. But actually, Kirsch and Bandera agree, it is God the Father crowning the ascended Virgin and Christ, at the same time marrying them as celestial bride and groom:
The iconography of the panels is consonant with their having been painted for an Augustinian church to commemorate the marriage of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti. In the first place, the Cremona Coronation clearly alludes also to a marriage, that of Mary to her celestial spouse. (5)
Footnote 5. For the assimilation of the Virgin to Ecclesia-Sponsa as the basis of the Coronation of the Virgin, see G. Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, 4.2 (Maria) Guetersich 1980, pp. 47-49.
There is a problem, however. Typically in Lombardy then this event was depicted as one
...in which God the Father, accompanied by the Holy Dove, stands between and above the Virgin and Christ as the latter crowns the former; it differs from this type not only in the simultaneous crowning of Mary and Christ by God the Father, but also in the absence of the Holy Spirit.
In defense of her interpretation, however, Kirsch cites two other similar examples, also by Bonifacio Bembo: "the central fresco of the apsidal vault of the Cavalcabo chapel, probably painted between 1447 and 1451, and the Avignon triptych, both mentioned above." (p. 48). In addition, she cites an Augustinian belief that "Saint Augustine himself was the author of a treatise on the Assumption which taught that Mary's bodily assumption into heaven and her reception there as both queen and bride of Christ are consequent to her immaculacy"(p. 49). Another point is the sheer splendor:
As befits an altarpiece commemorating a ducal marriage, the Cremona conation-marriage, with its jewels, garlands, flowers, music-making angels, and ornate throne, is Bembo's richest expression of the Virgin's immaculacy and its consequences.
Kirsch also reminds us of the emphasis on the Immaculate Virgin given by Bianca Maria's father and grandfather in the Hours commissioned by them, of which this scene is a natural continuation. I would add that if Christ is one of the partners, he would not be the one performing the marriage ceremony. Given the marriage aspect, of equal partners (indicated by the bare feet, Kirsch points out), God the Father is the one who should perform the ceremony .
If so, in this chapel, which also would have had the fresco portraits of Bianca Maria and Francesco by this same workshop, there would be a kind of association here with a certain earthly marriage, with Filippo as the Father, Francesco as Christ, and Bianca Maria as Mary. That may seem audacious, but a little identification with deity never hurts, if it is carried out subtly. The figures are not meant to look like their earthly counterparts; that would be too brazen. But compare the Virgin here, especially the headpiece, with Bianca Maria at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... f_arms.jpg
, which I showed in my post immediately preceding. Also, Bianca Maria has been proposed as the Madonna in several Madonna and Child paintings of the period (http://www.kleio.org/en/history/famtree/sforza/829.html
But why is the Holy Spirit, conventionally symbolized by a dove, missing from the depiction? Kirsch says that it is similarly missing in two other works attributed to Bonifacio. But that is no explanation: why is it missing on any of them, given the Visconti emphasis on the Trinity and on the Holy Spirit in particular, depicted as e dove? It strikes me that there is a Trinity of sorts in the picture, if Mary herself is taken as representative of the Holy Spirit. Such an identification of Mary with the Holy Spirit lurks below the surface in biblical interpretation. In the Old Testament there was Sophia, wife of God, there with him from the beginning. In Jewish tradition, she was identified with the presence of God, the Shekinah. Perhaps the omission of the Holy Spirit trades on these associations. Adding a dove would have been turning the picture into a quaternity.
Another suggestion that this central scene commemorates an earthly marriage as well as a heavenly one is the cameos of a woman and a man behind God the Father and above the two partners; to me they suggest wedding cameos.
Kaplan (p. 132) noted similarities between this section and certain tarot cards:
The face of the Pope and the face of the deity on the Judgment in the deck [the PMB] bear a striking resemblance to the face of God the Father in the Coronation. The forked, curling beard and ornate crown of "Christ" or Saint Daria [sic] are typical of the male characters in the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo deck and of the Emperor in the Cary-Yale deck.
Bandera makes similar observations (1991 Catalog, p. 28):
The Emperor of the Brambilla decks [sic], for example, is stately and solemn like the Eternal Father between Mary and Christ in the Coronation panel: they appear to be copied from a common model; the same round eyes, nose and mouth, and even the same painting technique used to give emphasis to the rich cloth in which they are robed, so rigid in their perpendicular stance as to hide any three-dimensional effect. The same can be said of the figure of the Pope, now in the Carrara Academy of the Colleoni-Baglioni deck [the PMB]. Other examples are the ladies of the Brambilla and Visconti di Modrone [CY] decks, with their profiles drawn with a detail of line worthy of Pisanello himself: they differ only slightly from the representation of the Virgin, in profile, in the central panel, and in the side panel representing the Adoration of the Magi.
We will get to the side panel later. Bandera dates these panels to 1463-64. Since she dates the CY and BB to c. 1443 and the PMB to c. 1451, it is a matter of the model books for the cards being used again for the faces in the frescoes, as Bandera explicitly states. It seems to me, as for Bandera, that the drawings in such model books need not have been by the same artist as the one doing the fresco.
I will move on to another section of the altarpiece. I get this image from Kaplan vol. 2, p. 133.
The subject is "the Meeting of Anna and Joachim at the Golden Gate." In the Visconti Hours, this scene had an annunciation behind it, in which an angel tells Anna she will give birth to a daughter whose womb will carry God incarnate.
For the full illumination see http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-7Td4KnpREuc/U ... enGate.JPG
In the new one for the Sforza, it appears to me that a young woman is looking at a lamb (but I will email Denver for clarification): in other words, a vision of the same theme.
It seems to me that the function is the same as the "Anna and Joachim" series in the Hours: to promote identification with them as a charm for fertility and the safety of children so that they may become parents and thus continue the line. In the Hours, rabbits adorn the lower margin at the bottom of the page, with flowers. Rabbits, at least, are symbols of fertility.
Other illuminations in the series show fruitful trees. Such references wouldn't do in a chapel. But paintings did take on this function; for example the Botticelli Primavera, with abundant images of desire and fertility, was on one account a wedding gift for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primavera_(painting)
). It was in the inventory made at his death, specifying that it was "to be found in an anteroom to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco's bed-chamber" (in the words of Barbara Deimling, Botticelli
, p. 39). It should be remembered, too, that Francesco was not a young man when he married Bianca Maria. In that way he is like Joachim. Here there is no question of the fresco having actual portraits of Francesco and Bianca: it is just the use of the same scene in a parallel situation that matters.
So we have the second stage in a three-stage process.
The final step in the progression marriage-birth-offspring is shown in the third section, "Adoration of the Magi." Again, this is a continuation of a Visconti theme. Kirsch devotes one whole page of her book to this theme as practiced by early Visconti, starting with its prominence in a Book of Hours, now in Munich, owned by Blanche of Savoy, Giangaleazzo's mother, who died in 1387. Rather then type it all out, I will link to a scan of the page.
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-PhWmZwADlh8/U ... rschP9.JPG
And here is what the Bembo workshop did on this theme (from http://elogedelart.canalblog.com/archiv ... 20332.html
(For the Denver Art Museum's dating of 1455-59, see http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_17029148
Kirsch compares the panel to another "Magi" painting, one in Florence completed a couple of years earlier. It was begun the year Francesco and Bianca Maria's son Galeazzo Maria visited Florence. (I don't know why she calls him Giovanni; she calls him Galeazzo everywhere else):
With regard to the Denver panel, it is also of interest that the ducal couple's eldest son, Giovanni Maria, had been the honored guest of the Medicis in 1459, on the occasion of the visit of Pope Pius II to Florence. There, the festivities honoring the young Sforza included a pageant of the Magi. Furthermore, Benozzo Gozzoli was about to begin work on the Medici chapel, with its vast panoply of portraits of the Medici and their circle, including a portrait said to be that of Giovanni Maria. (16) If Bembo painted his panel around 1464, he most likely would have known of the Medici Chapel, which was completed before that date. It is very possible that the six young courtiers represented in the Denver Adorationare the six sons of Francesco and Bianca Maria. The second Magus, though he lacks the bumpy nose that appears in portraits of Giovanni Maria dating from the 1470s, is not unlike the representations of him in a miniature of around 1461. (17)Even more compelling is the strong similarity between Bembo's youngest Magus and the portrait of Giovanni Maria's brother, Ludovico il Moro, at the age of eleven, in the Oratorio ad Franciscum Sfortiam, now in Paris, Bibliotheque nationale, Lat. 7855, dated 1462 (fig. 5). (18) If this is indeed the case, the Sant'Agostino altarpiece, combined with the votive frescoes of Francesco and Bianca Maria, would be yet another link between two most powerful families of the mid-fifteenth century in Italy.
Footnote 16. Fl Cardini, La cavalcata d'Oriente. I Magi di Benozzo Gozzoli a Palazzo Medici Rome 1991, pp. 12, 14, and fig. on p. 148 for the presumed portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
Footnote 17. The numerous portraits which are said to represent Galeazzo Maria Sforza are in fact quite diverse in appearance. For the portrait of 1461, in the Liber Iudiciorum of Filippo Vimercato (Milan, Bibl. Trivulziana, ms 1329 f. 1), see C. Santoro, I codici miniati della Biblioteca Trivulziana, Milan 1958, pl. XVI.
Footnote 18. E. Pellegrin, La Bibliotheque des Visconti et des Sforza, ducs e Milan au XVe siecle, Supplement, Florence 1969, p. 47.
The portrait of Lodovico Maria is her fig. 5, below:
I will try to get the book with Galeazzo Maria's picture in it via Interlibrary Loan. [Note added March 9: I got the book; what I have to say about it is an addition at the end of this post.]
In other words, the Bembo artist may have been doing what Gozzoli was doing, except putting in the Sforza offspring instead of the Medici and their friends.
Not all the resemblances have to be very close to make the point. I would assume that the Virgin here is the same as the Virgin of the Coronation, i.e. Bianca Maria on a higher level. Then the old man with a cane beside her would be her husband; note the resemblance to Joachim in the other panel. And the old king with the long beard could be on this level Filippo at the christening of her first-born. For someone to get the point, only a few of the faces need to resemble the people they represent.
It is not hard to see similarities between these two side panels and certain tarot cards. Here again is Kaplan (pp. 132-3):
Anna, in the Meeting, is similar to the Popess in the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo deck, with her wimple and her ascetic features. Also, the ground, with transparent stylized foliage, can be compared to the ground on the tarocchi cards and in Lancelot of the Lake. The magi bearing the cup recalls the knight of cups of the Cary-Yale deck, with his curly hair cut in a tapering line to the neck, the lacy crown, the flat over-tunic with the pleated skirt underneath and the cup itself.
I have already cited Bandera's comparison of the Virgin here to the ladies of the CY and Brera-Brambilla. I would add, about the Virgin, that she is the type of the sorrowful madonna; I see that same type in the PMB Moon card, assuming that the moon = Mary as Queen of Heaven. Also, the kneeling magus in the panel bears comparison to the PMB Emperor and Hermit. You have probably already noticed the shield with the red cross on a white background; that is the arms of Milan, different from the white cross on a red background of the CY Love card.
If you look at the background of the Magi painting, you see the three wisemen looking up in the sky trying to find the star. It is uncannily like the d'Este Star card, c. 1473, so close that I cannot see how it could be coincidental. Either the d'Este artist (in Florence, I think someone argued convincingly) copied this configuration, or the painting got the idea from an earlier deck. The Rothschild is also fairly close.
Perhaps one can even go further, and hypothesize that the Sforza family, besides having themselves put into church paintings, had themselves put on tarot cards. For the possible resemblance of the portrait of Galeazzo on his white horse in the Gozzoli fresco to the PMB Knight of Batons, and other PMB courts, see http://www.kleio.org/en/history/famtree/sforza/631.html
(but be warned that many of the alleged portraits of Galeazzo Maria on this site are highly speculative).
I have sometimes hypothesized that the PMB Popess corresponds to Sister Manfreda, the Hermit to Grandfather Filippo, and the Hanged Man to Grandfather Muzio. The couple on the Love card might be Francesco and Bianca Maria, with Bianca Maria again on the Chariot. the Knight on the Justice card might be Galeazzo Maria (not Francesco, as this is propaganda for the next generation), and so Justice be Bianca Maria again. Some see her as the Empress; it's possible, but the Emperor certainly isn't Francesco. Moreover, the second artist's Temperance, Star, and Moon correspond to the recently deceased sister Elisabetta, and Fortitude to Francesco. The putto on the Sun might be Galeazzo Maria, and the putti on the World Galeazzo and Lodovico. To see what I am talking about, scroll through the pictures at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&p=4821&hilit=Bomoni#p4821
. As the above link shows, if you look at the later versions of the PMB, the faces on the court cards change, to suggest the new Duke, rather than Galeazzo Maria.
In this way the PMB becomes a family portrait as well as a family entertainment. A practice clearly visible in the illuminated manuscripts of Giangaleazzo gets carried to a playful extreme in the tarot deck.
This is not to argue that the 22 triumphs of the tarot, of which 20 are exemplified in the PMB, were developed for this purpose. Nor is it to negate the more abstract meanings that the trump cards also would have had. It is merely a perspective on the PMB, extending to it an already established pattern that we see first in Giangaleazzo's personalization of traditional religious themes.
In any case, I hope I have given enough evidence that the Sforza not only understood the ways of their Visconti forebears when it came to marriage commemorations, but continued in the same way. I don't see why the same shouldn't have been true in the case of luxurious hand-painted cards, commemorating not only a marriage but a dynasty.
Note: this post was edited slightly several hours after posting, to add the point about the old king in the "Adoration" panel standing for Filippo honoring Bianca Maria's first-born.
Note added March 9: Interlibrary Loan sent me the book I Codici miniati della Biblioteca Trivulziana
, Milan 1958. Here is its Plate XVI:
And the notation at the bottom of the page:
Cerchia dei Bembo (?):
Il duca Galeazzo Maria Sforza riceve il libro dall'autore,
24. Vimercati, Liber indiciorum, a. 1461, cod. 1329, f. 1.
There are several problems with this title and attribution, of course. For one, the one being crowned has gray hair and prominent baldness, rather like countless portraits of Francesco Sforza. For another, Galeazzo Maria wasn't duke in 1461. And finally, the one being called Galeazzo here isn't at all like any of the kings in the Adoration of the Magi fresco.
A more recent book with this picture, Treasures from Italy's Great Libraries
, says that the attribution was because the book contains only one horoscope, that of Galeazzo Maria. Also, there are the initials G Z at the bottom. For the reasons I already indicated, they propose that it is the author, Vimercati, presenting his book to Francesco.
However this doesn't explain the initials G Z at the bottom of the page. Another interpretation, perhaps the one that Kirsch is thinking of, is that Francesco Sforza, standing, is presenting the book with his horoscope to his son Galeazzo Maria. The one kneeling does look like the second king in the Adoration fresco, and the slight beard might suggest an acknowledgement of Galeazzo's new status as an adult male.. However he is dressed like a cleric, not a crown prince.
Whatever the answer to that riddle, there is another painting that could have been used to support Kirsch's claim. The illumination above currently is not attributed even to the Bembo workshop. It is attributed to the "Ippolita Master" or his workshop, to which another illumination is also attributed, the Libretto of the privileges granted to St. Sigismondo in Cremona in 1464, on the basis of the similarity of the two portraits of the balding man, Francesco Sforza. It seems to me, however, that the trumpeter behind Francesco in that illumination (below) looks like the kneeling man in the other illumination (above). It would be logical to put one's oldest son behind his father in a wedding commemoration illumination. This, too, is rather speculative.
Whatever the case about the second King, it is true that the third king does look like Lodovico. So Kirsch's claim, though speculative, has some basis and is consistent with the practice by the Visconti and many other patrons, (e.g. the Medici, who had themselves, their friends, and various attendees at the Council of Florence, put into their Procession of the Magi fresco in Florence. However, owing to the similarity with another painter's work, the Cremona Adoration's attribution to Bembo, at least for that particular face, is put in question.
Additional note March 18: I seethat Evelyn Welch, "Patrons, Artists, and Audiences in Renaissance Milan, 1300-1600," inThe Court Cities of Northern Italy
, 2010, p. 40, names Pantaleone de Marchis as Boifacio Bembo's collaborator for the altarpiece. She cites Lia Bellingeri and Marco Tanzi, Bonifacio Bembo dalla Cattedrale al Museo di Cremona
(Brescia, 1992), in general for this altarpiece.