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A Tale of Two Tassels - Raphael and Holbein in The National Gallery, London

March 3, 2017

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Visiting Santa Trinita (Holy Trinity Church), Florence

 The highlight of this church, which is just 2 blocks down a narrow sidestreet from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, is the Sassetti chapel... frescoed by Ghirlandio in the late 1480's when Michelangelo was apprenticed to the Master. There are drawings and sketches based on the figures in these frescoes, studies by the young Michelangelo, which today are in the collection of the British Museum.

 

They not only link Michelangelo to the time and place they were made, but prove he learned the fresco technique as a young apprentice (he'd have been about 13) in the workshop of Ghirlandaio. This, of course, contradicts his often repeated claim that nobody ever taught him to fresco before he began working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling as a young sculptor, with no experience painting. The fact is he'd learned to paint as an apprentice, but he far preferred to sculpt.

 

This fresco cycle in the Sassetti chapel (there are 3 by Ghirlandaio in the same chapel, completed within a 5 year span) are a landmark in Florentine art, depicting portraiture of the Medici family at the height of their rule in Renaissance Florence. The dark haired man taking a knee in the center foreground in the picture above, alongside the Virgin Mary and infant Christ, is Lorenzo The Magnificent.

Lorenzo de Medici was kind of the godfather of the Renaissance... hiring and encouraging and helping to develop the talents of the greatest artists of all time (Leonardo for one, and a young Michelangelo for another).

The little blonde boy at the center-top, as seen in the photograph above, is Giovanni di Lorenzeo de' Medici, who is Lorenzo's youngest son and who eventually becomes Pope Leo X. As an adolescent he grew up alongside Michelangelo who only slightly older, lived in the Medici palace from the age of 15 and dined alongside the family and the greatest intellectual minds of Europe. Lorenzo would host dinners every night with "first come first serve" seating arrangements, rather than formally sitting beside his wife or his children; so Michelangelo would often get there early to sit next to Lorenzo. As adults they worked together... but not for very long. Michelangelo worked for 9 popes in a row. That's a lot of popes...

 
This church is also interesting because there's a story about Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci meeting by chance in the square just outside it and arguing in the street, ending with Michelangelo deriding Leonardo for being an inept artist and a failure (specifically over the matter of this sculpture he'd been working on in Milan for 15+ years before his recent return to Florence) which takes place directly outside of this church. But that's a story for another day...

 

 

 

 

 

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