The priest Antonio de Beatis kept a diary during his grand tour of Europe, which he started on 9 May 1517 together with his superior, Cardinal Luigi D’Aragona, a bastard with royal blood. The two men were back in Rome by January 1518. The reason of such a long absence from Rome is to be found in the fact the Cardinal was under suspicion of having been privy to a plot to kill Pope Leo X, organised by the Sienese Cardinal Alfonso Petrucci, who was arrested and strangled in St. Angelo’s Castle on 4 July 1517.
We don’t know much about Antonio de Beatis, not even his date of birth and death but we know that in 1519, when the Cardinal died, De Beatis moved back to his hometown, Molfetta.
He was a simple priest, a personal assistant and butler to the Cardinal who never thought about publishing his notes but, because of this, they were written with great candour. In 1521 he copied them down, correcting some mistakes and sent the two versions to Antonio Seripando (1494–1539) a jounger priest who had also been an assistant to Cardinal D’Aragona and who possibly did not even read them. The Cardinal was well known for having been a great lover of the arts, of the good life and beautiful women, thus we should think that the two travellers had some good time going around Europe, visiting historical places and meeting important people while in Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. They met Emperor Charles V a Middelburg, Jacob Fugger at Augusta and King Francis I at Rouen. They even sit in Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop at Clos Lucè, in Amboise and on the way back they stop in Milan to admire the Last Supper which was already falling to pieces.
By 1873 the diary of De Beatis was still gathering dust on a shelf at the Vittorio Emanuele Library in Naples, where it was spotted by the German historian Ludwig von Pastor (1854-1925) who, understanding its great historical importance, published a first critical edition in 1905, collating the two versions available. Here is what De Beatis wrote on 10 October 1517 while meeting Messer Lunardo Vinci fiorentino…pictore in la età nostra ecc.mo. (the excellent painter of our age, mister Leonardo Vinci) who described to the awed visitors the three pictures hanging there:
…M.r Lunardo Vinci fiorentino, uecchio de più di LX anni, pictore in la età nostra ecellent.mo quale mostrò a s. Ill.ma tre quatri, uno di certa dona fiorentina facta di naturale facto ad istanza del quondam ma.co Jiuliano de Medici…
(Mr. Leonardo Vinci Florentine, older than LX years, excellent painter of our age, who did show to his highness three pictures, a portrait of a Florentine lady on demand of the defunct magnificent Julian de’ Medici…).
The portrait of the Florentine lady to which he is making reference is certainly the Mona Lisa but this utterance by Leonardo is causing us problems: in fact Monna Lisa di Antonio Maria di Noldo Gherardini del Giocondo, who was born on 15 June 1479 – the quintessential Mona Lisa – had nothing to do with the quondam Magnifico Giuliano, Leonardo’s patron Giuliano de’ Medici, Duke of Nemours, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and brother of Pope Leo X, who had died on 1516 after having lived most of hi life in exile from Florence: from the 19 November 1494 to 1 September 1512.
The hypothesis first put forward by Carlo Pedretti and then developed by Roberto Zapper to explain Leonardo’s hinting to Giuliano de’ Medici is that the lady in the picture was Pacifica Brandani, one of his lovers and the only woman who gave him a son. Zapperi wrote a wonderful book in 2010 on this subject, entitled Farewell to Mona Lisa. Since was Leonardo who made a reference to Giuliano, Zapperi is certain that he was referring to Pacifica Brandani, even if she was from Urbino, not Florence. Pacifica Brandani was the illegitimate daughter of Giovanni Antonio Brandani, one of the most powerful citizens of Urbino and she died at childbirth in 1511, delivering a boy, accepted in the Medici family with the name of Ippolito de’ Medici. According to Zapperi’s research, Giuliano then asked Leonardo to paint her portrait around 1515 as a memento for his son and at the same time he demanded his own portrait to Raphael. Ippolito, the son of Pacifica, became a Cardinal and a powerful man but died young, in 1535, certainly poisoned.
We would like now to present our own hypothesis which, strangely enough and despite its simplicity, had never been taken into consideration by scores of “monalisologists” writing on this contentious subject.
Are we really sure that when Leonardo Da Vinci says that the portrait they were admiring and representing a Florentine lady had been commissioned by Giuliano de’ Medici he was referring to Giuliano de’ Medici junior, the Duke of Nemours? This is something which had been blindly accepted by all Leonardo’s experts who had never taken into consideration the possibility that he was making a reference to his uncle, Giuliano de’ Medici di Piero, the brother of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Giuliano had been murdered on Sunday 26 April 1478 while attending Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, stabbed 19 times by Franceschino Pazzi and Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, acting with the support of the pope.
Our new interpretation, if true, could change our views on the Mona Lisa and open still unexplored paths. Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo and Pacifica Brandani were not born yet when Giuliano died and, almost exactly one month after the murder, a son was born to the dead Medici. On 26 May 1478 his posthumous son was baptised, receiving the name of Giulio, in the presence of Antonio da Sangallo, a friend of the defunct Giuliano who was following the instructions received by his brother, Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 1523 Giulio de’ Medici will be elected Pope with the name of Clement VII and Machiavelli will dedicate to him his book of the Istorie Fiorentine.
Who then was the mother of Giulio who died while delivering him into this world? Perhaps she had been the courtesan Fioretta Gorini (1453-1478) of whom close to nothing is known. Perhaps Giuliano when he knew that she was pregnant commissioned the paiting to Leonardo, by then a young and brilliant painter, but then seeing that he died first and then also Fioretta disappeared, he did not deliver it.
Further hints which could push back the date of this portrait is the fact that is on poplar wood which Leonardo used during his years in Florence but then switched to walnut in Milan. Then the fact that there are no known preparatory drawings in Leonardo’s notebooks. But perhaps a preparatory drawing could be see in his famous View of the Valdinievole see also: http://beyondthirtynine.com/il-celebre-paesaggio-di-leonardo-da-vinci-del-5-agosto-1473-rappresenta-la-valdinievole/.
Last but not least also the latest discoveries of Pascal Cotte, who is seeing two different women under the surface of the Mona Lisa hanging at the Louvre Museum point to a earlier dating of this masterpiece. See also: http://beyondthirtynine.com/an-old-mona-lisa-beneath-the-visible-mona-lisa-according-to-the-bbc/.
But was Giuliano de’ Medici senior also called the Magnificent like his brother Lorenzo and his nephew Giuliano, the Duke of Nemours? Yes, he was!
We just have to look at a poem by Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494) Le Stanze de messer Angelo Poliziano cominciate per la giostra del Magnifico Giuliano di Pietro de’ Medici, an unfinished poem which was printed for the first time in 1484 and then again in 1498 by Aldo Manuzio in Venice. There Giuliano is also called Magnificent.
Therefore we may be right. Leonardo Da Vinci was perhaps referring to Giuliano de’ Medici senior while talking to his two Neapolitan guests and not to his nephew, Giuliano, the Duke of Nemours. Then, the Mona Lisa could have been painted, or sketched, 25 years before than previously thought, even before the Ginevra de’ Benci kept at the National Gallery in Washington.
THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ITALIAN ON THE BLOG “LA NOSTRA STORIA” BY DINO MESSINA OF CORRIERE DELLA SERA.
13 GENNAIO 2016 | di Dino Messina
Una nuova ipotesi sulle origini della Gioconda di Leonardo
Di ANGELO PARATICO
Il chierico Antonio de Beatis tenne un diario durante il suo grande tour europeo, cominciato il 9 maggio 1517 in compagnia del proprio superiore, il cardinale Luigi D’Aragona, un bastardo di sangue reale. I due uomini rientrarono a Roma nel gennaio 1518 e il motivo per una così lunga assenza da parte del ricco e potente porporato va ricercata nel fatto che egli era sospettato d’essere stato a conoscenza d’una congiura, ordita dal cardinale senese Alfonso Petrucci, per assassinare papa Leone X. Il Petrucci fu arrestato assieme ad altri sospetti e poi strangolato in carcere, il 4 luglio 1517.