The Funerary Monument of Gian Giacomo de Medici by Leone Leoni and the Imperial Figure of Charles V. (2/2).

2.) Il Medeghino as an Imperial Figure.

 If we accept the first comparison that we’ve made, in the first entry on this subject, between the marble figure of Charles V, of the Prado, and that of the sculpture of il Medeghino, we can now go further, and try to establish the conceptual similitudes that exist between this last sculpture and some of the busts of Charles V executed by Leone Leoni. For instance, it is evident that the portrait of the bearded Charles V as it appears in the bronze bust of 1553, at the Prado museum, can be put in parallel, as it has been done by Helmstutler Di Dio, with the roman imperial portrait of Commodus as Hercules (Helmstutler 2013, 50), Hercules being a mythological hero often associated with Charles V as the Holy Roman Emperor (see Minguez 2003). It might therefore be assimilated to the Roman imperial military Virtus (see Liston 2012) just as the full body sculpture of Gian Giacomo de Medici, who evidently recalls the figure of a roman emperor, to start because he is dressed in roman armor. We might argue that, in this way, a Lombard condottiero was assimilated to a roman emperor, but not directly by drawing from any of the bearded portraits of roman emperors as Hadrian, Marc Aurelius or Commodus known to us, but through the figure of Charles V as it was conceived first by Titian and then by Leone Leoni himself. In that sense we can argue, perhaps in the same line of argument defended by Piers Baker-Bates (2015), that if it is true that Italy brought the Renaissance to Spain, it is nonetheless through Spain and the figure of Charles V as head of the Holy Roman Empire,- even though if painted and sculpted by two Italians, Titian and Leoni-, that the magnificence of the Roman Empire was effectively reenacted in Italy in the 16th century, and throughout the world.

            If we continue with our parallel between the imperial figure of Charles V and the monument of Gian Giacomo de Medici, the bronze bust of Charles V of 1553 by Leone Leoni gives us other interesting elements of comparison. Indeed Helmstutler Di Dio, argues that in this particular bust, the eagle on which the portrait of the emperor rises might be taken as a reference to Jupiter, while the two figures on each side of it might be interpreted as the gods of War, Mars and Bellona or Mars and Minerva, (Helmstutler 2013, 50), the emperor controlling their destructive power at the same time as leaning on it, an idea which has the effect to present Charles V as a bringer of peace more than of war, despite his Military Virtus, in accordance with the Pax Romana sometimes called Pax Augustea as a reference to the Emperor Augustus who inaugurated that era in Roman history, as we all know. It should be remember that Charles V was explicitly compared to Augustus in his triumphal Entry in Milan of 1541 (Albicante 1541).

            Particularly adequate to this idea of the Holy Roman Emperor as a pacifier, despite his imperial might, is the famous sculpture by Leoni of Charles V as Virtus Subduing Fury (we here retain the title proposed by Liston 2012), in which Charles V appears as an emperor in roman armor defeating the allegorical figure of Fury depicted as a contorting figure at his feet. It should be remembered that the original inscription of this sculpture is CAESARIS VIRTVTIS DOMITVS FVROR [Furor tamed by Cesar’s virtue] (Liston 2012, 25-26). The sculpture has the particularity that the armor can be removed, leaving Charles V in the nude, as an allusion to the nudity of the Greek heroes, and more particularly to that of Heracles (Liston 2012, 26), in accordance with the frequent association between Charles V and Hercules that we’ve just pointed out (see Minguez 2003). It has been argued (See Seponnen 2015, 124) that this is a direct reference to the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid (I, 290-296) where it is prophesized by Jupiter himself, to Venus fearing for the fate of Aeneas and his progeny, that he doors of the temple of war would finally be closed with the coming of Julius Caesar, as a prefiguration of the age of Caesar Augustus (on the debates about the meaning of the word Caesar in this passage of Virgil, see Dobbin 1995), while Fury would stay locked up inside the temple, unable to harm anyone anymore.

            Now, It might be argued that the same idea that is present in both the bust and the sculpture of Charles V as Virtus Subduing Fury is also recognizable in the iconographical program of the funerary monument of il Medeghino, although expressed in a very different fashion. Indeed the standing condottierro has his head turned to his left while his entire body seems to move towards that direction. By doing so he seems to be leaving behind, the allegory of military virtue or Milizia, seated at his right, on the bottom, and that of fame or Fama on the top of the exterior column at his right, to take the direction of the allegories of peace or Pace, seated at his left, and prudence or Prudenzia, on the top of the exterior column at his left. Nonetheless, the imperial character of il Medeghino, depicted as a triumfator, is reaffirmed by the eagle at the top of the composition, which could be interpreted as an allusion to the majesty of Jupiter as with the bust of Charles V, while the tritons of the sides might be taken as a reference to the power he accumulated through his naval expertise in the lake of Como, a lake in which his brother Gabriele lost his life in 1531 (Casati 1884, 42; Plon 1887, 307) as it is evoked in the right inscription of the second body of the monument.

             It should be noticed that the so-called nativity, which is truly an adoration of the shepherds, could remind, by its style, a scene like the defeat of the giants by Jupiter fulgurator, particularly as it was depicted by Perino del Vaga, an author that Leone Leoni knew very well, independently of the fact that the theme was made for ever famous, through the mural paintings of Giulio Romano in Mantua, and that it can be seen as characteristic of the mannerist state of mind, -for lack of a better expression-,  allegedly provoked by the Sack of Rome in 1527. Jenifer Liston has discussed the importance of this mythological theme for Leone Leoni in her article on the sculpture of Charles V against Fury (Liston 2012). In fact Leoni engraved a medal for the commemoration of the Battle of Mülbherg, in which, precisely, the defeat of the giants is depicted in its reverse, as a symbol of the victory of the emperor against the Shmalkaldic League and therefore against Protestantism  (Liston: 29-30). This ambiguity between the roman theme of the victory of Jupiter and the Christian iconography of the birth of Christ, might be seen as a reminder that the Holy Roman Emperor, was, before all, meant to assure the victory of a renewed Catholicism all over the world, hence assuring an era of peace, despite the military means deployed to obtain it. It should be said that formally the statue of il Medeghino shares also certain points in common with that of Charles V against Fury, despite being closer to the marble sculpture of the emperor of 1553, that we’ve mentioned in the first entry on this subject.

            It is interesting to notice that this way of pacifying a self-driven warrior, -if our interpretation is right-, by making him enter the realm of the imperial mythology of Charles V is recognizable in the Spanish Americas, in the figure of Hernan Cortés who shares many common features with il Medeghino, for he was also a man of weapons driven by a quest of personal glory, that was to become a symbolic figure of the Spanish Empire, but only through his assimilation to the authority of Charles V, under whose all-encompassing shadow he was meant to remain. Indeed, Gustavo Curiel (1995) has shown how, during the celebration in the Plaza Mayor of Mexico of the treaties of the peace of Aigues Mortes celebrated between Francis I and Charles V, (whose rivalry marked the wars of Italy), Hernan Cortés incarnated the figure of the Grand Master of Rhodes, which, according to this author, is himself to be seen as a personification of Charles V, Julius Cesar and Alexander the Great. It should be remembered that the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor in New Spain was assured until much later than the 16th century, by means of a copy of the equestrian portrait of Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg by Titian that use to hang in the vice-regal palace (known then as palacio real) until the riot of 1692, when the building was set on fire as Michael Schreffler (2007) has shown. Perhaps, through this painting, the dignified figure of Cortés, whose portrait also hung in the palace together with those of the viceroys that followed him (although he was never himself a viceroy), was also remembered indirectly. In any case, it is cetainly interesting that much later, in 1794, the bust of the Conquistador made by Manuel Tolsá still depicted him in a manner somehow reminiscent of a roman emperor, even if it might be argued that it was only due to the fact that Tolsá was a neoclassical sculptor.

            It should also be said that the figure of Charles V defeating Fury, which we’ve linked to the sculpture of il Medeghino is particularly relevant for the Spanish Americas. Indeed not only is this image to be linked with the famous triumphs of Charles V, and particularly with the triumphal arch of Milan in the Emperor’s entry of 1541, where the emperor appeared defeating a Turk, an African and an American Indian under the hooves of his horse (Albicante: 1541), as a global Saint James, but this tradition of depicting whatever had to be tamed under the Imperial power, seems to have survived in later postridentine productions of the Iberian Empire. That is the case, for instance, of the pulpits of Portuguese India (17thc-18th c.), where figures recalling snakes, although expressed with the vocabulary of the Renaissance grotesque, are tamed under the feet of the predicator, or of the Bolivian triumphant carts of Juan Ramos (17thc-18th c.) where both notables and priests appear defeating the personified figures of heresy and idolatry in the four parts of the world, lead by the divine presence of the Eucharisty.

            It is indeed difficult no to recognize in this sort of American and Asian Iberian triumphs the same idea that we might find in other sculptures of Leone and Pompeo Leoni in which the influence of Charles V as Virtus Subduing Fury is well established, as those of Ferrante Gonzaga defeating Envy, in Guastalla, and more particularly in the representation of Faith defeating Heresy by Pompeo Leoni in the tomb of the Great Inquisitor Valdés Salas in Asturias, Spain, or even in the marble bust of Charles V of 1553, in the Prado, where we see a pair of “slaves” with serpentine legs whose hands are immobilized by northern strapwork.

            Independently of the value of the interpretations developed in the last lines, It would be difficult not to agree with the fact that the funerary monument of il Medeghino echoes in many ways more than one of the artistic manifestations of the global order which was inaugurated by Charles V and was to be sustained by the Spanish Habsburgs during and after the Council of Trent, of which, soit dit en passant, Carlo Borromeo, nephew of both il Medeghino and Pius IV was certainly a key figure. Interestingly enough, the connections of Carlo Boromeo with the New world are certainly not only limited to the fact that his Roman Catechism was used in the Spanish Americas to help the conversion of the American Indigenous subjects of the Spanish Crown. Indeed, we all know, after reading Alessandra Russo’s book L’image intraduisible (2013), that he was in possession of the Mexican feather miter, a gift of his uncle Pius IV, which we were able to contemplate in the Duomo Museum. We also know through Alessandra’s book that this object is particularly significant for our research on Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas because it was worn by Carlo Borromeo in the same Duomo that he consecrated in 1577, as bishop of Milan, and in where his maternal uncle, Gian Giacomo di Medici, il Medeghino, was buried, in the monument that we’ve just analyzed.


List of references:

Albicante,  Giovanni Alberto. 1541.Tratatto dil’intrar i Milano di Carlo V […]. Mediolani : Apud Andream Caluum.

Baker-Bates, Piers. 2015. “Graecia Capta ferum victorem coepit’: Spanish Patrons and Italian Artists”. In The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Images of Iberia, edited by Piers Baker-Bates and Miles Pattenden, 127-151. Farnham: Ashgate.

Casati, Carlo. 1884. Leone Leoni d’Arezzo e Gio. Paolo Lomazzo pittore milanese: duove richerche, Milan: Ulrico Hoepli.

Curiel, Gustavo. 1995. “Fiesta, teatro, historia y mitología: Las celebraciones por la Paz de Aguas Muertas y el ajuar renacentista de Hernán Cortés. 1538.” In El arte y la vida cotidiana: XVI coloquio internacional de historia del arte, edited by Elena Estrada de Gerlero, 95-123. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México / Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas.

Dobbin, Robert F. Apr., 1995. “Julius Caesar in Jupiter's Prophecy, "Aeneid", Book 1”. Classical Antiquity 14 (1): 5-40.

Helmstutler Di Dio, Kelley. 2013. “Leone Leoni's Habsburg Portraits and the Taste for Sculpture in Spain”. In The Art of Leone and Pompeo Leoni, edited by Stephan Schröder. 46-55. Madrid: Museo del Prado / Brepols.

Liston, Jennifer. 2012. “The Performance of Empire: Leone Leoni's Charles V as Virtus Subduing Fury”. Visual Resources 28 (1): 24-42.

Mínguez, Víctor. 2003. “Héroes clásicos y reyes héroes en el Antiguo Régimen”. In La construcción del héroe en España y México, edited by Manuel Chust and Victor Minguez, 51-70. Valencia: Universidad de Valencia.

Plon, Eugène. 1887. Leone Leoni, Sculpteur de Charles Quint et Pompeo Leoni, sculpteur de Philippe II. Paris: Plon.

Russo, Alessandra. 2013. L’image intraduisible: une histoire des arts métisses en Nouvelle Espagne (1500-1600). Paris: Les presses du réel.

Schreffler, Michael. 2007. The Art of Allegiance: Visual Culture and Imperial Power in Baroque New Spain. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Sepponen, Wendy. 2015. “Imperial Materials: Site and Citation in Leone and Pompeo Leoni’s Charles V and Furor.” In Midwestern Arcadia: Essays in Honor of Alison Kettering, edited by Dawn Odell and Jessica Buskirk, 122-131. doi:10.18277/makf.2015.11