A nearly identical study for a painting (178 x 356 cm.) executed 1605-7 for the ceiling of the church of S. Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa (fig. 1) (Livorno e Pisa: città e un territorio nella politica dei Medici, exhib. cat., Pisa, Arsenale Mediceo, 1980, no. B.I.13).
The order of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano and the Church of Santo Stefano
In 1561 Cosimo de' Medici (1519-1574) founded the Holy Military Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano, as a tribute to the patron saint on whose feast day he had defeated his enemies in the Battle of Montemurlo (2 August 1554). According to the ambitious plans laid out by Cosimo, who was later designated Grand Duke, the new military Order was to become a strong maritime force, loyal to the Medici dynasty and able to rebalance the European political power in the Mediterranean in favor of Florence.
Pisa was chosen as the location of the Order's headquarters because it was closer to the sea than Florence, and also within easy reach of the newly founded Medici naval base at Livorno. In order to provide the Order with a prestigious seat and a center for planning its activities and training future knights, the Medici instigated a vast architectural project which changed the face of the square now known as Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights' Square).
At the end of 1561 Cosimo entrusted Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) with building and restoring some palaces intended for housing the Order's offices. The core of the new citadel created for the Order was formed by the Palazzo della Carovana and the nearby church of S. Stefano, also known as Chiesa dei Cavalieri. The first stone was laid by Cosimo in April 1565 and the church was consecrated in 1569, but was still unfinished at the time of Cosimo's death in 1574.
Around 1602 new plans for the ceiling were proposed and the then Grand Duke, Ferdinando I, Cosimo's fifth son (1549-1609), decided that the ceiling would be decorated with six paintings glorifying the Medici dynasty and the heroic deeds of its knights at sea. The first paintings, completed in 1604, showed events from the Order's history which predated Ferdinando's rule: The return of the fleet after the battle of Lepanto by Jacopo Ligozzi and The victory in the Aegean sea by Jacopo Chimenti da Empoli, or episodes of a non-military nature such as Cosimo I receives the investiture as Grand Master of the Order by Ludovico Cardi, il Cigoli, or The embarkation of Maria de Medici for Marseille by Cristofano Allori.
On 2-3 May 1605, a Tuscan fleet of five galleys with 400 men, led by Admiral Jacopo Inghirami (1565-1624) took from the Turks the city of Preveza (ancient Nicopoli) in Greece, located south of Corfu, and destroyed the old citadel. On 21 May, only eighteen days after the victory, Jacopo Ligozzi was commissioned to paint The Fall of Preveza, apparently through the intervention of the Grand Duke himself. His painting would fill one of two vacant spaces remaining in the cycle.
A wealth of archival documents records the progress of the commission. Almost a year after he had been given the commission, on 22 April 1606, Ligozzi wrote to the Grand Council of the Order of Santo Stefano. He reminded them of the dedication and devotion he had shown in executing the Battle of Lepanto, which was already installed on the ceiling, and he informed them that the new painting, 'dove vien dipinta l'Impresa di Prevesa', was 'a bonissimo termine et quanto prima sarà condotta a fine' (Supino, op. cit., letter from Ligozzi, II). The artist then explained that he had received, for his two paintings, a total of 200 scudi in payment. However, he felt this was unjust: the Battle of Lepanto on its own had been valued at 200 scudi by 'M. Giovani Stradano Pittore'. He asked the Council to consult the opinion of artists and other experts in valuing pictures, so that his remuneration for the two paintings did justice to his efforts. The letter was read in the Grand Council on 26 April 1606 and on 1 August of that year an order was given that Ligozzi should be paid a further 30 scudi.
A copy of this order was sent to Ligozzi, but by November he was still waiting for his scudi. On 4 November 1606 he wrote again to the Council. He had been visited by the Council's agent, who had been sent to judge his progress on the 'quadro in tavolla, istoria de la Prevesa' (Supino, op. cit., letter from Ligozzi III). Ligozzi was deeply indignant that the agent had come to check his progress without bringing any of the scudi he was owed by the Council. In his letter of 4 November, he threatened that not to continue work on the picture until he was paid. He warned the Council that when the Grand Duke came to S. Stefano expecting to see The Fall of Preveza on the ceiling, it would be up to the Council to explain why it was not yet finished: 'non avendo danari non potevo lavorare; che per ora l'opera non vien finita né si finirà, poi che io non ne vengo agiutato con denari esendomi mancato'. Switching to a more conciliatory tone, he entreated the Grand Council to pay him at least 50 scudi so that he could afford to finish the painting and to serve the Council as he ardently desired to do.
A third letter from Ligozzi, dated 10 February 1606 [1607 by modern reckoning] reveals that he had finally received the promised scudi and that the painting was ready, having been executed in accordance 'al'ordine di S.A. Sr.ma et del disegno fatto di mia manno et dal instesa Alteza Ser.ma aprovato' (Supino, op. cit., letter from Ligozzi I). This appears to be the only published reference to the present drawing. Giorgio Vasari the Younger, who had overseen the commission for the Council, also wrote to them on 10 February 1607, reporting that the painting was then close to being finished and that within fifteen days it could be dispatched from Florence to Pisa. On 20 March 1607 the Council informed Vasari that the painting had arrived and had been installed on the ceiling. They also thanked him for his trouble in keeping Ligozzi to the task in hand and for ensuring that the painting had arrived in Pisa in such good condition.
Ligozzi's letter of 10 February 1607 clarifies the function of this newly founded sheet as a presentation drawing intended to be shown to the Grand Duke for his approval. Ligozzi's desire to make the composition as impressive as possible for the Duke may account for the lavish use of gold highlights - a trademark of his graphic style, and the later squaring in black chalk shows how a drawing originally intended for presentation purposes could then be transformed easily into a working drawing. The composition would have been enlarged for the painting, using the squaring, in order to ensure that all details remained the same as those that had been approved by the Grand Duke. The main difference lies in the replacement of the antique military garb worn by the figures in the drawing with contemporary military uniform, and cannons added to the battlefield.