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Francesco Morandini, called il Poppi (Poppi 1544-1597 Florence?)
Francesco Morandini, called il Poppi (Poppi 1544-1597 Florence?)

Portrait of Francesco I de' Medici (1541-1587), Grand Duke of Tuscany, three-quarter-length, in a fur-trimmed coat and a white ruff, his hand resting on the pages of Mattioli's 'Commentarii in sex Libros Pedacii Dioscoridis', on a draped table with an armillary sphere, before a curtain

Francesco Morandini, called il Poppi (Poppi 1544-1597 Florence?)
Portrait of Francesco I de' Medici (1541-1587), Grand Duke of Tuscany, three-quarter-length, in a fur-trimmed coat and a white ruff, his hand resting on the pages of Mattioli's 'Commentarii in sex Libros Pedacii Dioscoridis', on a draped table with an armillary sphere, before a curtain
oil on panel
45 3/8 x 53 7/8 in. (115.2 x 86 cm.)
Rev. John Sanford, Casino Torrigiani, Florence and Connaught Place, London; Christie's, London, 9 March 1839, lot 96, as 'A. del Sarto' (10 gns. to Cooke).
with Martin B. Asscher, London.
F. Holland, Llandudno, Wales.
B. Nicolson, 'The Sandford Collection', The Burlington Magazine, XCVII, July 1955, no. 628, p. 214, no. 48, fig. 37.

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Lot Essay

Francesco Morandini called 'Il Poppi' (1544-1597), a Florentine Mannerist, was, with Giovambattista Naldini, a ward of the influential Don Vincenzo Borghini, the prior of the Ospedale degli Innocenti. Trained by Vasari, Morandini's softer style however owed more to the influences of Pontormo, Naldini, and Andrea del Sarto. Morandini contributed to the decorations for the 1565 wedding of Francesco de' Medici; executed ceiling decorations and two paintings for his famous Studiolo (1570-75) in the Palazzo Vecchio (The Bronze Foundry and Alexander bestows Campaspe on Apelles); he worked on the Funeral of Cosimo I in 1574; painted ephemera for the baptism of Duke Francesco's son, Filippo, in 1577; and is documented several times as painting portraits for Francesco, as well as producing scores of altarpieces and allegories for Florentine and Tuscan patrons.

Morandini's activity as a portraitist was fairly extensive, and included subjects from other leading Florentine families and favoured functionaries of the Grand Duke, including Don Vincenzo Borghini (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle); Pierfrancesco Riccio, who was the former Majordomo to Cosimo I (Prato, Palazzo del Comune) and Cardinal Alessandro de' Medici, Archbishop of Florence (Florence, Palazzo Arcivescovile). The latter, although in ruinous condition, and a Portrait of an Unknown Functionary (Prato, Galleria di Palazzo degli Alberti) bear a strong resemblance to the present portrait in composition and in detail (for a review of Poppi's career and bibliography see A. Giovanetti, Francesco Morandini detto il Poppi: i disegni; i dipinti di Poppi e Castiglion Fiorentino, Poppi, 1991, pp. 80-1, 93, 99, 102-3, and nos. 7, 30, 41 and 50 for illustrations of the portraits noted here).

Not an official image or state portrait, the present painting, which dates to 1582-87, is rather an intimate view of the Grand Duke surrounded by the objects of his passions. Francesco is dressed in a fur-lined robe worn by the elite during the winter (a similar mantle is worn by his father, Duke Cosimo, in Michele Tosini's Portrait of Cosimo I, Francesco I and an Unknown Man, 1570-74) and a ruffled white undershirt. Francesco, who was previously quite thin, had begun to suffer from ill health and gained a considerable amount of weight after 1580, which increased his resemblance to his father Cosimo I (G. Pieraccini, La Stirpe de' Medici di Cafaggiolo, II, Florence, 1824, p. 151-4; and L. Berti, Il Principe dello Studio: Francesco I dei Medici e la fine del Rinascimento fiorentino, Florence, 1967, pp. 36-9). Still, he is distinguished by the thin, lank wisps of dark hair that form a triangular shape on his forehead and the angular recesses on his balding temples. An engraving of Francesco published in 1586 in a biography of his father, Cosimo I, confirms this identification (A. Manutius, Vita di Cosimo de' Medici, primo gran duca di Toscana, Bologna, 1586, as illustrated in K. Langedijk, The Portraits of the Medici, II, Florence, 1983, p. 873, no. 42.50). The sitter in the present painting also resembles an image of Francesco painted by Alessandro Allori's studio in 1582 in the Badia at Passignano, where Francesco is shown amidst his retinue attending the ceremony of the recognition of the relics of San Giovanni Gualberti, an event of 1580 (fig. 1; The payments for this project are reported in E. Pilliod, Studies on the Early Career of Alessandro Allori, Ph.D. thesis, 1989, pp. 108, 219-22).

In this portrait the armillary sphere and botanical text attest to the range of Francesco's interests. That these two branches of science were among Francesco's favourite pursuits is recorded in an ambassador's report of 1576, noting to Francesco's expertise in 'matematica, di cosmografia e di questi suoi segreti naturalisi diletta di rgionare di questi studi' (G. Pieraccini, 1824, II, p. 127). Known for preferring his hobbies to his official duties, Grand Duke Francesco here may be shown in one of his workshops in the Casino of San Marco, an urban palace located near the Palazzo Vecchio, where he retreated to indulge in his interests in science, botany and alchemy. Redesigned by Buontalenti for the Grand Duke, the Casino boasted a foundry and an extensive garden to provide plants for Francesco's experiments in creating medicines, as well as workshops for creating porcelain, melting rock crystal and other oddities (see G. Targioni-Tozzetti, Notizie sulla storia delle scienze fisiche in Toscana, Florence, 1852, pp. 235-58; L. Berti, Il Principe dello Studio: Francesco I dei Medici e la fine del Rinascimento fiorentino, Florence, 1967, pp. 51-9; L. Tongiorgi Tomasi in The Flowering of Florence: Botanical Art for the Medici, Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 36-51). The armillary sphere, of which Francesco owned many, was a device for tracing and measuring the circles of the heavens with the world at its centre. A general symbol of wisdom, it connotes the celestial and astrological forces to which both Man (through the doctrine of the Four Humours) and Nature (including all the natural sciences) was subordinated. Open on the table is a copy of the most-widely consulted botanical treatise of the mid-sixteenth century, Pietro Andrea Mattioli's commentaries on Dioscurides' Materia Medica, the Commentarii in sex Libros Pedacii Dioscoridis. Francesco is known to have been sent a portrait of Mattioli in 1568 and in the same year Mattioli dedicated an Italian edition of the Commentari to Francesco's first wife, Giovanna d' Austria (see A. Tosi, 'In Matthioli effigiem,' in ed. S. Ferri, Pietro Andrea Mattioli La Vita Le Opere, Perugia, 1997, p. 382; La Corte il mare I mercanti La rinascita della Scienza Editoria e Società Astrologia, magia e alchimia, Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell'Europa del Cinquecento, Florence, 1980, p. 201, no. 7.33). The edition on which Francesco rests his hand corresponds to a 1570 Latin edition published in Venice by Valgrisi, which contained wood-block illustrations. The artist has created a perfect depiction of the illustrations and text on pages 528-9 (fig. 2), on which several types of Melanthium (Nigella) or Bunch Flower are described. As the text explains, the plant could be an ingredient in preparations to cure headaches, catarrh (from which Grand Duke Francesco suffered), boils, and, if liquefied and drunk in copious amounts, to paralyze or kill.

Described by Nicolson as a 'splendid Mannerist portrait' (op. cit.), this picture can be identified with the Portrait of a Naturalist in a black-furred dress, a green drapery suspended behind him formerly in the collection of Rev. John Sanford (1777-1855). Born in England, Sanford amassed his collection, which consisted primarily of Italian paintings, when he resided in Florence in the 1830s, capitalising on the financial misfortunes that befell many old Florentine families. Upon returning to England, he must have decided that his collection was too large for his London residence, Connaught Place, and proceeded to sell nearly 150 paintings in these Rooms in March 1839. However, he had records made of these works in the form of small scale copies, mostly in watercolour. Four volumes of these watercolours, along with paintings from the original collection, were inherited by Sanford's only child, Anna, wife of Fredrick Henry Paul Methuen, the future 2nd Lord Methuen, and subsequently passed into the Methuen family collection at Corsham Court, Wiltshire, England. The present work was reproduced by G. Fanciullacci in this manner (fig. 3). It is interesting to note that in the copy, two of the fingers resting on the book are bent, and a skeleton is visible in the far right corner of the room. Fanciullacci was not always faithful to the original, but in this case one suspects that the hand has been restored to the present state, and the skeleton overpainted at a later date (an X-ray is available from the department). Comparison with other known portraits by Morandini reveals that the Portrait of Francesco adheres closely to Morandini's formula for seated subjects surrounded by apposite attributes. Not only are they similar in pose, but (as originally painted) in the choice of sharply bent fingers on the right hand. In some instances Morandini's signature or monogram appeared precisely on the spot where these fingers have been restored, that is, on the papers and books placed before the sitter, in the Portrait of an Unknown Functionary in Prato. Perhaps this area was repainted because it was seen to detract from the beautiful botanical illustration, or it conflicted with the identification of the sitter as a naturalist. A drawing in the Uffizi (6410F) by Morandini may have been the model in reverse for the proper left hand of Francesco; cartoons like this were reused in many portraits by the artist (Giovanetti, 1998, pp. 99, 102-3, fig. 130).

More intriguing still is the question of the skeleton that evidently has been overpainted. While its presence would generally have accorded with the theme of the sciences (anatomy), it is not precisely clear from Fanciullacci's copy if it is by the same hand as the rest of the painting. Indeed it appears to be of a different quality than that of the armillary sphere and book. It also differs slightly from other inanimate objects in Morandini's oeuvre. The addition of the skeleton may have been a reference to a macabre incident that occurred after the portrait was originally painted. Francesco I and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, died suddenly and mysteriously at the villa of Poggio a Caiano in October 1587. They had just been joined there by his jealous brother Ferdinando, who, among other things, had violently opposed Francesco's marriage to his long-time mistress, Bianca. The violent symptoms of the Grand Duke and Duchess's demise immediately aroused suspicions and rumours spread that they had been poisoned by Ferdinando, who succeeded Francesco as Grand Duke (see G.F. Young, I Medici, Florence, 1957, II, p. 291, notes that the accusation filled contemporary circles; Pieraccini, 1824, II, pp. 154-59, presented a new modern medical view). While this gothic theory of Francesco's death was eventually discounted, the skeleton may have been added after Francesco's death to make a pointed connection between the potentially dangerous plant to which Francesco points and what was widely believed to have been the cause of his death.

We are grateful to Professor Elizabeth Pilliod for suggesting the attribution, on the basis of photographs, and for preparing this catalogue entry.

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