THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE COMMISSION
This magnificent tapestry was originally commissioned by the Consorzio dei Battilana and the Compagnia del Santissimo Sacramento di Como in Summer of 1595 as part of a set of five tapestries for the Cathedral in Como. A document of 6 August 1595 from Girolamo Seriacopi, representative of the Medici tapestry workshop, to Antonio Maria Bianchi da Velate, the mediator between the workshop and the patrons, assures that the designs would be prepared by the best painter working for the Grand Duke. The designs would have large figures to the foreground and smaller ones on a second level, as dictated by the rules of perspective. It also asks for a specification in terms of denseness of weave, while he promises to complete the task within eight months, whereof one and a half to two are needed for the preparation of the designs.
The Consorzio paid for the pentecost while the SS di Como paid for the last four, including this panel, which represent scenes traditionally regarded as prefigurations of the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ. By 7 October the patrons and the workshop had agreed on the first three designs and on a medium dense weave.
By the end of April 1596 the first three panels, Pentecost, Abraham and Melchizedek and the Gathering of Manna were completed. However, before they could be sent to Como, Ferdinand I de'Medici intervened. He gave them to Alessandro de'Medici, archbishop of Florence, who was sent to France as legate of the Pontificate for a diplomatic mission negotiating the peace treaty between France and Spain.
In a letter of 25 June 1596 Ferdinand I informs the patrons that he gave the three completed panels to Alessandro, but also that he would have them re-woven immediately for the Cathedral. He indicates in the letter that the tapestries so pleased him that he decided to give them to the Cardinal for his chapel. On 3 July Ferdinand received the response from Como, where the delegates accept the fate of their commission but ask that the delay be compensated with the quality of the work.
A document of 6 August 1596 records the debt for the three panels being transferred to Ferdinand I and the passing of the three tapestries to his guardaroba Vincenzo Guigni so that he could present them to Alessandro. Bianchi finally received the re-woven panels from the workshop on 29 November 1596 and sent them on to the Cathedral in Como on 5 December, where they remain until today. The accompanying bill put the total cost for the three panels to 514 ducati 1 lira and 14 soldi in Florentine currency, whereof the majority had already been paid. In Milanese currency Pentecost cost lira 1,021.14.6, while the other two panels, including manna cost lira 2,042.19. The last two panels for Como finally arrived in mid-1598.
GUASPARRI DI BARTOLOMEO PAPINI AND ALESSANDRO ALLORI
Papini was the director of the Piazza San Marco workshop in Florence from 1588 to 1621. His workshop had 13 weavers in 1596, 9 of which Italian and 4 Flemish. Most of the tapestries woven in the workshop were destined for the Grand Ducal palaces, but it was possible for other patrons to commission series at certain occasions. Two examples are the Parato di Clemente VIII made for the Vatican 1592 - 1602 and the Storie di Alessandro made for Venice in 1595.
Although Alessandro di Cristofano di Lorenzo del Bronzino Allori (d. 1607) is not directly mentioned as the designer of this series, his hand is unquestionably noticeable in the tapestries. He worked in the mannerist fashion influenced by Bronzino, Vasari and Michelangelo and was one of its last proponents. He was the adopted son of Bronzino and studied in Rome during his early years, where he was strongly influenced by Michelangelo. He was one of the most prolific and active painters in the late 16th century, while his major works included the preparation of the decoration of Michelangelo's tomb in 1564 and the wedding of Francesco de' Medici with Joanna of Austria in 1565. By 1576 he became the main artist for the Medici workshop and supplied dozens of tapestry series until his death.
The design of this tapestry is closely related to a fresco depicting The Gathering of Manna executed by Allori for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Although the fresco was only completed in 1597 designs relating to this project date back to 1584. There are various drawings for individual figures that can be related to figures in the tapestry such as two drawings in the Uffici that depict the seated lady to the right foreground and the man to the central foreground wearing the blue coat and red hat. Interestingly there is also a preparatory drawing for the border, which corresponds most closely to that used for manna. However, the top section of the border was altered from the design by including the reclining angels.
ALESSANDRO OTTAVIANO DE' MEDICI
Alessandro de'Medici was born in 1555. From his boyhood he led a life of piety and was so fond of the Dominican friars of San Marco that it was thought that he would join the friars. But he chose to become a secular priest and worked in a country parish until 1569, when his relative, Duke Cosimo, sent him as Tuscan ambassador Pius V, a position he held for 15 years. In Rome he became a disciple and close friend of St. Philip Neri. In 1573 Alessandro was first nominated bishop of Pistoia and then archbishop of Florence in 1574 by Gregory XIII. Made a cardinal in 1583, he was sent by Clement VIII as legate to France in the crucial years 1596-1598. He did good service for the Church in repressing the Huguenot influence at the court of Henry IV and restoring the Catholic religion. On his return to Italy he was appointed prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars. In 1600 he became Bishop of the Diocese of Albano, whence he was transferred to Palestrina in 1602.
Naturally the Spaniards were opposed to him, and his chances for the papacy were so lightly esteemed that Cardinal Avila, King Philip's envoy, did not publish his monarch's veto until too late. Baronius, the great historian, was the favorite at the conclave, but was rejected in favour of Alessandro. Alessandro accepted on 1 April 1605 and chose to be called Leo XI. King Henry IV of France, who had learned to esteem Alessandro when papal legate at his court, and whose wife, Maria de' Medici was related to Alessandro, is said to have spent 300,000 Ecus in the promotion of Alessandro's candidacy. Leo XI was a grandnephew of Leo X. But while Leo X was a thoroughgoing Renaissance prince, his grandnephew was a true Counter-Reformation pope. Leo XI was officially crowned on 17 April 1605. However, he caught a chill during the ceremonies and soon was in bed fighting for his life. Leo XI died on 27 April 1605.
The signature to the lower right of this tapestry may be an abbreviation of Factum Florentiae Papini, the 'L' and 'O' being combined into one letter. Lucia Meoni kindly confirmed the existence of a very similar signature on an armorial tapestry with the Medici arms between personifications of Florence and Siena of 1590 (Meoni, op. cit., cat. 134, pp. 360 - 361).