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 Francesco (Il Poppi) Morandini  (1544 - 1597)



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Lived/Active: Italy      Known for: painting and sculpture

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from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Francesco I de' Medici (1541-1587)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Christie's London, King Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

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 favored 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).

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 over painted. 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 rumors 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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