Sunday, January 31, 2010

Answer #12: Raucous Royal of the Month- Guidobaldo II della Rovere that a codpiece?You might think a swirly shaped codpieces is just another example of Over-indulgent Masculine Drivel in the Renaissance art scene.(what I refer to as OMD) But the backward curved shape was actually a protective talisman to ward off syphilis and prevent copulation. Guidobaldo's showy codpiece might be another example of fidelity. But faithful to whom? Yes, there is another love story here....

Guidobaldo was an Italian Condottieri who became Duke of Urbino after his father, Francesco Maria's assasination in 1538 (shown right). At the time of his portrait, he had fallen in love with Clarice Orsini, the daughter of Gian Giordano Orsini and famed Renaissance beauty, Felice della Rovere. Unfortunately, the Orsini were mortal enemies of Guidobaldo's father, Francesco Maria and no priest or poison was ever going to allow these two crazy, Romeo and Juliet lovebirds to marry. Instead, Francesco Maria betrothed his son to the wealthy heiress, Giulia da Varano. A series of cantankerous letters between father and son ensued where Guidobaldo was told that he would obey or forfeit his inheritance.

What would our red clad Lothario choose? Unfortunately, Guidobaldo had more to fear than just destitution. Francesco Maria was not a man you disobeyed unless you wanted to swim in the Tiber. He had killed a cardinal with his bare hands and worked hard to garner a reputation of utter ruthlessness.

Clarice's mother, Felice della Rovere put the brakes on the two lovers by whisking her daughter off to marry Don Luigi Carafa. Heartbroken, Guidobaldo acquiesced and married Giulia. To celebrate their wedding, he gave Giuila the portrait known today as Venus of Urbino by Titian. (He called it la donna nuda.) You might be thinking - ahhhh isn't that sweet. Hold that thought. The portrait was meant as an instructive model for Giulia on how to act like the correct Renaissance model/fertility goddess...but no pressure. Renaissance nudes were sometimes placed in the private chambers of nobles as ummm....inspiration. It was believed that looking at beautiful women would incite the couple's fertility.

We don't know the identity of this ideal Renaissance beauty. Possible suspects are one of Guidobaldo's mistresses (there were A LOT), Titian's mistress or even Guidobaldo's mother, Eleonora Gonzaga. Yes, that makes the gift even more creepy, but there is a startling resemblance.

Back to Guidobaldo's portrait....It was commissioned in 1532 by Angelo Bronzino to commemorate his eighteenth birthday. He places one hand on his helmet and the other on his dog possibly to indicate a successful future career as a soldier. The inscription on the helmet reads, "I will surely be true to the goal that I sang of." What exactly Guidobaldo was humming is left for the viewer to decide, but we can guess that it was not a love ballad to his family. The inscription is also in spitting distance to his swirly codpiece and some historians have theorized that its close proximity is symbolic of Guidobaldo sticking it to his dad.(1) Really? I don't know? If Guidobaldo really wanted to send a hostile message to his father, he could have written it on his codpiece. Then, there would be no confusion.*

But clearly, the ornery pooch represents serious daddy issues. That dog is definitely about to rip off your arm.

There is plenty more scandal around the della Rovere family and if you are interested in a really good read then I highly recommend The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere by one of my favorite authors, Caroline Murphy (author of The Murder of a Medici Princess.

*Yes, that was a joke.
(1) Brock p. 49

Sources and Further Reading:
Brock, Maurice. Bronzino, New York, NY: Flammarion, 2002.
Murphy, Caroline. The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere, Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.


Lucy said...

Excellent post! I so enjoy Italian history! For Titian's model..I thougth I had read the possibility of Veronica Franco??

Bearded Lady said...

Yes, Veronica Franco is a good guess. It would fit with the time period. She would have had to have been a courtesan because I really doubt a noble lady would pose nude. (which is why I don't think it was Guidobaldo's mother)

If anyone has any more theories on her identity, I would love to hear them.

Uneekdolldesigns said...

Very interesting post indeed! Enjoyed the bit of history!

suezqd said...

I just finished reading "The House of Medici: It's Rise and Fall" by Christopher Hibbert. It is so wonderful to read more about some of the figures mentioned in the book. I love this website. Keep it coming! You go girl.

Jenny Girl said...

Interesting and informative post. That nude pic is used for so many book covers and things, although it is obviously cropped to just her face :)

Stella da Genova said...

I also see a resemblance in the face of "Venus of Urbino" and Titian's "La Bella." I agree her face kind of resembles a youngish Eleanora Gonzaga (Guidobaldo's mother). However, hTitian painted his Eleanora only a couple of years before "Venus of Urbino," and that would be rather odd to have it resemble his mom anyway. In fact, the model for Venus looks quite exactly like his topless hat-wearing courtesan-ish model for "Young Woman." Cut & Paste below:

La Bella:


Young Woman:

Bearded Lady said...

Brooke - His hat wearing courtesan is a dead ringer for Venus or Urbino. Thanks for the links. That site has really good scans of Titian's work too.

Uneekdolldesigns - thanks! I meant to tell you that I love the doll you did for Twiggy. Hilarious. this one:

You captured the eyes perfectly.

suezqd - House of Medici was one of the books that got me hooked on the Medici clan. Love that book.

Jenny Girl - I know...I see that image recycled everywhere. The MET did an interesting talk a couple of years ago on marriage portraits and they covered that one.

If anyone has not seen it, you can find it under youtube. Just search by Sunday at the Met and Renaissance Marriages.