VASARI, Giorgio
(b. 1511, Arezzo, d. 1574, Firenze)

Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Oil on wood, 90 x 72 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Giorgio Vasari made a significant contribution to the creation of the posthumous image of Lorenzo de' Medici as a shrewd, cultured patron. He described him several times in these terms in his work The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, and celebrates him in the same way in the frescoes in Palazzo Vecchio. He was commissioned to paint this portrait by Ottaviano de' Medici, by request of the Duke Alessandro, who intended to commemorate his illustrious ancestor, and at the same time legitimise the family's return to power after the republican period.

Vasari conceived this portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici as a pendant of Pontormo's portrait of Cosimo the Elder, with the pose adopted by Lorenzo mirroring that of Cosimo.

Lorenzo is depicted wearing the clothes he wore at home but the fur lining on his sleeves is an indication of the subject's high social standing. He is leaning on a marble pillar decorated with a mask in relief. The Latin inscription reveals its meaning: "As my ancestors did with me, I too, with my virtue, shall light the way for my descendants". An ancient-style oil lamp, consisting of a porphyry base topped by a bizarre mask, sits on top of the pillar. On the right, there is another marble base, on which we read "Virtue triumphs over vices". Vice is symbolised by the monstrous mask laid on top of the pillar and squashed by a finely sculpted vase, identified by the inscription as "the vase of all virtues". Another mask is hanging on the spout of the vase.

Vasari, one of the most famous interpreters of the second period of Mannerism, experimented with just about all genres, from portraits to religious and mythological themes. This painting of Lorenzo the Magnificent is distinguished by its intensely plastic colour, although the chiaroscuro is understated. The form is rendered with decision, almost with hardness, a quality discernible in the hands with their protruding veins and rather woody knuckles. Unlike Bronzino, who always placed his characters in an abstract fixity, Vasari seeks to introduce in his Lorenzo the idea of movement, positioning the figure obliquely and breaking the outlines, as can be seen in the ermine trimmings of the tunic.