|"Pulchrior In Luce" ~ More Beautiful in the Light
|Coffered ceiling with grottesca decoration by Bernardo Poccetti
Wandering along the Borgo Pinti I found the unassuming entry of an austere-looking palazzo with its giant, stud-riddled door wide open. Flashes of a grottesca ceiling caught my eye in what is currently the entry to a hotel. So naturally I inquired inside, and learned that it was known as the Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi, which is the former palace of the Neri-Ridolfi family whose coat of arms is painted in the center of the ceiling.
The painted ornament is attributed to Bernardino Poccetti (1548 – 1612), also known as Barbatelli, a prolific and famous local artist whose work includes the sgrafitto decoration of the Palazzo Bianca-Cappello; the Medici Villa di Artimino; ceiling vaults of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the murals in the grand salon of the Palazzo Capponi. Earlier in his career he was known as a great designer of grottesche, in his later years he painted more monumental and naturalistic figurative murals. This ceiling ornament dates from the early 1580's and was beautifully restored by Gioia Germani in 2001.
With its coffered ceiling this space really looks to me like an oddly empty library or even a stripped-out studiolo. The room feels private, even more so because of the esoteric symbolism in the ceiling paintings. As is often the case this palazzo has been remodeled so many times it's hard to say where the original entry was or how this space came to be used in this way.
|The coat of arms of the Neri-Ridolfi family, presented with a double cartouche and festoons of fruit
The ceiling is made up of almost-square as well as rectangular coffers, all of which are slightly skewed and in some cases completely wonky, which as a painter I find to be typical in even newly-built coffered ceilings. I found the lighting in this space to be extremely difficult, and I was compelled to return with a flash (*gasp*), in order to shoot this ceiling.
So now, let's have a closer look at these marvelous little paintings, shall we?
|"Malio Lumina" features the the stone cold glare of Medusa as "Evil Eyes"
Medusa is a familiar face in Renaissance art. In Greek mythology, the gorgon Medusa's very glance could literally petrify a man, turning him into stone, and she came to symbolize the "Evil Eye."
Perseus set Medusa's severed and bleeding head on the riverbank while he washed his hands, and her blood turned the reeds into red coral. Thus to protect against the Evil Eye one wears or displays branches or beads of precious red coral.
|Spectacular coral piece on display at l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (nfs)
Red "precious" coral (see first image "Pulchrior in Luce" above) appears a lot in Renaissance art, as the coral is not only beautiful but is reputed to have both healing and protective properties, and it is sometimes seen as a symbol of Christ's blood. Branches of it appear in treasuries and wunderkammers, portraits and altarpieces.
(Latin geeks, please weigh in on the play on words in these two panels' mottos- Lumina vs Luce.)
|"Suo Succo" - its essense
|Visitors to my studio will recognize this emblem which has been tacked to my door for some years.
Each of the soffits has symbolic imagery in the center with a latin motto, resembling the pages of an Emblamata (emblem book) owing in part to the small scale of the individual panels. However, overall they are just pared-down versions of the same compositions used in many larger grottesche ceilings- with a central image or allegorical figure, corner elements oriented towards the center dividing the panel with an "X", and symmetrical but not identical pairings of fantastical beasts and ornamental flora.
Often the grottesche will echo or enhance the central element: the coral tree is surrounded by pearls, shells, and imaginary sea-creatures; a bulb springing to life is surrounded by birds, butterflies and garden trellises arranged in a Maltese Cross configuration. The usual features of the grottesca style are present in masks, birds, vases, harpies and other winged creatures, little garlands and floral scrollwork.
|"Tenet Usque" ~ Hold constant
|"Omnibus Idem"~ (the sun shines on) all the same
|"Ex Pulchris Optima Libant"~ from beauty, the best offer
|"Te Ipsum" ~ (see) Thy Self
The Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi is now home to the Hotel Monna Lisa
all images in this post by Lynne Rutter 2014-2017