Ilaria del Carretto: A Mother Memorialised in Marble (Part Two)

Continuing on from part one of the post on Ilaria de Carretto’s tomb, this post will focus on the analysis of the effigy and inclusion of the ten putti figures on the sides of the sarcophagus.

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Detail of the effigy of the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto

The physical appearance of the effigy not only explicitly commemorates Ilaria, it simultaneously makes reference to the wealth and prestige of the Guinigi. Each aspect of the effigy, from the costume she wears, her hair style, headdress and swollen abdomen demonstrate the duality of meaning ascribed not only to this element but to the monument as a whole by her husband. Once again in a similar manner to the inclusion of the dog, the representation of the deceased Ilaria was clearly influenced by Northern European sources. The effigy had no counterparts in contemporary Italian funerary monuments.[1] The high stiff collar with its large opening which frames Ilaria’s face, the long pendant sleeves, high waisted belt, the flowered headdress and the pointed shoes were considered the height of fashion during this period, especially among the elite classes in Northern Renaissance Italian courts.[2] It demonstrated to the contemporary viewer that Paolo wished for his wife to be portrayed in a costume associated with the wealthy elite classes of Northern European and Northern Italian courts. The effigy thus projected an image of the wealth and prestige of her husband to those who saw the tomb. Paolo wished to emphasise and promote his prestigious standing in order to justify his legitimacy as the self-proclaimed ruler and Lord of Lucca. He did so by dressing his deceased wife’s effigy in a costume appropriate for a Northern European princess. Thus Paolo used the monument to further his own political agenda and to reinforce his rule to his subjects in Lucca.

The effigy’s facial features have been somewhat idealised by della Quercia, a common practice by artists of this period when portraying those of the elite class. The domed forehead, high hairline and perfectly proportioned facial features enhance and highlight the beauty of the woman commemorated by this work. Beauty was a quality deemed essential for a Renaissance woman to possess. Physical beauty was seen as an indicator of the inner qualities of a person. Thus della Quercia depicted Ilaria in her death as an ideal woman who possessed the necessary feminine qualities, such as beauty evident from the effigy’s facial features, as well as her chasteness, evoked by the presence of the sculpted dog. Thus the artist and patron chose to add various subtle symbols to the tomb’s effigy which emphasised Ilaria’s virtuous nature.

Another powerful element of the tomb is the prominence given to the wedding ring worn on the right hand of the effigy. It is interesting to note that the effigy does not wear any other form of jewellery (apart from the diadem which will be discussed below). Therefore the inclusion of this wedding band on her ring finger clearly indicated her role as a wife and marked her for posterity as her husband’s property. The ring may have ensured that this symbol of marriage stood out prominently from the rest of the effigy and tomb.[3]

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Detail of the ghirlanda (headdress)

The headdress (ghirlanda) which adorns the effigy adds to the aristocratic semblance of Ilaria. In fact, the headdress looks similar to a crown, once again reinforcing Paolo’s aim to enhance his family’s prestige. A bronze diadem may have also been located at one time just above the effigy’s headdress.[4] The possibility of the presence of a physical jewelled crown would have made a powerful visual statement to the tomb’s audience. To associate Ilaria with royalty was an unambiguous and bold statement about her husband’s reign as the Lord of Lucca. Decorated with flowers, the headdress can also be interpreted as having connotations to fertility and in particular Ilaria’s fecundity. The allusion to Ilaria’s reproductive capabilities is complemented by further suggestion to this attribute by the inclusion of the putti carrying garlands loaded with fruit and flowers which will be discussed below.

The final element of the effigy which must be examined is the placement of the crossed hands on top of her noticeably swollen abdomen which serves as a potent symbol within this piece. Paolo clearly wished to subtly indicate to the tomb’s audience the cause of Ilaria’s death. In fact, Ilaria’s tomb is one of a very small number of art works depicting women which includes a reference to the cause of death as childbirth. The patron achieves this link through the positioning of the hands on the stomach, drawing the viewers’ eyes to her pregnant body. The effigy promotes Ilaria’s role as a wife and mother, echoing the message of the abundant vegetation surrounding the joint coat of arms of the two families mentioned in part one of this blog post.

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Detail of the ‘joyous’ putti on the side panel of the sarcophagus

The classically influenced swag-bearing putti on the two side panels of the sarcophagus continued the monument’s emphasis on Ilaria’s commemoration as the mother of the Guinigi heir. These were the earliest examples in the 15th century of large-scale putti in Renaissance art, a motif which was to become very popular.[5] The presence of these activated nude little boys can be interpreted in a number of ways. The putto became a popular figure found on domestic objects and in particular on objects associated with the event of childbirth. Jacqueline Marie Musacchio argued that the inclusion of a naked male child held a magical resonance and their presence on domestic objects during this period clearly made reference to the much-desired male child who was essential for a society dominated by the patriarchal lineage.[6] Thus one possible interpretation for the inclusion of the putti on the sarcophagus is that Paolo wanted to emphasise his wife’s fulfilment of her duties through the birth of a male heir. The monument stood to contemporaries as a powerful visual affirmation of the strength of the Guinigi bloodline through Ladislaus’ birth. The heavy garlands which they carry are laden with fruit similar to that which surrounds the coat of arms and the effigy’s headdress. In the classical period, the garlands heaving with fruit are carried by putti referring to the ‘life-supporting spirits contained in the fruits of the earth, the source of all life in nature’.[7] The putti and garlands symbolically refer therefore to Mother Nature and placed on the tomb of a woman who died in childbirth, highlighted Ilaria’s fertile nature.

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Detail of the ‘solemn’ putti on the side panel of the sarcophagus

The facial expressions and movement of the bodies of the putti are of particular interest as the two sets express very different emotions which add to the work’s commemoration of Ilaria. On one side, the putti appear sad and overburdened by the heaving garland they carry. On the opposite side, the figures appear to possess a freer spirit and perform a choral dance.[8] The polarity of the emotions evoked to the audience the emotions of the patron towards the sudden death of his young wife. The grief he felt is poignantly expressed by the solemn-looking putti and the burden they carry (the garland), a further physical manifestation of their pain and suffering. This group may also represent the sadness of Ilaria’s children over the loss of their mother at a very young age. Paolo simultaneously wanted to celebrate the life of his wife and the joy she brought to his family which is captured by della Quercia through the lively dance of the putti on the opposite panel of the tomb.

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Ilaria’s tomb is a truly unique monument from the period in question in terms of its style, appearance and meaning within the Italian context. Della Quercia succeeded in combining a number of innovative features with classically-inspired elements to ensure that the tomb remains a masterpiece of western sculpture to this day. The commissioning of such a lavish work by the Lord of Lucca demonstrates the high regard he had for his wife and the mother of his first two children. Accordingly, Ilaria is memorialised for posterity as a mother by means of her physical presence on the tomb in the form of the effigy as well as the tomb’s placement in a prestigious location within the city’s cathedral. Through his design and execution of the funerary monument, della Quercia imbued Ilaria with a sense of dignity and nobility in her death which augmented her posthumous elevated standing in her conjugal family. The tomb stands as a testament to the importance of motherhood in fifteenth-century Renaissance society.

[1] Allan Marquand, ‘The Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto’, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan-Mar 1915), pp24-33, 28.

[2] M. Paoli, ‘Jacopo della Quercia E Paolo Guinigi: Nuove Osservazioni e Ipotesi Sul Monumento di Ilaria’ in Ilaria del Carretto E Il Suo Monumento- La Donna Nell’Arte, La Cultura E La Societa Del ‘400, Ed. by Stephanie Toussaint, San Marco Lithotype, Lucca, 1995, 16-17.

[3] Charles Seymour, Jacopo Della Quercia: Sculptor, Yale University Press, London, 1973, 33.

[4] Robert Munman, Sienese Renaissance Tomb Monuments, American Philosophy Society, 1993, 121.

[5] James Beck, Jacopo della Quercia, Vol. 1, Columbia University Press, New York, 56.

[6] Jacqueline Marie Musacchio, The Art and Ritual of Childbirth of Renaissance Italy, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999, 127.

[7] Charles Dempsey, Inventing the Renaissance Putto, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2001, 28.

[8] A. Marquand, ‘The Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto’, 31.

Ilaria del Carretto- A Mother Memorialised in Marble (Part One)

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Jacopo della Quercia, Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, c.1406, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Lucca.

On the 8th of December 1405, Ilaria del Carretto- wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca- died in childbirth. As the mother of Paolo’s first-born son Ladislaus and daughter (named Ilaria after her mother), Ilaria is commemorated for her success in producing an heir by the commissioning of an extravagant tomb located in the Cathedral of St. Martin. Designed by Jacopo della Quercia, one of the foremost sculptors of the fifteenth century, the unique marble sarcophagus dedicated to Ilaria’s memory provides the art historian with a plethora of information about the role of court women in Renaissance Italy.

As Paolo’s second of four wives, it is interesting to question why Ilaria alone was honoured by this distinctive form of commemoration. Three of his wives, including Ilaria, provided their husbands with 8 children in total, 5 sons and 3 daughters. Paolo’s first wife, Maria Caterina di Valerano degli Antelminelli, died aged 12 in 1400 before the marriage was consummated. In 1403, Ilaria married Paolo and produced 2 children during her short life as his wife. Paolo’s third wife, Piacentina da Varano whom he married in the spring of 1407 gave birth to 5 children (4 boys and 1 girl). In 1420, Paolo wed his final wife, Iacopa Trinci who had 1 daughter and died during her second pregnancy. As can be clearly seen by the number of children, the wives of the Lord of Lucca attempted to fulfil their societal roles as women by giving birth to as many children as possible, even if it resulted in their deaths. Ilaria stood out among the wives by giving birth to Paolo’s first-born son and heir to his father’s name, wealth and position. Therefore Ilaria is commemorated posthumously for her contribution to the patriarchal lineage of her husband’s family. Paolo chose to honour Ilaria for her achievements and contribution to his family. The tomb serves as much as a statement about the importance of the Guinigi lineage and her role in its continuation as it was a commemorative monument to his deceased wife. This point is clearly evident when the elements which constitute the monument are examined including the Guinigi and Carretto coat of arms, the presence of the dog at Ilaria’s feet, Ilaria’s physical appearance and the putti who adorn the side panels of the sarcophagus.

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Detail of the Guinigi and Carretto Coat of Arms

Each of the decorative elements included by della Quercia on the monument were carefully chosen by the patron and artist for their inherent symbolism and ability to not only commemorate the deceased consort but also to emphasise to the audience the importance of the Guinigi family. The coat of arms located on the panel below the effigy’s head can be considered as the most obvious expression of this idea on the tomb. It combines the heraldic devices of both the Guinigi and Carretto. Due to the lack of an inscription (it is believed that an inscription did exist but was later removed and lost), the coat of arms is the only means by which the deceased can be identified. The presence of the darts of the Guinigi imprese marks Ilaria as Paolo’s wife and thus her identity as a woman is intrinsically linked to that of her husband’s. Combining the two families’ coat of arms also served to maintain friendly relations with the Carretto after Ilaria’s death. The Carretto were a powerful and influential family during this period, the creation of a strong political alliance was a key factor in Paolo’s decision to marry Ilaria. This need to stress the alliance between the Guinigi and Carretto explains the prominent inclusion of the two impresi in this manner by della Quercia.

The foliage decoration surrounding the coat of arms on both sides also warrants further investigation for its symbolic meaning to the contemporary audience. Allan Marquand describes this foliage as ‘florid gothic plants bearing seeded flowers’.[1] The inclusion of the abundant vegetation and its deliberate placement around the combined coat of arms refers to the fruitful union of Paolo and Ilaria. The seeded flowers represent Ilaria’s fertile nature and therefore focus on her reproductive role and the securing of her husband’s lineage.

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cangnolinoDetails of the Effigy of Ilaria and her faithful companion

The dog depicted lying at his mistress’ feet is an element of the funerary monument which has not received as much attention as other components of the piece. The presence of the symbolically-charged cagnolino was not a feature commonly found on Italian funerary monuments of this period. Dogs were commonly depicted on monuments in Northern Europe such as the Netherlands and France.[2] The dog was regarded as a symbol of fidelity and in this case he looks up directly and attentively towards his mistress’ head. In della Quercia’s monument, the dog can be interpreted in a number of ways. Firstly, it acts as a sign of Ilaria’s unwavering fidelity to her husband, a key quality a married woman must possess in order to ensure the legitimacy of her children and the purity of the future generations of the Guinigi bloodline. Giorgio Vasari saw the dog as a symbol of conjugal love. Its inclusion on the monument can therefore be viewed as a visual demonstration of Paolo’s love for his deceased wife and his grief over her untimely death. The sculpted dog and its placement in relation to the effigy provides a third possible reading. The alertness of the dog with his gaze fixed firmly towards Ilaria’s head functioned as a means of directing the audience’s attention to her face, denoting the importance of the deceased who is remembered by this ostentatious marble memorial. Here, the dog acts as an eternal protector for Ilaria’s effigy, dutifully guarding this woman who remained faithful throughout her marriage.

Part Two of this post will be published by the end of the week- stay tuned!

[1] Allan Marquand, ‘The Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto’, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan-Mar 1915), pp24-33, 31.

[2] Robert Munman, Sienese Renaissance Tomb Monuments, Vol. 205, American Philosophical Society: Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 1993, 72.

Battista Sforza: Countess of Urbino: An Illustrious Woman Part 2

As part two of the post on Battista Sforza, the reverse of Piero della Francesca’s striking Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza will be discussed. Don’t forget to check out part one! Dedicated to Lady, my faithful companion for the last 11 years.

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The reverse of the diptych celebrates the personal achievements of Battista and her husband and it is within these panels that the prescribed roles of the ruler and his consort are most clearly adhered to. [Fig. Five] Piero’s work is the earliest example of a diptych with scenes on the reverse.[1] Image and text work together here to provide the viewer with an insight into the accomplishments of the sitters. The theme of unity is underlined in a similar manner to the front panels by the placement of the figures facing one another before a continuous landscape and the presence of the parapet underneath carrying Latin inscriptions proclaiming the virtues of the sitters. In these scenes, Federico regains the position of honour with Battista assuming the place traditionally assigned to women.

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Both figures are represented seated on a triumphal cart surrounded by women who personify qualities possessed by the couple. Federico, in the scene of the Triumph of Fame, dressed in his suit of armour is reminiscent of a Roman general seated upon the field stool used on the battlefield, and is about to be crowned with a wreath of laurels by the winged female personification of Victory. He is accompanied by four women symbolically representing the Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance, essential qualities vital for a Renaissance ruler to possess.[2]

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The representation of Battista in the scene depicting the Triumph of Modesty (Pudicità) opposite that of her husband portrays a complementary image of a loyal and capable consort, accompanied by four female figures, including the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Charity and Hope.[3] Battista, mirroring the pose of her husband, is seated upon a chair holding a small book. The chariot is driven by Cupid and drawn by two unicorns, mythical creatures renowned for permitting themselves only to be caught by a chaste woman. Their presence emphasises the purity of the deceased, vital for the preservation of the Montefeltro lineage. Paola Tinagli argues that the virtues associated with the countess within this work were seen as the indispensable requirements for the model Renaissance woman and consort. These were also mentioned in all of the panegyrics and orations written in her honour both before and after her death.[4] The inscription located in the parapet below emphasises these qualities further:

               ‘QVE MODVM REBVS TENVIT SECVNDIS/

               CONIVGIS MAGNI DECORATA RERVM/

               LAVDE GESTARVM VOLITAT PER ORA/

 CVNCTA VIRORVM’

[She that kept her modesty in favourable circumstances/ flies on the mouths of all men/ adorned with the praise of her great husband’s exploits][5]

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The inclusion of the mysterious fourth figure located directly behind the countess and facing away from the viewer adds a further level of meaning to the two panels. Woods-Marsden suggests that the figure is intended to be interpreted here as a Clarissan nun with whom the countess had a very close relationship throughout her life as a consort, reflected in her choice of burial place in the nuns’ common tomb in Santa Chiara.[6] Dressed in a grey costume and headdress, the traditional colour of Time, she may also be interpreted as the symbol of Eternity.[7] When the two Triumphs of Fame and Modesty are read together, they can be interpreted as a Triumph over Death, signifying the eternal fame the couple have successfully achieved. Influenced by Petrarch’s Trionfi, Piero’s images follow the sequence of Triumphs Petrarch established in his poem in an symbolic manner.[8] Erwin Panofsky strengthens this thesis by remarking that in the work of Piero as well as that of Petrarch: ‘Chastity triumphs over Love, Death over Chastity, Fame over Death, Time over Fame, to be conquered only by Eternity.’[9] The decision to represent these specific Triumphs reflects the overall image Federico carefully constructed of his court and of his family.  The ruling couple are represented as conforming to societal ideals regarding their prescribed positions, leading to the success of the court under their rule. The balance and symmetry created by these two scenes replicates the central theme of unity and harmony on the front panels of the diptych, in this case a product of their respective achievements in their socially defined roles.

Although the representation of a pelican has been found on the reverse of posthumous medals created during this period, the inclusion of the bird accompanying Charity in a diptych scene is unique to this work. The pelican was believed to nourish her chicks with her own blood. The bird, in keeping with contemporary thought, is shown here tearing at its own breast to draw the blood to feed its young. Its appearance may be read as a reference to Battista’s self-sacrifice, reinforcing the myth written to explain her demise.[10] This subtle allusion reinforces the central theme of the scene celebrating the chaste and virtuous nature of the countess, her ability as a wife and mother and a statement regarding the legitimacy of the heir she bore.

An explanation for the incorporation of the triumphal scenes on the reverse of the diptych may be found in the proposed locations and functions for the work. The intended audience was contingent upon the original site for the work.[11] A precise location has not been established, although a number of hypotheses have been made. Some scholars argue that it was likely to have occupied a prominent position within the palace such as the Throne Room so that it could be put on display not only for the immediate family’s viewing but also so that it could be seen by esteemed visitors.[12] It has also been suggested that the work was either placed upon a table in order for both sides to be visible or put on permanent exhibition in a space in the wall between the audience room and another space made into a chapel.[13] Woods-Marsden asserts that the work was only produced in special circumstances but was probably stored within the private space of Federico’s studiolo.[14] Aronberg Lavin also argues that, as the work was hinged and relatively small (each panel measures 47 x 33cm), it was to be opened to its different sides on various occasions and therefore functioned as a keepsake for private reflection.[15] When closed, the allegorical representations of the couple’s virtues depicted on the reverse acted as a ‘shield’, protecting the ruler portraits within.[16] The diptych was therefore designed so that the visualisation of the sitters’ values was visible when portable, promoting the ideal behaviour expected of the ruler and his consort. The front panels represented a more authentic view of the couple as co-rulers of their domain. In this capacity, the diptych was a highly valued object to Federico and would have been in the count’s personal possession along with his other treasured items such as his medals and gems.[17]

[1] Woods-Marsden, in J.M. Wood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca, 108.

[2] Grazia Pernis and Schneider Adams, Federico da Montefeltro and Sigismondo Malatesta, 102. Justice holds a scale in one hand and keeps Federico’s sword upright in the other and  is seated facing the viewer, nearest to the picture plane. Prudence carries a snake and a mirror, objects traditionally ascribed to her. Fortitude holds a broken column and Temperance is depicted on the opposite side facing away from the viewer and surveying the land around Urbino.

Clearly this scene of the Triumph of Fame is intended to exhibit Federico’s prowess as a condottiere, attested to by his recent victory at the Battle of Volterra on the behalf of Florence, the premise for the commissioning of the scene on the reverse.[2] Federico is portrayed here as possessing each of the crucial qualities necessary to govern his court effectively and successfully as reiterated in the inscription beneath, heralding him as a powerful and capable ruler:

‘CLARVS INSIGNI VEHITVR TRIVMPHO/

QVEM PAREM SVMMIS DVCIBVS PERHENNIS/

FAMA VIRTVTVM CELEBRAT DECENTER/

SCEPTRA TENENTEM.’

[He is borne into triumph/ fame celebrates him/ he holds a sceptre]

[3] Charity and Faith are seated at the front of the chariot. Faith is depicted holding a chalice, the host, a cross and accompanied by a faithful dog at her side. Charity is unusually dressed in black rather than red in this image and exceptionally is shown here holding a pelican. Hope stands behind Battista, and looks out of the pictorial space as if addressing the viewer.

[4] P. Tinagli, Women in Italian Renaissance Art, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1997, 58-59.

[5] Ibid. Her translation.

[6] Woods-Marsden, in J.M. Wood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca,  110.

[7] Grazia Pernis and Schneider Adams, Federico da Montefeltro and Sigismondo Malatesta,101.

[8] Ibid, 103.

[9] E. Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, Harper & Row, London, 1972, 79.

[10] Woods-Marsden, in J.M. Wood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca, 109.

[11] Ibid, 112.

[12] Osborne, Urbino: The Story of A Renaissance City, 116.

[13] Aronberg Lavin, Piero della Francesca, 265.

[14] Woods-Marsden, in J.M. Wood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca, 113.

[15] Aronberg Lavin, Piero della Francesca, 265.

[16] A. Cecchi in L. Bellosi (ed.), Una Scuola per Piero: Luce, colore e prospettiva nella formazione fiorentina di Piero della Francesca, Venice, 1992, 144. This is confirmed by the varying levels of damage on the two sides.

[17] Woods-Marsden, in J.M. Wood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Piero della Francesca, 113.