The I, Mona Lisa People
Introducing the most magnificent Medici of them all: Lorenzo (1449-1492). Note the fabulously expensive ermine trim on the sleeves and collar of his lucco (long tunic). Remember, this portrait was intended to flatter, so use your imagination when it comes to his alarming nose and jutting lower jaw. Lorenzo was perhaps the greatest patron of the arts the world has ever seen; he jumpstarted and maintained the careers of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Botticelli, among many others, and supported scores of philosophers, poets, and scholars.
I was a bit hesitant about introducing you to the gentleman on the left here: This portrait of Lorenzo’s son Giuliano de’ Medici (1479-1516) isn’t the most flattering, but try, in your imagination, to lose the silly hat and you’ll see he was a very handsome man, worthy of Lisa Gherardini’s love. This portrait by Raphael was painted in Giuliano’s later years. Although he and his brothers were driven out of Florence in 1494, Giuliano returned triumphant to rule the city (his elder brother Piero had since died) in 1512. He reigned until 1516, when he met a premature end. His illegitimate son Ippolito appears as a character in my novel THE BLOODIEST QUEEN.
This pensive-looking young man is Giuliano the Elder, Lorenzo's brother, who met a bloody end only steps from the altar in Florence's great cathedral, the Duomo.? Lorenzo adored his brother, and when Giuliano died, he went to extreme lengths to see that all the conspirators in the Pazzi assassination plot were executed.
You already know what Lisa Gherardini looked like… so what about Leonardo, described by historians as “the most beautiful man” in Florence? I had a dickens of a time tracking down a picture of da Vinci in his prime; his one famous self-portrait was created when he was a very old man. The best I can do right now is direct you to Amazon.com and tell you to click on the cover of Serge Bramly’s marvelous book… then sigh, as I did, over Leonardo’s beauty. This sketch of him was created by one of his students when he was in his late forties – the age at which he met and painted Lisa Gherardini. And now, a self-portrait of the young and arrogant Alessandro (Sandro, to his friends) Botticelli (from his painting The Adoration of the Magi). He and Leonardo were friends, though of course, Sandro had the wits to grow fat and rich off Medici commissions, while Leonardo was always off sketching in his notebooks and worrying more about how the world worked than about meeting his patrons’ deadlines. Just look at that insolent gaze!
Here he is, in all his demented, homely glory: the mad monk, Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Although I have Lisa and her family meet Savonarola in the novel, there’s no historical evidence that such an encounter ever took place. But there’s also no doubt that Lisa (and practically everyone else in Florence) went to hear him preach. He must have been one heck of an orator to have convinced Botticelli to cast many of his paintings into the Bonfire of the Vanities (a fact which is reflected in a later scene in I, MONA LISA). Savonarola himself was hung in 1498 above an open bonfire, and his body was allowed to drop down into the flames. When you play with fire, you get burned.