By Costanza Beltrami

Bernardo Barbatelli, known as Bernardino Poccetti, was possibly born on 27 August 1548 in San Marino di Valdelsa, near Florence. He spent most of his life in the latter city, where he was known as “Bernardino delle Facciate” (Bernardino of the Façades). Façades decorated with grotesques and architectural motives in sgraffito were particularly popular in sixteenth-century Florence. Poccetti’s Palace of Bianca Cappello (c. 1579–80) is an impressive example of the technique. He also contributed to the decoration of the Buontalenti Grotto (1555) in the Boboli Garden, a park decorated with artificial grottoes, sculptures and fountains by some of the most prominent artists of the Medici court.

The artist was also important as a painter of religious frescoes. He realized a cycle of the life of St. Dominic for the Great Cloister of S. Maria Novella (c. 1582–4), and scenes of the Martyrdom of the Apostles for the courtyard of S. Pier Maggiore (c. 1585–90), where he unified painting, sculpture and architecture.

Poccetti’s compositions can often be connected to works in other media. His frescoes in the Capponi Palace (c. 1583–7) draw on 132 tapestry cartoons realized by the Flemish draughtsman Joannes Stradanus for Palazzo Vecchio. In turn, he designed painted models for semi-precious stone inlays produced in the Medici’s jewellery workshop (later known as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure). Moreover, some of his most successful designs were turned into prints by engravers such as Jacques Callot.

Fascinating information on Poccetti’s work, personality and death survives in a seventeenth-century biography written by the Florentine historian Filippo Baldinucci.

References: Paul C. Hamilton. “Poccetti, Bernardino.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T068207; Gunter Schweikhart and Charles Avery. “Façade decoration.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T027298.

Façade, c. 1579–80, fresco, Palace of Bianca Cappello, Florence

Façade (detail), c. 1579–80, fresco, Palace of Bianca Cappello, Florence

Vault fresco (detail), c. 1583-93, Grotta del Buontalenti, Giardino di Boboli, Florence

Cycle of the life of St. Dominic, c. 1582–4, fresco, Great Cloister of S. Maria Novella, Florence

Martyrdom of St Peter, c. 1585–90, courtyard of S. Pier Maggiore, Florence

Vault decoration, c. 1583–7, fresco, Sala Grande, Palazzo Capponi, Florence

Grotesque ornament and a view of Florence (detail), c. 1583–7, fresco, Sala Grande, Palazzo Capponi, Florence

Unknown artist after Bernardino Poccetti, landscape, 1608, hard stone inlay. Florence: Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Photo credit: Web Gallery of Art

Jacques Callot after Bernardino Poccetti, Inferno According to Dante, 17th century, etching. Cambridge MA: Fogg Museum. Photo Credit: Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of William Gray from the collection of Francis Calley Gray

Even more than male sodomy, sodomy between females was ‘the sin which cannot be named.’

Judith C. Brown, “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy” (pg 19). The quote continues:

“In the fifteenth century, the confessional manual attributed to Jean Gerson called it a sin against nature in which "women have each other by detestable and horrible means which should not be named or written.” In the next century, Gregario Lopez referred to it as ‘the silent sin,' peccatum mutum. For this reason Germain Colladon, the famous sixteenth century jurist, advised the Genevan authorities, who had no prior experience with lesbian crimes, that the death sentence should be read publicly, as normally was in the cases of male homosexuality, but that the customary description of the crime committed should be left out. 'A crime so horrible and against nature,’ he wrote, 'is so detestable and because of the horror of it, it cannot be named.’ The problem was not just that Colladon had a particular abhorrence for this kind of offense, but that women, because of their weaker natures, were feared to be more susceptible to suggestion. Consequently, while men found guilty of sodomy were to have their crimes read aloud in order to deter others, sexual relations between women were better left unmentioned.[emphasis added]

This speaks to why we should be wary in studying the history of sexuality about entirely relying on what public discourse says about sexuality in order to determine how all people at the time considered their sexual behaviors and the sexual behaviors of others. Furthermore, we need to be nuanced in the way we describe what terms for sexuality did or did not exist in any particular historical context. It’s not simply a matter of 'oh well a word for that just didn’t exist because nobody thought it was possible!’. Yeah…no! Often time there is so much more to it than that. There are reasons why certain terms, words, and concepts aren’t spelled out in discourse, particularly in religious discourse or in law . We need to pay mind to who formed the discourse and to what purposes they did so.

Take the religious and lawful discourse Judith C. Brown looks at here, for example. We see a refusal to name/write about women who slept with other women, but not because these particular people found the idea impossible or too confusing to articulate. Instead we see strategic silences employed in discourse about women’s sexuality as a calculated effort to control them

Catholic scholar John Gerson did not say sexuality between women could not be named. He said that it should not be named. Why? Protestant jurist Germain Colladon’s advice to Genevan authorities answers that question. Colladeen advised that authorities should not read out loud the customary description of sexual crimes committed between women (despite this being the case for sexual crimes between men) out of fear that this might inspire susceptible women.

These examples Brown examines show not a lack of understanding by people of the time concerning same-sex sexuality but in fact clear and fearful knowledge. These men understood that sexuality between women could very well happen, and felt that if they were careful they could curtail that inevitability. 


This edition of The Odyssey was printed by Aldus Manutius in 1504.  As you can see, this text is in Greek and this edition features Manutius’ famous colophon at the beginning of the book.  

February marked the 500th anniversary of this great printer’s death, so we’ve been featuring a few of his works from our collection throughout the month.  If you’ve missed a few of them, we encourage you to check them out, or if you just want to brush up on your Aldus Manutius history, feel free to check out our blog!  

PA4018 A2 1504  

Homer.  Homērou Ilias = Homeri Ilias.  [Venice : Aldus, 1504]


Ring with icicle-shaped diamond, so called Matthias ring, late 16th century. Southern Germany. Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Engagement rings were frequently set with diamonds as a symbol of constancy, and there are a number of extant Renaissance rings with pointed pyramidal gems, but the extremely elongated form of this exquisitely finished stone makes it very rare. 


For those who appreciate a book with gauffered edges, here is our 1564 copy of Imitatio Christi. As seen in the images, the edges of this book are incredibly detailed, and the front and back covers also have some beautiful designs. This book is also surprisingly tiny - it only measures 13 cm tall! 

This book might look familiar to frequent followers to our page…it is the same book in our avatar in our header!

xBV4820 A1 1564

-Lindsay M.