Pallas-and-the-Centaur

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Paper sculptures by Isabelle de Borchgrave based off a pair of Sandro Botticelli paintings

After visiting Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, and seeing the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, these became the first of a series de Borchgrave created drawing inspiration from the decadence and grandeur of the Medici

Flora from Botticelli’s Primavera  c.1482 and a reconstruction of her dress[X] and hair[X] by Isabelle de Borchgrave 2006

Pallas Athena from Botticelli’s Pallas and the Centaur c. 1482 and a reconstruction of her dress[X] by Isabelle de Borchgrave 2006

Pallas and the Centaur Sandro Botticelli 
c. 1482 Tempera  on wood 207 x 148 cm Galleria degli Uffizi , Florence, Tuscany, Italy

In this painting we can see another side of Renaissance Art; namely that of political propaganda. Botticelli was lucky enough to be a renown artist in his own time, but even then he had to earn his keep with a wealthy patron in order to assure his prestige. Living in a time of deep strife within the Medici regime of Florence (though, at which point wasn’t there strife in with that family), Botticelli served a key role in portraying his patrons as they should want to be perceived; as just, in the face of a contentious issue.  The Pazzi Conspiracy (1478), as it is so remembered (history is written by the victors), was a dangerous game of intrigue that spanned the Peninsula. The Medici had held something of a de factorule over Florence since the days of Cosimo the Elder, and seeing as it was, technically, a Republic, the ever increasing political clout of the Medici was presenting a problem for the other powerful families of the city. The Pazzi and the Salviati, among the most precocious of the bunch, and with the most to gain (and, to lose), attempted a complicated coup d'etat, that, unsurprisingly, backfired in  truly epic proportions when executed (pardon the pun) poorly. The then Pope, Sixtus IV, served to gain much out of an alliance with this group of conspirators, with potential for lands to go to his nephew Cardinal Riario, which was typical of the penchant for extreme nepotism in the clergy at the time. Without getting into the deep political machinations, let it be said that the Medici were in the way, and with the young and handsome Giuliano de’ Medici next in line, he was the first to be targeted.  At Mass in the Duomo on April 26, Giuliano was stabbed 19 times before the congregation. His younger brother, Lorenzo, was spared such a fate, as he was home; ill– and therefore unaccounted for in the conspirators’ plans to eliminate both of the Medici youths in one fell swoop.  Lorenzo lived on, and his vengeance was had. So loved were the Medici by the citizens of Florence, who had once called “Palle, Palle, Palle!” in the Piazza della Signioria after Cosimo the Elder had returned from exile, that the mob found key members of the conspiracy, and killed them.  Jacopo de’ Pazzi was defenestrated and dragged naked through the streets. Salviati’s corpse was strung from the Palazzo Vecchio for all to see. The Pazzi family was exiled; a common punishment, but more than that. Lorenzo proved himself as a capable politician. When the Pope excommunicated the entire population of Florence for aiding his enemy, they would not hand Lorenzo over. When Lorenzo was faced the the Papal army, he went directly to see King Ferdinand I of Naples, and managed to convince him to support Florence against the Pope. Lorenzo managed, from then on, to create a state of Pax Romana in the Peninsula, for a time, keeping the powerful city-states in check.   The death of Giuliano was, perhaps, the beginning of the death of the Republic. Lorenzo came out of this colder, more suspicious and cunning, and  prone to ruling Florence as a prince would.   And every prince needs to maintain his image.   In Botticelli’s piece, the figure of Pallas is emblematic of Lorenzo. His impreso, the motif of 3 conjoined rings adorns Pallas’ clothes, likening Lorenze himself to the justice and wisdom embodied in the goddess, as well as the laurel crowning her head, a play on his name. In turn the Pazzi take on the bestial, half-man half-beast baseness of the Centaur, cowed by the righteous halberd-bearing Pallus. In the background, a subtle homage to the truly monuments voyage of Lorenzo down the Ligurian coast to Naples to court Ferdinand I is represented by the ship.   Art in the Renaissance is no mere pretty thing. Every individual component of Botticelli’s pieces resound with meaning; carefully thought out, meticulous and planned artifice. 

Sandro Botticelli, Pallas and The Centaur, 1482

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This painting was given as a wedding gift to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici and his wife by Lorenzo the Magnificent. The centaur represents not only lust and earthly desires but also the husband-to-be, known to be a brutish and violent man. Pallas represents the ideal role of the wife: to tame her husband and teach him the value reason, gentleness, and morality. 

Room 4: The Kitchen

Pallas and the Centaur, Sandro Botticelli, c.1482

This stunning painting is by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, painted in about 1482. Some scholars suggest that the work is a companion piece to the Primavera. It can now be found in the Uffizi in Florence (no pun intended lol)! I recognised it on Flo’s fridge because it is one of my absolute favourite paintings ever.

Florence’s love of Botticelli could be seen in 2011 on the Chanel runway, when she emerged from an opening clam singing (see here)…just like Venus in The Birth of Venus! Amazing.

(Florence Welch House Series)