John of the sreet

Well, whichever name you prefer our John was definitely a man of the street!

In the beautiful Brunellesci designed church of  Santo Spirito in Florence there is this exceptional painting in the Mannerist style by Jan van der Straet.  It is of Jesus upsetting benches- and people – by vigorously chasing the money lenders and market vendors from the Temple.

This picture caught my attention this week particularly with regard to the Flemish name with the Italian alias.  In Italy this artist was known as Giovanni Strada, which is a more or less literal translation from the original John of the Street name he was born to, but it is obvious that from his arrival in 1550 Florence influenced him and his style of painting developed into something that could be pure Florentine – and be thus much in demand by Giorgio Vasari and the Medici Dukes, for whom he designed a number of scenes for tapestries and frescoes to decorate the Palazzo Vecchio, the villa of Poggio a Caiano.

Studying this painting in the reality – not a photo of photo from the brochure as shown above – it is difficult to believe that it wasn’t painted by a natural born boy from Florence – the only nod towards the Flemish style that I can see being the slightly Bruegelesce character to the right of the painting, whoso long face and pointy beard make him look as if he could even be a caricature of Pieter Bruegel himself.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Painter and the Buyer, 1565 - Google Art Project.jpg

Depending on which biographer you chose to believe  was born in 1523 in Antwerp or Bruges  but Jan selected Florence as a good place to work in 1550 and he continued to work continuously there until he died.

Amongst his commissions was this painting of alchemists at work – this would have been highly topical in 1571 when it was painted as even the Grand Duke Francesco I was obsessed with the concept of making Gold from dross ……

…….and looking at this painting by Stradanus, I wonder whether it is too far fetched to imagine that the pot stirrer to the bottom right was depicting his Patron the Grand Duke at work?

Francesco I de Medici.jpg

Francesco I by Bronzino

As a travelling man our many aliased hero was very interested in other travellers , including Amerigo Vespucci  , shown below surprising a naked native on his arrival in the New World. He produced a series of prints between 1587-89 showing strange beasts and lightly clad ladies living in harmony together!

His final project featured the ultimate in adventurous travelling men , Odysseus – shown below putting out the one-eye of Cyclops. 

Johannes Stradanus - Odysseus en de cycloop Polyphemus (Odyssee, Boek IX)

Below Odysseus has inadvertently let out of the bag the Four Winds that Aeolus had  given him to speed him homeward to his Penelope. Once free the Winds blew him where they will and enabled him to continue with his adventurous journey.

Johannes Stradanus - Ulysses and Aeolus in the Cave of the Winds (Odyssey, Book IX)

He was still working on these when he died, in Florence, in 1605.