self – portrait of Il Volterrano

Baldassare Franceschini (1611 – 6 January 1689) was an Italian late Baroque painter who, between 1637 and 1649, created the second part of the huge fresco cycle of the Medici family in the courtyard of Villa La Petraia just outside Florence.

He was called Il Volterrano, because he was born in Volterra . This might have been helpful at the time but now should not be confused with the younger painter Ricciarelli – aka Il Volterrano Giuniore.

There are two cycles of frescoes, which fully cover the walls of the immense courtyard at La Petraia – The central section was commissioned from Cosimo Daddi by Cristina of Lorraine, wife of Grand Duke Ferdinando . This shows Knight Templar Goffredo di Buglione , crowned “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre” following the siege of Jerusalem.  In fantasy literature, Godfrey was the hero of two songs: chansons de geste connected with the Crusade, Chanson d’Antioche and the Chanson de Jerusalem. His grandfather , Elijah, also features in even more famous literature being the subject of the legend of the Knight of the Swan , better known today as the subject of the work of Wagner’s Lohengrin ,

The other fresco is even more interesting – Entitled  Splendour of the Medici , it was commissioned by Don Lorenzo de’ Medici to be painted Baldassarre Franceschini. It depicts images and deeds of the most illustrious members of the Medici family – namely the four Popes of the Catholic ChurchPope Leo X (1513–1521), Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), Pope Pius IV(1559–1565), and Pope Leo XI (1605);  the two regent queens of France—Catherine de’ Medici (1547–1559) with her children and Marie de’ Medici(1600–1610) with her brood. Also shown is the entry of the first Grand Duke Cosimo 1 into conquered Siena, Lorenzo the Magnificent’s third son, Guiliano Duke of Nemours and Catherine de’ Medici’s father Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino on the Capitoline Hill in Rome and Cosimo 1 again – this time welcoming his son Francesco  as the head of his Government.

There is also a connection with English History through the picture shown above- the Pope who excommunicated Henry VIII , Clement VII is painted crowning the uncle of Henry first wife, Catherine of  Aragon into the most powerful role in the known world at that time – Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

This image above has a painting of the hunchback clown Trafredi – who must in some way have been a model for Verdi’s Rigoletto.  He naturally took advantage of the clowns right to tease, insult and make fun of anyone, including the nobility, who came within range. His role was to arouse laughter from the onlookers at the expense of some unfortunate person attending the Court – but he was also able to alert his Master to possible threats from those whose treacherous comments he was in a position to overhear! Volterrano may have himself suffered from a tongue lashing by Trafredi as he wants to highlight the clowns deformity. He kneels before his master Don Lorenzo, the seventh son of Grand Duke Ferdinand on the occasion of his annual birthday celebration. The poem below roughly translates as

If ‘the cavalier painted in the bowl                                                                                                                                                     ugly and clumsy appears, rather than beautiful,                                                                                                                         do not accuse the brush                                                                                                                                                                        because it is the fault of the ‘original

This fresco cycle is not only one of the most representative examples of Florentine painting in the early 17th century – it is also an interesting example of how the family rewrote their history in order to portray themselves in a good light to future generations.

We visit this castle tomorrow – May 17th as part of our Gardens and Villa tour of Medici Castles and Villas.