Florence: Per Gio. Batista Landini, 1634.
Quarto: 22.6 x 16.3 cm. 52 p. Collation: A-F4, G2. With added etched portrait and 2 folding etchings of the catafalque (2 different states of the same etching.)
Bound in contemporary parchment (upper cover soiled and with light staining, small defects to parchment at foot of spine), tooled in gold with attractive ornaments. A fine copy with sharp impressions of the etchings. The text with minor blemishes as follows: light marginal foxing, a few small spots, marginal soiling to blank margin of p. 27, light stain to the blank lower margin of pp. 28-29. The folding plate it in excellent condition.
Illustrations: 10 etchings by Stefano della Bella comprising a portrait of Prince Francesco de' Medici, a large, folding view of the church interior with catafalque, and 8 striking emblems on shields, with Latin mottos and macabre elements. The folding plate is in its second state, with the monogram SDB (see De Vesme I, No. 74).
A superb funeral book for the young Francesco de' Medici (1614-1634), fourth son of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena of Austria, who died of the plague on 25 July 1634. The funeral was held in the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence, on August 30, 1634. The ceremonies were overseen by the deceased older brother, Grand Duke Ferdinando II.
The catafalque, designed by Alfonso Parigi (d. 1656), is shown at the crossing of the church, below a canopy, flanked by two skeletons on horseback (the lance-bearing equestrian skeletons are a reference to the young Prince’s demise (Francesco died a soldier during the siege of Regensburg -albeit of plague.) Arrayed against the columns in the nave, enormous skeletons loom over the assembled mourners and bystanders. The scene is framed by heavy black curtains adorned with the Medici coat of arms.
For the etching of the church interior see: Forlani Tempesti, “Mostra di incisioni di Stefano della Bella”, no. 6; Joubert,“Stefano della Bella”, p. 42-43, no. 6; Berendsen, “The Italian sixteenth and seventeenth century catafalques”, p. 205-206, no. 56; Vesme, “de. Peintre-graveur italien”, Della Bella 36, 74, 971-978
Alfonso Parigi (who in 1628 assumed the responsibilities of his ailing father, Giulio) designed the catafalque as well as the exterior and interior decor.
Cavalcanti gives a detailed description of the church, designed in large part by Brunelleschi with important elements added by Michelangelo, and the decorative program that transformed it for the occasion. All of the inscriptions created for the occasion are also reproduced in the text.
Those who entered the church passed beneath an inscription, reminding them that everyone, regardless of station, entered the world and exited it the same way: “Unus Introitus est Omnibus ad Vitam, et Similis Exitus.” Two enormous skeletons, who beckoned welcomingly, flanked the main portal, their bases inscribed with the promise of salvation, “Terminus mortis. Exordium Vitae”.
Within, the spectators beheld a marvelous scene. The church was draped in heavy black draperies; enormous skeletons stood against the columns of the nave; everywhere macabre imagery, beautifully-rendered. The effect delighted and horrified:
“Colmavasi in un' instante l'occhio dei riguardanti di diletto, e d'orrore, ritrovando tra la mestizia di quelle funebri tele, in tante foggie spiegate, e sospese, la vaghezza occultamente annidata.”
“In an instant the eye of the onlooker was filled with delight and horror, finding within the sadness of those funereal canvases, in so many outspread and suspended shapes, a beauty occultly hidden.”
At the base of Michelangelo’s interior façade, also draped in mourning fabric, two more skeletons trampled upon a heap of arms and armor, appearing “with disdainful smiles” to mock the vanity of men, whose valor and strength amounted to nothing in the face of death. There was an imposing inscription, painted in muted colors, composed in honor of the deceased in the name of the Grand Duke, celebrating Francesco’s achievements and character while lamenting his death at so young an age. Upon the balcony, two sorrowful skeletons, lost in thought, resting their dejected heads on their left hands, were paired with Memento Mori inscriptions. To Cavalcanti, they seemed to be thinking of the inevitable fate of the Grand Duke.
The enormous skeletons that lined the nave were individualized. Some bow their heads, contemplating the ground -the earth to which all must return; others raise their hands and eyes to heaven, imploring God to elevate them in the afterlife. Two, reproaching ignorant mortals, led the rest of the sad host.
Cavalcanti then describes and explains the emblems. The explanations are accompanied by Della Bella’s etchings. Suspended in the nave were fourteen shields (scudi), eight of them with “imprese”, each with an image and a Latin motto (the Latin mottoes, already visible in the etchings, are also reproduced in the text.)
Flanking the catafalque were two skeletons of exceptional size, in full armor, upon horses. Their lances showed that they had attacked Prince Francesco, who had repulsed them. Cavalcanti tells us that although the prince had been killed, he rose to heaven, claiming the palm of victory and leaving his name glorious.
Occupying the entire space of the choir was the enormous catafalque, “no less remarkable for the novelty of its inventiveness, than for the beauty of the paintings and trophies” (ragguardevole non meno per la novità dell'invenzione, che per la vaghezza delle pitture, e trofie). The coffin was placed upon a multi-tiered platform with staircases of faux marble. The catafalque had a high, octagonal base of alabaster and porphyry. Leaning against these were larger-than-life-size statues of bright marble, “and at first sight they depicted virtues, which nestled in the bosom of the prince.” The first, holding a cross and a book, seemed to represent Religion. To her left, “a robust virgin with a sort of masculine vigor” armed with a spear, hauberk, and shield, representing Might. A beautiful woman, finely attired, holdings a lily, symbolized Chastity. The fourth symbolized Liberality.
In the nave were fourteen shields, on six of them, images of nobility and the moral virtues, on the other eight, elaborate emblems, each with a Latin motto and a symbolic image (the “pictura”), overseen by a macabre cadaver. These eight emblems are reproduced in the text as etchings by Della Bella, and each is accompanied by a printed text explaining its significance. In brief, the first, with a sundial, represents the brevity of life; the second, representing the untimely death of the young prince, shows a loom upon which a woven cloth of gold has been severed. The third shows a tree, wracked by a tempest, its fruit -not yet ripe- scattered on the ground (the anticipation for a long, fruitful life, dashed by catastrophe.) The fourth, a trophy of laurel and palm fronds; in the fifth, a violin is revealed, “which seems about to make the sweetness of its sound heard.” In the sixth, an elaborate war trophy of arms; in the seventh, a young eagle, soaring aloft with a fierce serpent in its talons. The last of the emblems shows a brazier full of burning coals sprinkled with fragrant incense which perfumes the air. This last image, in which the incense “burns itself in honor of God” reflects the sacrifice of the prince for the greater glory of God, leaving “an exquisite fragrance” upon which the prince’s soul is wafted up “to eternal repose.”.
Praz: Emblem books, p. 38; A. de Vesme, 'Stefano della Bella: Catalogue Raisonné' (revised by P. Dearborn Massar), 2 volumes, New York, 1971, I, nos. 36, 74 II, nos. 971-978; Vinet, Bibliographie ... des beaux-arts, 610