Giorgio Vasari and Niccolò Machiavelli: Appetite for Peace and Glory

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Liana De Girolami Cheney, Universidad de Coruña, Spain

    This study analyzes the literary and visual connections between war and peace made by both Machiavelli and Vasari, as exemplified in Giorgio Vasari’s portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici of 1555-60 (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), which visually embodies the paradox of war and peace discussed in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Art of War (1521). The approach here is iconographical, focusing on three issues. First, Machiavelli’s notions of condottiere, virtù, and war and peace in The Art of War are discussed in relation to Renaissance imagery, particularly in that produced as a result of Medicean patronage. Second, Vasari’s portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici is examined within the context of peace as revealed in Renaissance art and emblems. Finally, Vasari’s assimilation of Machiavelli’s notions are interpreted in relation to the painting. In I Ragionamenti (1560-88), Vasari associates the attribute of virtù to a good ruler and condottiere. But unlike Machiavelli, who connects virtù with Fortune, the goddess of change and opportunity, Vasari considers virtù, to be a quality associated with Mercury, the god of intellectual and cunning pursuits. No by accident, in the Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari depicts the imagery of Alessandro de’ Medici located directly below the figure of Mercury in the floor above. Vasari’s portrays the duke as condottiere, who excelled in military leadership and peacemaking. In this imagery, Vasari reveals the mercurial qualities of the duke, the cunning and intellectual astuteness, assisting his army in winning the war and achieving peace for the Florentine city-state. For Vasari, the duke’s achievement of peace depends on the intellectual guidance of Mercury on his military training and leadership skills and not on the whimsicality of Fortune, as in The Art of War. Machiavelli observes that a leader’s military success may be hindered at times by the vicissitudes of Fortune.