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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Sandro Botticelli's The Wedding Feast, 1483 : A guest post by Clare Gibson

I'm very grateful to Clare Gibson for the following post, which she gave me a shockingly long time ago.  I'm very happy to be able to post it now:

A Feast for the Eyes

Some time ago, my Twitter friend @Bebejax invited me to be a guest blogger on her blog, but, touched as I was to be asked, I wasn’t able to oblige at the time. Now I can, and, having spent some time wondering what @MrsSymbols could possibly blog about that would suit the Renaissance Epicurean, a foodie with a special interest in Florentine art and the Medici family, a certain painting sprang to mind: Botticelli’s The Wedding Feast (1483), which I included in my book, The Hidden Life of Renaissance Art: Secrets and Symbols in Great Masterpieces, for @SarabandBooks, in 2007. 

The Wedding Feast, 1483, Sandro Botticelli, 
oil on canvas, private collection.

Painted to mark the marriage of Giannozzo Pucci and Lucrezia Bini, and commissioned by either Giannozzo’s father, Antonio, or his godfather, Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–92), the painting represents the culmination of a series of four depicting the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, as related by Boccaccio in The Decameron (1351–53). It’s a gorily compelling tale, featuring as it does a rejected suitor who literally took possession of a lady’s heart after the object of his desire had rejected his advances and declined to bestow it on him voluntarily. I was, moreover, intrigued by possible parallels between Giannozzo, the real-life bridegroom, and the fictional Nastagio, whose wedding feast, portrayed here, followed his initially reluctant bride’s acceptance of his marriage proposal. 

The symmetry of the painting is pleasing, too, as is the somewhat theatrical vision of the parade of young men carrying an array of dishes. But I especially enjoy the symbolic references to Lorenzo de’ Medici within the painting: the Medici coat of arms at the top of the central column, for example, with its six red balls that may – or may not – originally have symbolised oranges. Another is the laurel trees that adorn the three pillars in the foreground, the laurel having featured in Lorenzo’s impresa, or personal emblem, perhaps as a play on his first name, which equates to Laurentius in Latin, while the laurel’s Latin name is Laurus. Illustrated in Paolo Giovio’s Dialogo dell’imprese militari et amorose (1574), this impresa includes two lions flanking a laurel tree, to which is attached a banner emblazoned with the motto ita et virtus (Latin for ‘So is virtue’), the implication being that, like laurel leaves, virtue is evergreen, or undying.* Equally eternal is the appreciation that cooks – and epicureans – have for the foliage of Laurus nobilis, bay leaves having been used to flavour food since time immemorial. 

Lorenzo de’ Medici’s laurel-tree impresa, f
rom Paolo Giovio’s Dialogo dell’imprese militari et amorose

*As well as signifying immortality, the laurel can symbolise victory, amongst other concepts. For more, see: Cupid's Leaden Arrows.

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