Friday, December 4, 2020

A Q & A With Art Historian and Historical Novelist Laura Morelli


Laura Morelli's assistant, Jacqueline M. Howard, suggested that I do a Q&A on Laura Morelli's two 2020 releases.  I have posted a review of  The Giant on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here .  This is a book dealing with Michelangelo's David. It's still the most viewed post of 2020 on that other blog.  I also posted a review of  The Night Portrait on this blog here .  This second 2020 novel focuses on the creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine and its later history during WWII.  After posting these reviews, I sent questions to Laura Morelli relating to each of these books.  Today she responded.  Because one of these reviews appeared on each of my blogs, I decided that the Q&A should be posted on both of them.   

Questions Related to The Giant


Question 1) In The Giant Michelangelo tells Jacopo that the Signorina of Florence wanted him to build a bronze replica of the David.  I did a search for bronze replica of Michelangelo's David and found that the bronze replica standing in Florence was designed by the architect Guiseppe Poggi in the 1860's.  I discovered that it was part of a much larger project devoted to Michelangelo called the Piazzale Michelangelo.  Wikipedia says that Florence was doing urban renewal at the time.  Can you tell us something about the art history aspect of Piazzale Michelangelo?  

        In THE GIANT, the bronze replica of the DAVID refers to a sculpture—now lost—that Michelangelo made for Duke Pierre de Rohan, a French nobleman in the royal circle. De Rohan had been smitten by Donatello’s DAVID, which he had seen in Florence in 1494, and he wanted Michelangelo to make a copy of it for him. Michelangelo tried to wave off the commission; he probably thought it insulting to copy another man’s work, especially when he was on the verge of finishing his own DAVID which, in one fell swoop, would make Donatello’s version seem an antiquated oddity. But Gonfaloniere Soderini pressed Michelangelo to do it.  
 De Rohan was a favorite of the French king and an avid art collector; nobles around Europe showered de Rohan with artistic treasures to gain favor with the French court. The Florentines, eager to gain the French king’s support in the wake of their own political upheavals, had already secured seven marble and two bronze statues for de Rohan. Now he was keen to have a copy of Donatello’s DAVID with the head of Goliath at the youth’s feet. Soderini didn’t want to deny him, so he pressed Michelangelo to take on the job.
  Michelangelo reluctantly agreed, and made a drawing that still exists. One year later the bronze sculpture was cast.  Ironically, by the time the sculpture was completed, the duke de Rohan had already fallen from the French king’s favor, and the sculpture passed into the hands of Florimond Robertet, who displayed it in his chateau in Bury. Later it moved to the castle of Villeroy, then seems to have disappeared forever. We will never know if it bore any resemblance to the colossal DAVID that was about to take Florence by storm.
The bronze replica of Michelangelo’s DAVID you refer to in the Piazzale Michelangelo was part of a 19th-century urban renewal plan in Florence. 
Question 2)  Your Master Class on The Giant revealed that Michelangelo wanted to do another giant marble sculpture in which he got to select his own marble.   Are there varieties of marble that are considered more suitable for sculpture, or did Michelangelo just want more control of his material?
Michelangelo was intimately familiar with the marble quarries near Carrara, in Tuscany, where he traveled to select raw materials for his famous Pietà and other sculptures. Every piece of Carrara marble was special and specific to each project. The block used for Michelangelo’s famous David had languished in the work yard of Florence cathedral for forty years before he tackled it. The master wrote that he dreamt of one day carving another colossus like the David—this time using an entire mountain of marble, a kind of Renaissance Mount Rushmore—that would overlook the sea.

Question 3) I read an article about the frequency of earthquakes in Italy during the 21st century and saw various items online about the vulnerability of Michelangelo's David to earthquakes due to weak ankles that could cause it to collapse.  Has a conservator ever been hired to repair those ankles?  There was also a 2014 proposal that the David be given an anti-seismic pedestal.  Has this ever happened?


Question 4) Will there be a sequel to The Giant devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling? 
Not at the moment, but in the future… Who knows? :)

Questions Related to The Night Portrait

Question 1)  Did Italian Renaissance artists other than Leonardo Da Vinci use their fingers for painting?  Was Leonardo influenced by someone else who used this technique or was it a practice that was unique to him?

I don’t believe this was unique to Leonardo da Vinci, though much has been made of Leonardo's fingerprints, which have been discovered on his paintings and drawings. For example: 

Question 2) The Night Portrait point of view character Dominic wonders how a solvent cleans a painting without damaging the paint.  That's a question that I'd like answered myself.
Professional conservators have many tools in their repertory to deal with things like this. However, cleaning an old master painting with solvent is extremely tricky! It's possible to remove overpainting from later centuries to reveal an artist’s original pigments underneath.

Question 3)  Why did you decide that Lucrezia Crivelli was the sitter for La Belle Ferroniere and that she resembled Cecilia very closely even though they were unrelated? There are those that argue that La Belle Ferroniere is a second portrait of Cecilia. Da Vinci could have created it from his sketches of Cecilia because she was no longer at Ludivico Sforza's court and was therefore unavailable.  Her unavailability could explain why the Cecilia in La Belle Ferroniere  isn't completely identical to the Cecilia depicted in Lady With An Ermine.  Do you think this is at all likely?



The identity of the woman in this beautiful portrait--the so-called Belle Ferronnière--remains contested. We know Leonardo completed the picture during his tenure at the ducal court of Milan. This portrait bears some things in common with the Lady with the Ermine; that’s for certain. Many art historians believe the portrait represents Lucrezia Crivelli, who became Ludovico Sforza’s mistress after Cecilia Gallerani exited the ducal palace. Other scholars think it represents Beatrice d’Este, Ludovico’s bride who died in childbirth at 21.

Question 4)  In the Leonardo's Portraits class that you did for those of us who pre-ordered The Night Portrait, you said that Raffaelo Sanzie known as Raphael was influenced by Da Vinci.  What aspects of Raphael's painting style show this influence?

When young Raffaello Sanzio arrives in Florence for the first time around 1504, we see him immediately experimenting with the three-quarter pose familiar to us now in the Mona Lisa, as well as other stylistic features of Florentine painting.

At that time, Leonardo da Vinci was considered an accomplished older master who freely shared his ideas and work with younger painters. I have no doubt that Raphael studied Leonardo’s work.


Laura Morelli, Ph.D.
Art Historian | Historical Novelist

    Thank you, Laura Morelli.  I appreciate your insights and your wonderful novels.


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