1537: Baccio Valori, Michelangelo patron

The Michelangelo sculpture variously known as Apollo, Apollo-David, or Apollino* was commissioned by Baccio Valori, who met his end on the scaffold on this date in 1537.

Photo of the sculpture at Florence’s Bargello.

By way of background, Florence in 1530 had succumbed to the joint siege of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII.**

The republican Michelangelo directed Florence’s fortifications during the siege, and maybe in some alternate timeline he enjoys his own entry on this very execution site: it seems that the papal governor, our guy Baccio Valori, had him on an enemies list once città Gigliata fell into his hands. In the words of Michelangelo’s contemporary and biographer Ascanio Condivi:

But then after the enemy were let in by consent and many citizens were seized and killed, the court sent to Michelangelo’s house to have him seized as well; and all the rooms and chests were searched, including even the chimney and the privy. However, fearing what was to happen, Michelangelo had fled to the house of a great friend of his where he stayed hidden for many days, without anyone except his friend knowing he was there. So he saved himself; for when the fury passed Pope Clement wrote to Florence that Michelangelo should be sought for …

Those last words elide a period of several years, when Michelangelo made a peace offering to the new regime by forming the melancholy Apollo-David for Valori — a side project for the genius while he also worked on the New Sacristy of Florence’s Medici Chapel.

Both projects gave way to papal prerogatives before their completion. Valori was reduced from preeminence in the city when the young Alessandro de’Medici became duke, and Michelangelo was summoned to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

And he was still working on that in 1537, when Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated by his republican cousin. Alessandro’s murder brought 17-year-old Cosimo de’ Medici to power in Florence, a moment of political uncertainty that stoked the ambitions of the various anti-Medici factions. Thus,

[o]n learning the death of Alessandro and the election of Cosimo, the exiles appreciated the necessity for prompt action, as all delay would be fatal to the overthrow of Medicean rule. They had received money and promises from France; they were strengthened by the adhesion of Filippo Strozzi and Baccio Valori, who had both become hostile to the Medici through the infamous conduct and mad tyranny of Alessandro … The exiles accordingly met, and assembled their forces at Mirandola. They had about four thousand infantry and three hundred horse; among them were members of all the principal Florentine families … They marched rapidly, and entered Tuscany towards the end of July 1537.

The young Cosimo “displayed signal capacity and presence of mind,” infiltrating the rebel army with spies and smashing it in battle at the start of August.

All the prisoners, who were members of great families, were brought before Cosimo, and were received by him with courteous coldness. Soon, however, a scaffold was erected in the Piazza, and on four mornings in succession four of the prisoners were beheaded. Then the duke saw fit to stay the executions. Baccio Valori, however, and his son and nephew were beheaded on the 20th of August in the courtyard of the Bargello. Filippo Strozzi still survived, confined in the Fortezza da Basso, that had been built at his expense … On December 18th he was found dead in his prison, with a blood-stained sword by his side, and a slip of paper bearing these words: exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor. It was believed that, having renounced all hope of his life being spared, Strozzi had preferred suicide to death at the hands of the executioner.

* As to the subject of the male nude, there’s a difference of opinion between Michelangelo catalogues of the 1550s — one calling it “an Apollo who draws an arrow from his quiver” and another “an incomplete David.”

On this day..