Rip Off Portrait

Learn about the "Elizabeth Bathory" substitute portrait - another tragic woman.
Original posting: Updated: October 19, 2020.
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Perhaps no other portrait is used more explicitly, and as often as a depiction of Elizabeth Bathory than this one, both on the Internet, as well as in print. Well, using this portrait as a substitute for, or even hint that it is a likeness of Elizabeth Bathory is just plain unethical, and a blatant lie! The woman depicted in this portrait is actually Lucrezia Pucci by the Italian artist Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, completed around 1545. If it matters to anyone, the portrait was painted about fifteen years before Elizabeth Bathory was even born, and if you want to see this "Elizabeth Bathory" portrait, it's on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

In his book, Painting and the Novel, Jeffrey Meyers, writes:

The most striking aspects of the [Lucrezia Pucci] portrait is the cold, melancholy look of the almost Byzantine severity, and the luxurious red silk gown with violet undersleeves and white guimpe. Lucrezia's splendid red hair is parted in the middle and coiled tightly around her head. She has a fine marble forehead, and full, strong features; and the skin on the long column of her neck is whiter than the pearls that adorn it. A fine golden chain rests on her breast and carries the inscription Amour dure sans fin [Endless Love], and there is another chain around her waist [which resembles a Rosary]. Her slim fingers extend elegantly along the arm of her chair and spread across the open pages of a devotional book bound in red leather. Lucrezia's pallor suggests... fatal disease which the 'love' of the motto enables her to endure, and this loyal love lasts beyond the "end" and is sufficiently strong to dominate... death. Bronzino's portrait style, which was influenced artists like Valazquez and Van Dyck and had its "effect" in determining the character of Court painting all over Europe, is decorative, sharply observed and severely disciplined; and his erect and immobile subject, thought magnificently detached, has a chilly worldliness.(1)

Lucrezia Panciatichi (née, Pucci) by Angelo Bronzino, c.1545
Portrait of Lucrezia Pucci by the Italian artist Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, completed c. 1545, and on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The Mannerist style, and subject of Bronzino's portrait, however, is an almost haunting and perfect personification of Elizabeth Bathory. Perhaps there is reason for authors to take inspiration from Lucrezia Pucci's portrait when writing about Elizabeth Bathory. Visually, Lucrezia is beautiful and she simply elicits emotion in all that view her portrait. Could this well be why some are drawn to Lucrezia when writing of Elizabeth Bathory? Perhaps there could also be another reason.

Lucrezia, the Heretic Moor...

A heretic? A Moor? These are two facts about Lucrezia that are not that easy to find and a bit of an "Uffizi secret," one might say. Lucrezia Pucci, patron of Bronzino, was "later forced to test her motto, for she and her husband... were accused of heresy, flung into prison in Florence and compelled to make a public recantation." (2) The "motto" that Meyers is speaking about, is the Pucci family motto. Lucrezia and her husband Bartholomew Panciatichi whom she married in 1534, converted from Catholicism to Calvinism. They became Huguenots - heretics - by a new Florentine standard of the totalitarian regime of the imperialist Duke Cosimo I de' Medici!

Bartholomew Panciatichi had strong connections to France, born there in 1507, a son to an influential Florentine merchant with business in Lyon. As a boy, Bartholomew's father arranged for him to grew up as a page in the Court of King Francis I of France. Lyon became a theological hotbed of the Reformation in France just as Bartholomew was completing his studies, eventually becoming a humanist writer, poet - a man of letters who befriended many Reformers in Lyon - Catholic and Protestant. In 1545 Lucrezia and Bartholomew lived in France after Medici appointed Bartholomew a resident Ambassador of Florence to the Royal Court of Kings Francis I and in 1547, to Henry II Valois-Angoulême of France. During this period, Lucrezia and Bartholomew converted to Calvinism. In 1551, Lucrezia and Bartholomew were back in Florence, openly promoting their Calvinist faith. That same year, they were imprisoned by the Inquisition, along with about thirty of their converts and remained imprisoned until they agreed to recant their faith the following year.

On February 4, 1552, [Bartholomew and others] dressed in black with a yellow gag, torch in hand, made their way to the cathedral to proclaim their solemn renunciation of their heretical doctrines, and then burned their heretical books on a pyre... Ten days later, in secret, they proceeded with the same solemn recantation with Lucrezia Pucci, his wife, ...[which was] conducted from prison in the church of St. Simon.(3)

After his recantation, Panciatichi resumed his career under Cosimo Medici's protection. He was even promoted by Cosimo to senator in 1567, commissar in Pisa in 1568 and, Pistoia in 1578.

He died on October 23, 1582, mourned by all who knew him... [and was celebrated]... for the extraordinary kindness and of ways of generosity of his heart and the great learning and teaching of which it provided. (4)

Pucci Candida Praecordia fresco by Giovanni da San Giovanni and the Pucci crest on the floor of Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

But the Panciatichi-Pucci persecution is not as straightforward as one might expect. Panciatichi was small fry as politics go. In fact, he betrayed his own wife, Florence, and it's not entirely certain that he was really persecuted at all! The big prize of the Inquisition was his wife, and the Florentine Inquisition did not work for the Pope, but for Cosimo I de' Medici! Lucrezia was not persecuted for her religion - that was a pretext for something else. It's why in stark contrast to her husband, she faded into immediate oblivion, her memory preserved only by Bronzino's portrait. Could it be that she died in prison, blamed, because she was a woman, as the cause for her husband's heresy by the Inquisition? Probably. Laws in Florence changed under the imperial regime of Cosimo - women enjoyed practically the same rights as men during the Republican days before Cosimo - just like in Bathory Hungary - but lost their rights to their fathers, brothers and husbands and the patriarchal Church after Cosimo usurped Florence! The real reason for Lucrezia's persecution was politics. You see, the Pucci were one of Florence's most powerful families in the Florentine Signoria (Lordship), and Lucrezia was the Pucci matriarch - the most senior member of house Pucci! By Florentine standards, the Pucci always supported the old Medici of Florence and the old Republic, not the obscure upstart Medici - Cosimo I de' Medici - who, with Emperor Charles V Habsburg's help, recently usurped to end the old democratic Republic of Florence! Why? Well that's complicated. The bottom line is that the Pucci stood in the way, and Lucrezia Pucci was an easy target - because she was a woman, married to a husband who used her to climb to the top of Florentine society! Could Lucrezia's heresy also be a case of racism, because of her family's North African background? (5) Yes. When it comes to political character assassinations, the simplest, most hurtful scandal seems to be preferred - like racism, xenophobia, or religion - although, none of these things, in fact, was an issue in a cosmopolitan place like sixteenth-century Florence, nor is it today. But these things were a big deal under Cosimo I de' Medici! The distant past Puccis were of North African descent, but were never ashamed of their roots, as is evident in the Pucci family coat of arms which bears the "Moor's head" to this very day. Their original family motto - Candida Praecordia (White at Heart), probably reflects the meaning of the old Italian proverbs viso nero, cuore candido (black face, white heart) and il bruno il bel non toglie (dark skin does not beauty remove). (6) Neither the Pucci coat of arms, nor their background was ever an issue until someone chose to make it one!

In the words of Earle and Lowe, the meaning of the Pucci heraldry has special significance:

The "Moor's Head" is a heraldic work of art representing the armorial bearings of the Florentine patrician family, the Pucci, whose coat of arms is a Moor's head with a head band charged with three Ts. These were interpreted in the seventeenth century as "Tempore, Tempora, Tempera" ("time is a great healer"); originally there were three hammers (martelli) because the Pucci originated from the carpenter's guild. The coat of arms of the Pucci is often found in Florence and Tuscany, for instance at the Palazzo Pretorio in Poppi where members of the Pucci family, especially in the seventeenth century, often held the position of vicario, representing the grand duke. Their coat of arms can also be seen in important works of art which belonged to them, for instance in the paintings representing the story of Nastagio degli Onesti by Sandro Botticelli and his workshop from 1482-3, today in the Prado in Madrid, and in a private collection, or on the maiolica service made for a member of the Pucci family c. 1532-3 in Urbino. Certainly the most striking example... of a Moor bearing the coat of arms of the Pucci painted by Giovanni Mannozzi, known as Giovanni da San Giovanni, in the third of the seventeenth century for the Palazzo Pucci in Florence, and today in the Uffizi. The fresco shows "una figura d'un moro sedente" ("a figure of a seated moor"), wearing a head-band distinctly decorated with T motifs; furthermore, the Moor is accompanied with the [older] motto of the Pucci: "CANDIDA PRAECORDIA" ("white at heart")." (7)

Despite being born into an influential, aristocratic, Florentine family, practically nothing else is known of Lucrezia. All record of her life had been expunged by her inquisitors!

The Similarities Between Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Pucci

The similarities of Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Pucci are quite striking in many respects, but especially in terms of their persecution. Like Elizabeth Bathory, Lucrezia Pucci is an enigmatic, historical figure. Except for some snippets of information, very little is known of the lives of either woman, despite their high standing and influence in their respective societies. Lucrezia Pucci probably never saw the light of day. She was presumably, tortured into confession, then executed on February 4, 1552, the same day as her husband received his token punishment as a heretic. Elizabeth Bathory was assassinated in 1610.

Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Pucci.
Elizabeth Bathory and Lucrezia Pucci.
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Ignorance: It's Not Bliss!

Five centuries after Florentine and Hungarian women lost their human rights under the totalitarian Imperial regimes, women in the twenty-first century the world over are still trying to recover their rights lost! So! You see, ladies? History matters! Maybe, just because we have our smart phones does not necessarily mean that twenty-first century societies are smarter after all - at least not in things which matter, anyway! Today, what little remains of each woman's real memory, is preserved through their silent portraits and the talent of the artists that created them centuries ago. Perhaps these works of art were spared because of their sheer beauty and elegance, perhaps because of their value. The world could be enriched by the real history behind these portraits, but it's not. Sadly, Elizabeth Bathory's and Lucrezia Pucci's real histories - the things which really matter - are mute! And so, society meanders on, seeking that which once was, but is now lost!

Panciatichi married Cosimo Medici's discarded mistress - Eleonora degli Albizzi (d.1634) in 1567 with who he had three children. He accused her of adultery in 1578 and confined her to a nunnery where she spent confined for the last fifty-six years of her life! Yes. It was a psychopath's world, alright, one in which Renaissance men did as they pleased, and an Age in which Renaissance theologians pondered the question of whether women even possessed a soul! Nope. Renaissance Imperialism was definitely not social progress, but one has to read heretical books to know that this is so. Practically nobody knows who Bartholomew Panciatichi was today - unless one goes out of one's way looking for him! Lucrezia Pucci lives at the Uffizi Museum, Florence, admired by millions in death as she was in life - Ignorantly admired! Why? The Imperial persecution of French Huguenots did not begin in France, but in beautiful, lethal, Renaissance Florence! Lucrezia was the first victim!

Article: Rip Off Portrait

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Notes
  1. Meyers, Jeffrey. Painting and the Novel. Manchester University Press. Manchester, UK. 1975. p.23-25. Quotes from Levey, Michael. Prince of Court Painters: Bronzino. Apollo. 1962. p 169.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Passerini, Luigi. Genalogia e storia della famiglia Panciatichi. Florence. 1858. p. 70-72
  4. Ibid.
  5. Earle, T.F., and Lowe, K.J.P. Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 2005. p. 185-190.
  6. See article: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/africans-in-medieval-and-renaissance-art-moors-head/ - Africans in Medieval & Renaissance Art: The Moor's Head, Victoria and Albert Museum, for additional information on the Pucci North African connection.
  7. Earle, T.F., and Lowe, K.J.P. Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 2005. p. 185-190.
  8. See: http://necrometrics.com/pre1700a.htm - Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century