The Road to Polisy, Part I

You may first want to read The Road to Polisy: An Overview

What do the following have in common, besides being times when Shakespeare used visual arts – a painted statue, plays within plays or a painting  – to effect a transformation for characters and for the audience?

  • In A Winter’s Tale a statue of a long lost Queen is transformed into the living, breathing regent after supposedly being “newly performed” or repainted “by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano”.
  • The Murder of Gonzago was enacted within The Mousetrap which Hamlet’s players acted on the stage. As Noemi Magri noted, “The performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act III, sc. ii) represents the tipping-point of the whole tragedy: it is when Prince Hamlet becomes certain of his uncle’s guilt and, as a consequence, there starts the fall of all the main characters.”[i]
  • Puck happens onto a rehearsal for another play within a play in the wooded Athens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and changes the actor Bottom’s head into that of donkey, which leads to him into contact with nobles and fairies and even a romance with the fairy queen.
  • In The Rape of Lucrece the victim’s ekphrasis or verbal description of a painting that dramatized the fall of Troy gave her the courage to defy Tarquin. Her act of suicide would “in effect produce the conditions that banish Tarquin’s line and inaugurate the Roman Republic.”[2]

In these visual arts fueled transformations, all lines converged on the court of Mantua and the Gonzaga family. We have no record that William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon ever left England, never mind received a grand tour of the Mantuan Duke’s Palazzos. Yet from references in the Shakespearean works it is evident that the author was familiar with Guglielmo Gonzaga, the 3rd Duke of Mantua, son of the 1st Duke, Federico II. In this series exploring Shakespeare’s use of artistic perspective and the probability that he did view Hans Holbein the Younger’s anamorphic masterwork The Ambassadors we will follow the Earl of Oxford who visited northern Italy in 1575-76 but you can insert your own preferred Shakespeare.

As Noemi Magri explained, Duke Federico II Gonzaga (1500-1540) “who was looking for an artist to build a new palace on the island of Te, asked Baldassare Castiglione, the Gonzaga Ambassador in Rome, to send him one.” The most gifted protégé in the studio of Castiglione’s friend Raphael of Urbino, Giulio Romano was selected to design and decorate this palatial showplace for Federico II.[3]


In 1894 Gregor Sarrazin linked Romano’s murals in the Sala di Troja or Room of the Trojans to the ekphrasis or explication of the war in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece. Shakespeare describes how Lucrece “throws her eyes about the painting round” when, as John Hamill expressed it, “The only room in Europe completely dedicated to scenes from the Trojan War is in the Ducal Palace in Mantua, rendered by Giulio in 1538, the year of Guglielmo’s birth. The Frescoes not only surround all four walls but also extend to the ceiling” where Minerva aka the spear-shaking goddess Pallas Athene presided over a panorama that aptly demonstrated her attributions of the arts, justice, war and peace.[4] A. Lytton Sells in 1955 believed that “basing ourselves only on established facts, we may be allowed to suppose that the passage in Lucrece was founded on Giulio Romano’s pictures and that Shakespeare took certain additional details from Virgil.”[5]


Besides the memorial that the Duke’s father built to honor their ancient countryman Virgil, Shakespeare would have visited the tomb of the Gonzaga’s kinsman Count Baldassare Castiglione whose own palazzo lay opposite the Ducal Palace in Mantua. Oxford wrote a Latin preface for Bartholomew Clerke’s translation of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (The Courtier), which was in 1572 dedicated to and probably financed by the Earl. Castiglione was also a favorite philosopher of Shakespeare, thought to have influenced Hamlet, Henry V, Love’s Labours’ Lost, Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure. Not coincidentally these are five of the most prominent in the linked trail of plays that we will be examining.


Baldassare Castiglione, painted by Raphael

Castiglione served as a Mantuan Ambassador to Rome for his Gonzaga kinsmen and as a representative of the Duke of Urbino in Henry VII’s court, accepting the Order of the Garter on that Duke’s behalf. In later life he became Papal Nuncio to Spain.[6]  Mantua and Urbino were closely associated because two successive Duchesses of Urbino came from the Gonzaga family, Federico II’s aunt Elisabetta and his sister Eleonora.

Castiglione was close to Raphael  who was born in Urbino and received his earliest training as a painter in that court where the boy’s father was employed as an artist. The closeness of the two courts shows in this detail of Raphael’s famed School of Athens, his fresco of famous philosophers at the Vatican. According to contemporary Giorgio Vasari in The Lives of the Artists Federico II, the future 1st Duke of Mantua can be found “in the figure of a young man with a beautiful form who is throwing his arms up in amazement and bowing his head” which would be the boy in sky blue leaning over Raphael’s kinsman Bramante who was himself posing as Euclid or Archimedes.[7]


Detail of The School of Athens by Raphael

Love those lion sandals. Fittingly, Federico II was posed beside a figure holding a celestial sphere in the guise of Zoroaster (or Ptolemy) who is believed to be Castiglione. Standing next to Castiglione was Raphael as himself. 1raphaelofurbino

The Fortuna-styled goddess holding a globe of the earth could possibly have been modeled after Federico II’s mother the famous Isabella D’Este who used to lighten the hair of herself and her son and was called “The First Lady of the World” by her friend the diplomat Niccolo Corregio.

???????? ??????????? ????????? ? ????????-?????

Then again maybe it was her friendly rival and sister-in-law Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino.


Hamill further explained

Castiglione wrote The Courtier during his extended stay in the Court of Urbino. The book is comprised of a series of dialogues in which the speakers were modeled on real people, including Guidobaldo Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, his wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga of Mantua, and his nephew and heir, Francesco Maria della Rovere. Castiglione, who was related to the Gonzaga family, returned home to Mantua in 1516 to finish writing the Courtier.

Though he did not include her in The Courtier for Isabella d’Este Castiglione was “the most faithful of her friends”, her “dear one” in the letter she sent with the messenger who broke the news of his wife’s death.[8] Castiglione, Isabella and her brother Ercole II Este, the Duke of Ferrara enjoyed a tour of Venice together in 1525 that was as exhilarating as one she shared with her close sister-in-law Elisabetta, Duchess of Urbino decades before. [9] Taking religious vows and becoming a Papal Nuncio, when Castiglione died in Toledo in 1529 his body was returned to Mantua. His friends saw him buried in the tomb Giulio Romano had prepared for the philosopher’s wife in the “Santa Maria delle Grazie, the same church that was filled with polychrome statues…which seems to evoke the ‘gallery’ in The Winter’s Tale chapel setting for Hermione’s statue.” [10] Though Romano’s vibrantly realistic wax statues are gone, you can still see the effigy of a resurrected Christ that Romano sculpted for Castiglione’s tomb out of stone.[11]

Isabella’s daughter Eleonora had married Francesco Maria I Della Rovere who was adopted as heir to Elisabetta’s husband, the Duke of Urbino. In his Dictionary of Shakespeare Sources, Stuart Gillespie notes that Barbara Johnson’s belief that “Hamlet is ‘haunted’ by Castiglione’s model courtier is not dependent on the similarity first noted in the nineteenth century between the real-life poisoning in Urbino in 1538 of Duke Francesco Marie I (the Lord General of The Courtier…and the nephew and successor of Il Cortegiano’s Duke Guidobaldi) by means of a lotion poured into the ear, and the method of Hamlet’s ‘Murder of Gonzago’ play.” [12] As we will see this layering of references that fall in or near the Gonzagas is evident through most of Shakespeare’s foreign comedies, as well some dramas (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet). For now we will just point out that these references are often accompanied by a transformation via the visual arts or language that overtly refers to art or artistic perspective.

The 3rd Duke of Mantua could have told Oxford of how in the year of his birth Rovere, his uncle by marriage, was killed by poison smeared in the ear, a story that perhaps was whispered about in the English court community five years after the murder when Ferrante Gonzaga, a brother of Federico II and of Eleonora, Duchess of Urbino, became Ambassador to Henry VIII’s court.


Siblings Federico II, Eleonora and Ferrante Gonzaga

The accused mastermind was Luigi Gonzaga, a first cousin to the horrified widow and her brothers. Not only did Hamlet use The Murder of Gonzago to help identify the murderer of his father but the description of that fully armored paternal ghost with “grizzled” and “sable silvered” beard and sorrowful countenance precisely matches Titian’s somber portrait of della Rovere. An engraving could also be found in a book by Paolo Giovio that was reprinted in 1475 though not with the detail about poison in the ear.[13]


Francesco Maria I delle Rovere, Duke of Urbino: Hamlet’s father’s ghost and the victim in ‘The Murder of Gonzago’

Another true crime story that Shakespeare noted down involved Ferrante who became the Count of Guastalia. When he traveled as ambassador to England he was also Viceroy of Sicily (1535-1546) and afterward, from 1546 to 1554, served as Governor of Milan by appointment of the Holy Roman Emperor. While Ferrante was administrator of Milan a judge extorted sexual favor from a criminal’s wife and then executed the felon anyway. The administration under Ferrante forced the predatory judge to marry the woman so that she would benefit as his widow when they saw him executed. That story, which found its way into Measure for Measure, was another tale that the Duke of Mantua may have told Oxford although it could be found in G.B. Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1565) which also contained the source for Othello.[14] Yet we will keep our focus to connections between the Gonzaga, Shakespeare and Minerva’s domain of the arts and not extend it to her attribute of justice.

Perhaps Guglielmo Gonzaga recommended that Oxford visit the newly developed Grecian styled city of another Gonzaga kinsman just 20 miles to the southwest. Vespasiano Gonzaga (1531-1591) was that Duke’s second cousin (their great grandfathers were brothers). Titled as Princippe of Sabbioneta (1574) and soon to be created as Duke (1577), Vespasiano’s “Little Athens” (as Sabbioneta was called) with its main gatehouse known as the “Duke’s Oak” was identified by Richard Paul Roe as the setting that inspired Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.[15]  The “Duke’s Oak” in “Athens” was where Shakespeare had the rude mechanicals meet to practice their play.


Vespasiano Gonzaga, 1st Duke of Sabbioneta and the gateway leading to the Ducal forest that is stilled called Duke’s Oak

Noemi Magri also identifies several paintings alluded to in the “play outside of a play” which was the induction scene in The Taming of the Shrew. To delude a drunk peddler named Sly into thinking that he was really a lord, a nobleman ordered him to be dressed in lavish clothing, laid in his “fairest chamber/ And hang it round with all my wanton pictures” before beguiling that tripped out tinker with a play.

Magri suggested that one of those “wanton pictures” appears to have been inspired by a version of Io being ravished by Jupiter in the form of a cloud that was painted by Antonio Allegri da Correggio for Federico II of Mantua.

We’ll show thee Io as she was a maid,

And how she was beguiled and surpris’d,

As lively painted as the deed was done.

Magri explains that it was only in this passage by Shakespeare and in Correggio’s painting that Io was pleasantly and willingly “beguiled” by Jupiter in the form of a cloud. In other renderings, including that of Ovid, she emphasized, the attention of the cloud did not appear to be welcomed.[16] Despite some Stratfordian references to Correggio’s Io and Jupiter, they “do not suggest it might be a source because, they say, it is almost impossible to substantiate how Shakespeare could have seen the painting.”


Detail of Jupiter and Io by Correggio

Though this work was created in Mantua there is actually a question of how Oxford could have seen the painting. It was said that Io and Jupiter was among those that Federico II gave to the Emperor Charles V which would place the painting in Spain, but in 1584 Lomazzo documented that this painting was then held by the emperor’s favored painter Leone Leoni in Milan. Since Lomazzo’s book Trattato della pittura “expressly states that it was written in 1582” we may wonder if the painting was in Leoni’s possession as early as six years before, in which case Oxford had no trouble seeing it, Milan being one of the documented stops in his travels. [17] However there are other possibilities: an art lover like Federico II might have had a copy or even an engraving made before sending it away.

Magri was able to identify with strong certainty another painting that adorned the tinker’s chamber.

Dost thou love pictures? We will fetch thee straight

Adonis painted by a running brook.

And Cytherea all in sedges hid,

Which seems to move and wanton with her breath

Even as the waving sedges play with wind.”

Magri explained that “Sedges are plants growing in wet places…so Venus must be in or near a pond” and additionally must appear to be hiding. Significantly she found this precise alignment in Venus and the Rose by Luca Penni which indeed shows a voluptuous Venus spying from a pool of water as Mars chases Adonis past a brook in the background. [18] This was an unusual treatment of the myth of how the crimson of the red rose was created from Venus pricking herself on a thorn. Since the Mantuan Giorgio Ghisi engraved a high quality reproduction of this painting when he was in France and we no longer have whatever lost Penni original inspired the work (the only other extant version is now listed by Sothebys and other appraisers as a copy made by one of his followers), it is possible that Oxford was working from Ghisi’s print.


A difference between the painted copy and Ghisi’s engraving is the fact that the print plainly shows the upraised baton that Mars was using to beat Adonis. The brook was also clearer in the print than it was in the painting, Magri noted. So Shakespeare may have been working from the engraving. The engraver Giorgio Ghisi was working in Mantua during Oxford’s tour of Italy and as we will see had established himself in a house shared with his brother so it is quite possible that this engraving was given a place of honor.

Of other possible sources, Boorsch believes that Penni may have seen Marco Dente’s print of Venus Wounded by the Thorn of a Rose and possibly even the original that was painted in “the Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, after Raphael’s designs, by Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, one of the brothers of Luca Penni”. She explained that he also may have seen Venus restraining Mars from Attacking Adonis in the Sala di Psiche of the Palazzo del Te by design of Romano, however Luca Penni’s version differed from the former which depicted a lone, seated Venus, and the version in the Sala di Psiche has Venus restraining Mars from attacking Adonis in a wholly different setting. Boorsch additionally noted that Gianfrancesco Penni did some work on this room, though apparently not on this fresco which, as Magri explained, in any case, “Only (Luca) Penni’s painting and Ghisi’s engraving based on Penni show a Venus ‘all hidden’ and an Adonis ‘by a running brook’.”[19]

Once again Mantua is the common denominator. An understanding of this network of artists that stretched between Mantua and Fontainebleau will help us to understand how an early modern English writer could have been alerted to that anamorphic masterwork hanging all but forgotten in an estate in the French countryside. Giorgio Ghisi (1520-1582) made his name creating high quality engravings, most often reproducing the works of Italian Mannerist painters. A native of Mantua, his first surviving reproductions were of Giulio Romano’s paintings and may have been personally supervised by the Palazzo del Te designer. Ghisi worked in Antwerp after 1549-50 and was based in Paris by the mid-1550s. When Luca Penni moved to Paris “the two artists started a close collaboration. Ghisi executed engravings from designs by Luca: ‘Venus and the Rose’ (1556) is one of his prints,” as Magri noted. ”[20] In 1564 Nicolo Nelli published a version by Gaspare Osello which was copied from and a reversal of Ghisi’s reproduction, such infringements occurring despite the fact that Ghisi held the royal privilege on this print and others. [21]

Ghisi returned to Mantua in the late 1560s, spending his final years working as the Gonzaga keeper of the ducal jewels and wardrobe and producing many original religious engravings for Guglielmo Gonzaga. At least 63 of his fine art prints have been catalogued. As Suzanne Boorsch noted, “Not surprisingly the artist whose works Ghisi reproduced in largest number – ten in all – was Giulio Romano. Thirteen of Ghisi’s prints are after two artists who, like himself, were Italians working in France, Primaticcio and Luca Penni. He also reproduced works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Bronzino, Correggio, Salviati, Bertani, Giulio Campi, Perino del Vaga, and his brother Teodoro.”[22]

Ghisi reproduced the works of a range of artists but the lion’s share – beginning with the 23 inspired by Romano, Primaticcio and Luca Penni – were inspired by the works of artists who emerged in a line of descent from the studio of Raphael. Luca Penni was believed to have trained with Raphael as did Romano, who gave Primaticcio his start.  There were additionally three engravings inspired by works of Raphael himself, including a reproduction of The School of Athens. Three were from works by Perino del Vaga who was second only to Romano in Raphael’s studio in Rome. After Raphael’s death del Vaga moved on to work with Rosso Fiorentino in Florence and then decorated the Palace of Genoa in the manner of Romano at the Palazzo del Te where he also mentored his brother-in-law Luca Penni who went on to become a primary artist at Fontainebleau with Fiorentino and Primaticcio. One Mantuan who trained under del Vaga was Venusti, whose portrait of Michelangelo was reproduced by Ghisi. Another three engravings were derived from paintings by Giovanni Battista Bertani who worked under and later succeeded Romano as artistic director in Mantua and was a good friend of Giorgio, recalling the time they journeyed to Rome together. [23] Giulio Campi (2 works reproduced by Ghisi) trained with Romano. Finally two of Ghisi’s works were inspired by drawings executed by his brother Teodosio who served as the custodian of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua and may have worked on many of the religious themed engravings that Giorgio crafted for the 3rd Duke of Mantua and mythological themed pieces for other Gonzagas. With both back in the employ of the Duke, the Ghisi brothers went in as partners on a house in Mantua in the year Oxford would have visited the city-state.

So at least 37 of Ghisi’s 63 documented engravings were based on original works by Raphael, Romano or artists that descended from their mentorship, and then there were at least 13 originals that Ghisi executed for the Gonzagas. That leaves less than 15 still in existence that were derived from other sources. In comparison, of the earlier Mantuan artists, there were no documented reproductions of Mantegna, who preceded Romano as Court Artist and just one inspired by Scultori, the Mantuan engraver who may have trained Ghisi in the art.[24] There was one by Correggio – The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, not the Io and Jupiter we discussed earlier – who worked in Mantua with Mantegna but overall the earlier Mantuan generation of painters was not well represented.

Despite the dominance of Florence in the art world, of the Medicis in the Vatican and a powerful Medici Queen mother in France, for Ghisi the Florentine painters took a backseat to the clique of painters surrounding Raphael and Romano. Ghisi produced at least six engravings inspired by Michelangelo, who disliked Raphael and maintained his own rival sept of painters, yet these were derived from a single painting, The Last Judgement. The Florence artists Bronzino and Salviati each had one but there were no Davinci originals, and perhaps most significantly none inspired by Rosso Fiorentino who maneuvered into the chief position at Fontainebleau and whose rivalry may have been the reason Francis I sent Primaticcio off to Italy to obtain ancient statuary for an extended period in the late 1530s, calling him back as chief artisan only following the fitful suicide of the “Red of Reds” in 1540.

How does this network of artists help us in understanding how Shakespeare may have been alerted to the Ambassadors? Consider, first, the connections of the Penni brothers. Luca Penni’s brother Gianfrancesco rivaled del Vaga for the top spot in Raphael’s studio after Giulio Romano moved on to the Palazzo del Te. After Raphael’s death in 1520 Gianfrancesco moved on to work under Romano in Mantua for a while.

Bartolomeo, another Penni brother, was an artist in Henry VIII’s court though clearly second or even third string in the period when Holbein created The Ambassadors in notably covert circumstances. Bartolomeo spent the rest of his life in England, later working as a decorator for Edward VI.

Luca Penni, as mentioned, was believed to have trained in Raphael’s studio, then worked with his brother-in-law del Vaga in Genoa before becoming part of the confluence of artists called the “School of Fontainbleau” which included Fiorentino and Primaticcio among others.[25]  When Romano received an invitation to work on Fontainebleau in 1533 he was unwilling to leave Mantua and volunteered Primaticcio who after Fiorentino’s death in 1540 became the lead artistic director at that showplace, supervising Luca Penni and for a time Domenico Barbiere. Barbiere was a Florentine artist who worked under the direction of Fiorentino at Fontainebleau for approximately a decade. Barbiere departed Fontainebleau in 1541 to run his own studio in Troyes but he remained or later became close to Primaticcio.

It is entirely possible that the artists at Fontainebleau shared knowledge of the Holbein painting and not just because Bartholomeo Penni was a painter in the Tudor court or the fact that Holbein was known to travel in France. A ship sailing on the Seine River from Paris passed Fontainebleau and further along swept through Troyes before immediately afterward sailing through the heart of Polisy where that painting remained on the noble Dinteville estate. This is important because on December 15, 1544, a little over a year after Holbein died, Primaticcio of Fountainebleau and Barbiere of Troyes were recorded to have spent time at the estate that harbored The Ambassadors.


Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570)

Their host was Jean de Dinteville (1504-1555), the five time Ambassador to Henry  VIII’s court who with his friend Father Georges de Selve appeared in Hans Holbein the Younger’s great anamorphic masterpiece The Ambassadors, afterward transporting the painting back to his estate in Polisy. It is therefore almost a certainty that Primaticcio and Barbiere viewed Holbein’s anamorphic masterwork.


Jean de Dinteville, Lord of Polisy and Georges de Selve

The Fontainebleau project manager would remain in contact with Jean de Dinteville, the Lord of Polisy and Bailli of Troyes and his brother Francois, the Bishop of Auxerre, into the 1550s, working on various unspecified projects for the brothers, including a portrait now thought to be lost. For much of 1545 Primaticcio would be home in Italy on a buying trip for the French king, presumably passing through the northern Italian city-states on his way to and from Rome and catching up with friends he perhaps had not seen since Il Rosso’s death in 1540 saw him summoned back to Fontainebleau. Primaticcio had performed much of the stucco work at the Palazzo Ducale in the past but Romano was at this point working on the church of Maria delle Grazi for the Duke of Mantua. Primaticcio did provide stucco work in the church during these renovations, perhaps at this time or possibly after Romano’s death in the next year. The two were definitely close. When you view Romano’s home in Mantua it is Primaticcio’s famed stucco work that you’re admiring. Primaticcio could easily have described that amazing anamorphic masterwork to Romano and to Giorgio Ghisi who had not left for Antwerp yet, to the dowager Duchess of Mantua Margaret Paleologos, her brother-in-law Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga who supervised the Dukedom during the minority of his nephews, to the teen aged 2nd Duke of Mantua Francesco and possibly even Guglielmo, his seven or eight year old little brother who would soon succeed him as the third Duke in the line and one day play host to Shakespeare.

So even before we discuss the logistics of Oxford’s route or documented contacts between noble Gonzagas, Dintevilles and the royal courts of France and England, Primaticcio himself performed work for the Gonzagas, the French royals and the Dinteville family of Polisy in close succession in the mid-1540s and moreover held long associations with all three groups.

Both Primaticcio and Barbiere lived until 1570, nearly bridging the temporal gap to Oxford’s visit but either could have passed along word of The Ambassadors. In his final years Primaticcio was a valet de chamber to the king and Abbot of St. Martin of Troyes, that city close to Polisy where Barbiere maintained his studio for 30 years. Primaticcio continued to supervise royal projects late in life and personally designed the tomb of Henry II and Catherine de Medici which was sculpted by Germain Pilon.[26] Barbiere created the base and Pilon constructed the effigies for the vessel containing Henry II’s heart, a separate monument that was also designed by Primaticcio. Pilon lived on until 1590 as one example of an artist who had contact with these men and who Oxford could have met in 1575-1576. Perhaps more pertinently the engraver Giorgio Ghisi survived in Mantua until 1582 and his brother Teodosio through 1601 and these men worked respectively as the keeper of the ducal jewels and wardrobe and the custodian of the Palazzo Ducale for Guglielmo Gonzaga during Oxford’s grand tour.

Luca Penni’s brother Bartholomew may or may not have known about the creation of The Ambassadors. Yet Primaticcio and Barbiere had to have seen that shadowy double portrait when they visited Jean de Dinteville  during the 1544 period of renovation at the Chateau. Francis I stayed at the Polisy estate with Jean de Dinteville, his five time former ambassador to England several years before so he too may have viewed the painting. From this we can surmise that The Ambassadors was an elite secret though in the rest of the world (apart from an inventory taken in 1589) all was silence. This visit is crucial because far from forgotten, the Polisy renovations were undertaken to construct a new grand hall where The Ambassadors would hold a place of honor for at least half a century.

Already an accomplished courtier poet, noble patron and the ceremonial Lord Great Chamberlain of England Oxford moved in those rarified circles most likely to possess and retain information about the Holbein painting. The author – whoever you believe him to be – knew the noble family of Mantua quite well. Romano’s successor Bertani would not die until April 2nd 1576 so he and the Ghisi brothers could have been present and possibly able to answer if Duke Guglielmo wondered aloud, “Where was that perspective painting of a skull that Primaticcio told us about?”


Guglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua and Montferrat

Oxford could have looked up from studying Ghisi’s reproduction of Luca Penni’s Venus and the Rose to hear the word Polisy fall from any of their mouths.

Along with a few representative “Shakespeare connections” the diagram below displays the documented relationships of most of the artists and patrons referenced in this post. Some connections will be documented in another part of the series. Giorgio Ghisi’s connections are represented by stars but while he was close to some whose works he reproduced and favored artists he knew he was not necessarily acquainted with them all. There is no line between Hans Holbein and Bartolomeo Penni because even though they were both foreign artists in Henry VIII’s court I have no indication that they met or even worked out of the same palaces and yet it is likely that they did interact. Barbiere originally came in as a Florentine under Fiorentino but I honestly don’t know whether the king would have contact with lower profile painters on his crew and Barbiere left the project soon after that master’s death. However the artists whose tenures overlapped at Fontainebleau are considered as documented connections because we can place them in such close proximity that the conclusion that they knew one another is inescapable. The number of closed triangular configurations (where A, B and C connect) are used to assess the strength of social networks. While this tangled spaghetti is visually confusing it does reflect the connectivity of the Raphaelite and First Fontainebleau schools of painters and many opportunities for the transmission of knowledge about The Ambassadors.

Artist Network1



[1] Magri, Noemi. Hamlet’s ‘The Murder of Gonzago’ in contemporary documents, De Vere Society Newsletter, June, 2009, p. 8

[2] Barkan, Leonard. Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures, Princeton University Press, 2013, pp. 2, 21-22

[3] Magri, Noemi. Chapter 10: Italian Renaissance Art in Shakespeare: Giulio Romano and the Winter’s Tale, Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Ed. Richard Malim, Parapress LTD: Turnbridge Wells, 2004, pp. 51; Vasari, p. 366

[4] Hamill, John. The Ten Restless Ghosts of Mantua: Part 1, Shakespeare’s Specter Lingers over the Italian City, Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Vol. 39, No. 3, p. 1, Summer 2003, reprinted in Soul of the Age, editor Paul Altrocchi, p. 139-140

[5] Hamill, p. 141

[6] Hamill, p. 150; Gillespie, Stuart. Shakespeare’s Books: A Dictionary of Shakespeare Sources, Bloomsbury, p. 79

[7] Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists, Ed. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991, p. 313

[8] Marek, George R. The Bed and the Throne: The Life of Isabella D’Este, Harper & Row, New York, 1976,  p. 203

[9] Marek, p. 210

[10] Hamill, p. 150

[11] Hamill, pp. 137-138

[12] Gillespie, p. 81

[13] Hamill, p. 155

[14] Hamill, p. 157

[15] Roe, Richard Paul. The Shakespeare Guide to Italy, HarperCollins, New York, 2011, pp. 182-186

[16] Magri, Noemi. Shakespeare and Italian Renaissance Painting: The three wanton pictures in The Taming of the Shrew, De Vere Society Newsletter, May 2005, p. 8

[17] Gould, Cecil Hilton Monk. The Paintings of Correggio, Cornell University Press, 1976, p. 275; Ricci, Corrado. Antonio Allegri da Correggio: his life, his friends and his time, p. 312 and n. 4

[18]  Magri, Three wanton pictures, pp. 4-5

[19] Magri, Three wanton pictures, pp. 5-7; Boorsch, Suzanne, Introduction, The Engravings of Giorgio Ghisi, p. 95

[20] Magri, Three wanton pictures, p. 5

[21] Wilcombe, Christopher L. C. E, Copyright in the Renaissance: Prints and Privilegio in the Sixteenth-Century, Brill, Leiden, 2004, p. 127

[22] Boorsch, p. 25

[23] Boorsch, p. 15

[24] Magri, Three wanton pictures, pp 10, n. 14, and refer to page 169 in The Engravings.

[25] Magri, Three wanton pictures, p. 10, n. 12

[26] Blomfield, Sir Reginald Theodore. Studies in Architecture, p. 205;


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s