The de Brécy Tondo and it's relationship with Raphael's Sistine Madonna
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FELICE (I)

The word felic(?) on the back of the canvas may be read as Felic(?), which would signify a name, most probably Felice. Felice is the Italian equivalent of Felix, of which the feminine is Felicità. or Felicity. There was a Felice in the inner circle of the Vatican from 1504 until 1513, however she was a woman.

Donna Felice della Rovere 340 was one of the three natural daughters of Pope Julius 11, born while he was still Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere; her mother was Lucrezia, who later married Bernardo de Cuppis, or Coppi. of Montefalco, in Umbria.

"Chroniclers, ambassadors, and contemporary letter-writers describe her, without reserve, as daughter of the Pope. Julius II treated her with paternal affection. She was energetic and head-strong, like her father." 341

There was bitter enmity between the della Roveres and the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. Felice suffered from the cruelties of Cesare Borgia, and had narrowly escaped with her life. She,

"while still a child, had been rescued by faithful servants, after her sister and brother-in-law had been murdered, and carried by sea to join her father in his diocese of Savona."342

This was presumably circa the summer of 1502, when Cesare Borgia was in Umbria and the Marche, and drove Duke Guidobaldo out of Urbino ; and the Duke's nephew, Francesco della Revere was smuggled through Italy to Savona to his uncle Cardinal della Rovere, who took him to France.

Alexander VI died 18 August 1503, and was succeeded by Pius III, who died on 17 October. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere was elected Pope Julius II on 1 November 1503, and on 8 February 1504 he sent galleys to Savona to fetch his daughter Felice.

The new Pope's brother, Giovanni della Rovere, who during Julius' lifetime held the office of Prefect of Rome, had married the Duke of Urbino's sister, Giovanna, the Lady Prefetessa, who was the Patron of Perugino and Raphael, and her young son, Francesco Maria, was tacitly recognised as Guidobaldo's heir. Guidobaldo had retaken Urbino ten days after the death of Alexander VI. The Prefetessa returned to Urbino before 2 July 1503 and was accompanied by Francesco, her two daughters Maria and Costanza, and her niece Felice dells Rovere. Felice spent the summer and autumn of 1504 at the Court of Urbino, before returning to her father in Rome.

That autumn, if not earlier in the year, 21-year-old Raphael was in Urbino. There are only two pieces of documentation of his whereabouts during 1504. The first is the signature and date on La Sposalizio, which he painted for the Albizzini family for the Chapel of San Giuseppe in the Church of San Francisco in Citta di Castello (about 50 miles south-west of Urbino). The second is a letter dated 1 October 1504 written from Urbino by the Prefetessa to Gonfalonier Soderini in Florence.

“The bearer of this (letter) will be Raphael, painter from Urbino, who, having a good talent in his discipline, has decided to spend some time studying in Florence. And since his father was very virtuous and my dear friend, so his son is a discreet and gentle young man ; in all respects I am extremely fond of him, and would like him to achieve perfection ; therefore I unreservedly reccommend him to the highest degree to Your Lordship, asking you, for love of me, that in all his needs please lend him all your help and favour, so that whatsoever things are pleasing and helpful, which Your Lordship will give to him, I will consider as given to me ..."343

Most historians agree that the Prefetessa was "especially interested" in Raphael after the death of his father in 1494 and that he became her protege. Giovanni Santi, his father, was a painter and poet in the service of the Dukes of Urbino, who wrote Cronica rimata, the life of Duke Federigo in verse, and was commissioned by the Prefetessa to paint the Annunciation for the church of Santa Maria Maddalena, Senigalia, to celebrate the birth of Francesco Maria. 344

It is not unlikely that both Raphael and Castiglione made the acquaintance of Felice at this time. Castiglione had entered the Duke of Urbino's service in June 1504, and arrived in Urbino with the Duke on 6 September 1504.

"So to make a final point to demonstrate yet again how much the daughter of Julius II made her mark in Urbino society, in an edition of Il Cortegiano, previous to the Cot Laurenz., she is called Madonna Felice nostra. This is not surprising when I think of the connections of kinship and of friendship which ran through the della Rovere family and the Court of Urbino. "345

Felice soon became a favourite of the Papal court in Rome. Gian Cristoforo Romano, one of the company in Il Cortegiano and art-adviser to Marchese Isabella Gonzaga, wrote from Rome, 1 December 1505, to the Marchese in Mantua. If she came to Rome, he wrote, the Marchese would have

"sweet company, especially that of Madonna Felise, daughter of the Pope, who is a very gentlewoman, of a noble intelligence and dedicated to literature, the antique and to all skilled works and is devoted to Your Ladyship." 346

Julius II had brought her to Some to find her a husband. His first choice was Marcantonio Colonna, whose income proved to be insufficient. Second was Roberto Sanseverino, nephew of Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, but Felice declared

"that she would not marry a prince without a state and without fortune, and faced with a will even stronger than his own, her father had to back down. (March 1505)" 347

Julius then thought of Giovanni Giordano Orsini, frog the Bracciano branch of the Orsinis, who had just lost his wife, Camilla Cecilia d'Aragon, the natural daughter of King Ferdinando of Naples. After lengthy financial bargaining, the marriage took place on 24 May 1506 "without any pomp", because the Pope did not want to recreate the scandals, which had attended the marriages of the daughter of Alexander VI. The ceremony took place in the palace of Cardinal Sisto Gara della Rovere, in the Ponte quarter of Rome.

Orsini was much older than Felice, and "moreover, a strange person, a "public lunatic', said the Duke of Urbino ; he arrived for the wedding slovenly dressed, badly shaved, as "if he had turned up by chance" ; after the ceremony, he chased everyone out and, contrary to custom, wanted to be alone with his wife. He spoke Spanish and French, and throughout his life

"was very devoted to King Louis XII and to French politics.' '348

"However, this marriage ... turned out very happily. Felice's good sense and cleverness prevailed, and, as the Pope had foreseen, the influence which she obtained over her strange husband proved no inconsiderable factor in Italian politics. Throughout the changes of the next twenty years she was loyal to her own family, and remained one of Castiglione's best friends to the end of her life." 349

"If the marriage had been modest, then the celebrations which followed were extravagant. On 9 May 1507 donna Felice made a solemn entry into Rome. Her dress was black and she wore a white hat trimmed with velvet in the Spanish style ; at her side was her husband, as well as don Antonio de Cordova and Giulio Orsini. Forty horsemen formed the escort. There was a banquet at the Belvedere Palace. Two days later Julius II was present in the gardens of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, who had invited donna Felice, her husband, a number of noblemen and three Cardinals. Another banquet took place on 15 June 1507 at the Vatican, which was followed by singing and dancing ; women took part." 350

"Donna Felice was the ornament of the Pontifical court, at which women had become rare, a cause for great complaints from the Vatican community. Her absence, albeit momentary, caused general grief." 351

Julius "gave her presents. When he was in danger of dying, in 1511, he gave her 12,000 ducats, which she gave back to him the following year when he found himself so short of money that he had to melt down some of his silver plate." 352

When Felice was not at court,

"the Pope liked to go to see her ; when the cares of his office permitted, he used to mount his horse and ride right to her castle at Bracciano." 353

"Because of her social position, her beauty, her love for literature and for the arts, and for her favours accorded to writers and artists, it is natural that her name occurs frequently in contemporary books and documents." 354

Sonnets and poems were dedicated to her, and Cian records her

"relationships with Scipi one Carteromaco, the celebrated Hellenist, and with Aldo Manozio," 355

the printer, publisher and founder of the Aldine Press in Venice.

"She wanted to use her influence to establish peace in Rome. A long-standing hate existed between the Orsinis, and the Savellis, because the latter had, more than once, sided with the Colonnas against the Orsinis ; donna Felice undertook to reconcile these adversaries, and she succeeded ; on 24 April 1509 the representatives of the two families, reunited in the Vatican by her efforts, pledged themselves, in the presence of the Pope, to quarrel no more ; in return, the penalties which they had incurred were remitted. As a guarantee that the peace would be respected, they had to deposit 100,000 ducats" 356

Baldassare Castiglione

"had frequent and rather intimate relations with her, as appears on many occasions in his correspondence" 357, especially in the years 1520 to 1522. Writing from Madrid on 14 March 1525, he begged Piperario to remember him to her :
"If Signora Felice is in Rome, I beseech you again to go and kiss the hand of her Ladyship for me."358

Castiglione tells of one of her youthful adventures in Il Cortegiano :

"However to speak about women you have known yourselves, do you not recall having heard how signora Felice della Rovere, on her way to Savona, feared that some sails that were sighted might be Pope Alexander's ships in pursuit, and therefore calmly and deliberately made ready to throw herself into the sea if they should draw near and if there were no chance of escape ? And it can scarcely be thought that she did this thoughtlessly, for you know as well as anyone that her singular beauty was matched by her intelligence and prudence." 359

In 1515, when the Medici planned to oust Francesco Maria from Urbino, the della Roveres tried to persuade the invading King Francis I to intercede with the Medici Pope Leo X. However when the Urbino emissary, Baldassare Castiglione, arrived in Bologna to meet the King of France he found that Felice della Rovere had already seen the King. She

"had hastened to Bologna to meet the King, and had been among his first visitors. Clad in peacock velvet and white ermine, and attended by ten maidens in the same costume, this gallant lady had ridden through the streets of Bologna to pay her respects to Francis, ... and had charmed the susceptible monarch by her fascinating ways." 360

In 1516 the Duke of Urbino was deposed by Pope Leo X, who conferred the duchy on his nephew Lorenzo dei Medici ; Lorenzo died in 1519. In 1519, writes Cartwright,

"Madonna Felice della Rovere and her cousin, the Cardinal of Agen, were zealous in Francesco Maria's cause, and conferred frequently with the Count (Castiglione) ..." 361

Francesco Maria was reinstated as Duke of Urbino in 1521. Castiglione wrote of her that she

“yielded to none in wisdom and affection for her kinsman.” (Francesco Maria) 362

Felice had a son and a daughter. The son is described by Castiglione in 1521 as

"even if he is almost a 'puttino' has the command of twenty-five men-at-arms." 363

"Puttino" - little child - suggests stature, rather than age. However, as his mother was married in 1506, it is unlikely that he was more than 13 or 14 years old.

Also in 1521, donna Felice married her daughter to Prince de Bisignano of the Sanseverino family, and she was so full of joy that she "put on a white veil". de Maulde writes :

"In distinguished families, betrothal was by no means unusual at the age of two or three ... Consummation usually took place at the age of twelve." 364

If this were so in the case of the daughter, her birth date would be c.1509. It seems likely that the son and daughter were born between 1507 and 1509.

Her will is dated 27 September 1536 and, according to Litta, she probably died not long after, as no further notices of her are found in documents of the time.

It is possible that Felice della Rovere met Raphael in Urbino in 1504, and it is also probable that she met him in the Vatican between 1508, when he arrived in Rome, and 1513, when Pope Julius died. What is certain is that Felice was a central figure in both the Papal Court and the Urbino Court : and that Raphael also moved within the inner circle of both these courts.

Carlo Pedretti (1989), when considering Raphael's personal life and the legend of his affair with his model La Fornarina, wrote :

"The painful poetical efforts of Raphael as found on sheets with the first studies for the decoration of the Vatican rooms, testify to a fiery passion which is hardly applicable to the infatuation for a model. And this can be taken in conjunction with a statement by Vasari (suppressed in the second edition of the Lives) to the effect that during his years in Rome the painter "was secretly going to make love to someone of important condition". This arises (sic) the suspicion that Raphael's success at the papal court was not due so much to his friend and compatriot Bramante as it was to a mysterious high-class lady." 365

It may be speculated that Felice, being one of the few influential women at the papal court, would be a suitable identity for the "mysterious high-class lady". Considering her love of literature and art, her father's influence over Raphael, and her friendship with Castiglione and his circle, then it is more than likely that she and Raphael were on friendly terms. During the last years of Julius's pontificate, Raphael was commissioned by Julius to paint the Sistine Madonna. It would not be without precedent if Felice della Rovere was used by Raphael as the model for the Virgin. Indeed, Julius may have requested this.

If Felice was the model for The Sistine Madonna, then she would also have been the model for La Donna Velata. It is interesting to note ,in La Donna Velata, that the tassels on the end of the draw-string which adjusts the neck-band of the blouse are slightly elongated versions of the della Rovere papal tiara as seen in The Sistine Madonna. Perhaps this was meant as an indirect identification. In Bartolomeo Veneto's Portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, Lucrezia (1480-1519) is wearing a similar camicia, but the toggles to the draw-strings are plain.(Borgias), while those in La Velata are a definite feature.

Interestingly, Camesasca mentions that Filippini recognised the Virgin as having the same features as La Donna Velata, who he identified as Lucrezia della Rovere, cousin of Felice and daughter of Julius II's sister Lucchina ; and that Stubel identifies St. Barbara as Eleanore Gonzaga (1493-1543) the wife of Francesco Maria della Revere" 366

The only definite date, which relates to Felice's age, is her marriage in 1506. If, as was the custom, she was married about the age of twelve, her date of birth would be 1494. It is probable that her children were born between 1507 and 1509. In 1511, the possible date of the Tondo, she would have been about seventeen or eighteen years old, the Child - possibly her son- three or four, Eleanore eighteen or nineteen, and Julius sixty eight or nine.

de Vecchi mentions the theory that St.Barbara is Giulia Orsini, the mistress of Pope Alexander VI. It is very unlikely that Raphael would feature such a prominent member of the Borgia family, who hounded the della Rovere family, in the same painting as Pope Julius II 367

The concept of producing a family portrait as a sacred subject, even a Madonna and Child, is not singular. There is a group portrait of the Medici family (probably c.1554-5) in which Cosimo I's mother, Maria Salviati, is depicted as St.Anne, his wife, Eleanora di Toledo, as the Virgin and his son Pietro as Christ. The donors, to left and right, are Cosimo and sons Giovanni, Francesco and Ferdinando. Also in the painting are St.Catherine and John the Baptist, who, although unidentified, are most probably two more of Cosimo's eight legitimate children. The whole family have haloes." 368

The possibility of the Sistine Madonna being a della Rovere Madonna and Child is discussed below on pages 201 to 205.

If the extreme speculation that Felice della Rovere was indeed Raphael's "mysterious high-class lady", then it may be well worth investigating the village of Trevignano, seven miles by road from Bracciano", facing it across the lake. There is in the Church of the Assumption a painting attributed to the School of Raphael. The village was owned by the Bracciano Orsinis until 1691.

 
 
 

References

340 The life of Felice della Rovere has been reconstructed from the following sources (which are referenced below simply by author's name):
Rodocanachi, E. : Le Pontificat de Jules II 1503-1513:
Librairie Hachette : 1928 : p.10
Castiglione, B : Il Cortegiano : ed. Cian, V. : Sansoni,
Firenze : 1946 : vol.III, XLIX, pp.369-70, note 2
Pastor, L : The History of the Popes : Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner : 1898 : vol.VI, pp.259-60 and 267
Cartwright, J. : The Perfect Courtier : John Murray : 1927
various extracts.
341. Rodocanachi
342. Cartwright : vol.I, pp.105-106
343. Golzio, V.: Raffaello nei Documenti : pp. 9-10
344. Jones, R. & Penny, N. : Raphael : P.5
345. Castiglione
346. ibid.
347. Rodocanachi
348. ibid.
349. Cartwright : vol.I, pp.168-169
350. Rodocanachi
351. ibid.
352. ibid.
353. ibid.
354. Castiglione
355. ibid.
356. Rodocanachi
357. Castiglione
358. ibid.
359. Castiglione, B. : The Book of the Courtier : ed. Bull, G. : Penguin : 1984 : pp.252-253
360. Cartwright : vol.I, p.407
361. ibid. : vol.II, p.40
362. ibid. : vol.II, p.151
363. Castiglione
364. de Maulde la Claviere, R : The Women of the Renaissance - A Study in Feminism : Swan Sonnenschein & Co. : 1900 : p.27
365. Pedretti, C. : Raphael : Giunti Barbera : 1989 : p.10
366. Camesasca, E. : All the Paintings of Raphael : vol II, p.84
367. de Vecchi, P. : Complete Paintings of Raphael : p.109
368. Pucci, E. : The Medici - Glory of the World : Editrice
Bonechi, Firenze : 1980 : p.125
This is the only illustration of the painting, which I have found; unfortunately Pucci gives neither the name of the artist, nor the present location of the work.

Excerpt from Dr Murdoch Lothian's PhD thesis 'The Methods Employed to Provenance and to Attribute Putative works by Raphael
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