Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 61

Love, lies, and litigation: the saga of Alessandro Vittoria’s Saint John the Baptist
Fig. 10 / Francesco Mazzola,
known as Parmigianino, SelfPortrait, ca. 1523-1524, oil
on canvas, 24.4 cm diameter,
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches
Fig. 11 / Alessandro Vittoria
and workshop, Funerary
monument to Alessandro
Vittoria, monument: 16021603, portrait bust: 1590s,
caryatids: mid-1560s, marble,
stucco and Istrian stone,
Venice, San Zaccaria.
Fig. 12 / Church of San
Zaccaria, Venice.
Love, lies, and litigation: the saga of Alessandro Vittoria’s Saint John the Baptist
various assistants on different projects and training
a number of apprentices.46 Vittoria had also begun
in recent years to assemble what would become an
impressive art collection, including the purchase in 1561
of Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait (ca. 1523-1524; fig. 10), and
in 1563 what he believed to be an autograph terracotta
model by Michelangelo of a foot of Day in the Medici
Chapel, Florence.47 Having secretly held onto what
Manfred Leithe-Jasper aptly called his “first-born”
for fifteen years, Vittoria clearly decided during the
course of the dispute that the Baptist was worth far
more to him psychologically than it could ever be to
San Geremia.48 Indeed, it is possible, as Victoria Avery
has suggested, that Vittoria was prompted to buy back
and retain the statuette by the example of his recently
deceased hero, Michelangelo (1475-1564), who had
himself kept two of his earliest works in his house
until his death: the reliefs of the Madonna della Scala
(ca. 1490) and the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs (ca.
As early as October 1566, in his second will, Vittoria
bequeathed the statuette to one of his executors, his
local parish priest, friend, and future brother-in-law
Gianmaria Lazzarini, asking that the Baptist be placed
on the high altar of San Giovanni in Bragora on all
major feast days, and guarded the rest of the time
as “such a thing merits.”51 By the time of his next
will (7 November 1570), his friend had died, and so
Vittoria decided to leave the Baptist to San Giovanni
in Bragora itself in memory of Lazzarini, who had
been the church’s parish priest; while in his fourth will
(before 29 July 1576), the Baptist was again bequeathed
to San Giovanni, most likely because Vittoria wished
to be buried there.52 His fifth will (6 May 1584) differs
from the others in that he ordered both the statuette
and the Parmigianino Self-Portrait to remain in his
house for as long as his wife Veronica Lazzarini lived,
but on her death they were to be sold “honourably”
by his executors.53 When he came to write his sixth
testament in February 1595, Veronica had already
died, and so Vittoria left the Baptist to another
clergyman, one Vincenzo di Agazi, parish priest
of Sant’Antonin (another church close to Vittoria’s
home), who was also appointed one of his executors.
Vittoria may have first met Agazi in the late 1580s at
the church of San Polo, when he was commissioned to
produce the sculptural decoration for the church’s new
cappella maggiore (1585-1595) by parish priest Antonio
Gatto.54 Agazi was at that time attached to San Polo as
a titular priest and would later oversee the completion
of the project (which included a sizeable funerary
monument with a marble portrait bust of Gatto by
Vittoria) as requested by Gatto in his will of May
1591.55 As Gatto died in September that same year,
Agazi no doubt had considerable contact with Vittoria
until the project was finished.56
Whatever Vittoria’s reasons for buying it back, the
little Saint John quickly became one of his most
cherished possessions, as the instructions he left for its
care in seven of his nine wills attest.50
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Baptist was not
mentioned specifically in Vittoria’s seventh will of
22 October 1597, nor in fact were any of his other
works of art or valuables.57 Why this was the case
is unknown, but his next will of 6 December 1601
reveals that Vittoria was, once again, keen to secure
the Baptist’s fate and, as seen in the excerpt cited at the
start of this article, left particularly detailed instructions
for its long-term care. By this date Vittoria had
begun the concessionary process to have a funerary
monument (which he designed and partially executed
himself) and a floor tomb in San Zaccaria, a highly
prestigious convent, close to his home (figs. 11 & 12).58
It is therefore really no surprise that he should also
have bequeathed his Saint John to the nuns’ care in
perpetuity, a bequest that Vittoria stipulated again in
his ninth and final will of 4 May 1608, the year of his
death. After all, why keep something so precious for
over fifty years only to be separated from it on death,
especially when the subject matter was so apt for a
church dedicated to and indeed possessing the relics
of the Baptist’s father? An additional incentive may
have been that he had appointed the Abbess, Priora
and Sacrestana of San Zaccaria, as well as the convent’s
most senior lay procurator as his sole executors in this
will.59 Thus by bequeathing the convent his Saint John,
he was continuing the tradition that he had established
in five of his earlier wills of leaving the statuette to
one of his executors (always a religious official), or the
church with which they were associated.60


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