BOOKS: MURDER AT HIGH MASS ; Renaissance Florence Was as Renowned for Political Savagery as Masterful Art. Roy Hattersley Relishes a Bloody Tale of Power and Revenge
Hattersley, Roy, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
By Lauro Martines
CAPE pounds 17.99
pounds 14.99 (+ pounds 1.99 P&P PER ORDER) 0870 800 1122
Fifty years ago, one of the most popular subjects for sixth form debate was what the Renaissance taught us about the relationship between violence and creative energy. If such discussions have survived the fashion for media studies and information technology, every school library should acquire a copy of Lauro Martines's April Blood. The plot to murder Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici - which the book describes - was laid, and its execution attempted in Florence, a couple of years before Botticelli painted Primavera in the same city. Indeed, when the conspirators were confounded, Botticelli was paid "four large florins" for completing unflattering portraits of the men who had planned to kill the brothers during High Mass in the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
In the April when the Medici blood was spilt, Leonardo da Vinci was 26 and still had more than 40 years of genius ahead of him. For most of that time, he was untroubled by the vice and brutality which surrounded him in both Florence and Rome. That was typical of the age. Both the men who planned the plot of April 1478 and their intended victims thought of themselves as the aesthetic heirs to Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Art and assassinations were inextricably connected. The original plan, to kill the brothers in their palazzo, was built around an invitation for the Cardinal of San Giorgio to see the pictures and objets d'art which the Medici family had collected.
Inevitably April Blood deals with the brutal aspects of 15th- century Florence rather than the beauty of its achievements. As a result, Lauro Martines has produced a gore-soaked thriller. Once the reader has come to grips with the multiplicity of names, the plot races along. Yet the careful scholarship of the work is beyond question. The popular myth that Botticelli's pictures of the traitors were exhibited on the wall of the Bargello is carefully discounted. The chosen place "was more likely a wall of the Dogana, part of the government-palace complex". Meticulous accuracy of that order adds to the enjoyment. The reader never even pauses to wonder if every item in the extraordinary story is historically correct.
Assassination conspiracies were not, in the 15th century, peculiar to Florence. They were common throughout the Italian peninsula. Men were murdered as a result of the republican zeal of the assailants, because they were suspected of "an erotic interest" in other men's wives and, on one notable occasion, in consequence of the Pope's desire to acquire the dead man's kingdom so that it could be ruled by his son-in-law. Nor was murder at High Mass unique. It happened to the Duke of Milan on Boxing Day 1476. But he was such a villain (Martines writes "his infamy for vice and barbaric cruelty was deplored even by his own father") that it is easy to understand why so many people wanted him dead. The motive for the murder of the Medicis was equally straightforward but historically more interesting. They had simply grown too powerful.
For years Florence was governed by rotation. The brief rule of the senior families who, in their turn, occupied office for a few weeks, meant that all of them - those who had just lost power no less than those who were about to obtain it - …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: BOOKS: MURDER AT HIGH MASS ; Renaissance Florence Was as Renowned for Political Savagery as Masterful Art. Roy Hattersley Relishes a Bloody Tale of Power and Revenge. Contributors: Hattersley, Roy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: February 16, 2003. Page number: 14. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.