Bernardo Bembo and La Bencina

Hans Memling, 1433 –1494
Man with a Roman Coin (Bernardo Bembo), ca. 1471-1474, oil on panel, 31 x 23,3 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen
Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519
Ginevra de’ Benci, 1474-78, oil on wood, 38,8 x 36,7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC – On the reverse side of the portrait of Ginevra: juniper, laurel, palm branches: VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT (Beauty adorns Virtue)     https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.50724.html     and     https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/da-vinci-ginevra-de-benci.html and https://www.facebook.com/mauritshuis/posts/allow-us-to-introduce-bernardo-bembovarious-details-reveal-that-this-man-is-the-/1438404546228025/

“Therefore we will sing of the chaste love of Bembo, so that Bencia may rise up, made known by my verses. O lovely Bencia, Bembo marvels at your beauty, with which you could surpass the goddesses of heaven. Great Mars would wish to prefer this to his love for Venus, and Jupiter himself would abandon Europa and desire it. But Bembo in astonishment marvels more at you ancient virtue, you chaste heart and hands with the skill of Pallas…” writes Cristoforo Landino for the LOVE of Bernardo Bembo and La Bencina.    http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-2/sub-page-03/poems-about-ginevra-and-bembo/?fbclid=IwAR34DOVq8MMQgt7ZBJ651Bd2l-HGxjM6gTJFNNx0CHHsp2hZVi26XyAkHkM

The Venetian Ambassador to Florence, the intellectual Bernardo Bembo, first saw Ginevra on the 28th of January 1475, during the splendid Giostra Giuliano de Medici staged in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. Ginevra de’ Benci, the daughter of Amerigo de’ Benci, director of the Medici Bank in Geneva and the second wealthiest man in Florence, seventeen years old, witty, enchanting and rich, married to Luigi di Bernardo Niccolini, a Florentine cloth-trader of importance, was present, dazzling with her charm, the elite of Florence. “In all the city you will not find a more beautiful girl, nor any more modest” wrote the poet Alessandro Braccesi. Suave Bernardo Bembo, a man in his early forties, married with children, with a mistress and a love-child, took little time in becoming La Bencina’s cavaliere servente. Among them, Leonardo da Vinci, young and amazingly talented, ready to immortalize an interesting story that still “haunts” us with its beauty and secrets, created one of his earliest masterpieces.    https://books.google.gr/books?id=KWCNItrBe6oC&pg=PT163&lpg=PT163&dq=Florence+1475+Giostra&source=bl&ots=jY6VGoEF7e&sig=ACfU3U3t2D0MaOTr2VF5cHfdBamVl8s_Zg&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwio79a81YHqAhXBw8QBHb37B5AQ6AEwEHoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=Florence%201475%20Giostra&f=false

Leonardo’s painting of La Bencina, characterized as “the earliest of all psychological portraits” and depicting “a new sense of mystery and uniqueness of the human personality” is for me an alluring mystery behind rich foilage and an “alabaster” façade. The surviving poems, however, of her beauty and character is another story…

The reverse side of Leonardo’s painting of Ginevra de’ Benci

“I beg for mercy; I am a wild tiger” LaBencina wrote in one of her poems, the only verse that survives of her entire oeuvre. We can only wonder about her response to Bembo’s “Courtly Love.”

“…Therefore, lovely Bencia, imitating such arts as these, you come as an example to Tuscan ladies. Well known, I confess, is the love of Paris and the frenzy of the Spartan woman, but it is known for its base adultery. You, Bencia, are more beautiful than Leda’s child and are known to all peoples for your rare chastity…” by Cristoforo Landino

“Ginevra shed tears as you go, Bembo./ May she desire long delays and / Beseech the Gods above that / Every difficulty may hinder your journey. / And may she wish that the kindly stars / With adverse winds and heavy storms / Prevent your departure” by Alessandro Bracessi

Lorenzo de’ Medici, on the other hand, addressed two poems to her praising her decision to “leave the passion and evil of the city and to devote herself to prayer in the country… never looking back!” https://books.google.gr/books?id=fMDoImNWqHQC&pg=PA302&lpg=PA302&dq=Lorenzo+de+Medici+sonnets+Ginevra&source=bl&ots=DFGL8O9riU&sig=ACfU3U1FKJK0wSGfLjtePymRgLwoRWYOPg&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi7jdXxvIPqAhUFNOwKHTZ3BIgQ6AEwAnoECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=Lorenzo%20de%20Medici%20sonnets%20Ginevra&f=false    and    http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-2/sub-page-03/poems-about-ginevra-and-bembo/?fbclid=IwAR34DOVq8MMQgt7ZBJ651Bd2l-HGxjM6gTJFNNx0CHHsp2hZVi26XyAkHkM

For a RWAP dedicated to Ginevra de’ Benci (RWAP stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) please… Check HERE!

For student work on a RWAP dedicated to Ginevra de’ Benci, please… Check HERE!

Student work

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