Amerigo Vespucci: a Florentine in Seville

History gives us different versions, depending on who teaches it, and, above all, where we study it. In the Spanish classrooms students learn that the date of the discovery of America is 1492, a date that cannot be forgotten, as the protagonist of this feat: Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus). In Italy, things are viewed from another perspective, without diminishing Columbus, but giving more credit to the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci, a figure that is instead ignored in Spain; Americans, however, know very well whom they owe their continent’s name.
The Vespucci were a Florentine historical family, who arrived in Peretola, today a suburban district of the city, and settled in the center of the city, in the Ognissanti area. They did the most popular jobs of that time: they were notaries, bankers and merchants. Part of the family had more success and fortune, that of Pietro Vespucci, Simone di Pietro Vespucci (the founder of the hospital “San Giovanni di Dio”) and Marco Vespucci, who will marry the beautiful and mythical Simonetta, muse of Sandro Botticelli’s paintings, of whom we will write in another article.
Our Amerigo descended from the other less fortunate branch of the Vespucci family. He inherited his name from his grandfather, and was the third of the five children of Nastagio and Lisa. His father Nastagio was a notary, but had several drinking problems, so Amerigo was educated by Giorgio Antonio, Nastagio’s younger brother, who made him study Latin, Mathematics, Geometry and Astronomy. Giorgio Antonio was a humanist and passionate of maps, friend of Marsilio Ficino and, thus, close to the Medici circle: this allowed Amerigo to take refuge with his uncle in the Villa del Trebbio during the plague of 1476. This villa was owned by the secondary branch of the Medici family, that of Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, where another uncle, Bernardo, worked as accountant. And Amerigo was always in connection with this side of the Medici family, becoming the right-hand man of Lorenzo, son of Pierfrancesco, called “il Popolano” (“of the people”); Amerigo took care of Lorenzo’s business and properties, and this brought him to Seville.

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Today, July 26, is St. Anne Feast Day. Saint Anne was the mother of Mary, and grandmother of Jesus; but she is also one of the patron saints of Florence, along with the main one, St. John the Baptist, and the others, St. Reparata and St. Zanobi. The devotion to Saint Anne in Florence dates back to a specific episode of the 14th century, that occurred in a decade that will prove to be quite tormented  for this city, and that has the church of Orsanmichele as the protagonist.

But: who is St. Anne firs of all? Despite her important relationship with Mary and Jesus, and the strong worship in Christian religion, the information we have about her and her life don’t come from the official Gospels, but through the so called “apocryphal Gospels”; the Church, however, has welcomed her worship. The story of Anne and her spouse Joachim is often narrated in famous fresco cycles representing the Stories of the Virgin Mary, that we can also find here in Florence: Anne and Joachim are a happy and very devoted couple, but without children due to the sterility of Joachim. This “dishonor” causes the High Priest to forbid him to make sacrifices in the Temple,  expelling him badly. Humiliated, Joachim takes refuge in the desert, for a period of retreat, when an angel appears to Anne announcing her future pregnancy. The same angel appears in Joachim’s dream, to deliver the same message. Joachim then returns to the city, where the famous “Meeting at the Golden Gate” takes place: one of the most represented kisses in art, starting with Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua!

In Tuscany, a typical representation of Saint Anne becomes the so called “Sant’Anna Metterza”, where “metterza” stands for “mi è terza”, an ancient Tuscan expression that means that she is “put in the third position”. The image, in fact, portrays three generations together: St. Anne behind her daughter Mary, that holds  her baby son Jesus on her knees. Two illustrious names famous for representing this particular iconography? Masaccio, whose altarpiece is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Leonardo da Vinci, whose artwork is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

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