Popes, Pirates, Espionage and Galley Slaves: Vasari's Lepanto Frescoes in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Palace
Rick Scorza, Resident Research Scholar at the Morgan Library, New York
The great naval Battle of Lepanto of 1571 in which the Turkish armada was devastated by the combined fleet of the Papacy, Venice, and Spain was an event of enormous symbolic as well as military importance to the Catholic Church, because it briefly gained for the Christian Alliance control of most of the Mediterranean, temporarily eradicating the threat of the “infidel”. Several Italian and Spanish artists depicted the battle but none so splendidly as Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Palace. Despite its prominent location in the administrative heart of the papacy and the fame of Vasari, the literature on this huge fresco cycle was scant before Dr. Scorza published two recent articles. Dr. Scorza will explain this cycle with reference to the literary and visual sources available to Vasari when he painted it, ranging from prints, drawings of Venetian galleys which were smuggled to Rome, and above all the beautifully sculpted bronze medals commemorating the victory which were circulated by the Papal mint. The lecture will also discuss the plight of enslaved oarsmen, and how a former Christian galley slave in Muslim hands rose to become captain and ultimately Grand Admiral of the Turkish fleet, having totally outwitted his opposite number at Lepanto and returned triumphant to Istanbul with the battle standard of the Knights of Malta. Within three years Uluch Ali - a renegade Christian - regained Turkish dominance of the Mediterranean.
Dr. Rick Scorza received his M Phil in the Survival of the Classical Tradition and his PhD in the History of Art from the Warburg Institute of the University of London. He has written about the art collecting of Vincenzo Borghini, and Borghini’s role as an advisor to Giorgio Vasari in The Burlington Magazine, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, and elsewhere. He has also contributed to exhibition catalogues, most recently for the Giorgio Vasari exhibition in Arezzo celebrating the 500th anniversary of Vasari’s birth. He is also an expert on medals, both past and present.
This lecture is co-sponsored by the History of Art and Architecture Department, the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, the Humanities Center, and the European Union Center of Excellence/European Studies Center.