Jesters and advisers of the monarchs: Famous dwarfs of the Middle Ages on the canvases of court artists
Dwarfs in Medieval Europe were very popular, and the love of them in Italian courts bordered on mania: the clans of Ferrari, Visconti, the Medici kept them at court. The Spanish court of King Philip numbered more than a hundred dwarfs, and the French court of Catherine de Medici – about 80. The court artists, portraying the monarchs, did not forget about their favorites. They were especially sympathetic to young people and, capturing on their canvases, showed sincere sympathy for them. The story of the double portrait of the nude midget of Morgante by the Flemish Agnolo di Cosimo, which is described later in the review, is very impressive.
An indispensable attribute of the royal courts of medieval Europe were jesters and dwarfs, which served as fun for nobles and kings. Moreover, their role in the ruling courts and aristocratic families was unusually important.
So, dwarf jesters could say what they wanted and when they wanted – it was their privilege. They were close and overly loyal to their masters, so they got away with all their tricks and speeches, not always hospitable and filled with caustic sarcasm. There were dwarfs who performed other duties. So, for example, some were ringleaders, others trumpeted horns at tournaments, and still others were actors and musicians. And some of them served as pages, messengers, attorneys, and sometimes they had to be spies to prevent all sorts of intrigues.
The history of the double portrait painted by the Florentine painter Agnolo di Cosimo (Bronzino) (1503-1572), the court painter of the Medici, is very interesting. The portrait shows a naked dwarf named Morgante, the most famous of the five dwarfs at the Medici court in the Palazzo Pitti. He appeared at the court of Cosimo I of Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, around 1540.
The dwarf had an extraordinary mind, was educated and overly kind. Like most young people, he suffered from congenital chondrodystrophy. After 15 years of service, Morgante was blessed with a noble title, land and the right to marry. In addition, the dwarf was extremely devoted to his master and therefore he was honored to accompany him on diplomatic trips. However, despite all his privileges, Morgante was regularly subjected to humiliations of all kinds and even physical violence.
The portrait of the Florentine Bronzino shows the thought: “let him be a freak and a jester, but he is a man!” And the interpretation of the image in a double image itself is interesting because the artist showed: painting, like sculpture, can show an object from different points of view.
However, in its original form, this portrait lasted about two centuries. And in the 18th century, by order of the guardians of morality, the figure of Morgante was bashfully painted with grape leaves and bunches that “turned him into a likeness of Bacchus.”
And only in 2010, Italian restorers returned the canvas to its original form. We see the magnificent dwarf Morgante, depicted in all his masculine beauty both front and rear. On one side of the picture “he poses with a hunting owl, and on the other side the hunter clutches a trophy in his hand – caught birds.”
As a court painter at the Spanish court, Velazquez repeatedly painted portraits of dwarfs. At the turn of the 1630-1640s, he created the famous series of works dedicated to young people, “offended” by nature. However, we see no shade of mockery, no squeamishness, or excessive sympathy on a single rub – only genuine tenderness and sympathy can be seen, which does the honor to the author.
The most impressive of the Velazquez гал gallery of freaks ’is the portrait of the dwarf Sebastian de Morr, whose gaze shows so much strength and gloomy despair. Sebastian suffered from osteochondrodysplasia, as a result of which the growth of cartilage and bone tissues was disrupted in his body.