Art, religion, and diplomacy in the life of Costantino de’ Servi (1554 – 1622)



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i ‘Farò ricordo come dall’anno 1568 fino a questo dì primo di maggio 1612 io Gostantino de’ Servi, ho per diverse parti del mondo viaggiato, sì da per me, come per comodo di altri principi.’ Costantino de’ Servi, lost London MS, as quoted in Baldinucci, p. 208.

ii F. Baldinucci, Notizie de' professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, per le quali si dimostra come, e per chi le belle arti di pittura, scultura e architettura, lasciata la rozzezza delle manière greca e gotica, si siano in questi secoli ridotte all’antica loro perfezione, 6 vols (1st edn 1681–1728; present edn by F. Ranalli, Florence: V. Batelli & Compagni, 1846), Vol. III, ‘Decennale IX del Secolo IV: dal 1580 al 1590’, ‘Costantino de’ Servi, nobile fiorentino, pittore, ingegnere e architetto’, pp. 207–29.

iii To these should be added Silvia Meloni-Trkulia; her short biographical article on ‘De’ Servi, Costantino’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 31 (Rome: Enciclopedia Italiana, 1991), however, is not based on archival research and does not offer fresh perspectives: it relies entirely on Baldinucci, with a few additions from Gargano.

iv G.S. Gargano, Scapigliatura Italiana a Londra sotto Elisabetta e Giacomo I (Florence: L. Battistelli, 1923).

v I critically consider here S. Bardazzi, Sguardi fiorentini sull’impero. Notizie dei residenti fiorentini presso la corte cesarea a Praga e a Vienna da Massimiliano II a Ferdinando II (unpublished dissertation in ‘Storia del Teatro’, supervised by S. Mamone, at the Università degli Studi di Firenze, 2003–04); and C. Pagnini, Costantino de’ Servi: architetto-scenografo fiorentino alla corte d’Inghilterra (Florence: Società Editrice Fiorentina, 2006), which is the published version of the latter’s Masters’ dissertation.

vi A reference to Costantino de’ Servi in Luke Morgan’s biography of Salomon—L. Morgan, Nature as model: Salomon de Caus and early seventeenth century landscape design (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007)—prima facie appeared to identify Costantino as a landscape designer as well.

vii See J. Martin, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence: The Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance Europe’, American Historical Review 102:5 (1997), pp. 1309–42—which will be discussed in detail in Section II of Chapter II.

viii Martin, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence’.

ix I refer here to G. Spini (ed.), Architettura e Politica da Cosimo I a Ferdinando I (Florence: Olschki, 1976).

x D. Roche, ‘Introduction’, in J.-L. Ménétra, Journal of My Life (ed. by D. Roche, Paris: Montalba, 1982; transl. by A. Goldhammer, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 11.

xi That Costantino was born in 1554 is confirmed by all sources quoting either his date of birth or his age at a specified time, from which the date of birth can be calculated. The precise date—26 March—comes from W. Kirkendale, The Court Musicians in Florence during the Principate of the Medici, with a reconstruction of the artistic establishment (Florence: Olschki, 1993), entry on ‘Gostantino de’ Servi’.

xii Carlo Sebregondi has assembled most of the known genealogical information about the de’ Servi in his notes—preserved in ASF, Raccolta Sebregondi, Filze 4910, 4911. That Costantino’s mother was a daughter of Giovanni della Casa can be inferred from his uncle’s name, which is said to be ‘Francesco di Giovanni della Casa’ in Baldinucci, p. 208.

xiii ‘nobile canonicato della metropolitana’. Baldinucci, p. 207.

xiv Can be roughly translated as ‘standard-bearer’.

xv Information on the numerous offices held by members of both branches of the de’ Servi family comes from ASF, Raccolta Sebregondi, Filze 4910, 4911.

xvi The incipit of the manuscript is transcribed in Baldinucci, pp. 208–10, and its first sentence has already been quoted in the Introduction.

xvii ‘dell’età di anni quattordici’. Baldinucci, p. 208.

xviii ‘fino ad allora non per istudio ma dalla natura dotato e inclinato al disegno’. Verbatim from Baldinucci, p. 208.

xix ‘Nunziata in tal maniera che se non l’avessero vista in fatto, non l’avrebbero creduto’ Verbatim from Baldinucci, p. 209. This painting, which in Baldinucci’s time was still hanging in the church of St Cassiano, appears to have been lost since.

xx The topic of Costantino’s artistic education will be dealt with extensively in Section I of Chapter II.

xxi For the apprenticeship, see Baldinucci, p. 209.

xxii ‘Prinzistain e Norbuus, coppiero della duchessa Giovanna d’Austria.’ Baldinucci, p. 209. Not to be confused, therefore, with Wratislaw von Pernstein, for whom cf infra, footnote 16.

xxiii This Duke of Saxony must be one of the descendants of the Ernestine branch of the House of Wettin, who split the duchy between themselves in the 1572 Erfurt partition: Johann Casimir and Johann Ernst inherited the territory of Saxe-Coburg-Eisenach, and Frederick-Wilhelm that of Saxe-Weimar. It is plausible that the Medici would have sent presents to them to congratulate them on their accession. On this point, see also Section II of Chapter III.

xxiv ‘Del che, curioso di vedere il mondo, accettai il partito […], e cosí partii col nome di Dio, l’anno 1572.’ Verbatim from Baldinucci, pp. 209–10.

xxv ASF, Carte Strozziane, Filza 301, fol. 77 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, at Litomyšl castle, to Giambattista Concini in Vienna – 27 Feb 1574).

xxvi On von Pernstein, see R.J.W. Evans, Rudolf II and his World: A Study in Intellectual History, 1576–1612 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).

xxvii ‘messer Costantino de Servi, che da quattro mesi in qua è in Praga al servizio del signor Pernestein’ [messer Costantino de’ Servi, who since four months ago is here in Prague in the service of Baron von Pernstein]. Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 4339, fol. 16 (letter from Giovanni Alberti, in Prague, to the grand-ducal secretaries in Florence – 21 Feb 1581), as quoted in Bardazzi, ch. 2.1.5.

xxviii Baldinucci, pp. 210–12.

xxix ‘con l’imperatrice viene don Giovanni di Pernestein, che riconduce Costantino de Servi nobilitato da Sua Maestà in amplissima forma’ [with the Empress comes don Johann von Pernstein, who brings back Costantino de’ Servi, (who has been) ennobled by His Majesty in the amplest manner]. Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 4339, fol. 130v (letter from Giovanni Alberti, in Prague, to the grand-ducal secretaries in Florence – 1 Aug 1581), as quoted in Bardazzi, ch. 2.1.5. The genealogist Carlo Sebregondi explains in his file on the de’ Servi that the ‘amplest manner’ meant Costantino’s brothers and everyone’s descendants were ennobled alongside Costantino himself—see ASF, Raccolta Sebregondi, Filza 4911.

xxx As quoted in ASF, Raccolta Sebregondi, Filza 4911.

xxxi See Bardazzi, ch. 2.1.5; and Pagnini, ch. III, pp. 160–61.

xxxii ‘mi ha impiegato affare una istatua di bronzo di alteza di nove over dieci bracia, ed à da essere un santo Pagolo, che va sopra la colonna Antonina.’ [(Sixtus V) has employed me to make a bronze statue of a height of nine or ten braccia, and it is to be a St Paul, which will go on top of the Antonina Column]. Verbatim from ASF, Carteggio di Artisti, Codice 1, Inserto 36, Lettera 1 (Letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Rome, to Antonio Serguidi in Florence – 18 Oct 1585), as quoted in G. Gaye, Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV. XV. XVI. Pubblicato et illustrato con documenti pure inediti, 3 vols (Florence: Giuseppe Molini, 1840), Vol. III ‘1501–1672’, pp. 473–4. ‘Colonna Antonina’ was an early modern misnomer for the Column of Marcus Aurelius standing in Piazza Colonna, Rome. ‘Nine or ten braccia’ corresponds to 5–6 metres.

xxxiii ‘un negozio di mia fratello’. Verbatim from ASF, Carteggio di Artisti, Codice 1, Inserto 36, Lettera 2 (Letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Naples, to Antonio Serguidi in Florence – 21 Dec 1586), as quoted in Gaye, Carteggio inedito d’artisti, Vol. III ‘1501–1672’, pp. 474–6.

xxxiv ‘fa di stucco’. Verbatim from Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, p. 625, entry on ‘Gostantino de’ Servi’ (n. 258).

xxxv The Preface to Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, has been instrumental in allowing me to understand what a mention in a certain payroll means.

xxxvi Giambologna was paid 25 ducati per month in the 1580s. The average monthly salary for the 26 artists hired by Francesco I, and in employment in the 1580s, was of 14 ducati. It should be noted, however, that the only other person (out of these 26) who also ‘works in plaster’, Pastorino di Giovanni Pastorini, was paid 10 ducati per month. See Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, ‘Artists appointed by Francesco I’, pp. 619–25.

xxxvii Florence, Biblioteca degli Uffizi, MS 71 (‘Inventario di tutte le fighure quadri, e altra Cose della tribuna cominciando da mandestra della porta da basso – dal 1589 al 1634’), fols. 6ff. For Pagnini’s suggestion that the items listed in the catalogue were produced during the 1580s, see Pagnini, ch. III, pp. 161–62.

xxxviii Baldinucci, p. 212. Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, Ch. 1 discusses this reform, orchestrated by Emilio de’ Cavalieri with respect to the artists and musicians, in great detail.

xxxix Baldinucci, p. 212.

xl ASF, Tratte, Filza 991, fols. 30, 33, 34, 48 (Lists of citizens appointed to various ‘uffici estrinseci’ [administrative posts outside Florence] from 1586 to 1612).

xli Ibid. This revenue appears to derive from an imposition on the local population—a salary from Florence might also have been paid.

xlii ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 922, fol. 1 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Pisa – 1 Mar 1604).

xliii ‘Mia moglie’. Recurrent: see for example ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 924, fol. 457 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 9 Aug 1604), where Costantino attaches a separate letter for his wife containing some money.

xliv ASF, Miscellanea Medicea, Filza 142, fol. 106r (Letter from Vincenzo Giugni, Guardarobiere in Florence, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 21 Jul 1612).

xlv ASF, Decima Granducale, Filza 2386, item 95 (arroti del Quartiere Santa Croce – Gonfalone Carro – Anno 1623 – Spoglio di decima di ‘Francescho GiovanDomenico et Ferdinando di Gostantino di Francesco di Gostantino de Serui’).

xlvi ‘la promessa che mia fatto Madama Serenissima per la mia Cara figliola Giulia di acomodarla in Ministero doue piacera á S.A. e uolendo chella putta vadia nel ministero di Santanna’ [the promise which Her Most Serene Milady made me for my dear daughter Giulia, to accommodate her in a nunnery of Her Highness’ choosing, and provided that she can, may she go into the nunnery of St Anne]. Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 918, fol. 353 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Bologna, to Belisario Vinta in Cafaggiolo – 21 Sep 1603).

xlvii Baldinucci, pp. 227–28. Girolamo Pieralli is said to possess, among other things, the autobiography of Costantino discussed in the Introduction, and a copy of a lost portrait of Costantino.

xlviii Baldinucci, p. 212.

xlix As reported in Pagnini, ch. III, p. 162 (where no precise reference to a specific filza or folio in ASF, Guardaroba Medicea is given). If Francesco de’ Medici had a daughter named Eleonora, who became Duchess of Mantua and had previously been portrayed by Costantino (cf Figure 1), however, he had no daughter named Caterina. Thus, it seems likely that this should read ‘Eleonora e Caterina di Ferdinando’, for Ferdinando did have two daughters named Eleonora and Caterina. The former died of smallpox aged 26, while the latter also became Duchess of Mantua.

l In his 1603 letter to Ferdinando I from Prague, Costantino indeed wrote ‘sendo Io qua per passaggio in francia per dispedirmi dal seruitio del Re’ [being here on my way to France, where I will put an end to my service to the King]. Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 920, fols. 273–74 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Ferdinando I in Florence – 20 Nov 1603).

li In one of Costantino’s first letters from Prague—ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 920, fol. 133 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 20 Nov 1603)—there is a reference to ‘la comessione che mi dette Madonna Serenissima’ [the commission which the Most Serene Milady (the Grand Duchess) gave me]. Neither this letter nor any of the subsequent, however, provide any further details on this ‘commission’. For further details, see postea, Section II of Chapter III.

lii ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 918, fol. 353 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Bologna, to Belisario Vinta in Cafaggiolo – 21 Sep 1603). The envelope of the letter, where the seal can be found, corresponds to ibid., fol. 372. The distance between letter and envelop is due to the bundling up of arbitrary numbers of letters when the fondo was bound into its current form.

liii ASF, Ceramelli-Papiani, fasc. 4372 (‘Famiglia Servi’), digitised at http://www.archiviodistato.firenze.it/ceramellipapiani2/ (last accessed Jan 2016).

liv ‘alcune stanze che sono nel Corridore doue giornalmente puo andare évenire S.M.’ Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 920, fol. 692 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Ferdinando I in Pisa – 19 Dec 1603), which is the letter where Costantino thanks Ferdinando I for having granted him permission to remain in the Emperor’s service. See also Bardazzi, ch. 2.1.5.

lv Details on Costantino’s artistic activity in Prague are interspersed in his correspondence from the years 1603–05. See for example ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 920, fol. 440 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 1 Dec 1603), where some models and portraits are mentioned; or ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 927, fol. 383 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 6 Feb 1605) for medals and bas-reliefs.

lvi ‘giornalmente manda per me auendo cominciato a conoscere che il mio poco di parere e’ consiglio per le cose che di molti artisti sua salariati mi fa uedere io dico quel tanto che io conosco e’ che deuo’. [(Rudolf II) daily sends for me, having begun to know my small opinion and advice on the things made by many artists employed by him, which he shows me and I say as much as I know and as much as I must]. Verbatim from ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 927, fol. 383 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 6 Feb 1605).

lvii See ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 929, fol. 112 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Marcello Acolti in Florence – 9 May 1605). The exact meaning of this honorary title is unclear.

lviii See ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 928, fol. 320 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Belisario Vinta in Florence – 22 Mar 1605). See also Section II of Chapter II.

lix ‘sopra intendente á tutta la Maestranza e’ lauori di essa et della nostra Nuoua Cappella di Santo Lorenzo’. Verbatim from ASF, Miscellanea Medicea, Filza 609, fols. 69–70 (‘Patente à Gostantino de’ Serui del primo Nouembre 1609 – Per la sua Gita in Persia’). The works on what is today known as the Cappella dei Principi were begun by Ferdinando I around 1600 on a design by don Giovanni de’ Medici; see Baldinucci, pp. 215ff.

lx See ASF, Mediceo del Principato, Filza 920, fols. 273–74 (letter from Costantino de’ Servi, in Prague, to Ferdinando I in Florence – 20 Nov 1603).

lxi Pagnini, ch. III, pp. 163–64.

lxii Baldinucci, pp. 221–22.

lxiii On this rejected proposal, see Pagnini, ch. III, pp. 164–65.

lxiv This planned Persian trip is documented at ASF, Miscellanea Medicea, Filza 609, fols. 69-70 (‘Patente à Gostantino de’ Serui del primo Nouembre 1609 – Per la sua Gita in Persia’). See Section I of Chapter III for a more detailed discussion.

lxv On the letter ordering Costantino to make for England rather than Persia, which reached him in Trento, see Pagnini, ch IV, pp. 202–03.

lxvi On this delay, see Pagnini, ch. IV, pp. 203–04.

lxvii On Salomon de Caus’s brief employment at Richmond, see L. Morgan,


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