25 September 2013

Two stratioti portraits

Male profile bust, 1477-1491, V& A, London. 48 x 47 cm.

One of my correspondents, Pavlos Plessas, sent me these remarkable portraits of stratioti. They, and four others, are in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  The V & A considers the subjects unknown, as is the artist or artists, but I think we can come very close to identifying the stratioti. First, some background.

Twelve more are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  These 18 are from a sequence of at least forty-four panels sold off in 1881/2 from the castle of San Martino Gusnago -- 32 k from Mantua if you are driving. Two panels are in the Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Florida, the rest are -- or were -- in private collections. The latest date for a whereabouts of one that I have been able to find is 1991.

The castle of San Martino Gusnago belonged to, and was built by the condottiero Francesco Secco d' Aragona  who was married to Caterina, daughter of Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua. Caterina was the great-granddaughter of Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesta and the granddaughter of Paola Malatesta, sister of Cleofe Malatesta Palaiologina who has been the focus of so many entries here.  Secco and Caterina named their own daughter Paola.

Secco moved in the best circles.  His architect, Luca Fancelli, worked with Leon Battista Alberti.  He had the best employers -- the Duke of Milan, the Marchese of Mantua, the Doge of Venice -- and in 1477 was given the right to use the name and arms of the kingdom of Aragon.  He survived the battle of Fornovo in 1495 at the age of 72 but the next year he was killed by a shot from a crossbow.  

The V &  A dates their panels to 1477-1491 and consider them Secco's responsibility.  In 1491 Secco's properties were confiscated by Francesco II of Mantua because he was negotiating to work for Lorenzo di Medici.  Francesco gave the castle, or palazzo, to Eusebio Malatesta, his Jewish advisor.  The MMA dates their panels to 1500-1515 and considers them Malatesta's.  I don't think anyone has suggested that Secco commissioned some, and that after he was ousted Malatesta continued the series.  Several of the MMA panels have very suggestive Jewish elements.  The panels originally appear to have been in two facing groups on either side of a large beam that divided the ceiling of the hall where they were placed, eleven facing eleven in four rows.  The four central portraits looked straight ahead, while those on either side faced the center.

I identify these two portraits as stratioti, because of the distinctive hats, and the beards.  Greeks wore beards in that period, Italians generally were clean-shaven.  These are the only two beards in the eighteen portraits from the V & A, and the MMA. The stratiote above, in cloth-of-gold, seems to have the rank of a knight of San Marco.  Knights of San Marco were most often non-Venetian.  They were invested by the Doge, and given a gold robe. You can see one in the center of the bridge in Gentile Bellini's Miracle of the True Cross although it is difficult to make out any details of tailoring to compare with this portrait.

In September 1480, Krokodylos Kladas, Theodoros Palaiologos, and Micheli Rallis Drimis were invested as knights. Piero Busichi was also a knight, as were his brothers, Mexi and Dima. Mati Clemendi was a knight. That makes seven knights. There may have been other kapetanioi who were knights, but these are the names we have for the early 1480s.  Possibly more would have been created after the Ferrara War.  I want to be very cautious here, but I doubt that the list of Greek and Albanian knights of San Marco between 1477 and 1491 would be very long.  

The stratiote in the portrait below is wearing red -- we have a number of mentions of Venice giving red cloth to selected kapetanioi.  

( Stratiote)
Male profile bust, 1477-1491, V & A, London. 48 by 47 cm.

Here I am pushing -- and I want to emphasize the almost complete lack of information, or evidence -- but this picture reminds me powerfully of the Pisanello drawing of John VIII in Florence, most particularly the set of the eyes and the shape of the nose.  

John VIII. Pisanello, 1439. 25.8 X 19 cm.
Louvre, Departement des Arts Graphiques, 2478.

The stratiote appears to be a slight man, as we know John and Manuel were. Palaiologoi were kapetanioi for Venice in the period in question, and after. We have no solid proof of the relationships of any of them to John, Constantine, and Theodoros, but my colleague Ersie Burke and I think there is some evidence that allows us to say they were descended from Theodoros I Palaiologos.  Not enough evidence to be absolute, but some.  

I will take this a little further.  I have been struck by the particular striped design on the robe over the red fabric.  It reminds me of Ottoman design, so I asked an Ottoman art historian for his reaction.  He said, "It looks a bit like the wave pattern of the cintamani motif: tiger stripes and leopard dots (last is missing)." (Might the dots, or balls, have been too reminiscent of the Medici to be thought politic -- if it is supposed to indicate Ottoman fabric?)

Theodoros Palaiologos, knighted with Kladas, had -- like Kladas -- given allegiance to Mehmed II in 1460 and had received more lands.  When he came over to the Venetians in 1478 they noted that he had been highly regarded by the pasha of the Morea, and decided to send him and his company to fight in Friuli.  So there is an immediate Palaiologos-Ottoman-stratioti connection.  But not enough proof to identify this portrait.

There is another possible Palaiologos connection. Andreas Palaiologos, Thomas' son and John's nephew, seems to have been with Kladas in an effort to establish Skanderbeg's son in Albania in 1481, under the sponsorship of Ferdinand I of Naples who gave Franceso Secco the arms of Aragon in 1477. And there may have been another Palaiologos or two.

That is all that can be said here about identities -- there are teasingly close links: no solid evidence, no proofs.

If someone is looking for a dissertation topic in art history, I would like to offer these panels.  I will not have time in my life to follow up on the present locations, and images, of the other twenty-four panels, but I suspect that, seen collectively the forty-four would provide much more information about identities. (The only reasonably sure identification that has been made is that of Doge Marco Barbarigo in the MMA set.)  Archival work needs to be done to find the panels listed in private collections.

I hope readers will have more information to contribute.


  1. I have to say that it was Yannis Papantoniou who first drew my attention to the portraits.

    best regards,

  2. There is a marked difference in age between the two stratioti. Based on their age difference and their noble descent, we could speculate they may be the young Andreas Palaiologos and the veteran Corcondylo Cladas. However, Andreas Palaiologos was not a knight of St Mark, if indeed this is the significance of the gold robe here. Also, it is doubtful whether Andreas, brought up in Italy, would dress like a Greek. Maroulos Tarchaniotis is an example of a noble Greek brought up in Italy, who appears completely westernized in his portrait.
    From the little we know about these portraits, and the possible presence of a Venetian doge and a king amongst them, I think that the Busichi brothers, and any other Arvanites kapetanioi, will have to be also excluded because of their humble origins.
    I think we have to assume, though we cannot be certain, that this pair represent Theodoros Palaiologos and his father Pavlos. In the late 1480s they split their time between Zakynthos and Venice, and were a lot more in Venice and Italy as the years passed. Their age difference, Theodoros being a knight of St Mark, and their royal blood, make them strong candidates. Also, the older man’s Palaiologan profile – Pavlos was a generation closer to John VIII than Theodoros – and his possibly Ottoman robe strengthen this possibility.
    I am posting this from Zakynthos, and this may be clouding my judgement, but this is my current way of thinking

    best regards,

  3. I won't argue this, but several points to notice:

    The Busichii are the Musachi family which, along with the Spata & Bua, was among the most prominent of the Albanian families. More than adequate status.

    No one got to be a kapetanios who was not of high status. Archons became kapetanioi after 1460.

    I can see no familial relationship between the two men whatsoever. Nor do I see much of a difference in age. Perhaps it is the influence of the portrait of John but I see the 2nd man as one who has been unwell. The color of his hair & beard do not suggest age. The Sinai portrait of John gives him greying hair in his 40s. Manuel was white-haired and had a white beard in his 50s. The first stratiote is certainly in prime physical condition.

    I just don't think we have evidence for any identification. We have evidence for tendencies.

    We do not know the dates at which the panels were painted. We have the dates the 2 museums give for them, but it appears that no one has analyzed the panels of one -- stylistically, paint, condition, retouching, etc -- with the panels of the other, or with the two in the Florida museum.

    "Royal blood" is a decorative term but meaningless historically.

  4. I can't see how the two men can be father (P) and son (T). The only Pavlos Palaiologos who lived in Venice was Paolo, the son of Theodoros, capo dei stratioti. This Paolo died in battle in 1525 leaving behind a widow, Emilia and 8 daughters. Pavlos the Elder, Theodoros' father must've died sometime in the late 1470s-early '80s as there's no reference to him in any of the Senate documents when his son enters Venetian employment. I would also be careful about using terms like "their royal blood" as there is no clear evidence this family's status vis-a-vis the imperial family. Theodoros Palaiologos' younger son, Demetri (d. 6.8.1571 in Venice) added 'da Costantinopoli' to his name but he was the only one to do so. Neither his father, his uncle, his first (male) cousins nor his brother Paolo ever used that identifier.

  5. Diana and Ersie,
    Sorry I could not reply earlier. Of course we cannot have an identification here, we have very little to go by. I have to say though that nobody seems to have been given white hair, including Marco Barbarigo who was over 70 when he became a Doge. The Busichi may well be a branch of the Musachi but, as far as I know, neither the Musachi nor the Busichi of Greece (in Zakynthos we have both families) were considered nobles. The Musachi of Albania differ of course. Even after the Busichi settled in the Ionian islands, in spite of what they had achieved and suffered in Nauplion they did not enter the circles of the local aristocracy.
    It is true we do not have anything definite about Theodoros Palaiologos but we have references to "domino Teodoro Paleologo" and the Venetians did not do this for Greeks unless they were archons. We also know that early on in his life he married Maria Kantakouzene (another imperial surname) and got a dowry worth 1720 gold ducats. He son married a Siguro girl. His daughters married Venetian nobles. Archons married well and Mercurio Bua, for example, married a Bochalis woman. Pavlos Palaiologos was active and on the payroll in 1481, just 3 years before Marco Barbarigo became a Doge. I think they are decent candidates.

    1. Giovanni F.M. PirrelloFriday, 03 January, 2014

      Further to Παμπαλαιος' remarks I should like to add that in the "Libro Nozze" by Marco Barbaro (a 16th century manuscript of the Marciana Library appreciated for its trustworthiness) regarding the marriage in 1534 between Stai Balbi and the daughter [Emilia] of "Theodoro Paleologo Kr. [= Kavalier] fu Cap.o de Stradioti" a marginal note, in red ink; adds: "casa de Imperatori de greci".

  6. A few more knights: Ioannis Stavrachis, Sathas VII, p 50, Repossi Busichi p 56. Also, Georgios Palaiologos, Theodoros' brother, was a knight P 57.


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