At the National Library of Florence there is a depiction of Passiflora dating back to the beginning of the seventeenth century, which is little known outside the circle of art historians. It is a tempera executed by the well-known painter Jacopo Ligozzi, signed and dated 1609; Ligozzi was a court painter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, appreciated for his ability to faithfully portray subjects drawn from the natural world. The tempera is preserved in a miscellaneous volume of the eighteenth century, and appears carefully cut, reintegrated with parts painted by a less expert hand, and perhaps even reassembled in a different way from what the author intended. The anonymous “restorer“ also wrote a short description in Latin of the plant, added a decorative spider web and a note to highlight Ligozzi's signature hidden in the stem.
Today the tempera represents a branch of Passiflora emerging from the ground (also largely redone) with large opposite leaves, at the axils of which pendulous racemes of semi-closed flowers with light brown petals are born. A flower is seen from below, so as to show it open, perhaps forcibly: while the buds are painted rather carefully, the center of the flower shows a rather unlikely crown of red, white and blue rays and the androgynophore reduced to just three styles (i “Nails“), all painted with an unusual summary in Ligozzi. Six ripe fruits still on the plant, with another sectioned on the ground, complete the image, which from a scientific point of view is quite enigmatic and Dr. Maurizio Vecchia expresses himself in this same paper. We will limit ourselves to making some historical and artistic observations, and some hypotheses.
Jacopo Ligozzi was a painter with an exceptional imitative ability, capable of reproducing the details of the specimen in front of him in a way that is still surprising; then it is fair to ask why in this case his usual precision is lacking. The artist worked with living or at least fresh models, often rare and precious, made available by the Grand Duke himself, a great lover of natural sciences. It can reasonably be excluded that in 1609 a Passiflora that was not an incarnata was cultivated in Florence, and this 'species' is too unusual: it is more likely that in Ligozzi it was A model was proposed, a dry specimen, perhaps even damaged, with the center of the flower not well preserved or not understandable in its original form, as well as it is possible that the flowers were all flattened and semi-closed, and their original color was white. The rays, probably blackened by drying, could be reconstructed thanks to the descriptions of those who collected it, as perhaps also happened to the uncertain center of the flower.
The date, which is probably genuine, makes this tempera contemporary with the Passion Flower proposed by Simone Parlasca which, however, beyond the well-known inaccuracies, appears completely different. We would be tempted to connect Ligozzi's Passionflower to the 'real' plant shown to the Pope, but the other images related to the event (such as the one published by Giacomo Bosio) show that they have nothing in common with it.
Ligozzi's work seems rather to depict a species that arrived by chance in Italy and still not cultivated, like probably many others (take into account that Ulisse Aldrovandi had a Passionflower in his herbarium perhaps as early as 1570). A very suggestive hypothesis remains to be made: the date of execution coincides with the return of a colonial expedition promoted by Ferdinando I de 'Medici and headed for Brazil, a return that took place shortly after the death of the Grand Duke. It was decided to insert, in the decoration of the Medici Chapel that Ferdinand was building, the Passion Flower 'recently found in India', and in fact two panels of inlaid marble were part of the altar, now in Paris, which reproduce quite faithfully the tempera of Ligozzi. One can imagine that among the participants in the trip a curious doctor had collected specimens of American plants, including this one, and that to honor the princely promoter of the enterprise, it was decided to use the image of that flower already so rich in meanings symbolic in his mausoleum?
(Prof. Paola Baghino)
I have tried to analyze from the botanical point of view the image that Jacopo Ligozzi painted in 1609, but which was altered by inexperienced hands in subsequent years. It contains some realistic and precise elements mixed with others that are imaginative, stylized or completely wrong. Some fundamental morphologies, then, have been 'forgotten' and not considered: tendrils, bracts, androgynophores, anthers, glands of the petiole, while the 'opposite' rather than 'alternating' arrangement of the leaves at the nodes of the stem is incomprehensible. No passionflower possesses and can possess this conformation. I therefore imagine that the painter has depicted the stem of some other species on which he has placed the flowers and fruits that have struck his imagination.
However, it is clear that the painter wanted to depict a passion flower with the following characteristics:
- whole leathery leaves (similar to those of orange)
- picked flowers in racemes
- crown, showy and imposing, with alternating bands of contrasting color, red, blue and white
- white petals and sepals
- yellow fruits streaked with light.
Initially, due to its erect posture and the lack of tendrils, I had supported the hypothesis of a species belonging to the subgenus of Astropheae . But the structure and coloring of the flowers, typical of the Passiflora subgenus, have nothing to do with those of this group of arboreal plants. Furthermore, the Ligozzi represented only the base of the plant: the stem is robust and lignified, the tendrils absent, as happens in all climbing species of considerable size. In fact, the painting lacks the apex of the plant, where perhaps the painter should have represented the tendrils.
Since the flower is certainly the element that most of all struck the author when he painted the passionflower, I believe that it should be carefully analyzed to identify which species the Ligozzi was referring to, then going by exclusion.
We consider that there are about 500 species of passion flowers, but that there are not many plants with leathery leaves and, at the same time, flowers with this structure and longitudinally striated fruits. In my opinion, they mostly belong to the Laurifoliae section of the Passiflora subgenus.
Only 20 species are listed in this section (see T. Ulmer: PASSIONSBLUMEN Eine faszinierende Gattung): P. acuminata, P. ambigua, P. capparidifolia, P. crenata, P. emiliae, P. fernandezii, P. gleasonii, P. guazumaefolia, P. ischnoclada, P. killipiana, P. laurifolia, P. nitida, P. odontophylla, P. pergrandis, P. popenovii, P. riparia, P. rufostipulata, P. tolimana . A search within them could highlight some species with leaves, flowers and fruits similar to those of the plant depicted: white corolla, dense crown with alternating bands, flowers arranged in racemes, streaked fruits, leathery leaves.
It is not easy to find images and descriptions of all 'Laurifoliae' not even on the Internet, however the flowers of some of them, available on 'Tropicos' and on other sites, have clear similarities with the exemplary depicted , for example: P. ambigua, P. fernandezii, P. laurifolia, P. nitida, P. popenovii, P. riparia, P. rufostipulata . It is also not to be excluded that it is an extinct species, given the time elapsed from then to the present day.
I had the opportunity to see in French Guiana the fruits of the recent P. gabrielliana : they have the same type of streaks and are so numerous and close together that they seem to have ripened on racemes. The P. crenata also has fruits close to each other due to the very short internodes present at the flowering vegetative apexes. These characteristics (striated fruits and flowers - apparently - in racemes) are therefore present in the section.
Surely the expedition carried out by the Grand Duke of Tuscany reached unexplored areas of Brazil where this species lived. From there it is likely that useful botanical material was taken to make the representation, or a more or less precise and complete description of those who saw the plant came.
On the painting there are three writings:
1) 'Granadilla, seu Flos Passionis Aurantii foliis coniugatis, elegantibus floribus ad alas racematim dispositis, plerumque senis'
which translated means:
'Granadilla, or Passion Flower, with opposite leaves similar to those of orange, with elegant flowers, arranged in clusters, often of six, at the axil [of the leaves] '.
2) 'CAPONOMARE' (??? Perhaps it is a locality)
3) 'Sic legitur hic Faceva Jacopo Ligozzi 1609'
'Thus we read here: Jacopo Ligozzi did 1609'
However, Jacopo Ligozzi's mysterious and contradictory passion flower remains a partly unsolved enigma.