Giuliano Medici, the younger brother of Lorenzo, was nursing a bad knee on Easter Day 1478 and had to be helped to the cathedral—by the very men who were plotting to kill him and his brother during mass. The assassins, members and supporters of the Pazzi family, banking rivals of the Medici, awaited their signal. As worshipers bowed their heads at the elevation of the host, Giuliano was brutally stabbed. Lorenzo escaped to the sacristy, remaining there while the Pazzi partisans attempted to seize the government. They soon failed, however, and Lorenzo resumed control.
The murder of Giuliano shocked Florence, and a number of portraits were ordered for public display to serve both as memorials and as warnings to other plotters. Botticelli's painting may have been the prototype for others, and lent symbolic gravity to Guiliano’s passing, showing him as an icon, almost a saint. The open window and mourning dove were familiar symbols of death, alluding to the flight of the soul and the deceased's passage to the afterlife. Some scholars, noting the lowered eyelids, suggest this portrait was painted posthumously from a death mask.
Grand Duke Ferdinand I de' Medici [1551-1609], Florence. Marchese Alfonso Tacoli Canacci [1724-1801], Florence, by 1796; by inheritance to his nephew, Pietro Tacoli [1773-1847], Modena; by inheritance to his daughter, Adelaide Tacoli; through her marriage into the Bellincini Bagnesi family, Modena; by descent to Marchesa Adele Bagnesi; sold 1940 through (Zelindo Bonaccini [1890-1967], Modena) to Count Vittorio Cini [1885-1977], Venice; sold to (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York), probably in 1948; sold June 1949 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s, The National Gallery, London, 1999-2000, no. 1, repro.
- Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci' and Renaissance Portraits of Women, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2001-2002, no. 27, color repro.
- Botticelli, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt, 2009-2010, no. 5, repro.
- The Portrait in Renaissance Italy: From Masaccio to Bellini, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011-2012, no. 52, repro.
- Bettini, Sergio. Botticelli. Milan, 1942:25-26, repro. 46.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 36-39, no. 10, repro.
- Walker, John. "The Nation's Newest Old Masters." The National Geographic Magazine 110, no. 5 (November 1956): 624, color repro. 635.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 62.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 68, repro.
- The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 6.
- Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 45, color repro. pl. 38.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1962: 18, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 84, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 17.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:46, color repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XIII-XV Century. London, 1966: 121-122, fig. 335.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 10, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 38, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:83-84; 2:pl. 55.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 97, no. 59, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 57, repro.
- Dempsey, Charles. "Portraits and Masks in the Art of Lorenzo de' Medici, Botticelli, and Politian's Stanze per la Giostra." Renaissance Quarterly 52:1 (Spring 1999): 24-25, fig. 15.
- Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 170-175, color repro.
- Johnson, Ken. “Getting Personal.” New York Times 161, no. 55,628 (December 23, 2011): C30, repro.
- Rubin, Patricia. "Understanding Renaissance Portraits." In The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini ed. Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann. Exh. cat. Berlin 2011. New York, 2011: 10.
- Luchs, Alison. "Verrocchio and the Bust of Albiera degli Albizzi: Portraits, Poetry and Commemoration." Artibus et historiae 66 (2012): 84, repro.
- Madersbach, Lukas. "'fatto alla spera'? Das Porträt des Leon Battista Alberti aus den Orti Oricellari." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 58, no. 3 (2016, published February 2017): 319-347, esp. 340, 341 fig. 22, 342.
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