Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano, known as Bronzino was born on 17 November 1503 at Monticelli just outside Florence. His family belonged to the city’s petit bourgeoisie. After a brief apprenticeship in the atelier of Raffaellino del Garbo, as we learn from Vasari and Borghini, he became friends with and the only pupil of the eccentric mannerist painter, Jacopo Carucci who was known as Pontormo. Throughout the ‘Twenties Bronzino’s style reflected that of his teacher with whom he worked on decorating the Capponi family chapel in the church of Santa Felicita in Florence. He painted two or more tondos of the Evangelists. The stylistic homogeneity of the four beautiful tondos makes it difficult to distinguish the hand of the master from that of his pupil who, in the early ‘Thirties, began to acquire an autonomy of style. The first of the few trips he made during his calm life as a bachelor took place in 1530 after Florence was besieged by the imperial troops of Charles VI. He went to Urbino to the Della Rovere court where he painted portraits (such as Guidobaldo della Rovere, 1532, Florence, Palatine Gallery) and (with other artists) decorated the Imperial Villa in Pesaro. He returned to Florence, and in 1537 was already a member of the Guild of San Luca. Bronzino began to distinguish himself among the city’s major families as a capable and original portraitist who was extremely talented in rendering rank and intellect and well as human and character features (for example Portrait of a Lady with a Puppy, i1532-1533; Lorenzo Lenzi, 1533-35 and Ugolino Martelli, prior to 1537). In 1540 Bronzino became the official portraitist of the Medici family. His talent was noticed by the young Cosimo I during the celebrations for his wedding to Eleonora de Toledo on 29 June 1539 because, along with other artists, the painter had participated in the creation of the decorations that were customary for such an event. The Grand Duke Cosimo decided to appoint Bronzino to decorate the Chapel of the Duchess Eleonora – including the altarpiece – in Palazzo Vecchio. He completed the project within five years (1540-1545). From 1545 to 1553 in addition to painting portraits of all the members of the grand duke’s family in a cold and impeccable style (Eleonora de Toledo with Her Son Giovanni, Bia de’ Medici, Francesco de’ Medici, Maria de’ Medici) he was also put in charge of the Medici tapestry works and prepared the cartoons with the Scenes from the Life of Joseph. During the ‘Sixties Bronzino distinguished himself in the Florentine cultural milieu by composing poetry, saltarelli and sonnets. In 1563 together with Vasari, Ammannati and Borghini, he was a sponsor of the Accademia delle Arti del Disgeno and became consul of the academy in the summer of 1572. In the meantime, his atelier had become one of the most prestigious in Florence as he had understood the task of “normalizing” the eccentric, intellectualistic character of Mannerist art under the paternalistic protection of the reigning family, prior to the advent of the favored, Giorgio Vasari. When Bronzino died, on 23 August 1572 in the home of his favorite pupil, Alessandro Allori, Vasari definitely took over the management of the city’s and the government’s artistic policies. All the artists in Florence attended Bronzino’s funeral to pay tribute to one of the greatest protagonists of Italian Mannerism.
Bronzino: the works
Pygmalion and Galatea
This fine panel, according to Vasari, was the cover to Pontormo’s famous Alabardiere (alias Francesco Guardi) that is in the Getty Museum in Malibu (California). This is how it is described by the historian from Arezzo as depicting “Pygmalion, pleading with Venus so that his statue, would receive a spirit, come to life and become (as it did according to the ancient poets) flesh and blood.” As we can see from the style of the two expressive characters, around the ‘Thirties, Bronzino worked with Pontormo who, in fact made two drawings for Pygmalion and another of Galatea’s legs. The myth of Pygmalion (Ovid) tells of the young man who prayed to Venus so that the incredibly beautiful statue he carved be transformed into a real woman, was very popular in the sixteenth century as it related to the theme of virtue and art’s goals of perfection and idealization. Considering the panel’s use, associated with the portrait of the republican Francesco Guardi in military attire, in this context the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea probably had to be associated with the hope of victory and the liberation of Florence from its enemies.Iconography
Portrait of Ugolino Martelli
Ugolino Martelli, a humanist scholar and linguist belonged to an aristocratic Florentine family. Their palazzo serves as the background to the painting, along with the statue of the David that was originally believed to have been made by Donatello, and is now attributed to either Antonio or Bernardo Rossellino and is conserved in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C. The presence of David, the traditional symbol of Florentine liberty could have served to emphasize Martelli’s republican ideas, and to establish a precise social standing as a cultured man and patron of the arts. The gentlemen is elegantly dressed in dark clothing and is seated at his work table, the index finger of his right hand is on the open book of the Iliad, while the left holds a book by Pietro Bembo – ready to be consulted for some linguistic or philological need. The portrait is signed on the lower edge “BRONZ[IN]O FIORENTINO.” It is of exceptionally high quality because the artist was able to grasp the psychological scope and character of Ugolino Martelli who was a friend of Bronzino’s and had commissioned the painting.Iconography
Crossing the Red Sea
This large fresco takes up the entire right wall of what is known as the chapel of Eleonora on the second floor of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Bronzino decorated the chapel for the duchess between 1540 and 1545. When viewed up close, the large figures create an effect of icy, almost hypnotic splendor: they are juxtaposed as in a piece of jewelry or a large mosaic of semiprecious stones with fine contours and brilliant colors: lapis lazuli blue, red, green and gray. The influences of Michelangelo, Pontormo and ancient statuary are evident in some of the figures such as the male seen from the back (foreground, left) that seems to reproduce the Idol, a classical bronze that had recently been acquired by the grand ducal collection and is now the Museo Archeologico in Florence. This hypothesis is confirmed by the charcoal preparatory drawing in the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe degli Uffizi in Florence.
As Vasari tells us, this elegant painting was commissioned by the duke – later grand duke – Cosimo I de’ Medici as a gift (for political and diplomatic reasons) to Francis I, king of France. The complex Allegory strikes the viewer for the rhythms of the beautiful shapes and its entirely intellectual sensuality that was entirely in keeping with sixteenth century pseudo-philosophical amorous sentiments. The nude Venus in the foreground is lasciviously kissed by Cupid representing sensual love. The woman in the background with the reptile body and inverted hands (left and right are reversed and in the left she holds a honeycomb represents Deceit who prefers sensual love and is accompanied by Joy portrayed by a puttino with bells on his ankle, about to scatter the roses he holds. On the left the angry woman holding her head is Desperation, while the winged old man about to cover everything with a dark cloth is Time which eventually extinguishes all passion. It has been noted that while Venus and Love are embracing they are actually deceiving each other – Cupid is taking Venus’s crown of pearls and she, in turn is trying to grasp his arrows.Iconography
This painting, Bronzino’s religious masterpiece, was originally on the altar in the Chapel of Eleonora in Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence. According to Vasari it was considered so splendid that in the summer of 1545 Cardinal Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, chancellor of Charles V, came to Florence on a diplomatic mission and fell in love with the painting. Thus Cosimo, shrewd statesman that he was, decided to send the altarpiece to Granvelle as a gift “as a most rare thing.” Upon the cardinal’s death (1551) it was placed in his funeral chapel in Besançon, his native city. The beautiful panel that depicts the same subject as the Deposition that Pontormo had painted in 1525-1528 for the Capponi chapel in Santa Felicita seems a hundred times superior, and bears the lettering “Opera del Bronzino Fiorentino.” Originally it was flanked by two other paintings, St. John the Baptist (patron saint of Florence) and St. Cosmas (protector of the Medici family) that were later removed by the duchess and replaced with the Annunciating Angel and the Annunciated Virgin. Today, these two paintings flank the replica of the Deposition that Bronzino himself painted in 1553 and which is still in situ.Iconography
Moses Striking Water from the Rock and Manna Falling from Heaven
The iconography of the decorations in the chapel of Eleonora in Palazzo Vecchio is dedicated to the Old Testament story of Moses, the Exodus from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and other episodes interpreted as prefigurations of Christ and the institution of the Eucharist. These frescoes on the left wall are divided into two parts starting from the door that leads into the Green Room. The part on the left depicts the scene of Moses Striking Water from the Rock, while the one on the right shows Manna Falling from Heaven. The male and female figures are arranged vertically in ascending order, with one set into the other while each maintains its autonomy. A charcoal and ceruse drawing in the purest Florentine tradition in the drawing collection of the Louvre, Paris, portrays the female head that is painted on the far left edge. The inscriptions that Bronzino carved into the marble door jamb giving the starting and completion dates of the various frescoes are illegible, but from the style we can deduce that this wall was done last, after the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Adoration of the Bronze Serpent.
Adoration of the Bronze Serpent
The scene of the Adoration of the Bronze Serpent takes up the entrance wall of the Chapel of Eleonora continuing up above the door to culminate in the bronze serpent, entwined around a pole, that God had sent to Moses to save His people. With respect to the other frescoes in the chapel, here the style is more melancholy, agitated and dramatic. The bodies of the figures intertwine more naturally in spite of the poses that are sometimes unreal and sculpturesque clearly derived from Michelangelo and Raphael. The inscription on the marble door jamb refers to the date the artist began working on the painting: “Lunedi adi 5 / di giugno 154 / comincio /la storia /delle se’pe” – [on Monday 5 June 1542 I begin the scene of the serpent]. A charcoal drawing of a female head, now in Manchester, has been related to the woman in the upper right of this painting
The beautiful, elegant woman is Lucrezia di Sigismondo Pucci, who married Bartolomeo Panciatichi in 1528; he too was portrayed by Bronzino in a painting in the Uffizi. In his Lives, Vasari describes the portraits of the couple “For Bartolomeo Panciatichi he painted portraits of him and his wife that are so natural that they seem to be live, and all that is lacking is spirit.” The naturalistic resemblance that Vasari emphasized is accompanied by an air of extreme intellectual refinement that is defined through the woman’s composed and statuesque pose, the proud yet reserved expression on her face, and the clothing embellished with a few, subdued yet most elegant jewels. The young woman with her eburnean complexion is seated, three quarters, her right hand rests on an open book, the left (where the wedding ring is clearly visible) rests on the carved arm of the Savonarola chair. Through the precious jewels that were accurately detailed by Bronzino’s skilled brush, Lucrezia expresses more than the fact that she belongs to a social elite. Other aspects of her personality are revealed through the symbolism of the gems and the phrase Amour dure sans fin in black enamel on a heavy gold chain that has been related to the amorous topic described in Dialogo della infinità di amore the 1547 essay by the literary courtesan Tullia d’Aragona, dedicated to her protector, Cosimo de’ Medici.
Bia de’ Medici
Bia was the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I; she died in 1542 at the age of only five. This portrait was painted during the last year of her short life. The medal hanging on the heavy gold chain is a profile portrait of her father, Cosimo. The painting is rendered even more precious by the lavish use of lapis lazuli blue in the background that further offsets the child’s pure and luminous complexion and the fine blond hair that frames her perfectly oval face. Vasari refers to this painting when he speaks of a portrait of “the little girl Bia” as having been done by Bronzino. The lucid fixedness of the imagine, typical of Bronzino’s mature style accentuates the freshness and tender grace of childhood in the lively and intent expression. Of Bronzino’s portraits of Medici children (Giovanni de’ Medici with a Bird, 1544, or Maria de’ Medici and Francesco de’ Medici, both painted in 1551) this is the most popular among visitors to the Uffizi because of the child’s purity and tender expression and the style which is as precious and accurate as a miniature.
Portrait of Eleonora de Toledo with Her Son Giovanni
The political importance of this painting is evident from the official manner in which the Duchess Eleonora de Toledo and her young son, Giovanni (born in 1543) are portrayed. The heir next to his mother emphasizes the continuity of the dynasty. This is considered Bronzino’s masterpiece of Medici portraits for the fine painting with its fine contours and meticulous rendering of detail. The deep blue of the background is the subject of one of the artist’s letters, dated 1545, to Poggio a Caiano, asking the house steward for more blue “because the field is big.” Eleonora, the daughter of the viceroy of Naples and wife of Cosimo is wearing the sumptuous dress in which she was buried in 1562. It is made of gray satin with black velvet ornaments and spiral motifs of black and yellow leaves. According to sixteenth century Spanish fashions, the duchess has her hair gathered in a jeweled net. Even he though he clearly emphasized her official role, Bronzino succeeded in conveying the sovereign’s character – her individuality, wisdom and tranquility. Her gaze, facial features and fine complexion are the details that remain impressed on the observer’s memory along with the naturalistic, tactile rendering of her dress.
The Grand Duke Cosimo I
After he became the official painter to the Florentine court in 1540, Bronzino did several portraits of Cosimo I, lord of Florence from 1537 to when he died in 1574. Here the grand duke is portrayed as a young main, and as Giorgio Vasari wrote, “in gleaming armor with one hand on his helmet.” Based on some letters we can assume that it is probably the portrait Bronzino painted at Poggio a Caiano in 1545. This portrait is considered the prototype of many replicas and copies, some of which came from Bronzino’s studio. The grand duke is portrayed with the cold and proud temperament of a ruler and military leader, while the light illuminates the shining armor and bold facial features. However, in spite of the softly rendered flesh that is reminiscent of Pontormo, in this painting Bronzino reveals that he had already acquired autonomy with respect to his teacher.
Martyrdom of St. Lawrence
This fresco on the entrance wall of San Lorenzo, the Medici family church, is signed I.D. ANG. BRONZIN. FLOR. FAC. It was the grand duke Cosimo who commissioned Bronzino to do two frescoes with “scenes” from the life of St. Lawrence for the family church dedicated to him. However, the artist only painted the Martyrdom that was unveiled on 10 August 1569. The cartoons had been commissioned in 1565, but were still incomplete when Vasari published the second edition of his Lives in 1568. Therefore, the artist did the fresco in a very short time and perhaps this explains the hastily painted details and the overcrowding with gigantic figures that create a highly theatrical and rather unnatural atmosphere. The replication of Raphaelesque and Michelangelesque themes that was typical of Bronzino and his school is weary and academic in this fresco.Iconography