Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo de'Medici in Armor (1543)

Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo de’Medici in Armor (1543). Tempera on panel, 71 x 57 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Some recurring themes seem to be emerging this week in paintings of art patrons through the ages that were not originally meant but reflect on my tastes all the same. You may have noticed that two of these works reside in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. My interest in works from Florence should be obvious, I spent a lot of time drooling in front of them during my time there (I went to the Uffizi on average twice a week for the better part of nine months). I have long been interested in both Northern art and early modern Italian art and these two works come out of artistic moments that hold great appeal to me. Though my introduction to my own areas of study may allude to a specialty in Venetian art, the majority of my study has been into the lives, art and patronage of the Italian Mannerists, of which Bronzino is one of the most important. The artistic lineage of the Mannerists, from Andrea del Sarto to Pontormo to Bronzino to Alessandro Allori and obviously including the early influence of Guilio Romano, and Michelangelo and the involvement of Rosso Fiorentino and Parmigianino, is an epoch that has always fascinated me and is what led me to study in Florence in the first place. Phew, now that I have explained away any strange coincidences of repetition (because I can’t stay away from the Mannerists and the Portinari Altarpiece is just too perfect to pass up), back to the artwork.

Cosimo de’Medici was first Grand Duke of Tuscany. He came to power at the very tender age of 17 when the Duke Alessandro de’Medici was assassinated on January 6, 1537. Alessandro was the last member of the most senior branch of the family and had inherited the ducal title hereditarily. When he died with no legitimate heirs the most powerful men in Florence called Cosimo to Florence from the “provinces” to take over the duchy. Though this was initially a ploy to gain a weak leader, Cosimo would turn out to be one the most powerful, both locally and internationally Florentine rulers since Lorenzo the Magnificent (he who patronized Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo years earlier). Cosimo married the well-connected and very wealthy Eleonora di Toledo (she bought the large Pitti Palace, across the Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio, for a residential home for her new family soon after the wedding) in 1539. She is easily recognizably to anyone who has visited the Uffizi from her fantastic portrait with her oldest son (shown below). I will also, hopefully soon, cover the fantastic chapel she commissioned by Bronzino in the Palazzo Vecchio.

Continuing a long Medici tradition of art patronage, Cosimo most often used Agnolo Bronzino for his own portraiture and that of his family. Also often commissioned to paint works meant as gifts for the royal heads of Europe, Bronzino enjoyed unparallel success and patronage at Cosimo’s Florentine court. Other artistic luminaries of the court include the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammanati and his wife, MY FAVORITE, Laura Battiferri (I’m sure you remember her portrait from early on). Bronzino is one of the most commercially successful Mannerists, and this work is a brilliant example of the court patronage of Cosimo and Eleonora. Here, Bronzino demonstrates the early development in his career of the standard type for Cosimo’s portraiture. This type of standardized portrait, in which Cosimo is shown young, strong, controlled, formal and distant, would remain a constant in official portraiture for roughly fifteen years. The same type of posture and formality is seen in the portraits of Eleonora and all their children. These portraits were to show the public face of the first family of Florence. The paintings meant for private are of a very different nature, such as Bronzino’s Cosimo I as Orpheus from 1539 (also shown below), which Cosimo gave to Eleonora as a wedding present (I can only imagine her reaction…).

The public face of a patron can often be far from a realistic depiction of personality, but is always the idealized version that the patron needs projected to others. For Augustus and Cosimo, the powerful leader is shown taciturn and serious while for Portinari piety is the order of the day. The following days of modern and contemporary portraiture of patrons will, undoubtedly, have different motivations.

Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her Son Giovanni (1545). Oil on panel, 115 x 96 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo I as Orpheus (c. 1539). Oil on wood, 93 x 67 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Sources Used:

Brock, Maurice. Bronzino. Paris: Flammarion, 2002.

For Cosimo in armor: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Angelo_Bronzino_036.jpg

For Eleonora: http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bronzino/1/eleonora.jpg

For Cosimo (nude): http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/52029.html

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