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min Read20 October 2021
Agnolo di Cosimo (1503-1572), known as Bronzino, was an Italian Mannerist painter. He lived and worked in Florence and became the court painter of Cosimo I de’Medici. Bronzino trained with Pontormo, who influenced his style, but only to a point. His paintings are much calmer and more distanced than Pontormo’s emotional and dramatic works. At the Medici court, he focused mostly on portraits. Let’s meet the powerful women of Bronzino.
Agnolo Bronzino painted multiple portraits of Eleonora of Toledo and all of them share the aloofness typical of his court paintings. Eleonora di Toledo was born in Spain, a daughter of the viceroy of Naples. As you can see in this portrait, she did not spare any expenses when it came to her appearance. Her dress is probably one of the most luxurious in the history of painting (barring only maybe dresses of Madame de Pompadour). Eleonora had a very strong position in court. She was not only a wife and bearer of the heirs to Medici dynasty. Her husband considered her a partner and during his absences she was the regent of Florence. She was a patron of the arts, but she was also interested in agriculture effectively managing her own and Medici’s lands.
In this portrait, Eleonora looks us directly in the eye with confidence tinged with contempt or boredom. She doesn’t have to prove anything. She is rich, beautiful, powerful, and what is more bore a son, her hand shielding and presenting the boy at the same time. The color of the background is a perfect choice as it enhances her complexion and the texture of her dress.
For a long time, this portrait was attributed to Bronzino’s teacher – Pontormo. One theory suggests that the lady was Francesca Salviati. Who, after the death of her husband Piero Gualterotti in 1533 married, Ottaviano de’ Medici, a scion of a secondary branch of the family. In 1535 the couple had a son, Alessandro, the future Pope Leo XI. The predominant colors of the lady’s sumptuous gown echo the red and white of the Salviati family arms suggest this identification, also her ring brings to mind a Medici family emblem.
Just as in Eleonora’s portrait, the dress is extremely rich, but here the focus is on the material, not on the gold and silver used to embellish it. Sumptuous is the word that comes to my mind when I look at those sleeves, the contrast of red and black, but also the various textures of the materials. Again all the jewelry and the rosary are painted with extreme attention to detail.
Bronzino sticks to an aloof and cool way of presenting his subjects. The lady looks us in the eye, but this time there is a hint of a smile on her face. The dog on her lap is a spaniel, a breed that was very popular at the time in Italy, you can also find it in some of Titian’s paintings.
You can find out more about this painting on the Städel Museum website.
Laura Battiferri was a renowned Renaissance poet, a wife of architect and sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati, and a friend of Eleonora di Toledo. She surely met Bronzino at court. As Bronzino was also writing poetry this portrait may be seen as a portrait of a fellow poet. He posed her pointing at the book, bringing our attention to what was the most important to her. She does not meet our eye, for she is focused on what is beyond our sight, both literally and metaphorically.
Given the austere color palette and the pose of the sitter, one may be inclined to consider her dress as relatively simple. Especially compared to the previous two portraits. This would be a mistake–take a second look. It is a lush mixture of dark, almost black navy with the deepest wine red, the collar is beautifully finished. Also again note her jewelry, it is not as abundant as in Eleonora’s portrait, but it is shown in great detail.
Lucrezia Panciatichi, born Pucci, was the wife of the Florentine academician Bartolomeo Panciatichi. Her hand rests on a book of daily offices, turned to prayers to the Virgin Mary, and the words on her outer gold necklace say Amour Dure Sans Fin (love lasts eternally). She looks us straight in the eye, but her face shows no emotion. As she sits in waxy perfection, her long fingers touch the book of prayers sensuously. Sensuality triumphs over religiosity as Bronzino renders every glimmer of light on her ruffed-up sleeves, every nuance of color in her dress. By contrast with the dark background, her neck and face look porcelain-like, offset by the deep shadows.
When you look at these four portraits again you will notice, of course, all the similarities. If anything, Bronzino was consistent in his way of presenting his sitters. However, you will also find strong women with an agenda. The powerful women of Bronzino are not only beautiful but also have strong personalities that shine through even in such a formal style of portraiture.
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