Monday, 22 November 2010

Bronzino - Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici

Agnolo di Cosimo (Bronzino)
Eleanora di Toledo with her son Giovanni de' Medici
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Bronzino. Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
September 24, 2010 - January 23, 2011

This unique exhibition is the very first to be devoted to the work of one of the greatest painters of the 16th century, Agnolo di Cosimo known as Bronzino (1503−1572), a sophisticated court painter in the years in which Cosimo I de’ Medici was in power and one of the greatest artists in the history of Italian painting.

The exhibition, with loans from some of the leading museums of the world, offers visitors the chance to admire over 70 paintings by the artist himself (the 80% of his total production), alongside work by Pontormo, Cellini, Tribolo, Baccio Bandinelli, Pierino da Vinci and Alessandro Allori. The decision to exhibit only works of the highest quality gives a broad audience the chance to admire and to explore the dizzying poetic heights achieved by the painter, thanks to direct comparison with the work of other artists set alongside Bronzino’s artistic output for the very first time.

Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
The exhibition is promoted and produced by: Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, Soprintendenza PSAE e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze.

Contemporary literary sources and Bronzino’s own poems highlight his interest in the depiction of the lifelike. So rather than relegating his work to the abstract category of ‘Mannerism’ (as it so often is today), our intention here is to follow the views expressed quite explicitly during his own lifetime. It is worthwhile reflecting on some of opinions voiced by Giorgio Vasari, a particularly reliable biographer when it comes to his Florentine contemporaries. Vasari published his “life” of Bronzino in 1568: “He was talented at drawing from life as meticulously as can be”, his portraits are “so natural as to appear truly alive, wanting only for a soul”, and “he drew from a real cadaver nailed to a cross” the Crucified Christ for the Panciatichi family.

Review of the exhibition by TuscanyArts:

Bronzino: Beauty, poetry and nature  - Video review (in Italian) by Stefano Biolchini for Il Sole

Exhibition walkthrough:
This exhibition sets out to explore Bronzino’s work, the greatest expression of the splendour that was the court of Cosimo I de’ Medici, from the paintings he produced while studying under Pontormo down to the works of Alessandro Allori, his favourite pupil who was to take his teachings on into the 17th century. The sections probe the salient themes in Bronzino’s career: his uniquely close ties with the Medici, his intense relationship with the Panciatichi (who were tried for their Lutheran leanings), his dual temperament as a painter and a poet (of both academic and burlesque verse), his place as one of the Italian Cinquecento’s greatest portrait painters, and his troubled response to the demands of religious patrons in the stormy transition from the emancipated climate of the 1540’s to the age of the Counter-Reformation.

Jacopo Pontormo, Christ before Pilate
Certosa Monastery, Galluzzo
ROOM I - Section I : Apprenticeship with Pontormo, early career, then Pesaro
The exhibition begins with the Evangelists in the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita, which Pontormo was commissioned to decorate in 1525. He called on his favourite pupil, Bronzino, to play an active role in the commission and to paint some of the figures on the (now destroyed) cupola as well as one, or possibly two, Evangelists. Two years earlier, however, Pontormo had taken his young pupil with him to the Certosa monastery in Galluzzo (a few miles south of Florence) after an outbreak of plague in the city. The master painted five frescoes with stories from Christ’s Passion in the monastery cloister while Bronzino painted two lunettes. This was the start of a close working partnership that was to last for many years, and of a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Pontormo’s influence on Bronzino was particularly marked in the 1520’s, the period covered in this first section where we can observe both the result of Pontormo’s influence and the way Bronzino gradually began to forge a path of his own, up until his departure for Pesaro in 1530.

ROOM II - Section I : Pesaro
When the siege of Florence, which lasted from October 1529 to August 1530, was finally lifted, Bronzino moved to Pesaro where he remained for at least two years. His stay in the city marked a crucial turning point in his artistic career. Here he was introduced to the Della Rovere court and its population of highly sophisticated artists and artisans with their different backgrounds and skills. There were painters from north and central Italy, come to decorate the rooms of the Villa Imperiale. Girolamo Genga, Raffaellino del Colle, Battista Dossi and his inspired brother Dosso worked cheek by jowl with Bronzino, their influence driving his stylistic development, while his cultural education benefited from contact with the thinkers at court, who were also ardent collectors of works by their illustrious contemporaries.

Bronzino, Portrait of Giovanni de' Medici as a child
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
ROOM III - Section II : Bronzino and Florence. The Medici
This section illustrates Bronzino’s very close ties with Cosimo I and the Medici court. Bronzino only ever left Florence on short trips after this. Vasari tells us that, on noting his skill "and especially that he was talented at drawing from life as meticulously as can be", the duke commissioned him to paint portraits of himself and his family. Bronzino’s role as official painter to the dynasty went unchallenged until 1564, when Vasari replaced him as court favourite. Bronzino’s career marched hand in hand with the period of Cosimo I’s achievement of political supremacy. Wishing to rival the other courts of Europe in splendour, the duke ordered “tapestries in silk and gold for the Sala del Consiglio de’ Dugento”, or council chamber in Palazzo Vecchio, with the stories of Joseph the Jew (Vasari). He summoned Nicolas Karcher and Jan Rost, two master weavers from Flanders, for the project and established the Medici tapestry manufacture in 1545.

ROOM IV - Section II : Bronzino and Florence. The Medici
Mindful of Bronzino’s skill in producing the decorations for his wedding with Eleonora of Toledo in 1539, Cosimo I asked him to decorate the chapel in his wife’s private apartments in Palazzo Vecchio. From 1541 to 1545 Bronzino painted four saints on the vault and Stories of Moses on the walls in fresco, and a panel showing the Lamentation over the Dead Christ together with two side panels showing St John the Baptist and St Cosmas for the altar. In 1545, shortly before the work was due to be completed, the duke made a gift of the Lamentation to Emperor Charles V’s private secretary Nicolas Perrenot de Granevelle (today it is in Besançon, a photographic reproduction evoking its presence here in the exhibition) and the two side panels were transferred to the Medici Wardrobe. The panel of St Cosmas, previously thought lost, is displayed here for the first time since its rediscovery, albeit in fragmentary form. Cosimo immediately commissioned a second version of the altarpiece which Bronzino was to deliver, virtually identical to the first, only in 1553. Ten years later Bronzino made two new side panels depicting the Annunciation. All three panels are still in Palazzo Vecchio today.

Bronzino, Lamentation Altarpiece
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
ROOM V - Section III : Bronzino and Florence. The Panciatichi
Bartolomeo Panciatichi was born in 1507 in Lyon, where his family was involved in trade. Educated in Paris and Padua, he married Lucrezia Pucci in the mid-1530’s and they moved back to France, where they rubbed shoulders with thinkers influenced by the Reformation. They returned to Florence at the end of the decade and in 1541 Bartolomeo and Bronzino joined the Accademia degli Umidi as poets. Its name soon changed to Accademia Fiorentina and Bartolomeo became a Consul in 1545, later becoming Cosimo I’s ambassador to the French court. In 1551 he was accused of being “Lutheran and owning Lutheran books”, but in fact his religious leanings were shared by many at the Medici court where the Benefit of Christ and the writings of Juan de Valdés circulated freely. Valdés argued that salvation was achieved through faith alone rather than as a reward for good works. The trial was held from 1551 to 1552, Cosimo intervening several times to get Bartolomeo and his wife acquitted. A sublime product of this religious tendency is Bronzino’s Crucified Christ; thought to have been lost, it is on display here for the first time under the master’s name.

Bronzino, Venus, Cupid and Envy
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
ROOM VI - Section IV : Bronzino and the Arts
This section illustrates the relationship between painting, sculpture and poetry in the work of Bronzino and his friends. “So great an Apelles, and no less an Apollo” was how humanist, historian and poet Benedetto Varchi described Bronzino. He was not just one of the greatest painters of his age, he was also a poet capable of alternating sonnets in the style of Petrarch with burlesque rhymes (published during his lifetime). This dual aspect of his temperament is reflected in this room in the Allegories of Venus. Two of them are by Bronzino and one by Pontormo who painted his version, based on a cartoon by Michelangelo, for a room dedicated to love poems in the Italian language. The room also housed Bronzino’s portraits of Petrarch, Boccaccio (both now lost) and Dante. Benedetto Varchi, a Consul of the Accademia Fiorentina, consulted with Bronzino as an expert in the arts, listing him among the “truly excellent painters and sculptors” whose opinion he sought in 1547 in a “dispute on which is the nobler art, sculpture or painting”. In 1549 Varchi published a volume containing the letters he had received from various artists, including Michelangelo, Pontormo and Cellini, and Bronzino who outlined in his reply the case for considering sculpture the nobler of the two, yet without concluding by discussing the opposite case in favour of painting. What he failed to put down in words, he probably expressed in his two-sided portrait of the dwarf Morgante in the guise of a huntsman. Like a statue, this painting takes it for granted that the viewer is going to move around to look at it from different standpoints. But it also does something sculpture cannot do by showing the passage of time, in this case between the start and the end of the hunt. In this room the portrait of Morgante dialogues with statues by Cellini, Tribolo and Pierino da Vinci, all artists with whom Bronzino also exchanged poems.

Bronzino, Deposition from the Cross
Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence
ROOM VII - Section V : Religious Themes
Bronzino’s artistic career spanned virtually the whole of the 16th century, from the 1520’s when he was working with Pontormo until his death in 1572. The religious works that he painted during his lifetime reflect changing religious sentiment in a troubled century. His paintings before the 1550’s echo the faith of men close to the duke, influenced by the unorthodox, pro-Reformation thinking disseminated through such works as the Benefit of Christ, a copy of which even found its way into the library of Cosimo’s private secretary Pier Francesco Riccio. From the late 1550’s on, however, Bronzino and the entire Medici court succumbed to the influence of the directives being thrashed out at the Council of Trent (1545–63). This change is reflected in such altarpieces as the Deposition from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and the Pietà in Santa Croce.
Bronzino, Portrait of a Lady in Green
Royal Collection, Windsor
ROOM VIII - Section VI : The Portraits
Giorgio Vasari hails Bronzino as one of the most important portrait painters of the 16th century, a master of elegance but also of true-to-life depiction and of intense psychological characterisation. His portraits are at once images of power and the portrayal of an era. A tribute to Bronzino’s lofty poetic as a painter of portraits, the masterpieces included in this section, stretching from the 1530’s to his full maturity, are emblematic effigies of the exalted social and intellectual circles that he frequented with their musicians, admirals, humanists, soldiers and merchants. Each sitter’s virtues are extolled through symbols indicating their specific field: a lute, a mast, a book, a suit of armour or the rich and gorgeous fabric of their attire. But Bronzino was also the bard of the fairer sex, a master in depicting the precious details of their gowns and jewels, without neglecting the symbols of their faith such as books of hours or rosaries, and often adding domestic touches such as a spotted lapdog, which was also a symbol of marital fidelity.

ROOM IX - Section VII : Alessandro Allori: “a second Bronzino”
Bronzino died in the Allori family home on 23 November 1572 and Alessandro delivered his funeral oration at the Accademia del Disegno. His favourite pupil, Allori gathered up the torch of Bronzino’s artistic legacy and embraced his propensity for austere elegance, but times had changed and he added a strong sentimental note supported by a naturalistic inclination that became increasingly dominant as the years went by. Allori went on painting until 1607, his career paralleling that of Caravaggio.

Video report (in Italian) by La Nazione:

Situated between Piazza Strozzi and via Tornabuoni in the heart of Florence, the Palazzo Strozzi is one of the finest examples of Renaissance domestic architecture.  It was commissioned by the Florentine merchant Filippo Strozzi and the foundations were laid in 1489 according to a design by Benedetto da Maiano.  A year later the project was given to Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Cronaca, who worked on it until 1504 but the Palazzo was only finally finished in 1538. The Palazzo remained the property of the Strozzi family until 1937, and since 1999 it has been managed City of Florence.  Since the Second World War the Palazzo has been Florence’s largest temporary exhibition space. Among the major exhibitions held at Palazzo Strozzi have been the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (1949), 17th century Florence (1986),  Gustav Klimt (1992), La Natura Morta Italiana (2003), Botticelli e Filippino Lippi (Italy’s most visited exhibition in 2004), Leon Battista Alberti (2006) and Cézanne in Florence (Italy’s most visited exhibition in 2007).

Palazzo Strozzi official website (English version)

Two more exhibitions in Florence, due to have closed, have now been extended:

Extended until 9th January 2011:
Caravaggio and the Caravaggists in Florence at the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi in conjunction with
Caravaggio and Modernity: Portraits from the Roberto Longhi Foundation at the Villa Bardini

Extended until 12th December 2010:
Virtù d'Amore (Power of Love): Nuptial Painting in 15th Century Florence at the Galleria dell'Accademia

Bronzino by Antonio Paolucci on Google Books:

Laura Battiferra and her Literary Circle: An Anthology on Google Books:

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