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Bronzino

Florentine Painter

Born: November 17, 1503 - Monticello, Tuscany, Italy
Died: November 23, 1572 - Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Movements and Styles: Mannerism
Bronzino Timeline
Few people train and draw, and the simple crowd of the young people with little expertise follow this path, so that art falls and strays from the truth.
Bronzino Signature

Summary of Bronzino

Bronzino is a giant amongst Mannerists; an elegant and serene Master of portraiture whose painting embodied the genteel beliefs and ideals of the Medici dukes of sixteenth century Italy. Falling under the early influence of the Florentine master Jacopo da Pontormo, Bronzino developed his own meticulous linear style that owed as much to the influence of Michelangelo and Raphael as it did to the easier style of Pontormo. Bronzino would become the premier portrait artist in Florence; his style devoid of emotion yet utterly beguiling in its elegance and decoration. Though he is (rightly) famed as a portraitist, Bronzino took on numerous other commissions (some in collaboration with Pontormo) including frescoes, altarpieces and interior decorations. In addition to his many religious allegories, Bronzino produced a number of mythological paintings through which he flaunted his love of symbolism and mastery of coloring.

Accomplishments

  • While employed as a court painter in Pesaro, Branzino was introduced to the hugely influential book Il Cortegiano. The book provided an etiquette guide for the Italian aristocracy and Bronzino single-handedly translated its rules of manners into a visual style befitting of its subjects. The result was a style of technical elegance that would be passed on to future generations of portraitists.
  • Branzino produced a series of frescoes that revealed a sophisticated understanding of color and painterly relief. Indeed, using a luxurious combination of tones, which was quite typical of the decorative Mannerist style, Bronzino's special skill was evidenced in his ability to bleed colors to affect great subtlety in shadow and light.
  • In the mid-sixteenth century, Bronzino became involved in the so-called Varchi paragone debate. He sought to challenge the assumption that sculpture was superior to portraiture because it could represent its subjects in a 360-degree view of a subject. Bronzino would thus produce the "double portrait" where, by partitioning the painterly frame, he could offer multiple viewpoints of the same subject.
  • Bronzino was a poet as well as a painter, and thought to have penned some three hundred poems. He wrote lyric verse in the neo-Petrarchian mode and burlesque poetry in the style of Berni. His poetry was greatly admired by poet Annibale Caro (1507-1566), and much recent scholarship asserts that understanding Bronzino's poetry allows one to attain greater appreciation of his painting.

Biography of Bronzino

Bronzino Life and Legacy

The artist commonly known as Bronzino was born Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano Tori, in Monticello, just outside Florence, to father Cosimo (a butcher) and mother Felice. Little more is known about his family background, other than that they were, as sixteenth-century Italian poet and art critic Raffaello Borghini wrote, "honest, humble, and poor". As he came from a low social class, it is likely that Bronzino did not have a legitimate surname. It remains unknown as to how exactly he gained the sobriquet "Bronzino" (meaning "little bronze"), although it is generally (and reasonably) assumed to be due to his darker skin and/or reddish hair.

Important Art by Bronzino

Portrait of Guidobaldo della Rovere (1532)

This milestone portrait was painted by Bronzino during his two-year stay at the Della Rovere court. As art historian Heather L. Sale Holian noted, Bronzino's time in Pesaro was a "pivotal event" in his career "and in the larger history of Florentine portraiture". It was while at the court that Bronzino first encountered the influential 1528 publication Il Cortegiano by Italian courtier and diplomat Baldassare Castiglione. Il Cortegiano outlined the attributes, manners, and behaviors of the ideal courtier or court lady.

While at the Della Rovere Bronzino not only had the opportunity to study Il Cortegiano, he was also able to observe at close quarters the way in which said courtly precepts were implemented by courtiers. He then sought to translate these ideals and etiquettes into the visual language of court portraiture (as evidenced here in the Portrait of Guidobaldo della Rovere).

For instance, Il Cortegiano advises that courtiers should be "knowledgeable in both arms and letters". On the helmet of Bronzino's subject for this portrait, we see an emblem inscribed with Greek letters, which indicates an interest and knowledge of the classics, while, as Holian further asserts, the "fine suit of meticulously rendered Milanese armor implies his 'valor' in military feats, and in turn, alludes to the profession of an ideal courtier". Similarly, Bronzino has included a regal grey dog to the side of the subject, which alludes to the man's interest in hunting, which Castiglione promoted as a commendable pastime for courtiers. Moreover, two of the most important qualities described in Il Cortegiano were grazia (grace) and sprezzatura ("a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless"). Bronzino translates these attributes into the trademark "aloof" expressions he paints onto all of his portrait subjects.

The Crossing of the Red Sea (1541-1542)

This fresco, one of four, was commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici and his wife, Eleanor of Toledo, to adorn the walls of Eleonor's private chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Three of the four chapel walls painted by Bronzino depict the story of Moses. The fresco The Crossing of the Red Sea is found on the south wall of the chapel. Art historian Liana De Girolami Cheney has speculated that "perhaps this painting constitutes the best expression of Bronzino's Maniera [Mannerism] style in its combination of sensuality and capriciousness".

The fresco includes multiple biblical scenes. The figures at the center and left of the foreground represent the Hebrews preparing for exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:33-39), while those in the background represent the Hebrews having safely crossed the Red Sea. The figure in blue in the background, Moses, is gesturing for the waters to return to normal and, in the process, drown the Egyptians who are pursuing the Hebrews (Exodus 14:21-29). An aged Moses appears again in the right-hand foreground, with a brown robe, grey beard, and two rays of light radiating from his head, placing his hand on Joshua and instructing him to take over as his successor, to lead the Israelites to the promised land (Numbers 27:12-23).

The topless male figure at the left of the foreground, who is awkwardly contorted and grasping the wrist of the seated female, is posed with his hip thrust outward in an exaggerated fashion, and one arm raised upward, which are typical elements of Mannerist positioning. In fact, the standing, topless male figure's pose is believed to have been inspired by the Idolino, a Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue discovered in an excavation of Pesaro in 1530, where Bronzino happened to be working at the time. Also, the male figure in the center who is leaning against a rock is shown with one leg crossed behind the other. It was a pose frequently used by Bronzino and ranks thus as something of an authorial motif.

Concealed within the fresco, meanwhile, are several references to the Medici's dynastic and political aims. For instance, Moses here represents Cosimo I de' Medici who aimed to lead his people to glory. This connection is boldly reinforced by the red Egyptian banner at the left of the background which shows a partial coat of arms of the Strozzi family. This feature alludes to the Battle of Montemurlo in 1537 at which the Cosimo defeated their fierce rivals (the Strozzi's). Additionally Moses' nomination of Joshua as the Hebrews' future leader in the foreground, combined with the presence of the pregnant and nursing women in the image, alludes to the birth of Cosimo I's son Fernando, who was heir apparent to the ducal state.

Art historian Deborah Parker notes that these frescos "demonstrate Bronzino's masterful use of colour, his handling of 'ombre' and 'lumi' - shadows and light to create relief. The jewel-like palette is ravishing: Bronzino used intermediate hues such as violet, ultramarine, coral, soft yellows, a wide range of greens rather than the more common saturated red and blue seen, for example, in Raphael's paintings. the combination of colours in applications of cangiatismo (or colour changes in which two colours are juxtaposed) is no less striking [...] This ornamental use of colour exemplifies the decorative artificiality of Maniera painting".

Eleanor of Toledo (c. 1545)

The seated woman in this portrait is Eleonor of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de' Medici. Based on the date of the painting, it is generally assumed that the young boy standing by her side is the couple's middle son, Giovanni, who was born in 1543 and died of malaria in 1562. The pomegranate motif on Eleonor's ornate silk dress symbolizes motherhood. This underscored Eleonor's prime function in the Medici dynasty, which was to provide offspring. Prior to her passing on December 17, 1562 (due to tuberculosis) she bore eight children.

This portrait is one of a set of two, the other presenting Cosimo I as a confident ruler, while the portrait of mother and son was meant to demonstrate the wealth and dignity of the family. At this time, it was of utmost importance to the Medici family to strengthen, solidify, and legitimize their position as competent and unvanquishable leaders, particularly following the 1537 murders of a number of senior members of the family by their political rivals.

Several aspects of this painting are typical of Mannerist portraiture, such as the reserved, unemotional expressions on the sitters' faces, and the lavish elegance and inclusion of highly decorative elements (such as the dress, which dominates the frame). Art historian Deborah Parker suggests that "we are encouraged to read the garment itself as Eleonora, as an ostentatious symbol of her power and station." Recent archaeological excavation of Eleonor's tomb uncovered fragments of this same dress.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Bronzino
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Artists
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    Alessandro Allori
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    Giovan Maria Butteri
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    Cristofano dell' Altissimo
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    Lorenzo della Sciorina
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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Bronzino Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 27 Jan 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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