Biography of Bronzino
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.
Education and Early Training
Bronzino was first apprenticed at the age of eleven to artist Raffaellino del Garbo, from whom he learned about drawing and color. Then, aged fourteen, he became apprenticed to Jacopo da Pontormo, one of the most significant Florentine painters of the first generation of the decorative Mannerist style of painting.
According to Bronzino's contemporary and friend, Giorgio Vasari (recognized as the father of the biographical approach to art history), Bronzino and Pontormo's "pictures have been taken very often one for another, so similar were they for a time". Both artists depicted graceful and slightly elongated figures in their paintings. However, Bronzino's figures tend to appear calmer and more reserved (with more negative critics describing them as "cold" and "artificial") whereas Pontormo's figures appear more agitated and emotional.
One of Pontormo's earliest known assignments for Bronzino was for him to complete two of the four frescoes of the dome in the Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita in Florence. Vasari explained that, when working with his pupils, Pontormo would not let them touch any of the works that he planned to execute himself, and when he did call on their assistance, he would have them complete entire works on their own. Unfortunately, the ceiling frescoes executed by Bronzino (Man of Sorrows (1524) and Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1525-1526)) have not survived.
Bronzino shared a very close, lifelong, friendship with Pontormo, with Vasari reporting that "so great were the patience and lovingness of [Bronzino] towards Pontormo, that [Pontormo] was forced always to look kindly upon him, and to love him as a son". It is generally believed that Pontormo included a portrait of Bronzino as a child seated on a step within his series on Joseph in Egypt.
When the Black Plague arrived in Florence in 1522, Pontormo decided to take Bronzino to the Certosa di Galuzzo Carthusian Monastery, near Florence. At the monastery, Bronzino and Pontormo worked together on a series of frescos. Bronzino also helped to paint a small Crucifixion, and to illustrate some libri di culto (liturgical books) for the monks.
In 1524, Bronzino met Vasari at the Charterhouse at Galuzzo, and the two developed a strong bond. Toward the end of Bronzino's life, Vasari asserted that "Bronzino has been and still is most gentle and a very courteous friend, agreeable in his conversation and in all his affairs, and much honoured; and as loving and liberal with his possessions as a noble craftsman such as he is could well be. He has been peaceful by nature, and has never done an injury to any man, and he has always loved all able men in his profession".
In 1527, Bronzino again fled from the encroaching plague in Florence, heading this time to the villa of Ugo della Stufa in Bivigliano (also near Florence). During his stay, he met the classical humanist historian and poet Benedetto Varchi and his Latinist pupil Lorenzo Lenzi. Soon thereafter, in 1530, Bronzino moved to the small dukedom of Pesaro, on the Adriatic coast, which Federico da Montrefeltro had developed into a significant European artistic center. Once there Bronzino encountered works by Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Bellini, Carpaccio, Dosso Dossi, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Correggio, and Parmigianino, as well as several Flemish masters.
It was also in Pesaro that Bronzino painted the regal portrait of Guidobaldo II della Rovere (who was to become lord of Pesaro a short time later). This portrait, as well as another of the daughter of merchant Matteo Sofferoni, helped Bronzino gain a reputation as an independent master of portraiture, and marked the beginning of his particular style of aristocratic portraiture. Bronzino (along with local artists Girolamo Genga and Raffaellino delle Colle) executed some works in the chambers of Guidobaldo's Villa Imperiale. However, he was forced to abandon these projects when, in 1532, Pontormo called him back to Florence in order to assist in the paintings of the frescos in the halls of the Medici Villas in Poggio a Caiano and Carreggi.
In 1537, Bronzino became a member of the prestigious Florentine Academy. Then, in 1539, he received his first commission from the powerful Medici family, when he was selected as one of several artists to create the decorations for the wedding of Cosimo I de' Medici and Eleonora de Toledo. Bronzino quickly rose to the position of official court painter for Cosimo and members of his court. Bronzino would retain this coveted post for most of his lifetime.
Soffaroni's brother-in-law, the sword-maker Tofano Allori, was a close friend of Bronzino's, and when Allori died in 1541, Bronzino moved into the Allori household on Corso Adimari, near the Cathedral of Florence, where he assumed financial responsibility for the family (that is, for Allori's mother, his widow Dianora Sofferoni, his four children, and his niece), and began training Allori's son Alessandro to be a painter. Vasari reported that Bronzino and Alessandro shared, "the same love, one for another, that there is between a good father and his son".
During the mid 1540s, Bronzino, with Pontormo and Francesco Salvati, was tasked by Duke Cosimo I to produce designs for an ambitious tapestry cycle to be executed by master Flemish weavers. The cycle was to be comprised of twenty tapestries based on the life of Joseph. By 1546, Bronzino was put in charge of the project, and was responsible for sixteen of the twenty pieces.
Between 1546 and 1548, Bronzino lived in Rome. As art historian Liana De Girolami Cheney writes, "the events of this sojourn are nebulous," however it is likely that he went in search of inspiration for Cosimo's tapestry cycle and it known that during his stay he studied Michelangelo's works carefully. In 1547, Bronzino (along with a number of other artists) was expelled from the Academia Fiorentina for unknown reasons.
When Pontormo passed away on January 1, 1557, Bronzino completed Pontormo's unfinished frescos in the choir of San Lorenzo, upon the request of the duke. Bronzino managed to remain faithful to Pontormo's plans for the frescos, relying upon drawings he retrieved from Pontormo's home. Bronzino believed that he would inherit Pontormo's estate, and Duke Cosimo had confirmed this. However, the estate was ultimately awarded to a man who falsely claimed to be a relative of Pontormo's.
On January 13, 1563, Bronzino co-founded the newly reformed Florentine Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, along with Vasari and Cosimo I de' Medici. Other member artists included Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lazzaro Donati, Francesco da Sangallo, Benvenuto Cellini, Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giambologna, and Artemisia Gentileschi. The goal of the Academy was to promote and supervise artistic production in Tuscany.
In 1564, Bronzino travelled to Pisa after being summoned by the Duke, and stayed there for a year. While in Pisa, he executed several more court portraits, as well as one altarpiece featuring a nude Christ with a cross for one of the chapels in the Duomo; another depicting the Deposition of Christ from the Cross to be sent to the Convent of Frati Zoccolanti on Elba Island, and a third depicting the Nativity for the new Church of the Knights of S. Stephen in Pisa. Vasari asserted that "these pictures have been finished with such art, diligence, design, invention, and supreme loveliness of colouring, that it would not be possible to go further".
In 1569, Bronzino began work on a large fresco in San Lorenzo, however he passed three years later, before the work was completed. Alessandro Allori completed the fresco in Bronzino's honor. Vasari commented upon Bronzino's final years, noting that "It is a notable thing that whereas many are wont in their last years to do less well than they have done in the past, Bronzino does as well and even better now than when he was in the flower of his manhood, as the works demonstrate that he is executing every day".
Bronzino passed away at the Allori home on November 21, 1572, due to an unknown illness, and was buried the next day at the church of San Cristoforo degli Adimari in Florence. Eight years later, the young Allori specified in his will that he wished to be buried at the same church.
The Legacy of Bronzino
Bronzino's art held a strong influence on subsequent court portraiture in Florence and beyond. In his portraiture, Bronzino focused on demonstrating the social position (usually through the inclusion of extravagant costume and jewelry, and other signifiers of nobility) the elegance of the pose, and the restraint of his sitters. In this way, he influenced the next generation of Florentine and Mannerist artists, as seen most obviously in works of court portraiture by his esteemed pupils Alessandro Allori, Giovan Maria Butteri, Cristofano dell' Altissimo, and Lorenzo della Sciorina.
Shortly after his death, Bronzino's accomplishments became more or less forgotten, until the period during World War II when art historian Craig Hugh Smyth, who became a naval lieutenant officer for the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1945, was assigned a post as director of the U.S. Army's Central Art Collecting Point in Munich and was tasked with recovering misplaced cultural artifacts that had been stolen by the Nazis. Smyth rescued Bronzino's Pygmalion and Galatea (1530) from Goering and returned it to Florence. He became fascinated with Bronzino's drawings and paintings, particularly his portraits, and he received his PhD on Bronzino Studies from Princeton University in 1955. Later he undertook further research, and to produce several publications, about Bronzino and Mannerism, and in so doing, he helped introduce Bronzino to a whole new generation of art lovers. Smyth and other officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (MFAA) inspired the 2014 Hollywood film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman.
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
First published on 27 Jan 2020. Updated and modified regularly