This exhibition is the first ever dedicated to Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572), and presents nearly all the known drawings by or attributed to this leading Italian Mannerist artist, who was active primarily in Florence. A painter, draftsman, academician, and enormously witty poet, Bronzino became famous as the court artist to the Duke Cosimo I de' Medici and his beautiful wife, the Duchess Eleonora di Toledo. This monographic exhibition contains approximately sixty drawings from European and North American collections, many of which have never before been on public view.
The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in collaboration with the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi and the Polo Museale Fiorentino, Florence.
The exhibition is made possible by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund.
Additional support is provided by Dinah Seiver and Thomas E. Foster.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The son of a butcher, Agnolo di Cosimo Mariano di Tori, better known by his nickname Agnolo Bronzino, was born on November 17, 1503, in Monticelli, then a suburb of Florence. From 1515 to 1518 he was apprenticed to the painter Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557), and by the early 1520s he had gained some independence as a collaborator in the elder master's workshop. The friendship and professional association between Pontormo and Bronzino, who were relatively close in age, continued for almost four decades.
Pontormo's impact on Bronzino lasted into the early 1530s, when the work of both painters demonstrates a reciprocal flow of ideas and vocabulary. Pontormo's influence on the young Bronzino's drawings is clearly evident in the frequent choice of red chalk as a medium; the attention to figure studies from life; the use of strong, broken-up outlines; and the softly blended interior modeling. Most important, Pontormo and Bronzino considered drawing to be a functional activity, done to prepare the design of final works; unlike some artists of their generation they did not produce drawings as autonomous finished works.
Even Bronzino's most Pontormesque early drawings reveal the young artist's style in the more careful articulation of contour (with few, if any, reinforcement lines) and more tightly defined modeling. Nevertheless, in some instances it is not possible to arrive at a definitive attribution to one artist or the other, given their lifelong association as well as the Renaissance workshop practice of learning by precisely copying the drawings of the teacher.
The preparatory drawings in this room, done for works commissioned by public and private patrons, represent Bronzino at the height of his creative powers. They reveal his interest in Michelangelo's figural vocabulary and drawing techniques. From 1540 onward Bronzino worked almost exclusively as court artist to Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (1519–1574) and his wife, Duchess Eleonora di Toledo (1522–1562). One of his first major commissions was to decorate the new private oratory of the duchess (the Chapel of Eleonora di Toledo) in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. He produced the frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the small chapel between 1540–41 and 1543 and the altarpiece with two side panels in 1544–45, which was replaced by a later version, painted before 1563–64. All the known related drawings for this important project are seen together in the exhibition for the first time.
Following the foundation of the Medici tapestry manufactory in Florence in 1545, Bronzino worked for eight years designing tapestries for Duke Cosimo. His most important commission was the design of sixteen of a series of twenty tapestries on the Story of Joseph, woven by the Flemish weavers Jan Rost and Nicolas Karcher. They were commissioned to decorate the walls of the Sala dei Duecento of the Palazzo Vecchio, from floor to ceiling, as was the custom in Northern Europe. The theme was intended to glorify Duke Cosimo and his rule of Tuscany—the betrayal of the biblical hero Joseph by his brothers and his glorious reinstatement in Egypt became metaphors for the expulsion and return to power of the Medici family. Documents record that the finished tapestries were delivered to the Guardaroba Medici between 1546 and 1553, which provides the basis for dating the preparatory drawings.
While Bronzino's final cartoons for tapestries do not survive, all his extant preliminary studies and modelli (demonstration drawings) are displayed in the exhibition, except one in ruined condition. The drawings demonstrate that the key to his success as a tapestry designer was the inventiveness and clarity of his compositions, together with his meticulous drawing technique. The weavers could effectively work from Bronzino's designs because they were complete in all details and precisely outlined, with distinct demarcations of light and shadow.
At his beloved master Pontormo's death on January 1, 1557, Bronzino was entrusted with finishing the designing and painting of the frescoes in the choir of S. Lorenzo. However, it is clear that Duke Cosimo's rising esteem for Bronzino's rival Giorgio Vasari after 1554, when the Aretine painter returned to Florence, marked something of a downturn in Bronzino's fortunes as Medici court artist. The illness and death of Bronzino's staunchest supporter, Duchess Eleonora di Toledo, on December 17, 1562, dealt a further blow. Nevertheless some significant commissions came his way, and he was especially productive during his late years as a teacher. A final project commissioned by Duke Cosimo shortly before February 1565 was the monumental Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, frescoed on the left nave wall of S. Lorenzo. He also produced designs for the temporary festival decorations celebrating the marriage of Francesco de' Medici to Johanna of Austria in December 1565. Two preparatory modelli (demonstration drawings) related to this project are included in the exhibition galleries.
Bronzino's three preliminary studies for the Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, exhibited together for the first time, represent the climax of his late career. Here, he paid sustained homage to Michelangelo, evident in the virtuosity of his draftsmanship in black chalk and his mastery of the colossal nude.
Bronzino was a founding member, consul, reformer, and lieutenant of the Compagnia ed Accademia Disegno (Confraternity and Academy of Drawing and Design), which was formally inaugurated in Florence on January 31, 1563. He was at the time almost sixty years old and offered a paragon of good draftsmanship that was difficult to surpass by the younger generation of Florentine artists. At least seven of Bronzino's numerous pupils became inscribed members of the Accademia del Disegno in the 1560s, and the master's most important legacy to them was the fine technical craftsmanship of his drawing—his "superb art and extreme diligence"—particularly evident in his handling of the black chalk and his closely observed studies of the nude figure.
Bronzino died in Florence at the age of sixty-nine on November 23, 1572, six days after his birthday.