Seated Male Nude (Study for the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence)

Artist: Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Monticelli 1503–1572 Florence)

Date: 1565–69

Medium: Black chalk, glued onto secondary support

Dimensions: maximum sheet: 13 x 18 3/16 in. (33 x 46.2 cm), corners cropped.

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Promised Gift of Leon D. and Debra R. Black, and Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.354


This powerful life study was preparatory for the figure of a seated river god, at the lower right, in one of Bronzino's most historically significant paintings, the Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, in the Church of San Lorenzo, Florence. The study is extremely rare, given that there are only sixty to sixty-five known drawings by Bronzino. Cosimo de' Medici I (who was soon to become grand duke of Tuscany) commissioned the monumental fresco from the elderly artist on February 11, 1565; the letter recording the commission is extant. The finished fresco was unveiled on August 10, 1569. The male nude figure is depicted here in a complex, seated pose that is meant to showcase Bronzino's great mastery of drawing technique, anatomy, and perspective. The interior modeling is achieved with seamlessly blended strokes, while the outlines maintain an impressive vigor of stroke and tonal inflection. The head and foreshortened facial features are boldly drawn with the stick of black chalk in order to sharpen and clarify the design for viewing from a distance. The compressed pose of the figure vertically aligns the head, left shoulder, and left knee, creating a stark foreshortening of the limbs. In this respect, Bronzino's work of the 1560s constitutes a response and a challenge to the mature style of Michelangelo (d. 1564). In turn, Bronzino's technical virtuosity as a draftsman and superb mastery of his materials made him the greatest role model for the following generation of Florentine Mannerists. Bronzino's black-chalk drawing techniques were widely emulated by his adoptive son, Alessandro Allori, and his peers.