Study of a Young Woman in Three-quarter Bust-Length

Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) Italian

Not on view

The surviving corpus of securely attributed drawings by Bronzino numbers around sixty-two, or so sheets. This is by all accounts an extraordinarily small number for a Tuscan artist of his generation. The Museum was fortunate to acquire this drawing which was unknown until its discovery at auction in 2013. It is a sketch after a living model, and belongs with a small group of Bronzino's sheets of ca. 1540-45 for the frescoes and altarpiece in the Chapel of Eleonora di Toledo (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), because of its style, technique, design, and pictorial approach to life drawing. As is seen here, the most plentiful kind of drawing by Bronzino to have survived, his life-studies of the figure (or "ritratti dal naturale") are quietly about the humble, flesh-and-blood models who were his subjects, and who posed in the studio for the invention of his pictures. The Met’s study is drawn in the artist’s typical style and technique of the early 1540s in black chalk on off-white paper that was prepared with a thinly applied gray-blue wash layer; the paper on the verso is left without color.

The closest comparison for the Met’s drawing is Bronzino’s life study of ca. 1540-41, for St. Michael on the vault fresco of the Chapel of Eleonora (Musée du Louvre 6356, Paris), which exhibits an identical technique of execution in black chalk on off-white paper colored with a preparation of gray-blue wash: the paper on the verso is left similarly unprepared. The technique of Bronzino’s modello of ca. 1540 for the vault fresco of the chapel (Städelsches Kunstinstitut 4344, Frankfurt), which was probably produced before the architect Giambattista di Marco del Tasso had fully completed the building (hence the great differences of design), is also similarly on off-white paper prepared with gray-blue wash, although it was drawn with a combination of media in pen and brown ink with wash and white gouache highlights. Bronzino used off-white papers prepared with colored wash mostly in the Chapel of Eleonora drawings, as in the study of ca. 1541-42, for the youth seen from behind in the Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses Appointing Joshua, in which the paper is prepared with wash of a mustard or pale yellow hue (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi 6704 F, Florence). Soon after 1545-46, however, when Bronzino was urgently pressed for time and practicality as he started to produce copious designs for the tapestries commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici, he began using manufactured blue paper (carta azzurra) as in the modello for the tapestry of Justice Liberating Innocence (Biblioteca Pinacoteca Ambrosiana F 261 inf. no. 65, fol. 61, Milan), and in the drawing for the borders of the Story of Joseph Tapestries (British Museum Pp. 2-95, London), rather than laboriously hand-preparing off-white paper with colored wash as in the Chapel of Eleonora drawings.

The figure in the Met’s sheet is closely observed from life without embellishment of head or body. As seen here, in almost all of Bronzino’s figure studies for paintings of the 1530s and 1540s the individual identity of his models in both a physical and psychological sense shines through. Drawn in black chalk on unprepared off-white paper, and also very closely related in style, the study of ca. 1543-45 for the head of the aristocratic woman onlooker toward the center in the Besançon version of the altarpiece of the Lamentation portrays the model wearing a simple, adherent cap instead of the eventual, intricately jeweled coiffure (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi 10894 F, Florence). Moreover, the fine, portrait-like features of the woman in the Uffizi study, in which the sharp angle of view adds to the mood of nearly familial intimacy, assume in the painting the idealized physiognomy of a marble Roman matron, who is meant to be dressed like a lady in the Duchess Eleonora di Toledo’s court. In the Met’s sheet, the bodice of the woman’s humble dress and a veil or shawl wrapping over her left shoulder are also lightly indicated. Some tendrils of hair are evident toward the right side of the forehead. The short nose with an almost rectilinear nostril, the small, somewhat square chin (which is very forcefully outlined), and the smooth fleshiness of the cheeks communicate the quiet, portrait-like dimension of this particular study of the living model. This is yet a further hallmark of Bronzino’s figural style and approach in his life drawings of the early 1540s: as seen here, many, subtly naturalistic details closely observed from the model begin to inform the limpid clarity of form, with outlines always delicately descriptive, and with interior modeling that always clearly defines the sculptural values of the figure. As is also characteristic for Bronzino at this time, the contours defining the figure throughout the Met’s drawing pulsate with dynamic effects of tone: the outlines vary in darkness and light in concert with the inner modeling, and dark outlines are often immediately edged with light. Evident only close-up, so subtle is the pulitezza (the ideal of cleanliness) of Bronzino’s draftsmanship, are the lighter strokes of the chalk in minutely parallel, searching outlines that ubiquitously accompany the firmer, bolder contours. Light catches the outline of the neck as if it were a delicate edge of form in a way that is entirely typical of his drawings of the late 1530s to early 1540s. Her head is inclined with an elegant though credibly life-like turn of the long neck as she pensively lowers her eyes; her mouth with just a hint of the parting of the lips communicates life, as if the figure had momentarily arrested breathing. It is this immediacy and the portrait-like individuality and naturalism which Bronzino all too often thoroughly sacrificed in his finished paintings (though not in the Medici portraits), almost to the point of lifelessness, in order to produce the monumental, profoundly idealized, abstracted figures that intricately inform the complex layers of illusionistic form and iconographic meaning in his elegant compositions. This is especially the case in the virtuosic fresco program of the Chapel of Eleonora.

(Carmen C. Bambach; April 23, 2015)

Study of a Young Woman in Three-quarter Bust-Length, Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Monticelli 1503–1572 Florence), Black chalk on gray-blue prepared paper

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