Monday, January 9, 2012


(Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Don Giovanni, Agnolo Bronzino, Ufizzi Gallery, Florence, 1550)

I've had a life long weakness for Italian art.

I'm talking about the old stuff:

Cimabue's Medieval madonnas.

Renaissance master Micheleangelo's bold bodies.

Pontormo's pastel-hued, elongated ladies.

And Caravaggio's Baroque masterpieces - bathed in the drama of light and dark.

I love it all.

My heart flutters when I get within viewing distance of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Delicious treasures hang on the walls inside the Uffizi - the oldest art museum in the world.

Some of those treasures were created by painter Agnolo Bronzino - the adopted son of the above mentioned Mannerist master, Pontormo.

Mannerists began tweaking Renaissance classical style around the year 1520 or the period known as the summit of the High Renaissance.

These innovators painted elongated or over-muscular figures which were often set in extravagant poses.

Mannerist colors, beautifully presented but just a bit off base, do not usually replicate what is seen in the natural world.

The Mannerist study and search for figural movement eventually led to the development of the Baroque era in art which began around the year 1600.

This puddle of information leads us directly to Eleonora of Toledo and her favorite court painter, Agnolo Bronzino.

Eleonora was the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici who ruled Florence from 1537-1574.

Like her Italian sister in spirit,  Isabella d'Este, Eleonora was no trophy wife.

In Cosimo's absence, Eleonora conducted state business herself.

And like Isabella, she thoroughly enjoyed promoting the arts.

Ladies, you rock!

Bronzino was the ultimate High Mannerist painter in all of Florence.

I love what the Random House Library of Art has to say about Agnolo:

"Bronzino was the coolest and most immaculate technician of the sixteenth century."

In my opinion, the folks at the Library of Art nailed it.

I never carelessly glide by a Bronzino painting.


His work pulls me in and invites me to stare in wonder every single time.

Then I get all googly-eyed and gushy.

I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

Such was the case with Bronzino's portrait  "Eleonora of Toledo with her Son Don Giovanni."

I'd like to say that it was Eleonora's magnificent pearls -  and they are magnifico! - that first grabbed my attention.

But that would be a lie.

It was that gorgeous gown she's wearing to perfection.

Talk about the epitome of Renaissance couture!


If that silvery gown isn't saying, "Hey, look at me!," I promise to eat it for tomorrow's breakfast.

Lovely black curlicues wind their way over the surface of Eleonora's fabulous frock.

They resemble one of the most popular and beautiful motifs of timeless Italian art - the acanthus leaf.

And you can't miss that bold punch of gold in those damask medallions that are strategically scattered across her gown.

The billowy, ruched sleeves, ruffled cuffs and rich braid trim are lyrically lovely as well.

But enough about that dress!


I forgot to say that the duchess's gown cost more than the painting itself.

And - hang on another second - this busy woman sent the whole gorgeous ensemble over to Bronzino's workshop to save time on sittings.


I think I just might be done rhapsodizing over Eleonora's gown.

Now it's time to go ga-ga over Bronzino's unabashedly blue background.

And Giovanni's demurely blue waistcoat.

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool blue girl.

Blue makes me feel calm, elegant and here's a shocker: beautiful!

No other color on the planet makes me feel as good as blue does.

Bronzino has permeated his background with mottled tones of cool blue.

The blues highlight the faces and the ensembles of his sitters.

Trust me - it wasn't a happy accident when Bronzino chose those beautiful blues for this royal portrait.

Now let's take a closer look at those heavenly pearls.

The duchess's necklaces are simple in design.

That's a good thing because the ginormous size of those pearls is show stopping, isn't it?

Eleonora's earrings are classic teardrops -  elegant and refined.

They are a much needed counterpoint to the busyness of the gown's sumptuous patterns.

Next, feast your eyes on that netlike head wrap.

And the matching netted collar of her dress.

Both are studded with pearls at every crossing of the braided trim.

Stunning, aren't they?

Eleonora wears a jewel encrusted belt around her waist.

Follow the tail of that belt along the outline of Eleonora's left hand.

Bronzino has lifted her index finger slightly in order to highlight the pretty presence of the serpentine pearl tassel.

That tassel, in my opinion, is the crowning jewel in this stately portrait.

I adore it's slinky lines that are simply dripping with undulating pearls.

If you look closely you can see the black lines of the gown's acanthus leaf motif under the curvy cluster of pearls.

That, my friends, is why Bronzino is a Mannerist Master!

Now, just a word or two about Bronzino's frosty faces.

They are supposed to appear cool, restrained and indifferent.

That's because Eleonora and Giovanni are members of the Florentine aristocracy, after all.

They aren't supposed to interact with us lowly peasants.

So they don't!

Again, from the Random House Library of Art:

"It was in court portraiture that Bronzino's style was most aptly and effectively engaged.  In the creation of images of absolute autocracy in human form he has never been surpassed.  He projects characters of detached superiority.  Communication with the onlooker is nonexistent.  The sitter is there for admiration.

Well, now, I'll have a big old bowl of that.

Personally, I don't want to interact with every Jane, Gertrude or Alice who looks my way!

I'd rather stand there drooling as I admire every one of Bronzino's disengaged sitters!

Go ahead - call me shallow.

I stand guilty as charged.



Most of all,  I love gifted painters who harbor genius in their souls.

The sort of genius that splashes color, form and line on canvas and creates sublime beauty for all to behold.

I'm speaking of beauty that defies time, place and, yes, even societal rank.

Bronzino's beauties do that for me.

They always have and they always will.

1 comment:

  1. If this is any example of pre-Baroque art, I like it better than the music of the same time period. What detail!