JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 211 to 221)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 211 to 221)




Agnolo Bronzino (1503–72) was court painter to Cosimo de'Medici, the duke of Florence from 1537 to 1574. Close to 100 extant portraits of Cosimo have been attributed, at one time or another, to Bronzino. There are 25 versions of Cosimo in armor alone. While certainly not all the portraits are autograph, Bronzino was known to have executed copies commissioned by Cosimo. The following exchange is recorded between artist and patron: “As soon as [Cosimo] saw Bronzino's finished portrait, he ordered it sent off to the emperor. And when Bronzino offered to paint another, still better, he replied, ‘I don't want another more beautiful. I want one done exactly the way it is already’” (quoted in Cochrane 1973, 52).

The Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son in the Uffizi, one of many portraits Bronzino painted of Cosimo's wife and their eight children, was completed around 1545, when Eleonora was 23 and the child, generally believed to be Don Giovanni, was 2. It is the best known of the portraits of Eleonora, not least because of her magnificent dress. It is characteristic of Bronzino's official portraiture in its polished surface, perfect rendering of texture, richness of the color, static quality of the sitter, and slightly off-center gazes of both subjects. Eleonora is presented as an icon, the duchess of Florence, wife of the reigning duke. She is reserved, distant, encased in a veritable fortress of a gown. The presence of Don Giovanni, however, adds an emotional element. Eleonora curves her proper right hand protectively around her son's shoulder. He leans slightly against her, resting his proper left hand on her lap like a plump starfish. His rucked collar suggests a fidgety little boy trying to stand still.

Eleonora's gown is a powerful presence in the picture. There are several other portraits of Eleonora wearing this garment. Some scholars have theorized an iconographic significance to it, suggesting that it represents the wealth she brought to her marriage to Cosimo in the form of a dowry of Spanish textiles (May 1965). There is an apocryphal story that she was buried in the gown. In fact, Eleonora was buried in a red satin and velvet gown, which was less richly embroidered. According to the account of the disinterment of her tomb in 1857, she was found to have been buried wearing the gold and pearl hairnet seen in the portrait, which may account for the misunderstanding (Arnold 1995). It has also been suggested that Bronzino was merely given a piece of fabric with which to create the garment for the portrait (Landini 1995), though this seems unlikely given the number of portraits showing her in the gown. The Museo Nazionale del Bargello possesses two textiles manufactured in mid-16th-century Florence that are remarkably similar to the fabric of the gown. However, the pieces are described as silver and white silk, with a design in green cut velvet, and gold and silver brocades.1 At this point it is not known if Eleonora's magnificent gown ever existed, at least in the colors shown in the portrait.

Copyright � 1998 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works