"…the favour from on high that put the stylus in my hand…is apportioned to me not because I am worthy, or because there might not be another human better than I, not by merit or art, but as a gift wholly from Him, who holds all grace at His full disposal. He alone guides me, and so may He never be divided from me, but sustain my hand and my mind until I happily reach the preordained end. By this I swear to you, seated before so great a work, that of my own power my soul feels incapable of arising, but can only follow it humbly and reverently. "

- from Bronzino’s sonnet responding to an admirer of his portrait of the poet Laura Battiferri.

The Italian text of the sonnet:

‘…’l’alto favor, che’n mano

lo stil mi pose, onde a vergar le carte

vi trae cortese e caldo affetto, e’n parte

del ver, per troppo amor, vi fa lontano;

non perch’io degno, o che forse altro umano

miglior di me ne fosse, a me comparte

dono intero di lui, non metro o d’arte,

c’ha d’ogni grazia a pien l’arbitrio in mano.

Ei sol mi guida, e se da me diviso

non sia, ma regga e la mano e la mente

fin ch’io giunga felice al fin prefiso,

vi giuro, che per mio valor non sente

d’alzarsi l’alma a si grand’opra assiso,

se non d’umil seguirla, e reverente.’

- Bronzino, sonnet ‘Lasca gentil, l’alto favor…’, from the sixteenth-century manuscript Dalle rime del Bronzino pittore

Bronzino, the leading Mannerist in mid-1500s Florence, combined rich colour, elegant drawing, and sculptural form in his sophisticated art. Best known for meticulously finished portraits, Bronzino also painted religious and mythological subjects, and designed tapestries and décors.

Bronzino studied under Raffaellino del Garbo before training (and collaborating) with the Mannerist painter Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556). His early work is sometimes confused with his master’s, but developed individuality from the late 1520s under the influence of Raphael’s followers. Bronzino collaborated in tapestry design with Pontormo, Francesco Salviati, and Alessandro Allori (Bronzino’s ward and pupil). His Lamentation altarpiece for Eleonora of Toledo’s chapel, The Lamentation (1545; Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie) was partly inspired by a Baccio Bandinelli drawing. A poet, Bronzino co-founded Florence’s Accademia degli Umidi (Accademia Fiorentina) in 1540 (rejoining after expulsion) and was active from 1566 in the Accademia di Disegno. He was interested in classical sculpture, and contributed to contemporary debates about the relative merits of painting and sculpture (the ‘Paragone’).

In his polished altarpieces and portraits, Agnolo Bronzino combined smooth colour and superb drawing - studied initially from nature. He served from 1539 as court artist to Duke Cosimo I de’Medici and his wife, Eleonora of Toledo, rulers of Florence. Bronzino frescoed Eleonora’s chapel (Florence, Palazzo Vecchio) in 1540-45. With his workshop, he produced multiple versions of Medici portraits. These conveyed the status and wealth of his sitters while masking their personalities (Eleonora of Toledo and her Son Giovanni (1545; Florence, Uffizi). His portraits of less aristocratic sitters, including the National Gallery’s Portrait of a Man (Pierantonio Bandini) (c.1550-55), were increasingly naturalistic. His portraits often incorporate accessories identifying the sitters. Bronzino painted the allegory Venus,Cupid, Folly and Time (c. 1544-45; London, National Gallery) as Cosimo’s diplomatic gift to King François I of France. From the 1560s Bronzino’s art became less impersonal.


1539Appointed court artist to Cosimo I de'Medici and Eleonora of Toledo

Italy: Florence
Italy: Florence
Photo: Scala / Art Resource, NY