Wednesday, November 11, 2015

16th Century Florentine Portrait Painting - Updated

The Jacquemart-André Museum is presenting an exhibition dedicated to the art of 16th century Florentine portrait painting. The unerring eye of Edward André and Nélie Jacquemart has enabled them to collect, amid the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance art, portraits by the hand of such painters as Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Francesco Salviati. For the first time in Paris, they will be reunited with their contemporaries Rosso Fiorentino, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Bronzino. 

Famous in their time, but today less well known by the French public, these artists fashioned the portraits of men and women who witnessed the profound transformation of the city of Florence during the 16th century. The selected works, presented in an itinerary that is both thematic and chronological, allow us to understand the progressive evolution of the genre towards a public and personal affirmation of the self-image as a desire to leave a mark for posterity.

This exhibition provides the opportunity to rediscover these refined portraits of the late Renaissance and its distinguished representatives. Following the austerity of the Republican era, still bearing the imprint of the teachings of the great masters such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, portraits become brilliant and complex, symbols as much of the luxury of the Medici court as of the inner beauty of the soul, manifestos of the «modern style» that was so greatly admired.

In the 16th century, the art of portraiture became increasingly common among the Florentine elite, who had found in it a means of capturing their facial characteristics and social status for posterity. They drew on literary characters such as Petrarch, musical references or a staged production full of symbols to describe the model’s life in all its facets.

The Musée Jacquemart-André has devoted an unrivalled exhibition to the great Florentine portrait painters of the 16th century, based on around forty works. Alongside the presentation of masterpieces by Pontormo, a pupil of Andrea del Sarto and master of mannerism, there will be a chance to appreciate the refined and graceful features, typical of the portraits of Bronzino or Salviati, which are testimony to a meaningful sense of sophistication.

This exhibition will offer a panorama of Florentine portraiture in the 16th century with all its main themes and stylistic transformations. Through the eyes of the painters experimenting with new ways of representing their contemporaries, it will allow visitors to appreciate the style developments of the Cinquecento, an especially eventful century in cultural and religious terms.

The portraits of the republican period in the early 16th century in all their gravitas gave way to heroic representations of men at war, symbols of military and political conflicts that led the Medici to seize power in Florence in 1530. Next come the court portraits, distinguished by their richness and elegance, and the portraits of artists, witnesses to a new role bestowed on court painters and opening their minds to other forms of art such as poetry and music.

This exhibition has benefited from an extraordinary partnership with the Museums of Florence. Other renowned international museum institutions and exceptional collections such as the Royal Collection (London), the Louvre (Paris) and even the Städel Museum (Frankfurt) are also supporting this event with remarkable loans 

Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (Ridolfo Bigordi). Florence, 1483 - 1561 Portrait of a Woman (‘La Monaca’)- 1510-1515,oil on panel, 65 x 48 cm Florence, Istituti museali della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino, Galleria degli Uffizi © S.S.P.S.A.E. e per il Polo Museale della Città di Firenze itinerary

The Republic of Florence and the Dawn of the Golden Age of Portraiture

The premature death of Lorenzo il Magnifico, on 4 April 1492, was a turning point in the history of Florence and the Medici. The decades 1490–1510 marked a low point for these merchants, whose good fortune had brought them wealth and power for more than a century. Il Magnifico was succeeded by his son Piero who in 1494 was obliged to flee the city, and Savonarola took power. It was not until 1512 that the Medici were finally authorised to return to the city. Florence underwent a radical political and cultural transformation. Throughout this period, young artists depicted their models against a plain background or before a landscape, as can be seen in 

Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio’s Veiled Woman.

The names of numerous artists were ascribed this painting, before it was eventually attributed to Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. 

What persists from these conjectures is the unanimous recognition of the artist’s sensibility to the «maniera moderna» (modern style) of Leonardo and Raphael.To begin with, the twisting movement of the body contributes to the impact of the young woman’s presence: the three-quarters pose hints at the upper back and the tilt of the shoulders feigns a vitality that energises the pyramid in which the body seems to move.Next, the hands stage an invitation to look closer: the right hand seems to be resting on the picture frame, the fingers exhibiting a disturbing naturalism, the rings capturing and reflecting the light, as do the gilded edges of the pages of the Prayer Book.The topographical narration is depicted through the two openings in the loggia. On the left, one can see the hospital at the convent of San Paolo. On the right, before a fortified enclosure, stands the monastery of San Jacopo di Ripoli.The appearance of the young woman complies with the standards of beauty that were fashionable at the time. The shoulders are exposed by a deep neckline that reveals the beginning of the bosom, with a hint of the lacework around the edge of the bodice. The dress and its detachable sleeves are made from a fine black woollen cloth that Florentine weavers exported all over Europe. Under a translucent veil, undulating delicately and coming to rest on the bare shoulders, a white satin bonnet gathers the long hair, hiding it from the eyes of a society that attributed an erogenous power to it.

Despite the restraint in the choice of hues and the simplicity of the ornaments, the dress and the bonnet are made from high quality fabrics and their cut denotes a sensuality that would be astonishing in a portrait of a religious lady.In contrast, a certain moderation in the display of pomp bears witness to a style of attire that was specific to the ladies of Florence because of the social context, for the Republic had decreed sumptuary laws in order to limit the consumption of luxury goods by the urban elite. The aim was to promote the export of wealth so as to ensure the economic sustainability of the province; it was also a way to return to the moral foundations of the Republic.[Extract from the exhibition catalogue.Text by Gaylord Brouhot] 

Whether depicted in three quarters or in profile, like the Portrait of a Man by both 

Franciabigio and 

Rosso Fiorentino respectively, 

the models are serious and have a certain simplicity—severity even — in both their postures and their attire. The rigour and sobriety characteristic of these works reflected the return to moral values linked to antique republican virtues.

Francesco Salviati (Francesco de’ Rossi). Florence 1510 - Rome 1563 Portrait of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, 1546-1548,oil on panel, 65 x 46 cm Florence, Istituti museali della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino, Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina © S.S.P.S.A.E. e per il Polo Museale della Città di Firenzeroom 2

1530 - 1537 The Medici Reconquest. Portraits of Men Bearing Arms 

Capturing the city by force in August 1530 after a terrible year-long siege, Alessandro de’ Medici then governed Florence—which had suffered great hardship and was obliged to capitulate—, but he was savagely assassinated seven years later. Although shaken by this event, the dynasty managed to survive. Aware of the importance of creating a new form of representation—both of himself and his status and authority—, Alessandro entrusted various artists with commissions to carry out a veritable image-based rehabilitation campaign. This resulted in a series of heroic portraits, in which the model was depicted dressed in armour, and these were veritable political propaganda instruments that underlined his recent accession to power, a noteworthy example of which is 

Giorgio Vasari’s Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici.

Cosimo I also implemented a strategy of legitimisation, in which he cultivated not only his own image, but also that of his father, Giovanni of the Black Bands, the famous condottiero, whom he transformed into a second (after Cosimo the Elder) pater patriae, and for whom he commissioned a whole series of portraits, particularly from Francesco Salviati (1546–1548). The Medici never retreated and never refrained from using force to achieve their goals. 

1539 - 1574  The Medici Court. Magnificent Portraits

By his marriage to Eleonora di Toledo in 1539, Cosimo I sealed his alliance with Charles V. In May 1540, the ducal family moved into the Palazzo Vecchio, the first refurbishment works were carried out in the duchess’s apartment. As the inventor of the duchy’s new pictorial language, Bronzino was the leading artist in the Medici court. Hence, Bronzino was an integral part of the development of the representational codes used in portraits of the duke, which were stripped of all military connotations in the 1560s, like the recently discovered Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici at the Age of Forty.

Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo, dit). Florence, 1503 - 1572 Portrait de Cosme Ier de Médicis à l’âge de quarante ans1560,oil on panel, 82,5 × 62 cm, Newark, Delaware, The Alana Collection © The Alana Collection, Newark, Delaware, USA.

This development reflected the consolidation of the Medicean regime and its ascension to the status of grand duchy of Tuscany in 1569.A keen collector, Cosimo I was primarily interested in monumental projects; and Baccio Bandinelli was his favourite artist. With other sculptors and architects, he transformed the Florentine city into a veritable centre of power. After symbolically taking up residence in the Palazzo Vecchio, where Vasari created a grandiose decor that celebrated the glory of the Medici in the room known as the ‘Salone dei Cinquecento’ (the Room of the Five Hundred), Cosimo had a large administrative building—the Uffizi Palace—erected nearby.

Francesco Salviati, 1510 - 1563, Portrait of a Young Man with a Fawn Circa 1545-1548, oil on panel, 88,5 × 68,5 cm Vaduz-Vienne, Liechtenstein Princely Collections© LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna 

1539 - 1574
Magnificent Portraits of the Courtiers

Like the Medici portraits, those of their courtiers were composed with great finesse. Nothing was left to chance, neither in terms of the work’s composition, the arrangement and positioning of the sitters, or their postures and expressions—or rather their absence of expression—, nor their garments and accessories. The courtiers’ portraits rivalled one another in their representation of every detail of luxury and refinement, while taking care not to surpass the sumptuous representations of their rulers. The intention behind these highly naturalistic ceremonial portraits was to transcribe the physiognomy and character of the models and convey their social status, and sometimes even specify their rank within an extremely hierarchical court society. These portraits attest to the emergence of the grand duchy’s court society, and the affirmation of the nobility of those who belonged to it. The images convey this transmutation of bourgeois codes into specific aristocratic codes, which were indispensable for promoting the princely grandeur of the Medici court.  

The Medici Heirs. Magnificent Portraits

Francesco I preferred refined works and the decorative arts, a result perhaps of his cultivated upbringing and education, which comprised the study of the sciences, arts, and literature. Between 1570 and 1572, he entrusted Giorgio Vasari and Vincenzo Borghini with the project to refurbish his Studiolo inside the Palazzo Vecchio. From 1580 onwards, Francesco also established an area known as La Tribuna within the Uffizi that was dedicated to his collection—comprising antique sculptures, small bronzes, hard-stone objects, goldsmithed objects... — in a decor that combined natural treasures with artistic marvels. In the Florence of the second half of the Cinquecento, the art of Medicean portraiture attained its zenith. Bronzino was still the unparalleled master, as attested by the wonderful series of 29 small family portraits painted on tin that he created with the collaboration of his workshop, to adorn Cosimo I’s office. More precious than ever, the portraits comprised luxurious materials such as gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and other precious stones, attesting to an increasing emphasis on the sumptuary dimension, complemented by great attention to detail and the rendering of textures. Such refinement was also often associated with miniaturisation, and sometimes resulted in technical accomplishments. Nothing was deemed too luxurious to celebrate the prince’s life.  

Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo, dit) Florence, 1503 - 1572 Portrait of Francesco de Medici, 1555-1565, oil on tin, 16 x 12,5 cm Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi© S.S.P.S.A.E e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze 

Francesco Salviati (Francesco de’ Rossi). Florence, 1510 - Rome, 1563 Portrait of a Lute Player 1527-1530, oil on panel, 96 x 77 cm, Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André – Institut de France © Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André - Institut de France/Studio Sébert Photographes 

Mannerist Portraiture as a Mirror of the Arts

As a keen patron of the arts Cosimo I de’ Medici made a point of officialising and supporting the recently established Academy of Florence—whose purpose was to promote the Tuscan language. Likewise, he collaborated with Vasari on the foundation of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (‘Academy and Company for the Arts of Drawing’). However, beyond the strict and elitist framework of these academies, the artists also assembled in confraternities (‘Companies of pleasure’), whose main aim was to have a good time and indulge in artistic jousts. A healthy emulation resulted from this coming together of the arts, as most of the artists of the era were polyvalent.Either via instruments or scores, musical references were recurrent, and there were many portraits of musicians, reflecting the fundamental role of music in Florentine culture. The lute—a symbol of court music, introduced to Florence by Galileo’s father—was the favourite instrument of professional musicians and the cultivated elite, as evoked by the portraits of Pontormo and Salviati. 

The men and women who feature in the portraits of Bronzino and Andrea del Sarto are often depicted with books. The art of Florentine portraiture was, in fact, rooted in the vernacular poetic tradition, and necessarily incorporated references to the great poets who had established the Florentine identity and culture: Dante (1265–1321), Petrarch (1304–1374), and Boccaccio (1313–1375). The success of the portrait of one’s beloved, inherited from the first two writers, was considerable at the time, and endlessly employed by painters and poets, in a fertile dialogue between painting and poetry, as with Bronzino and Vasari. 

The artist working in the erudite context of the court had to be cultivated, and often devoted themselves to writing. Painted or praised in verse, the beloved lady was generally distinguished by her ideal and eternal beauty, as can be seen in Andrea del Sarto’s portrait of the facetious young woman holding a book.

This lute player is the Frenchman, Jacquet du Pont, a protégé of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati from whom the painter of the portrait adopted the name. Born in Florence and trained in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, a prolific painter and a highly popular one right from his Florentine debut, Francesco Salviati (1510 - 1563) nevertheless spent most of his career in Rome. Deeply concentrated, the musician is playing a difficult chord, that of G major in its second inversion, on his tenor or bass lute of imposing dimensions. Restricted to an erudite public, this noble instrument is closely linked to the first experiments in abstract polyphonic music.The success enjoyed by these figures of musicians demonstrates the esteem in which they were held by the courts, particularly those of the French in Italy.

 Santi di Tito. Florence, 1536 - 1603 Portrait de Marie de Médicis1600, oil on convas, 193,5 x 109 cmFlorence, Istituti museali della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino, Galleria Palatina© S.S.P.S.A.E. e per il Polo Museale della Città di Firenzeroom

  =The Majestic Grand Portraits of the End of the Century

The Medici court adopted the models of the major European monarchies, and even more so after two of its family members became queens of France: firstly, Catherine—the daughter of Lorenzo, duke of Urbino—, who married Henri II in 1533; then Maria, Francesco I’s daughter, who married Henri IV in 1600, as attested in her official portrait by Santi di Tito. This portrait highlighted her status as both queen of France and a Tuscan princess—an ambassador of the flourishing state, Medici finances, and a wife and future mother.In its desire to capture the contemporary mood, portraiture obeyed the conventions and ever-increasing demands for dignity, magnificence, and luxury in the Florentine court. This was particularly true after the arrival in 1539 of Eleonora di Toledo, who introduced Spanish fashions to the court. State portraits strictly employed ritual and repetitive codes, emphasising in particular the insignia of rank. Costumes, coiffures, and accessories constituted various weapons in the discreet but cruel battles of international diplomacy. The portraitists working in the court in the second half of the century were expected to pay particular attention to rendering sumptuary details, as attested by the significant volume of work produced in Santo di Tito’s workshop.Stripped of the noble and official codes of visual representation that applied to the portraits of the rulers, the portraits of courtiers are less rigid and feature various references to their personalities, and even their tastes and sentiments. In fact, two tendencies became apparent in the portraits of the closing decades. On the one hand, the emergence of an allegorical language, and on the other, a return to a certain simplicity in the portrayal of the sitters and their sentiments, in favour of a certain naturalism. This was particularly true of the portraits of children, which were a speciality of Santi di Tito and his son Tiberio. And lastly, portraits continued to become more popular and were commissioned by the bourgeoisie and less affluent families. 

 For a long time regarded as pejorative, the term mannerism is derived from maniera, widely used by Giorgio Vasari in his “Lives”.He used the expression maniera modernato designate the style of artists of his time, from which he developed the concept of the bella maniera, or the perfect manner, to denote in particular the art of Michelangelo, unsurpassable in his opinion.Grace, harmony, imagination, fantasy and virtuosity; such were the exceptional qualities that characterisedthe bella maniera. The movement that 19th century critics called Mannerist was born in Rome and Tuscany during the troubled period between 1515 and 1520. Strong personalities such as Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo in Florence, or Beccafumi in Siena, crystallised the anxieties and formal research already perceptible in certain of their elders such as Andrea del Sarto and Michelangelo.

Profoundly innovative, as much in the field of composition and the handling of forms and space, as in its use of colours, Mannerist art abounds with quotations and references to the works of its predecessors, starting with Michelangelo. More or less naturalistic, it takes extremely varied forms depending on the interpreter, the location and the era. Among its most common manifestations are a lengthening of forms, angularity, dynamism and languor. Formal devices became established, including the famous serpentine or amphora silhouettes, bulbous at the waist.

A movement of this kind was not confined to Rome and Tuscany.Different manifestations appeared all over the peninsula, especially at Parma, with Parmigianino, but also at Bologna, where Primaticcio lived, andin Venice, with Titian and especially Tintoretto. Moreover, it spread throughout Europe from the 1530’s onwards.

It was propagated either by foreign artists visiting Italy who carried it back to their home country, for example Alonso Berruguete returning to Spain from Florence, or Jan van Scorel returning to the Netherlands from Rome, or by Italian artists who emigrated, such as Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio who came to France at the behest of François 1st. They were at the origin of the School of Fontainebleau, at the chateau of the same name, one of the finest expressions of European Mannerist art. 

In the 16thcentury, Florence saw the beginnings of the artistic movement that Giorgio Vasari defined as the «modern style» and which nineteenth century critics baptised with the name «mannerism».