Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man

To atone for inflicting the horrific graphic of sociopath James Harrison upon you yesterday, I thought we could enter once again a more elevated realm by the contemplation of beauty.
The above painting is Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man.  It was created sometime in the 1530s, and is painted on wood, roughly 30x40. 
Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) was a Florentine painter of the Mannerist period who lived from 1503-1572.  Bronzino was the son of a butcher, and at an early age he went under the tutelage of artist Jacopo Pontormo, who would later introduce Bronzino to the Medici family.  (Many scholars believe that the relationship between Bronzino and Pontormo was also a romantic one, but we may never know the full truth of that.)
Bronzino became court artist while Cosimo I de Medici was Duke of Florence.  Eleanor of Toledo, the Duke’s first wife, was a great champion of the artist, and her premature death in 1562 diminished his support within the family. 
As he grew older, Bronzino became a prominent fixture of the Florentine art scene.  He took a leading role in the activities of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, which he helped create in 1563, and was a great teacher of younger artists, including Alessandro Allori.  Bronzino was living in the Allori household at the time of his death.  He was also a journeyman poet of no great distinction.
The Portrait of a Young Man hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and your correspondent visits this picture regularly.  During the Met’s recent Drawings of Bronzino show, historians using X-ray imaging determined that Bronzino re-drew and re-painted the head extensively at some later date.  He also altered the structure of the room behind the Young Man, providing a more central showcase for the figure.  That may be, but the finished work is remarkable
Along with his fresco work, Bronzino was a celebrated portraitist.  The Young Man of the portrait holds an open book, so it is not improbable that he was a young poet or writer friendly with the artist.   Vasari in his monumental Lives of the Artists mentions the names of several of possible sitters, and it has recently been suggested that this panel may portray Bonaccorso di Pietro Pinadori (born 1502), mentioned by the author alongside Ugolino Martelli and Lorenzo Lenzi, both of whose portraits have been identified.  I would love to think it is a self-portrait of Bronzino, and while this is unlikely, the notion appeals to the romantic in me.
Our elegant Young Man exhibits certain hauteur, but is never condescending.  He wears little ornamentation – a single ring – but his surroundings are an elaborately carved chair and table.  He has one lazy eye, but it somehow heightens his look of intelligence rather than diminishing it.
A copy of this painting hung for years in my living room.  Why I am so beglamoured by this picture?  Several reasons, I believe.  The Young Man represents an ideal: his easy elegance and intellectual attainments are obvious.  The hand on his hip contrasts the hand holding the book, creating a sense of both sensuality and calm.  He has the matching gifts of youth and beauty; he is already master of the world and his life is only just beginning.  He embodies the Renaissance  courtier’s ideal of sprezzatura, which, as Wayne A. Rebhorn wrote, made a courtier appear fully at ease, someone who was “the total master of self, society’s rules, and even physical laws … [creating] the distinct impression that he was unable to err.”
We would all do well to lock the image of Bronzino’s Young Man in our memory, and see in him an idealized version of ourselves.

1 comment:

Patrick Byrnes said...

I'll be copying this beauty at The Met in a few weeks and I cannot wait! Such insouciant grace... Thanks for writing about this masterpiece!