Agnolo Bronzino was a part of the Mannerist movement which emerged in either Florence or Rome around 1520 and followed the previous artistic era, the High Renaissance. The Mannerist movement was eventually replaced by the Baroque style in 1580.
Mannerism is a combination of the styles that came before. The movement drew particular influence from painters such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. As such, Mannerism became known for its artificial qualities rather than its natural ones. Agnolo Bronzino's Mannerist portraits distinguished themselves from the rest of the movement through incredible attention to detail combined with a still sophistication. Bronzino took particular care when painting materials, fabrics and clothing creating, what has often been called, a gulf between the viewer and the painting's subject.
Bronzino's Style and Technique
Bronzino is notorious for adopting the style of another artist, Pontormo. He was so adept at recreating the other painter's style that art historians have struggled to identify which works are his, to the extent that the authorship of some paintings is still in debate.
Bronzino's portraits are often described as unemotional, cold, detached and calculated, yet incredibly realistic with a near-perfect level of attention to detail, especially when it came to painting clothing and fabrics. When dealing with the subjects, Bronzino would mould their faces and bodies until they appeared almost three-dimensional. He was adept at capturing 16th-century high society and all of the arrogance that was en vogue at the time. Bronzino's portrait style became incredibly popular with the courts. He was so popular that his influence affected court portraiture for centuries throughout Europe.
When creating his religious and allegorical works, Bronzino painted complex compositions and drew on influences from Michelangelo and Pontormo in his use of contorted bodies. However, unlike Pontromo, Bronzino's paintings lacked fervour or passion and this left the latter's works seemingly empty of emotion despite their technical excellence. Bronzino used chiaroscuro to emphasise lighter figures in his paintings so that they stood out in contrast from his darker backgrounds. In his allegorical work, Bronzino combined use of the naked form with strong symbolism. Bronzino was extremely technically proficient. His brushstrokes left almost no visible texture on his paintings. This gives all of his work, but especially his portraits, a heightened, extremely life-like quality.
Agnolo Bronzino's Influences
Jacopo Pontormo - Pontormo had a much greater influence on Bronzino than any other artist. The two painters met in Florence in 1515 when Bronzino became Pontormo's student when the former was 12 years old. The two remained friends and Bronzino served as Pontormo's assistant until Pontormo died in 1557. Pontormo primarily painted religious works during his long career as an artist in Florence. Bronzino would also create a large number of religious paintings, but he was never considered to be his mentor's equal in this area.
Andrea del Sarto - Whether or not Bronzino was a student on Andrea del Sarto during the former's time in Florence is a matter of some historical debate. It is thought that Bronzino learned some of his painting style from Sarto. What is certain, is that Bronzino was strongly influenced by Sarto through Pontormo, who was one of Sarto's students. Sarto was also responsible for bridging the gap between the old-style, Italian High Renaissance, and the movement in which Bronzino worked, Italian Mannerism. Like Sarto, Bronzino painted using slightly elongated forms for his subjects and bold colours. This may have directly from Sarto himself or may have come via Pntormo. Sarto, like Bronzino, paid close attention to detail and may have been the inspiration for this aspect of both Bronzino's and Pontormo's work.
Michelangelo - Bronzino was influenced most directly by Pontormo, his teacher. However, like many other Italian painters, Bronzino idolised Michelangelo's work. From 1530 to 1560, the mid-to-late stages of Bronzino's career, the painter worked hard to emulate Michelangelo's mastery of the human form. Like the Renaissance painter, several of Bronzino's paintings included nude figures. Beyond his attention to anatomical detail, Michelangelo's influence is also evident in the character poses featured in Bronzino's religious paintings. However, another more interesting link exists between the two painters in that they both included ghoulish subjects in many of their paintings.
Leonardo da Vinci - While many artists of this generation had some connection to da Vinci and his work, Bronzino's was one of the closest. Pontormo, who acted as Bronzino's mentor, studied directly under da Vinci as a junior painter in the early 16th century while living in Florence. It is likely that Pontormo accumulated various techniques from da Vinci which influenced his early style, and these were passed on to Bronzino. Like da Vinci, Bronzino worked towards mastery of realism rooted in extreme attention to detail. However, unlike da Vinci, Bronzino's sitters convey an icy detached feeling.
Bronzino's influence had a far-reaching impact that was felt across all court portraiture for over one hundred years after he died in 1572. Other artists adopted Bronzino's cold and aloof style in capturing the arrogance and pride of European nobility. Of all his works, Bronzino's portraits are his greatest and serve as his primary legacy to the art world.
Alessandro Allori - Allori began as Bronzino's student at the age of 5 and was eventually adopted by the painter. Their strong relationship influenced both men and in many ways, Allori's relationship to Bronzino mirrors that of Bronzino and Pontormo. Allori was a court painter, like Bronzino, and served Florence's ruling family, the Medicis. Like Bronzino, Allori paid extreme attention to detail and realism. Allori also adopted similar blank expressions to convey the arrogance of the sitter. The two artists were so similar, that some portraits were falsely attributed to Bronzino when they were painted by Allori. Allori is said to be the last of the Mannerists in the pre-Baroque era.
Michael Dahl - Dahl was a painter from Sweden who was active in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Dahl was considered to be one of the greatest painters in England at the time, and the only one to rival Sir Godfrey Kneller. Bronzoni's style can be felt in Dahl's use of intricately detailed and extravagant clothing, as well as in the detached and arrogant faces of the sitting nobility.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - Ingres was like Bronzino in that he was best known for his court portraits. Unlike many other artists, Ingres preferred to capture and conserve historical styles of painting. This is why 300 years after Bronzino died, Ingres was working to emulate his style of decadently dressed nobility, with blank facial expressions captured in the most detailed, realistic style possible.
Some of Bronzino's notable paintings include:
A Young Woman and her Little Boy
Allegorical Portrait of Dante
Allegory of Happiness
An Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Cosimo I de' Medici in Armour
Deposition of Christ
Eleonora di Toledo
Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni de' Medici