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. His very clear style would rise and fall in popularity over the centuries that have passed since, and was also impacted by the general demise of the Mannerist movement as a whole. Today, our appraisals of different artistic approaches tends to be a little more balanced, and artists such as Bronzino have been viewed more favourably.
The artist and poet, who is also sometimes known as Agnolo di Cosimo and Angolo Bronzino, learnt many of the techniques of the greatest Renaissance masters via his tutor, Pontormo. For the early part of his career he would be most effective at replicating his teacher, much more than other members of the same studio, but after leaving he would then start to develop more of his own, unique approach. His main focus would be portraits along with religious and allegorical subjects, and he also held a strong interest in literature, which would eventually lead to him becoming a poet himself. Indeed, some poets would appear within his list of portraits, but most figures were local to the artist, including many members of the Medici family who would provide the artist with his highest profile commissions. Bronzino's role as the official court painter of the Duke and his court would provide much needed financial security and also brought some famous names into his oeuvre, including Cosimo I de' Medici himself, as well as his wife, Eleonora di Toledo, several times over.
One of the best attributes of Bronzino's paintings would have to be the levels of detail that he incorporated into many of them, with his touches of drapery being particularly memorable. Some of the traditional clothing worn by his portrait models would be reproduced in photo-realistic forms which even today can amaze the viewer. Every last touch of jewellery and flourishes of fashion would be captured by the artist who clearly paid considerable attention to the clothing worn by some of his famous sitters. Some might argue that his precision went beyond a natural expectation, hence his connection to Mannerism, but today one can continue to marvel at the technical and stylish brilliance that he delivered whilst working in the court of the Medici family. His approach would marry elements from the great masters along with his own teacher, though the balance between these competing influences would fluctuate over the period of his career. Much depended on his proximity to Pontormo, who he would initially replicate closely, before moving away to develop a more unique approach.
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.
Mannerist Art Explained
Mannerism is also known as Late Renaissance and it commenced in around 1520, running until about 1580. Bronzino would therefore have been in his late teens at the time of its arrival. His own work can be described as elegant, though with surfaces that would not appear quite as natural or well balanced as previous styles of Renaissance art and this was typical of this new movement. There would also be an elongation of form, such as with a subject's limbs but Bronzino would not go down this path quite as much as others of his era. By contrast, his master Pontormo would regularly use this method within his own work, and coming from around a decade earlier, he would be classed as typical of the early Mannerist period. Whilst there were common characteristics that many members shared, it could not be claimed that all Mannerist artists followed a precise style, and so the definitions of the movement are not as clear as they might be for other art movements. The end of the movement would be brought about by the rise of the Baroque era which would itself bring in another stylistic change in European art, architecture and literature.
Bronzino's Most Famous Paintings
In part because of their own historical fame, the artist's portraits of Cosimo I de' Medici and Eleonora di Toledo remain known as some of his most famous paintings. His connection to the Medici family was also highly significant with regards his development. His role as the official court painter of the Duke is often how his career is introduced, and some of these depictions are also good examples of his signature approach. His depictions of Dante and Petrarch are also fairly well known and remind us of his own interest in poetry. Aside from these paintings, and portraits of other figures from the court, there were also a number of respected allegorical and religious artworks, with Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time being the highlight of those. That particular piece would prove controversial for many centuries but today is perhaps seen as his most famous painting of all. His popularity has led to the dispersal of his artworks right across the western world, with most now residing within Italy, France, the UK and the US.
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. The earliest drawings and paintings from Bronzino would all be particularly similar to his tutor's approach but after moving away, so his style would begin to draw in other influences. In time, Bronzino would actually have a number of his own pupils, continuing the lineage of Renaissance art which had already passed through many generations of Florentine society, each time adding something new to what had gone before.
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. Some of Michelangelo's influence would only appear later in Bronzino's oeuvre, with his initial work being much more closely related to his teacher, Pontormo. Some of Bronzino's carefully crafted studies of limbs and torsos will remind even the most fleeting of art followers of Michelangelo's own earlier contributions.
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. Several drawing methods had been picked up by Pontormo, such as grid techniques and these would certainly have been taught to Bronzino, though he would not necessarily have taken all of the ideas into his own work. A lack of surviving drawings from his career has made it harder to determine precisly which techniques he made use of himself.
The artist was a highly skilled draughtsman, but only a few of his drawings would survive to the present day. The majority of his work was completed in red and black chalk and his early drawing style was similar to his master, Pontormo. Over time he would display more of a similarity with the likes of Michelangelo, someone whom he is known to have particularly admired, along with elements of Raphael and Da Vinci. He produced a number of highly detailed studies of parts of the anatomy as well as portraits. Smaller, quicker sketches are likely to have been produced at the time but later lost or destroyed within his studio. There were also some rare examples that made use of charcoal, but this tended to be more of a preference for other artists of that period. He had a strong work ethic with regards practicing this discipline, and is quoted several times as telling younger artists of the importance of mastering this art form, whatever their main artistic specialisation would later become.
Bronzino was a well regarded poet and this discipline would influence some of his paintings. He was highly familiar with the works of poets Dante and Petrarch, for example, and would produce portraits of them too. Some have suggested that he actually went as far as being able to recite their texts entirely from his own memory. He would bring humour into many of his own poems, and there would also be sexual themes fairly regularly, including the use of double-entendres. Some of his words have also helped to explain more about his work in the visual arts, including his attitudes to drawing when very few have lasted to the present day. Bronzino is remembered for producing a Petrarchan canzoniere and several burlesque poems which suited his writing style. In total, he would put together many hundreds of poems during his lifetime, spread across a variety of collections but today very little is mentioned about his poetry. Within his own lifetime, however, he would receive a strong reception for his written works, with many appreciating how he would continue certain Florentine traits within his own words.
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
Portrait of a Lady
Portrait of a Young Man
Portrait of Andrea Doria as Neptune
Portrait of Bia Medici Daughter of Cosimo
Portrait of Don Garcia de' Medici
Portrait of Giovanni de' Medici
Portrait of Laura Battiferri
Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi
Portrait of Maria de' Medici
The Holy Family
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.