Collating his Drawings
Bronzino's career has never been as well documented as is the case for some of his fellow Florentines. It has taken many centuries to collate together the current list of his drawings that we have available today, and previously many art critics had derided his contribution within this medium. The sketches themselves are today dispersed right across the western world and a relatively recent exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the US was a particularly rare occasion in which many were brought together, perhaps for the first time since they were originally created by Bronzino himself. In a similar manner to his paintings, the artist's drawings have fallen in and out of fashion several times over the years, but today his oeuvre is much more fairly judged. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns four drawings from his career, making this an obvious choice to organise the original exhbition in 2010, with other artworks found elsewhere in France, Germany, the UK, Hungary and elsewhere in the US.
"...I say to you briefly that by drawing i mean all those things that can be formed with the value, or force, of simple lines..."
Understanding the Artist
Most of what we understand about the artist himself has come from other sources, as he would not keep documentation himself. Vasari would tell us much about his life, and his teacher, Pontormo, would also mention him regularly within his own diaries. These two sources alone have proven enough to determine Bronzino's character, as a warm, kind individual who was widely regarded during his own lifetime. But his skills in, and attitudes to, his own drawings is a little more of a mystery. This art form was regularly seen as a tool of preparation, with sketches passed around art studios as a means to learn but without much care for their own perservation. Indeed, their fragile nature has led to many being stored away in the present day, rarely seen by the public, unless specifically requested. With the logistical difficulties that exist around organising exhbitions of Renaissance fresco or tempera paintings, some have turned to drawings in recent years, with a good number to be found in a relatively small number of institutions.
The Importance of Drawing
Several European nations during the era of the Renaissance, and for some centuries afterwards, would not allow a painter to be taken seriously unless they were also an accomplished draughtsman. Bronzino is believed to have shared this opinion himself, and was highly committed to developing his technical skills through regular practice. He encouraged other artists to do the same. His early experiences under Pontormo were hugely influential, with some experts being unable to tell the difference between some of their artworks. Bronzino would imitate both his style as a painter, but also as a draughtsman, and it would only be in later years that he started to develop more of a unique approach which was essential in order to be taken seriously in later centuries. Pontormo himself had just a select few apprentices, though none of the others would achieve the fame of Bronzino, nor would they manage to follow their master anywhere near as closely. He would later leave his master's studio and this marked the point of divergence between their two styles.
Techniques and Mediums
One of the strongest legacies left by Bronzino was in how a good number of his pupils would eventually become members of the Compagnia ed Accademia del Disegno. They therefore had become accomplished draughtsman, inspired by their master's impressive technical ability within this medium. His figurative work was particularly respected and the majority of his best work was delivered in red and black chalk, in a similar manner to one of his own inspirations, Michelangelo. There are some pen and ink plus very rough, initial sketches from Bronzino's career, but they are extremely rare. Most of what we have left today are more detailed compositions related to the human anatomy, or full figure pieces. He was known to accentuate elements with harsher lines as his own master, Pontormo, would have done. He also followed a similar sketching style to his teacher of many years. It is likely that the use of chalk would be easier in comparison to pen and ink, particularly in terms of correcting errors. Pontormo himself would also rarely use alternatives to chalk. Much of Bronzino's early work as a draughtsman was in red chalk specifically, before he switched to black soft tones in around the 1530s.
There are some examples of where Bronzino would use charcoal instead, but these are particularly rare. He would have seen many other artists choosing that alternative during the 16th century but he continued with black chalk instead. The key drawing techniques such as hatching and stumping were incorporated by Bronzino but he certainly shifted his focus from those of his master, Pontormo, towards the techniques used instead by Michelangelo and Raphael as his career progressed. His own pupils would therefore have taken advantage from seeing all of these different methods displayed, offering different routes with which to take their own careers. He would also vary the types of paper, and their preparation, across his career, including their tones of colour. This would bring different results to his own work, and in some examples he would make use of the original colours of the paper in how he designed each composition. An additional influence on his drawings may have been Leonardo da Vinci who taught Pontormo various techniques of drawing himself, and some of these would have been passed on to Bronzino.
From the items that have been attributed to the artist, we have a selection of anatomical studies and portraits of the head or from shoulder length. There are not many of his drawings documented, but probably enough to conclude fairly confidently that these genres would have dominated his work in this medium. Some of his portrait drawings will also immediately remind some of the work of Michelangelo, and it is fair to suggest that Bronzino followed him just as closely as he would his own teacher, Pontormo. The two together would certainly prove sufficient in teaching him of the fundamentals of drawing and Michelangelo's own legacy would of course remain strong for many centuries to come. As can be seen from this list of paintings, Bronzino worked mainly as a portrait painter, particularly whilst serving in the court of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and so perhaps inevitably his drawings would also be related to the same genres. Whilst learning more about Michelangelo's career, he would also have noticed the great master's incredible work ethic, and his particular commitment to study and practice with regards to his skills as a draughtsman, something that would undeniably rub off on the young Bronzino. He would even write poetry himself too, and mentioned this influence within his own texts.