Bronzino was the court painter for the Medici family, painting several family portraits, including some that feature in the Uffizi’s Hall of Dynasties. Bronzino typically focused on portraits and allegorical paintings, such as his Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi (1540).
Bartolomeo Panciatichi was a Florentine politician and humanist, but he spent his formative years in France, acting as a page at King Francis I’s court. Eventually, he moved back to Florence and became a member of the prestigious Accademia degli Umidi, a philosophical/literary group of men, where he likely encountered Bronzino, who was also a member. While in France, however, Bartolomeo picked up Lutheran tendencies, i.e., austerity, avoidance of overt sacred references, emphasis on individuality, etc., which are expressed in his portrait, as well as that of his wife, Lucrezia Panciatichi, discussed infra, which Bronzino painted a few years later. Although speaking of the portraits done by Albrecht Dürer, art historian Donald Kuspit’s analysis of same applies here as well:
[T]here was also a change of emphasis in [Martin Luther’s] doctrine; from sin to salvation. The mood has lifted, changing from one of suffering and danger to one of security and resoluteness, the new inner strength indicated as much by the absence of symbolic attributes … as by radical reduction of the portrait to little more than the face. Attributes are no longer needed––partly in acknowledgement of Lutheran sacramental simplicity and partly for the sake of stylistic concentration … But more significantly, their absence signifies a new affirmation, …. the attributes––skull and flail––all had negative connotations, being associated with the Passion rather than the Resurrection. In the … portraits we have men who have been resurrected as it were, displaying not signs of suffering but the forthrightness and self-possession of spiritual health so self-assured it is in no need of signs to mediate or interpret it.
To use Lutheran language, where the [Catholically-influenced] pictures show penitent men (poenitentiam agite), troubled by bad consciences and confessing their sins, at least to themselves, within the context of the old Christianity as their surroundings indicate, the [Lutheran] portraits show men who have come to their senses (metanoia) and have, in renewing their faith, renewed themselves, experiencing “a change in heart and love in response to God’s grace.” The late portraits show men who are spiritually renewed––“the renewal of man’s life” is a crucial Lutheran ideal––and who have experienced “inner transformation.” They are ready to accept repentance as “a lifetime matter,” for, as Benesch writes, “Life had to be mastered, and the human character had to be provided in it severely and harshly. Life was no longer an artistic (and one might add ‘intellectual’) performance of the personality, but a duty and a task. The Reformation gave to life this new meaning.”Kuspit, Donald. “DÜRER AND THE LUTHERAN IMAGE.” Art News, January–February 1975 issue.
Indeed, Panciatichi’s portrait contains no overt references to religion. The work is almost entirely focused on Panciatichi himself, as an individual.
As mentioned above, Bronzino also painted a portrait of Panciatichi’s wife, Lucrezia Panciatichi.
Unlike her husband, who is dressed for the most part in black, Lucrezia is clothed in a strikingly red dress, which contrasts vividly with the dark, undifferentiated background. Yet, it was not so long ago that artists in the mold of Leonardo, and subsequently Raphael, depicted their female subjects overlooking verdant landscapes.
But Lucrezia’s portrait focuses on the sitter as she appears – not placed in an idealized landscape. The centering of the painting on Lucrezia herself enables Bronzino to highlight Lucrezia ‘s rich and luxurious attire, especially the soft crushed velvet sleeves and beautiful crimson satin, thereby underlining the Panciatichi’s wealth and prosperity.
The Panciatichis’ portraits are mirror images of one another: Bartolomeo’s sleeves provide only a hint of color that reflects his wife’s crimson dress while Lucrezia’s sleeves are the only dark cloth she wears, reflecting Bartolomeo’s somber Protestant attire. Unlike the background in Lucrezia’s portrait, however, the background in Bartolomeo’s portrait proclaims his identity (or perhaps more correctly Bartolomeo’s version of his ideal identity constructed for the public) to the viewer. Behind Bartolomeo stands his family’s palazzo, decorated with the Panciatichi’s family arms. Therefore, both portraits are really a reflection of Bartolomeo alone and his success, which is expressed through his wife’s luxurious ornamentation, and his piety, which is expressed through his own austere image.
Interestingly, Lucrezia’s portrait has appeared in multiple British and American literary works. For instance, her necklace, which states “Amour Dure Sans Fin” (“love is everlasting”), is gothicized in Vernon Lee’s Hauntings:
None of these portraits seem very good, save the miniature, but that is an exquisite work, and with it, and the suggestions of the bust, it is easy to reconstruct the beauty of this terrible being. The type is that most admired by the late Renaissance, and, in some measure, immortalized by Jean Goujon and the French. The face is a perfect oval, the forehead somewhat over-round, with minute curls, like a fleece, of bright auburn hair; the nose a trifle over-aquiline, and the cheek-bones a trifle too low; the eyes grey, large, prominent, beneath exquisitely curved brows and lids just a little too tight at the corners; the mouth also, brilliantly red and most delicately designed, is a little too tight, the lips strained a trifle over the teeth. Tight eyelids and tight lips give a strange refinement, and, at the same time, an air of mystery, a somewhat sinister seductiveness; they seem to take, but not to give. The mouth with a kind of childish pout, looks as if it could bite or suck like a leech. The complexion is dazzlingly fair, the perfect transparent rosette lily of a red-haired beauty; the head, with hair elaborately curled and plaited close to it, and adorned with pearls, sits like that of the antique Arethusa on a long, supple, swan-like neck. A curious, at first rather conventional, artificial-looking sort of beauty, voluptuous yet cold, which, the more it is contemplated, the more it troubles and haunts the mind. Round the lady's neck is a gold chain with little gold lozenges at intervals, on which is engraved the posy or pun (the fashion of French devices is common in those days), "Amour Dure—Dure Amour." The same posy is inscribed in the hollow of the bust, and, thanks to it, I have been able to identify the latter as Medea's portrait. I often examine these tragic portraits, wondering what this face, which led so many men to their death, may have been like when it spoke or smiled, what at the moment when Medea da Carpi fascinated her victims into love unto death—"Amour Dure—Dure Amour," as runs her device—love that lasts, cruel love—yes indeed, when one thinks of the fidelity and fate of her lovers.
Whereas the painting as a whole is immortalized in Henry James’ Wings of the Dove:
She was the image of the wonderful Bronzino, which she must have a look at on every ground. ... The Bronzino was, it appeared, deep within, and the long afternoon light lingered for them on patches of old colour and waylaid them, as they went, in nooks and opening vistas. ... the face of a young woman, all magnificently drawn, down to the hands, and magnificently dressed; a face almost livid in hue, yet handsome in sadness and crowned with a mass of hair rolled back and high, that must, before fading with time, have had a family resemblance to her own. The lady in question, at all events, with her slightly Michaelangelesque squareness, her eyes of other days, her full lips, her long neck, her recorded jewels, her brocaded and wasted reds, was a very great personage - only unaccompanied by a joy. ...Splendid as she is, one doubts if she was good.
Thus, even though Bartolomeo sought to immortalize himself through both portraits, it is really his wife alone who achieved everlasting fame.
Bartolomeo also commissioned an image of the Holy Family from Bronzino, which is located near his portrait. His role in the creation of this painting is evidenced by the Panciatichi flag flying on the tower in the upper left corner of the work.
Pictured are the Virgin, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and his cousin, St. John the Baptist, identifiable not only due to his age (St. John is usually the only saint to be depicted as a child since, according to Christian belief, he was born slightly before Christ), but also due to his traditional attribute of the scroll (here at the bottom of the work) proclaiming, “Ecce Agnus Dei” (“Behold, the Lamb of God”). Although, only the “Agnvs” is visible herein.
Jesus’ sleeping figure (sleep being an allusion to his early death) is central to the picture. His feet are placed up against a rock, which some art scholars read as an allusion to Jesus’ entombment. Art historian Lubomír Konečný, however, argues that the rock is actually key to understanding the work and is not, therefore, simply a mere allusion. In his article, BRONZINO’S PANCIATICHI “HOLY FAMILY WITH SAINT JOHN” RECONSIDERED, Konečný argues that this work is really a story about the virgin conception of Christ. Indeed, if you consider the mountain behind the Virgin, which (likely intentionally) traces the outline of the Virgin’s body along with the stone at Christ’s foot (and if you know the Bible inside and out, which I don’t, but luckily we have scholars like Konečný who do), the story of Daniel and his interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king, not the ship in the Matrix) would pop into your head. The book of Daniel tells us:
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Book of Daniel, Chapter 2, Verse 45 of the King James Version
“The stone cut out of the mountain without hands” is an allusion to Christ’s miraculous birth without a human father (the mountain is a common allusion to Mary) and his destruction of petty kingdoms to create the Kingdom of Heaven. Based on this reading of the work, the depiction of the Holy Family gains an altogether more important message: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand.
The other religious work in this room that Bronzino painted is the Lamentation, also known as Pietà with St. Mary Magdalen or the Cambi Pietà (1529).
Here, like the feet of Christ in Bronzino’s Panciatichi Holy Family, Christ’s feet rest on a stone, perhaps signaling the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the Panciatichi Holy Family.
In striking contrast is his Pygmalion and Galatea, which depicts the pagan sacrifice of Pygmalion, as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.
In the story, Pygmalion is a famous sculptor who ends up falling in love with one of his statues, who he – quite literally – has placed upon a pedestal.
Meanwhile, Pygmalion began to carve in snow-white ivory, with wondrous art, a female figure more exquisite than a woman who was born could ever match. That done, he falls in love with his own work. The image seems, in truth, to be a girl; one could have thought she was alive and keen to stir, to move her limbs, had she not been too timid: with his art, he’s hidden art. He is enchanted and, within his heart, the likeness of a body now ignites a flame. He often lifts his hand to try his work, to see if it indeed is flesh or ivory; he still will not admit it is but ivory. He kisses it: it seems to him that, in return, he’s kissed. The Metamorphoses of Ovid as trans. Allen Mandelbaum.
Due to this obsession with his statue, Pygmalion no longer finds human women attractive so he makes a sacrifice to Venus, asking that she provide him with a woman as wonderful as his statue. Understanding his true desire, Venus transforms the statue into living flesh.
Bronzino seems to have based Pygmalion’s pose on that of St. Francis in the Pucci Altarpiece, painted by Bronzino’s teacher, Pontormo, thereby likening Pygmalion’s devotion to his statue to divine worship.
The statue, known as Galatea, on the other hand takes the traditional pose of Venus Pudica, conflating the two women into a single divine entity.
By merging Galatea and Venus into one, Bronzino highlights the duality of love: earthly/physical love, which is represented by Galatea and spiritual love, which is represented by Venus.
Moreover, Venus herself appears twice – in the form of Galatea and as an engraving on the altar where she stands holding the infamous Golden Apple, a nod to the Judgment of Paris, who chose her as the most beautiful goddess and in so doing, started the legendary Trojan war. Significantly, next to Venus on the altar is her lover Mars and not her husband, Vulcan.
Venus may also be a stand in for Florence. Her pose is the exact inverse of Michelangelo’s David, which itself was a potent symbol of the Florentine Republic. (Although it is unlikely that Bronzino was advocating for the Republic since he fared very well under Medici dynastic rule; rather, he may have been attempting to evoke Florence itself.)