Despite my constant complaining about their website TrenItalia does make travel within Italy remarkably easy to most of the major cities. With their new Frecce high speed trains Napoli is only 90 minutes from Roma as is Firenze in the other direction. So Sunday it came as no surprise heading back on the 2010 out of Firenze to see a fair number of people in our car clutching – as where my friend Peter and I – programmes from the Maggio Musicale performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and catalogues from the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.
We had taken a morning train up and arrived – in the pouring rain – at Santa Maria Novella with enough time to catch the exhibition, have a leisurely lunch at Trattoria 4 Leoni and make the late afternoon performance at the Teatro Communale. And we were back home in Roma by 2200. A full day but a good one.
Peter had seen the exhibition earlier in the fall and wanted another peak in. I wasn’t all that familiar with Bronzino’s work so was more than happy to accompany him. We hadn’t reserved and being a Sunday and rainy we had to line up for about 20 minutes but as with all line ups here the wait had its entertainment value. Its always fun to watch the attempts to jump queue and the pantomimes of astonishment or indignation when the heretofore invisible line up is indicated and suggestions made that the culprit go to the end of it. The attendant was obviously adroit at handling myopic and offended patrons of the arts who had never waited in a line at any other museum anywhere else in the world.
As with so many of the exhibitions here the design was exceptional, the flow from early works through the allegorical, the sacred and court portraiture was presented with style and flair. Pieces were put into the context of other artists and influences of the period and included poetry by Bronzino and his contemporaries who were members of a poet’s society of the time. Descriptions were in Italian and English and included verses – again in Italian and English – written in the slightly doggerel style Bronzino and his friends used in verses circulated amongst themselves.
Angelo Bronzino was a Florentine born and bred and though his travels took him to Pesaro and the delle Rovere court he returned to his home town and the employ of Cosimo I de’Medici. He was official court portrait painter to the Medici family from 1539 until his death in 1572.
It was these portraits that I found the most interesting and that gave me the greatest pleasure. When discussing it later on the train with fellow passengers I mentioned that the details was incredible but that it was the eyes that gave his likeness of the great and those around them life 500 years later.
Even the formal clothing of the court can’t hide the cheerful aspects of a pudgy two year old Giovanni de’ Medici painted in 1545. As healthy a child as he looks in this portrait he suffered from tuberculosis in his early teenage years. He was the son chosen to enter the church and was first Archbishop of Pisa and then made a cardinal at the age of 17. Two years later he was dead from a malaria attack. He* and his mother Eleanor of Toledo are the subject of the remarkable painting chosen for the poster and catalogue cover for the exhibition.
One of the more intriguing works was this double sided portrait of Cosimo’s dwarf Morgante. Braccio di Bartolo (his nickname was a joke based on the name of a giant in an epic poem of the period) had joined Cosimo’s court around 1540. Though he was an entertainer he also was known for for his kindness and cleverness and was much beloved by the Duke. He accompanied him on several diplomatic missions and Cosimo bequeathed him land and the right to marry.
This two sided portrait shows Morgante preparing for the night hunt with an owl on the retro and triumphantly displaying his catch on the verso. In the 18th century it was considered an obscene work and his nakedness was heavily over-painted with vines and grapes. It has been recently restored and is now being displayed for the first time in several centuries as Bronzino painted it. Though he had some privilege at court, like all dwarfs, he was there as a curiosity and was often the object of ridicule and humiliation from courtiers, functionaries and courtesans. Now 450 years later they have all been forgotten but Morgante lives on in Bronzino’s work and in sculptures by Giambologna and Valerio Cioli.
With the time at hand I couldn’t fully appreciate all of the more than 80 works on display so it may mean another day trip up to Firenze. After all thanks to TrenItalia its only 90 minutes away.
There are several articles on the Internet on the exhibition and an interesting video in English on YouTube: Bronzino in Florence.
*Though most sources indicate that the sitter is Giovanni, as mentioned in the catalogue, recent suggestions have arisen that given the date of the portrait – 1545 – it may be his elder brother Francesco.
29 novembre – Sant’Andrea apotolo