In his portraits of the rich and ruling, Bronzino would include props that indicated the various virtues and achievements of his sitters. Take as an example the dog in this painting of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the first official portrait painted by the Florentine artist in 1530-32 during his stay in Pesaro. No doubt the dog was a favourite of young nobleman but he is also a symbol of his station in life. The animal would reflect his noble origins, hunting being the pastime of aristocrats. And notice how he draws our attention to two things very subtly: Guidobaldo’s hands lead our eyes to the helmet, indicating his military position and to his faithful companion, his hunting dog – there is no doubting his caste. The purpose of the large codpiece was not necessarily to suggest an actual physical feature of the 18 year old heir to the Duchy of Urbino but more to stress his virility and ability to produce sons to carry on the family line.
And this portrait of unknown Lady – the exhibition catalogue goes into a lengthy hypothesis on her identity – is filled with symbolic details that would have literally painted a glowing picture of her character to all viewers. The little lap dog isn’t just a noble lady’s toy – a spaniel, such as this little guy, alludes to fidelity and in this case most likely refers to conjugal faithfulness. In the same way the rosary wrapped around her wrist tells us of her religious devotion and the books so readily to hand suggest that she is a lover of poetry. A devoted wife, a devote catholic and a devotee of poetry – the perfect portrait of a noblewoman.
And in their delightful verses – that they have wittily subtitled Twenty ways to look at Bronzino – Roberto Piumini and Konrad Eisenbichler remark on how well behaved this little creature is.
Ad una dama non pesa posare,
restando ferma lì, per ore e ore,
perché, alla fine, potrà ammirare,
il bel ritratto fatto dal pittore.
un cucciolo, però, come lo tieni?
A lui, cosa importa del ritratto?
Non lo fermi con lacci né con freni:
ma allora, questa dama, come ha fatto?
Guardi, e scopri il gioco. Lei teneva
qualcosa (ma che cosa?) e annuciava:
«Ura la butto!» ma non lo faceve,
e lui, paziente e immobile, aspettava.
This fine lady is willing to pose
For long hours and she doesn’t care
For she knows that this sitting all goes
For a portrait of her in her chair.
But, her little pet dog, what’s he know?
What’s he care of her portrait, so fine?
He is dying to jump up and go
Play with balls, and with toys, and with twine
Do you know how she made him sit so still?
She kept twirling that ball in her hand
With a grace that concealed a great skill
And enchanted her dog just as planned.
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
18 gennaio – Santa Prisc