More Bronzino Dogs and Doggerel

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.

Guidobaldo II della Rovere – Bronzino 1530-32 Pesaro

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.

Portrait of a Lady with a Lap Dog – Bronzino 1530-32 Pesaro (?)

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.

Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store

18 gennaio – Santa Prisc

Painterly Poetry and Dog(gerel)

The second visit to the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi was as delightful as the first. It was a chance to examine closer many of the paintings and related works and to read, more extensively, the fine explanations (in Italian and English) that put the works in context. An added feature was the burlesque verses in the style of Bronzino, again in both Italian and English. As a member of the Academia the painter was expected to excel in more than one of the arts. He was a writer of poetry – serious, burlesque, doggerel and limerick poetry all of which circulated among his friends and some of which was published. The exhibition included a display of his literary works including this page, at the right, from a book of his burlesque poems.

In the spirit of this really remarkable exhibition curators Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali – to whom be all honour and glory! – have included burlesque verses for many of the works created by Italian writer-poet-actor Roberto Piumini who is known for his modern takes on mythological subjects. They then were used as inspiration by Konrad Eisenbichler, a well-known teacher of Renaissance studies at the University of Toronto, to write English poems in the same spirit.

Here is the first of a selection I’ll post over the next few days gleaned from their book that accompanies the exhibition: Cerchi nei QUADRI/Hide AND Seek* along with the picture the verses accompany. (Remember a left click will enlarge both Bartolomeo and his pup!)

Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciaticchi
(1541-5) oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi

Bartolomeo, d’acccordo, tu leggevi
tranquillament quel tu libricino
pieno di cose sagge, e riflettevi
nel bel silenso del tu balconino.

Lui ha abbaiato, sì, ma solamente
perché voleva un po’ farsi notare,
perché, lo sai, è fedele e intelligente,
ma ha voglia di muoversi, di andare …

Tu invece l’hai sgridato, e lui è fuggito,
e adesso è lì, stordito di dolore,
tristissimo, nascosto, impaurito …
Su, dagli una carezza, buon signore!

Detail of sorrowful pup!

Bartolemo, I know you were
Constantly reading a small tome
(A learned text, if I don’t err)
On your fine balcony at home,

When all at once he barked because
He wished to tell you he was there
And that, perhaps, his restless paws
needed to move and go somewhere.

You scowled at him and told him: “Hush!”
So now he sits, forlorn and sad,
With ears down low, his face a blush.
Give him a pat and make him glad!

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.


15 gennaio – San Macario il Vecchio