The Lives of the Artists

The Life of Agnolo Bronzino

Giorgio Vasari

Venus, Cupid, and Satyr, Agnolo Bronzino

HAVING WRITTEN hitherto of the lives and works of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects, from Cimabue down to the present day, who have passed to a better life, and having spoken with the opportunities that came to me of many still living, it now remains that I say something of the craftsmen of our Academy of Florence, of whom up to this point I have not had occasion to speak at sufficient length. And beginning with the oldest and most important, I shall speak first of Agnolo called Bronzino, a Florentine painter truly most rare and worthy of all praise.

Agnolo, then, having been many years with Pontormo, as has been told, caught his manner so well, and so imitated his works, that their pictures have been taken very often one for the other, so similar they were for a time. And certainly it is a marvel how Bronzino learned the manner of Pontormo so well, for the reason that Jacopo was rather strange and shy than otherwise even with his dearest disciples, being such that he would never let anyone see his works save when completely finished. But notwithstanding this, so great were the patience and lovingness of Agnolo towards Pontormo, that he was forced always to look kindly upon him, and to love him as a son.

The first works of account that Bronzino executed, while still a young man, were in the Certosa of Florence, over a door that leads from the great cloister into he chapter-house, on two arches, one within and the other without. On hat without is a Pieta, with two Angels, in fresco, and on that within is nude St. Laurence upon the gridiron, painted in oil colors on the wall; which works were a good earnest of the excellence that has been seen since in the works of this painter in his mature years. In the Chapel of Lodovico Capponi, in Santa Felicita at Florence, Bronzino, as has been said in another place, painted two Evangelists in two round pictures in oils, and on the vaulting he executed some figures in color.

In the Abbey of the Black Friars at Florence, in the upper cloister, he painted in fresco a story from the life of St. Benedict, when he throws himself naked on the thorns, which is a very good picture. In the garden of the Sisters called the Poverine, he painted in fresco a most beautiful tabernacle, wherein is Christ appearing to the Magdalene in the form of a gardener. And in Santa Trinita, likewise in Florence, may be seen a picture in oils by the same hand, on the first pilaster at the right hand, of the Dead Christ, Our Lady, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene, executed with much diligence and in a beautiful manner. And during that time when he executed these works, he also painted many portraits of various persons, and other pictures, which gave him a great name.

Then, the siege of Florence being ended and the settlement made, he went, as has been told elsewhere, to Pesaro, where under the protection of Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, besides the above-mentioned harpsichord-case full of figures, which was a rare thing, he executed the portrait of that lord and one of a daughter of Matteo Sofferoni, which was a truly beautiful picture and much extolled. He also executed at the Imperiale, a villa of the said Duke, some figures in oils on the spandrels of a vault; and more of these he would have done if he had not been recalled to Florence by his master, Jacopo Pontormo, that he might assist him to finish the Hall of Poggio a Caiano. And having arrived in Florence, he painted as it were by way of pastime, for Messer Giovanni de Statis, Auditor to Duke Alessandro, a little picture of Our Lady which was a much extolled work, and shortly afterwards, for Monsignor Giovio, his friend, the portrait of Andrea Doria; and for Bartolommeo Bettini, to fill certain lunettes in a chamber, the portraits of Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio, half-length figures of great beauty.

Which pictures finished, he made portraits of Bonaccorso Pinadori, Ugolino Martelli, Messer Lorenzo Lenzi, now Bishop of Fermo, and Pier Antonio Bandini and his wife, with so many others, that it would be a long work to seek to make mention of them all; let it suffice that they were all very natural, executed with incredible diligence, and finished so well, that nothing more could be desired. For Bartolommeo Panciatichi he painted two large pictures of Our Lady, with other figures, beautiful to a marvel and executed with infinite diligence, and, besides these, portraits of him and his wife, so natural that they seem truly alive, and nothing is wanting in them save breath. For the same man he has painted a picture of Christ on the Cross, which is executed with much study and pains, insomuch that it is clearly evident that he copied it from a real dead body fixed on a cross, such is the supreme excellence and perfection of every part. For Matteo Strozzi he painted in fresco, in a tabernacle at his villa of San Casciano, a Pieta with some Angels, which was a very beautiful work. For Filippo dUAverardo Salviati he executed a Nativity of Christ in a small picture with little figures, of such beauty that it has no equal, as everyone knows, that work being now in engraving; and for Maestro Francesco Montevarchi, a most excellent physicist, he painted a very beautiful picture of Our Lady and some other little pictures full of grace. And he assisted his master Pontormo, as was said above, to execute the work of Careggi, where on the spandrels of the vaults he painted with his own hand five figures, Fortune, Fame, Peace, Justice, and Prudence, with some children, all wrought excellently well.

Duke Alessandro being then dead and Cosimo elected, Bronzino assisted the same Pontormo in the work of the Loggia of Castello. For the nuptials of the most illustrious Lady, Leonora di Toledo, the wife of Duke Cosimo, he painted two scenes in chiaroscuro in the court of the Medici Palace, and on the base that supported the horse made by Tribolo, as was related, some stories of the actions of Signor Giovanni deU Medici, in imitation of bronze; all which were the best pictures that were executed in those festive preparations. Wherefore the Duke, having recognized the ability of this man, caused him to set his hand to adorning a chapel of no great size in the Ducal Palace for the said Lady Duchess, a woman of true worth, if ever any woman was, and for her infinite merits worthy of eternal praise. In that chapel Bronzino made on the vault some compartments with very beautiful children and four figures, each of which has the feet turned towards the wallsQSt. Francis, St. Jerome, St. Michelangelo, and St. John; all executed with the greatest diligence and lovingness.

And on the three walls, two of which are broken by the door and the window, he painted three stories of Moses, one on each wall. Where the door is, he painted the story of the snakes or serpents raining down upon the people, with many beautiful considerations in figures bitten by them, some of whom are dying, some are dead, and others, gazing on the Brazen Serpent, are being healed. On another wall, that of the window, is the Rain of Manna; and on the unbroken wall the Passing of the Red Sea, and the Submersion of Pharaoh; which scene has been printed in engraving at Antwerp. In a word, this work, executed as it is in fresco, has no equal, and is painted with the greatest possible diligence and study. In the altar-picture of this chapel, painted in oils, which was placed over the altar, was Christ taken down from the Cross, in the lap of His Mother; but it was removed from there by Duke Cosimo for sending as a present, as a very rare work, to Granvella, who was once the greatest man about the person of the Emperor Charles V.

In place of that altarpiece the same master has painted another like it, which was set over the altar between two pictures not less beautiful than the altarpiece, in which pictures are the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin receiving from him the Annunciation; but instead of these, when the first altar-picture was removed, there were a St. John the Baptist and a St. Cosimo, which were placed in the guardaroba when the Lady Duchess, having changed her mind, caused the other two to be painted.

The Lord Duke, having seen from these and other works the excellence of this painter, and that it was his particular and peculiar field to portray from life with the greatest diligence that could be imagined, caused him to paint a portrait of himself, at that time a young man, fully clad in bright armor, and with one hand upon his helmet; in another picture the Lady Duchess, his consort, and in yet another picture the Lord Don Francesco, their son and Prince of Florence. And no long time passed before he portrayed the same Lady Duchess once again, to do her pleasure, in a different manner from the first, with the Lord Don Giovanni, her son, beside her. He also made a portrait of La Bia, a young girl, the natural daughter of the Duke; and afterwards all the DukeUs children, some for the first time and others for the secondQthe Lady Donna Maria, a very tall and truly beautiful girl, the Prince Don Francesco, the Lord Don Giovanni, Don Garzia, and Don Ernando, in a number of pictures which are all in the guardaroba of his Excellency, together with the portraits of Don Francesco di Toledo, Signora Maria, mother of the Duke, and Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara, with many others.

About the same time, also, he executed in the Palace for the Carnival, two years in succession, two scenic settings and prospect-views for comedies, which were held to be very beautiful. And he painted a picture of singular beauty that was sent to King Francis in France, wherein was a nude Venus, with a Cupid who was kissing her, and Pleasure on one side with Play and other Loves, and on the other side Fraud and Jealousy and other passions of love. The Lord Duke had caused to be begun by Pontormo the cartoons of the tapestries in silk and gold for the Sala del Consiglio deU Dugento; and, having had two stories of the Hebrew Joseph executed by the said Pontormo, and one by Salviati, he gave orders that Bronzino should do the rest. Whereupon he executed fourteen pieces with the excellence and perfection which everyone knows who has seen them; but since this was an excessive labor for Bronzino, who was losing too much time thereby, he availed himself in the greater part of these cartoons, himself making the designs, of Raffaello dal Colle, the painter of Borgo a San Sepolcro, who acquitted himself excellently well.

Now Giovanni Zanchini had built a chapel very rich in carved stone, with his family tombs in marble, opposite to the Chapel of the Dini in Santa Croce at Florence, on the front wall, on the left hand as one enters the church by the central door; and he allotted the altarpiece to Bronzino, to the end that he might paint in it Christ descended into the Limbo of Hell in order to deliver the Holy Fathers. Agnolo, then, having set his hand to it, executed that work with the utmost possible diligence that one can use who desires to acquire glory by such a labor; wherefore there are in it most beautiful nudes, men, women, and children, young and old, with different features and attitudes, and portraits of men that are very natural, among which are Jacopo da Pontormo, Giovan Battista Gello, a passing famous Academician of Florence, and the painter Bacchiacca, of whom we have spoken above. And among the women he portrayed there two noble and truly most beautiful young women of Florence, worthy of eternal praise and memory for their incredible beauty and virtue, Madonna Costanza da Sommaia, wife of Giovan Battista Doni, who is still living, and Madonna Camilla Tedaldi del Corno, who has now passed to a better life.

Not long afterwards he executed another large and very beautiful altar-picture of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was placed in the Chapel of Jacopo and Filippo Guadagni beside the choir in the Church of the ServitesQthat is, the Nunziata. And at this same time he painted the altarpiece that was placed in the chapel of the Palace, whence there had been removed that which was sent to Granvella; which altarpiece is certainly a most beautiful picture, and worthy of that place. Bronzino then painted for Signor Alamanno Salviati a Venus with a Satyr beside her, so beautiful as to appear in truth Venus Goddess of Beauty.

Having then gone to Pisa, whither he was summoned by the Duke, he executed some portraits for his Excellency; and for Luca Martini, who was very much his friend, and not of him only, but also attached with true affection to all men of talent, he painted a very beautiful picture of Our Lady, in which he portrayed that Luca with a basket of fruits, from his having been the minister and proveditor for the said Lord Duke in the draining of the marshes and other waters that rendered unhealthy the country round Pisa, and for having made it in consequence fertile and abundant in fruits. Nor did Bronzino depart from Pisa before there was allotted to him at the instance of Martini, by Raffaello del Setaiuolo, the Warden of Works of the Duomo, the altar-picture for one of the chapels in that Duomo, wherein he painted a nude Christ with the Cross, and about Him many Saints, among whom is a St. Bartholomew flayed, which has the appearance of a true anatomical subject and of a man flayed in reality, so natural it is and imitated with such diligence from an anatomical subject. That altar-picture, which is beautiful in every part, was placed, as I have said, in a chapel from which they removed another by the hand of Benedetto da Pescia, a disciple of Giulio Romano.

Bronzino then made for Duke Cosimo a full-length portrait of the dwarf Morgante, nude, and in two waysQnamely, on one side of the picture the front, and on the other the back, with the bizarre and monstrous members which that dwarf has; which picture, of its kind, is beautiful and marvelous. For Ser Carlo Gherardi of Pistoia, who from his youth was a friend of Bronzino, he executed at various times, besides the portrait of Ser Carlo himself, a very beautiful Judith placing the head of Holofernes in a basket, and on the cover that protects that picture, in the manner of a mirror, a Prudence looking at herself; and for the same man a picture of Our Lady, which is one of the most beautiful things that he has ever done, because it has extraordinary design and relief. And the same Bronzino executed the portrait of the Duke when his Excellency was come to the age of forty, and also that of the Lady Duchess, both of which are as good likenesses as could be. After Giovan Battista Cavalcanti had caused a chapel to be built in Santo Spirito, at Florence, with most beautiful variegated marbles conveyed from beyond the sea at very great cost, and had laid there the remains of his father Tommaso, he had the head and bust of the father executed by Fra Giovanni Agnolo Montorsoli, and the altarpiece Bronzino painted, depicting in it Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the form of a gardener, and more distant two other Maries, all figures executed with incredible diligence.

Jacopo da Pontormo having left unfinished at his death the chapel in San Lorenzo, and the Lord Duke having ordained that Bronzino should complete it, he finished in the part where the Deluge is many nudes that were wanting at the foot, and gave perfection to that part, and in the other, where at the foot of the Resurrection of the Dead many figures were wanting over a space about one braccio in height and as wide as the whole wall, he painted them all in the manner wherein they are to be seen, very beautiful; and between the windows, at the foot, in a space that remained there unpainted, he depicted a nude St. Laurence upon a gridiron, with some little Angels about him. In that whole work he demonstrated that he had executed his paintings in that place with much better judgment than his master Pontormo had shown in his pictures in the work; the portrait of which Pontormo Bronzino painted with his own hand in a corner of that chapel, on the right hand of the St. Laurence.

The Duke then gave orders to Bronzino that he should execute two large altar pictures, one containing a Deposition of Christ from the Cross with a good number of figures, for sending to Porto Ferraio in the Island of Elba, for the Convent of the Frati Zoccolanti, built by his Excellency in the city of Cosmopolis; and another altarpiece, in which Bronzino painted the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the new Church of the Knights of St. Stephen, which has since been built in Pisa, together with their Palace and Hospital, after the designs and directions of Giorgio Vasari. Both these pictures have been finished with such art, diligence, design, invention, and supreme loveliness of coloring, that it would not be possible to go further; and no less, indeed, was required in a church erected by so great a Prince, who has founded and endowed that Order of Knights.

On some little panels made of sheet-tin, and all of one same size, the same Bronzino has painted all the great men of the House of Medici, beginning with Giovanni di Bicci and the elder Cosimo down to the Queen of France, in that line, and in the other from Lorenzo, the brother of the elder Cosimo, down to Duke Cosimo and his children; all which portraits are set in order behind the door of a little study that Vasari has caused to be made in the apartment of new rooms in the Ducal Palace, wherein is a great number of antique statues of marble and bronzes and little modern pictures, the rarest miniatures, and an infinity of medals in gold, silver, and bronze, arranged in very beautiful order. These portraits of the illustrious men of the House of Medici are all natural and vivacious, and most faithful likenesses.

It is a notable thing that whereas many are wont in their last years to do less well than they have done in the past, Bronzino does as well and even better now than when he was in the flower of his manhood, as the works demonstrate that he is executing every day. Not long ago he painted for Don Silvano Razzi, a Camaldolite monk in the Monastery of the Angeli at Florence, who is much his friend, a picture about one braccio not inferior to any other picture by the hand of this noble craftsman; insomuch that nothing seems to be wanting in her save the spirit and that voice which confounded the tyrant and confessed Christ her well-beloved spouse even to the last breath; and that father, like the truly gentle spirit that he is, has nothing that he esteems and holds in price more than that picture. Agnolo made a portrait of the Cardinal, Don Giovanni deU Medici, the son of Duke Cosimo, which was sent to the Court of the Emperor for Queen Joanna; and afterwards that of the Lord Don Francesco, Prince of Florence, which was a picture very like the reality, and executed with such diligence that it has the appearance of a miniature.

For the nuptials of Queen Joanna of Austria, wife of that Prince, he painted in three large canvases which were placed at the Ponte alla Carraia, as will be described at the end, some scenes of the Nuptials of Hymen, of such beauty that they appeared not things for a festival, but worthy to be set in some honorable place for ever, so finished they were and executed with such diligence. For the same Lord Prince he painted a few months ago a small picture with little figures which has no equal, and it may be said that it is truly a miniature. And since at this his present age of sixty-five he is no less enamored of the matters of art than he was as a young man, he has undertaken recently, according to the wishes of the Duke, to execute two scenes in fresco on the wall beside the organ in the Church of San Lorenzo, in which there is not a doubt that he will prove the excellent Bronzino that he has always been.

This master has delighted much, and still delights, in poetry; wherefore he has written many capitoli and sonnets, part of which have been printed. But above all, with regard to poetry, he is marvelous in the style of his capitoli after the manner of Berni, insomuch that at the present day there is no one who writes better in that kind of verse, nor things more fanciful and bizarre, as will be seen one day if all his works, as is believed and hoped, come to be printed. Bronzino has been and still is most gentle and a very courteous friend, agreeable in his conversation and in all his affairs, and much honored; and as loving and liberal with his possessions as a noble craftsman such as he is could well be. He has been peaceful by nature, and has never done an injury to any man, and he has always loved all able men in his profession, as I know, who have maintained a strait friendship with him for three-and-forty years, that is, from 1524 down to the present year, ever since I began to know and to love him in that year of 1524, when he was working at the Certosa with Pontormo, whose works I used as a youth to go to draw in that place.

Art History