Theses Doctoral

Bronzino, Politics and Portraiture in 1530s Florence

Siemon, Julia Alexandra

This dissertation examines paintings by the Florentine artist Agnolo Bronzino, and by his teacher, Jacopo Pontormo. It takes as its focus works created during the period of 1529-39, a decade of political uncertainty and social unrest predating Bronzino's career as court painter. The study begins during the brutal Siege of Florence in 1529-30, which brought an end to the last Florentine republic. Although the republic's defeat made way for the establishment of the Medici duchy, the 1530s were marked by fervent and unrelenting republican opposition to the new dukes. These circumstances provide the background to this study, in which paintings by Bronzino and Pontormo are shown to offer eloquent--if sometimes cautious--comment on recent political events.
The initial chapters address the relationship between two paintings carried out during the Siege, reconciling Pontormo's Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi) with its allegorical cover, Bronzino's Pygmalion and Galatea. The first chapter reconsiders the role of Venus in Bronzino's painting, attributing to her a rousing, rather than pacifying, influence; she is shown to be a deity especially well-suited for reverence by young Florentine soldiers, and a fitting subject for the cover of Pontormo's republican portrait. The second chapter explores the specific political significance of Bronzino's artistic choices, paying special attention to his allusion to Michelangelo's marble David, whose form he incorporates into the figure of Pygmalion's beloved Galatea.
The young hero David--shown to be one of the period's most potent republican symbols--is somehow manifest in each of the paintings considered, linking the four chapters. But whereas the Pygmalion and Galatea and Portrait of a Halberdier are explained as republican pictures created under republican rule, the portraits examined in the third and fourth chapters are presented as subversive images created under the Medici dukes. The third chapter reinterprets Bronzino's Portrait of Ugolino Martelli (c. 1537), as an expression of republican opposition to ducal rule. The fourth chapter proposes a new dating for Pontormo's Portrait of Carlo Neroni--presently understood as a republican picture dating to the period of the Siege--relocating its origin to c. 1538-9, well after the republic's defeat. This reassessment has important implications for a number of portraits by both artists, and it calls into question currently accepted art-historical approaches to Florentine culture in the 1530s. By identifying examples of republican factionalism in portraits painted by Pontormo and Bronzino under Medici rule, this dissertation discovers political dissent where previously considered impossible.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Cole, Michael
Freedberg, David A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 23, 2015