Maniera at the Städel Museum

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Maniera at the Städel Museum
Maniera at the Städel Museum

PONTORMO, BRONZINO
AND MEDICI FLORENCE
24 February to 5 June 2016

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, (detail), ca. 1539–43, oil on wood, 59 x 46 cm, Národní galerie, Prague

In the sixteenth century, the powerful Medici family dominated life in Florence. Their influence extended as far as Rome. The defence of their sovereignty went hand in hand with intrigues, armed conflicts and citizens’ revolts. The Florentine bankers’ family strongly supported culture and the arts in their city.

In this productive phase, painters such as Pontormo, Bronzino, Rosso Fiorentino and Vasari developed new artistic approaches. They experimented in their works with refined – and sometimes bizarre – forms, colours and compositions. They thus emancipated themselves from their famous predecessors of the Italian High Renaissance.

Now these artists are making their first major appearance in Germany: in 120 spectacular loans, Mannerism impressively presents itself as a style both fascinating and multifaceted.

Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (detail), ca. 1534, oil on poplar, 157 x 114 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

The term “Mannerism” derives from the italian word maniera. In English we are familiar with many uses of the word “manner”, for example in the expression “good manners”. Originally, however, maniera referred to the style of an individual artist – or an entire stylistic current.

To the tradition of the Italian Renaissance (French for “rebirth”) the Florentine Mannerists introduced a twist that still captivates us today. Taking the art of their forerunners – Leonardo, Raphael and above all Michelangelo – as a point of departure, they explored new means of expression. Major historical upheavals in Europe and the eventful history of the Medici dynasty’s rule provided fertile soil for their pioneering experiments.

The artist’s fingerprint

The term “Mannerism” has its origins in the word maniera, which in turn derives from mano (Italian for “hand”). The Mannerist artists and their patrons attached special importance to individual style, the artistic “fingerprint”. Their works are distinguished by shrill colours and surprising forms. By means of exaggeration and playful departure from traditional rules, the Mannerists undermined the principles of harmony and perspectival precision so essential to the painting and sculpture of the Renaissance. The art of the maniera is self-confident because it was no longer content merely to reproduce reality. Now its foremost theme was art itself.

The artist’s fingerprint

The stylish
style

These delicate hands were not made for working. The young man elegantly bends his long, slender fingers. His pale skin contrasts with his dark clothing. In his left hand he nonchalantly holds a pair of expensive leather gloves – a luxury good in sixteenth-century Florence.

Francesco Salviati, Portrait of a Young Man, ca. 1546–48, oil on panel, 102.2 x 86 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 415:1943

Practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.1

Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, 1528

From today’s perspective it is not just the pose of the hands that appears eccentric. The sitter’s entire posture – his arm propped on his hip, the turn of his head to one side – makes a rather unnatural impression. In order to maintain this pose for a longer period, a painful contortion would be necessary.

This particular form of self-fashioning was very much in vogue in sixteenth-century Italy. It served to express not only social status and affluence, but also the desire to be perceived in a certain way within society. Francesco Salviati’s Portrait of a Young Man stages an educated and sensitive person who has his life well under control and is accordingly at ease.

The art historian John Shearman coined the term “stylish style” in 1967 and thus came up with a catchy formula for the Mannerist aesthetic.

Sprezzatura

Pointedly casual elegance as a means of deliberate self-representation was referred to in the sixteenth century as sprezzatura – one of the key concepts of Mannerism. It revolves around the ideal of consciously staging oneself with an aura of natural ease, informality and spontaneity.

Sprezzatura

Mise-en-scène

The young lady casually directs her gaze directly at the viewer. Nevertheless, no real sense of closeness comes about. Her smooth, calm face reveals nothing of what is going on in her mind and heart. In contrast, her vivid red dress with its voluminous puffy sleeves radiates vibrant energy. Is it a spirited personality that lies concealed behind this cool façade?

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Lady in Red (Francesca Salviati?), ca. 1533, oil on poplar, 89.8 x 70.5 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK

This portrait demonstrates the Mannerist play between reality and appearances. Here the painter Agnolo Bronzino has created a balanced symmetry – but also subtly undermined it.

Erect and self-assured, the lady sits enthroned in the centre of the pictorial space. The niche in the background envelops her like a frame. The armrest, and her arm resting on it, form a kind of visual barrier. This effect is heightened by the dark green cloth of her sleeve: it forms a colour contrast to the red of the dress.

Bronzino has deliberately placed the velvet-covered chair crosswise. The woman must thus turn her body if she wants to look out at the viewer.

Rosso Fiorentino, The Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist (detail), ca. 1521, oil on wood, 63.5 x 42.5 cm, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Elongated faces
with dark eyes

The well-known biographer and painter Giorgio Vasari wrote of the artist Rosso Fiorentino that he “would study art with but few masters, having a certain opinion of his own that conflicted with their manners”. 2

In the painting of the Holy Family, his individual style comes very much into its own: in the elongated face and upper body of the Virgin, the expressive dark button eyes or the tousled curls of the Infant Jesus. Tender smiles playing around their lips, the Mother and Child gaze invitingly out at the viewer.

Giorgio Vasari ‒ a court artist and the first art historian
Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects), 3 vols., Florence: Giunti 1568, Städel Museum, Library, Frankfurt am Main, photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Vasari was active not only as court painter and adviser to the Medici. Today he is famous above all as the author of the first systematic discourse on the history of art. In his Vite he wrote about the lives and works of numerous Italian painters, sculptors and architects, focussing on the period from the thirteenth century to his own time. Vasari saw a close relationship between artistic quality, style and an artist’s personality.

Giorgio Vasari ‒ a court artist and the first art historian

It was in his Holy Family that Rosso departed most radically from the rules of the High Renaissance, whose artists aspired towards the ideals of harmony and classical beauty. With his bizarrely exaggerated depictions, Rosso ventured to the limits of what was considered proper at the time. And he had to live with the consequences: his patrons occasionally rejected his works.

Paintings of the Madonna

Depictions of the Virgin and Child with the Infant St John were extremely popular in sixteenth-century Florence. They show Mary holding her son Jesus in her arms, accompanied by John, who will later baptize Christ.

Like the masters of the High Renaissance before them, the Florentine Mannerists also devoted themselves to this pictorial theme. Yet they arrived at a surprising interpretation of their own, as is strikingly demonstrated in the comparison of Raphael’s and Rosso’s Madonna paintings.

Andrea del Sarto, Study for the Head of Julius Caesar (detail), c. 1520/21, red chalk on paper, 21.5 x 18.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Partial and Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David M. Tobey, 2008, photo: bpk / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The allure
of experimentation

The challenge of departing from existing rules of beauty and harmony ‒ or of developing them further ‒ appealed to the Florentine Mannerists. Their enthusiasm for artistic experimentation resonates above all in their drawings and sketches.

This portrait drawing of Julius Caesar by Andrea del Sarto demonstrates the influence of classical elements on Mannerist art. Here the artist may have worked from an antique coin. Sarto shared the interest in Greek and Roman antiquity that had dominated Renaissance culture. At the same time, he left his own individual mark on his model: in the angular facial features, the sparse facial hair and the loosely sketched, wind-blown hair. The neck muscles are particularly prominent. The artist has accentuated the furrow between the eyebrows with a dark shadow. These small but significant details make the likeness a highly expressive “character head”.

Andrea del Sarto, Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, c. 1520/21, red chalk on paper, 21.5 x 18.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Partial and Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David M. Tobey, 2008, photo: bpk / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Animated lines

This drawing may remind the modern viewer of photographic series depicting motion sequences. Jacopo Pontormo, however, was experimenting with various poses of a naked male body.

Jacopo Pontormo, Three Studies of a Male Nude, ca. 1517, red chalk on paper, 39.7 x 26.5 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille

The play of the muscles stands out prominently on the upper body. Pontormo guided the chalk across the surface of the paper with loose but nonetheless purposive movements. With flowing lines and the rich contrasts brought about by the shading, he lent the bodies a vibrant tension that is still captivating today.

Disegno – the drawing as idea

In the sixteenth century, the drawing took on special significance. Disegno (Italian, from the Latin designare = to designate, to draw, to plan) was a key term in Italian art theory of the period in question. It not only stood for the drawing itself, but also for the artist’s inspiration, or concept. The drawing was regarded as an idea that has literally ‘taken form’, and thus as the fundamental prerequisite for the realization of every artwork ‒ and as a connecting link between the various art forms.

Disegno – the drawing as idea
From Pontormo’s diary

“On Wednesday did the piece of arm”, Pontormo noted in his diary. An artist with a reputation for being wayward and solitary, he made daily entries in the last years of his life. In this phase of his career – from 1554 to 1556 – he was virtually obsessed with depicting bodies, their movements and positions. In little sketches along the edges of his Diario pages he recorded the figures he had begun or completed on the respective day.

The diary thus offers insights into the painter’s artistic process, but also into his everyday life. Conspicuously, food is a frequent topic. In the sixteenth century, the daily bread – far from being taken for granted – was a matter of vital importance. The artist’s diet consisted of milk casserole, fish or a couple of doves, and cake with red pears.

From Pontormo’s diary
Jacopo Pontormo, Diario (Diary), detail, 1554–56, pen and brown ink on paper, 21.5–22 x 14.5–15 cm, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo / Biblioteca Nationale Centrale di Firenze

Contorted bodies

Jacopo Pontormo, Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand, ca. 1529/30, oil on wood, 67 x 73 cm, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

Naked bodies crawl on their knees, hang from crosses or writhe with pain. They are marked through and through by the terrible suffering that has befallen them. In this work of 1529/30 – which was also highly charged with political allusions – Pontormo concerned himself extensively with body language as an expression of human emotion.

Listen now: the story of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand
0:00 min.

The painting recounts the legend of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand. The events allegedly took place in the second century AD. Nevertheless, for Pontormo’s Florentine contemporaries, will have considered them highly topical. He executed the Martyrdom during a siege of Florence that went on for several months. Devastating famine and epidemics prevailed within the city walls. The horrors experienced by the town population, which long remained steadfast, are mirrored in this bizarre painting.

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The Medici played a decisive role in the power struggle over Florence from the fourteenth century onward. In 1527, influential citizens had revolted against the banker clan’s claim to exclusive power for the second time and driven them out of town. One reason for the Florentines’ infuriated uprising was the appropriation of funds from the trade city to finance the pope in Rome. The Medici banded together with the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who supported their return with his troops. Pope Clement VII, himself a Medici, likewise joined the party of the beleaguerers. Florence was compelled to surrender in 1530. Nearly half of the town population had fallen victim to the siege. The banished Medici son Alessandro returned to the city as the first duke.

The struggle for control of Italy

In 1526, the Duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice formed an alliance with King Francis I and Pope Clement VII. Together they took action against Emperor Charles V’s ascendancy. The latter responded by sending his troops and mercenary armies to Rome.

The fierce confrontation came to a head in 1527 in the Sacco di Roma, the devastating sack of Rome. For the people, this incident was profoundly unsettling. In 1529, the Medici Pope Clement VII succeeded in reconciling with Charles V and crowned him emperor. After the inferior France had likewise made its peace with Charles V, he held absolute dominion over Italy.

In return for Clement VII’s support, Charles V promoted the return of the Medici rulers to Florence. The city put up a fight. This brought about the siege by the imperial troops that prompted Pontormo to paint the panel of the Martyrdom.

The struggle for control of Italy

Legend and reality

Pontormo’s Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand served to mirror the explosive events linked with the siege of Florence. A Medici, the painting implies, can be every bit as cruel and un-Christian as the antique emperor who tortured the soldiers under Achatius’s command for converting to the true faith.

Pontormo’s painting adopts a clear stance against the Medici rulers. The legend of Achatius was an allegory of the situation in which the defenders of the Florentine Republic found themselves. In 1528, the town citizens had symbolically elected Christ their king. Like the legendary army of Achatius, the beleaguered Florentines saw themselves as courageous contenders for their Christian freedom, which was under threat from a tyrannical ruler.

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As a way of emphasizing the similarities between legend and reality, Pontormo availed himself of a clever artistic trick: the enthroned figure of the ruler in his painting suspiciously resembles the portrait figures of two famous Medici progeny. The marble sculptures of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici had been executed for the family’s Florentine burial chapel by the famous Michelangelo. In the armour worn by Roman captains, they sit on thrones of stone. Michelangelo’s sculptures were already famous at the time, and the resemblance between them and Pontormo’s motif of the brutal Roman ruler will certainly not have escaped the notice of the Florentine citizens.

top: Jacopo Pontormo, Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (detail), ca. 1529/30, oil on wood, 67 x 73 cm, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo | bottom left: Michelangelo, Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici (detail), c. 1521–34, San Lorenzo, New Sacristy, Florence, photo: 2015. Photo Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali | bottom right: Michelangelo, Lorenzo de’ Medici (detail), c. 1521–34, San Lorenzo, New Sacristy, Florence
Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (detail), ca. 1534, oil on poplar, 157 x 114 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

The new duke
and his painter

An ambitious and alert leader: the gaze of the young Duke Alessandro de’ Medici rests on the city of Florence. Its silhouette – complete with the monumental dome of the cathedral – rises up on the distant horizon in full splendour.

The ruin in the foreground alludes to the siege that preceded his accession to office. The flourishing city in the distance represents the era that followed. This we know from a detailed description by Vasari, the portrait’s painter. The written account served as a special accompaniment to the painting. Vasari wrote it to aid the reader in deciphering the symbols, but also cleverly wove in a eulogy to his patron Alessandro.

The portrait of Alessandro is the first ever to show a Medici in armour. The demonstration of military strength and power unmistakably takes centre stage. The young Medici had a reputation as a vicious tyrant. And indeed, he proceeded against his opponents with merciless rigour. His reign came to an abrupt end. In 1537 he was treacherously murdered by a confidant and distant relative.

Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, ca. 1534, oil on poplar, 157 x 114 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

Guarantor of a
Golden Age

Alessandro’s successor on the ducal throne was Cosimo de’ Medici. Pontormo presumably portrayed him here at the age of seventeen or eighteen – that is, shortly before he assumed power.

Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of a Young Man in a Black Costume (Cosimo I. de’ Medici?), ca. 1536/37, oil on wood, 100.6 x 77 cm, private collection, photo: Damon Cargol

The young ruler was compelled to defend his vulnerable position against numerous adversaries. With strategic skill and foresighted planning, he not only preserved Florence’s independence in the years that followed, but also successfully laid the cornerstone for a dynasty that would rule without interruption for the next two hundred years.

Cosimo has his right arm propped loosely on his hip. He stands at a slight angle, so that he must turn his head to look at the viewer. In his right hand he holds a book as a symbol of his education. The handle of a weapon – an allusion to military strength – is just barely discernible at his hip. His dark doublet with its high collar corresponded to the fashions of the Spanish court. It originally served as a military garment worn under the armour to provide padding.

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Under the reign of Cosimo I, the city blossomed as a centre of artistic production. He wanted Florence to gain new prestige in the area of culture. The town’s leading artistic figures were accordingly regular visitors to the ducal court. The ruler presented himself as a guardian of Florentine tradition, and the portraits he commissioned of himself and his family reflect the magnificence and pride of the Medici dynasty.

Aloof splendour

Cosimo de’ Medici’s young wife directs her aloof, cool gaze directly at the beholder. Eleonora di Toledo’s fair porcelain skin virtually radiates in contrast to the deep blue background.

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, ca. 1539–43, oil on wood, 59 x 46 cm, Národní galerie, Prague

In the 1540s and ’50s, Bronzino was very busy performing his duties as the official portrait painter to the Medici court. He thus shaped the “image” we still hold of that clan of rulers today. Despite his abundance of orders, he did not overlook even the tiniest detail. The fine brushstrokes are hardly discernible.

Bronzino portrayed the Medici and life at the court as a display of aloof splendour and glory. The fashion-conscious Eleonora had probably worn the gold-embroidered reddish velvet gown to her first encounter with Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1539, when she was seventeen. Shortly thereafter, she was wedded to him in Florence.

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Her dress corresponded to courtly fashions in her native Spain. Eleonora thus expressed her loyalty to the Holy Roman Empire of Emperor Charles V, who as Charles I was also the king of Spain. Her husband Cosimo I had him to thank for the dukedom that was a great source of pride to the Medici. Among her subjects, on the other hand, she was quite unpopular. She enjoyed her husband’s confidence, however, and stood in for him intermittently as a regent. She fostered the arts and, a devout Catholic, supported the founding of new churches.

A little
statesman

The three-year-old Garzia de’ Medici is depicted here with an unnaturally serious, almost statesman-like air. His skin is just as pale as his mother Eleonora’s.

Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Garzia de’ Medici, ca. 1550, oil on wood, 48 x 38 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, photo: © Photographic Archive. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The red, gold-embroidered costume is set off against the precious blue background to especially striking effect. In his hand Garzia holds an orange blossom, a symbol of innocence and purity.

Cosimo I and Eleonora had seven sons and four daughters. Garzia was the seventh child. The duke had commissioned Bronzino to portray his progeny. The likeness of Garzia as a little adult is a bit disconcerting for present-day viewers. In the sixteenth century, however, portraits of children frequently served as means to an end. Such presentations of one’s offspring were a way of documenting the continuance of the dynasty. With these likenesses, Bronzino established an entirely new genre of children’s portraiture.

Jacopo Pontormo, after a drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Venus and Cupid (detail), ca. 1533, oil on wood, 128 x 194 cm, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, photo: Antonio Quattrone

The contest
of the arts

The foundation of academies in sixteenth-century Florence rendered the city a centre for the theoretical study of art.

The focus of the discourse was the paragone, the “contest of the arts”. This heated debate revolved primarily around the rank order of painting and sculpture. Yet it was also concerned with the social status of artists and the question as to which of the two media represented the greater challenge. The constant pressure to compete also fuelled the discussion, and the artists’ patrons fomented the rivalry further by initiating public competitions.

Benedetto Varchi and the rank order of the arts

The discussion of the rank order of the arts reached its peak in Florence in the sixteenth century. In 1547, the historian Benedetto Varchi addressed the theme in two lectures and carried out the first artists’ opinion poll in history. He wanted eminent Florentine exponents of the arts to tell him which medium they considered superior, painting or sculpture. He received written responses from Michelangelo, Bronzino, Vasari, Pontormo and others.

Painting versus sculpture

The ability to create illusion was considered one of the advantages of painting. With its colours, painting was capable of producing a lifelike image. On grounds that it could capture even fleeting natural phenomena such as flashes of lightning, Varchi referred to it as the “more universal art”.

As for sculpture, it was not only the physical strain of the production process that represented a special challenge. Unlike the painter, the sculptor had little scope for making corrections. The advantage of sculpture consists in its viewability from all sides – which means, however, that the proportions must be rendered correctly on all sides.

Opponents to painting accused it of superficiality, of being nothing but appearances and deception. Sculpture, on the other hand, represented reality. Advocates of painting, for their part, dismissed sculpture as a coarse handicraft incapable of painting’s intellectual achievements.

Varchi considered Michelangelo the final and highest authority on the matter. The great master was to pass the final verdict on the matter. Michelangelo, however, did not think much of committing himself. His evasive reply was:

“Sculpture and painting have the same goal, achieved with difficulty by one art and the other.” 3

Benedetto Varchi and the rank order of the arts

The game of deception

Jacopo Pontormo, after a drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Venus and Cupid (detail), ca. 1533, oil on wood, 128 x 194 cm, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, photo: Antonio Quattrone

Cupid wraps his arm around the neck of his mother, Venus, the goddess of love. Apparently his aim is to distract her with a kiss, as his gaze wanders in the direction of his quiver. With his right hand he is removing an arrow.

Yet Venus is by no means helplessly at his mercy. With her right arm she staves off his upper body, likewise reaching for the arrow. Is she aware of Cupid’s attempt to deceive her? Yet we can also interpret the scene the other way round: perhaps it is Venus who is trying to steal Cupid’s arrow, and her son is the one thwarting her plan.

On a base in the middle ground of Pontormo’s painting there is a bowl of roses – a symbol of the goddess of love. The arrows beneath it point towards the two figures: they stand for the battle of love. The two masks display lifelike human countenances and thus testify to the illusionistic abilities of painting. A small sculpture lies on its back on the ground, representing the victim of the battle of love, but also sculpture, which is inferior to painting.

Italian Master, Aurora (after Michelangelo), before 1587, alabaster, 41.5 x 49 x 18.8 cm, Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, photo: Jürgen Karpinski

The painting’s design mirrors the theme of sensory deception. Contemplation of the figures from a distance and slightly below heightens the impression that we are looking at a sculpture – and that was presumably the precise aim of the original composition. Michelangelo had supplied the design and entrusted Pontormo with the task of carrying it to realization. For the figure of Venus, Michelangelo looked to the sculpture of Aurora (Italian for “dawn”) he had executed for the Medici chapel.

Bringing sculpture to life

The sculptor Pygmalion has devoted his entire life to his work. One day, however, he falls in love with an ivory sculpture he has made of a beautiful woman.

He offers up sacrifices to Venus, the goddess of love, and beseeches her to make his statue become “flesh and blood”. 4 His request is heard and his wish fulfilled.

Agnolo Bronzino (and Jacopo Pontormo?), Pygmalion and Galatea, ca. 1530, oil on wood, 81.2 x 60 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

The contest for the rank of each art form was fought out in theory and practice alike. Artists produced works that addressed the special qualities of painting on the one hand and those of sculpture on the other. One such work is Bronzino’s painting Pygmalion and Galatea, executed around 1530.

The bringing to life of sculpture was a principal theme in the paragone debate. By having the sculptor, the sacrificial animal and the viewer look at Galatea from different directions, Bronzino was making reference to its viewability from all angles – an attribute assigned to sculpture in the paragone controversy. The sculptor Pygmalion is depicted in the garb of a craftsman. His tools lie on the ground, useless – an indication that his skill alone has not sufficed to bring Galatea to life.

A woman modelled after David
left: Michelangelo, David, ca. 1501–04, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, © 2016, photo Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali | right: Agnolo Bronzino (and Jacopo Pontormo?), Pygmalion and Galatea (detail), ca. 1530, oil on wood, 81.2 x 60 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

In his creation of the figure of Galatea, Bronzino looked to Michelangelo’s famous David. This is particularly evident in the pose of the arms, except that Galatea is not holding the slingshot David employed to fell the giant Goliath. As is typical of antique depictions of Venus, she uses her other hand to shield her genitals. Those of David, in contrast are in full view. Applied to a female figure, David’s male pose looks like a tongue-in-cheek quotation.

A woman modelled after David

Bronzino’s depiction of Galatea unites several attributes associated with the maniera, for example the elongated neck, the slender, overlong limbs and the subtle twist of the body.

Yet Mannerism is by no means a uniform art current with universally applicable characteristics. In the endeavour to describe works of Mannerist art, terms such as extravagant, bizarre, sophisticated and cultivated find frequent use. They point to the general interest in the artfully artificial aspects of art. Particular emphasis, however, is placed on individual style, on the artist’s “fingerprint”.

Its extraordinary diversity renders Mannerism one of the most fascinating phenomena in the art of Italy.

What you can see at the Städel Museum
Personal hint
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Vestibule and Stairs of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (detail), 1524–59, opened in 1571 (completed by Bartolomeo Ammannati), San Lorenzo, Florence, 2015. Andrea Jemolo / Scala Florence

Biblioteca
Laurenziana

A model of the vestibule of the Biblioteca Laurenziana was built especially for the exhibition. The library is considered a classic example of Mannerist architecture in Florence. A wall has been omitted in the model, allowing an instructive view of the imposing edifice.

It was the Medici Pope Clement VII who granted Michelangelo the prestigious commission for the work. Paradoxically, the monumental columns do not stand in front of but virtually in the wall. By playfully applying the formal language of an exterior façade to an interior, Michelangelo achieved a surprising effect. The sculptor-architect conceived of the staircase like a sculpture – once again, entirely in the spirit of the paragone.

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Picture credits

Francesco Salviati (1510–1563)
Portrait of a Young Man, ca. 1546–48
Oil on wood, 102.2 x 86 cm
Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 415:1943

Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572)
Portrait of a Lady in Red (Francesca Salviati?), ca. 1533
Oil on poplar, 89.8 x 70.5 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK

Rosso Fiorentino (1494–1540)
The Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist, ca. 1521
Oil on wood, 63.5 x 42.5 cm
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Giorgio Vasari
Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors
and Architects), 3 vols., Florence: Giunti 1568
Städel Museum, Library, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main – ARTOTHEK

Raphael (1483–1520)
Virgin and Child with the Young St John the Baptist (The Esterházy Madonna), ca. 1507/08
Oil on wood, 29 x 21.5 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest, 2016

Rosso Fiorentino (1494–1540)
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John, ca. 1515
Oil on poplar, 102.1 x 77.5 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK

Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530)
Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, c. 1520/21
Red chalk on paper, 21.5 × 18.4 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Partial and Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David M. Tobey, 2008
Photo: bpk / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557)
Three Studies of a Male Nude, ca. 1517
Red chalk on paper, 39.7 x 26.5 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille

Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557)
Diario (Diary), 1554–56
Pen and ink on paper, 21.5–22 x 14.5–15 cm
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence
Photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo/Biblioteca Nationale Centrale di Firenze

Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557)
Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand, ca. 1529/30
Oil on wood, 67 x 73 cm
Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574)
Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, ca. 1534
Oil on poplar, 157 x 114 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557)
Portrait of a Young Man in a Black Costume (Cosimo I. de’ Medici?), ca. 1536/37
Oil on wood, 100.6 x 77 cm
Private collection
Photo: Damon Cargol

Angolo Bronzino (1503–1572)
Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, ca. 1539–43
Oil on wood, 59 x 46 cm
Národní galerie, Prague

Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572)
Portrait of Garzia de’ Medici, ca. 1550
Oil on wood, 48 x 38 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Photo: © Photographic Archive. Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid

Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557)
After a drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti
Venus and Cupid, ca. 1533
Oil on wood, 128 x 194 cm
Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence
Photo: Antonio Quattrone

Italian Master
Aurora (after Michelangelo), before 1587
Alabaster
41.5 x 49 x 18.8 cm
Inv. H4 4/29. First mentioned in the cabinet collection inventory, presumably gifts from Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to the Dresden court
Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Photo: Jürgen Karpinski

Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572) (and Jacopo Pontormo? [1494–1557])
Pygmalion and Galatea, ca. 1530
Oil on wood, 81.2 x 60 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Photo: Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

Model by Christian Piwellek on a scale of approx. 1:3, single module
Vestibule and Stairs of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (detail), 1524–59
Opened in 1571 (completed by Bartolomeo Ammannati)
San Lorenzo, Florence
2015. Andrea Jemolo / Scala Florence
Photo: Städel Museum

Comparative illustrations

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)
Vestibule and Stairs of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (detail), 1524–59
Opened in 1571 (completed by Bartolomeo Ammannati)
San Lorenzo, Florence
2015. Andrea Jemolo / Scala Florence

Michelangelo (1475–1564)
Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici, c. 1521–34 (detail)
San Lorenzo, New Sacristy, Florence
Photo: 2015. Photo Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali

Michelangelo (1475–1564)
Lorenzo de’ Medici, c. 1521–34 (detail)
San Lorenzo, New Sacristy, Florence

Michelangelo (1475–1564)
David, c. 1501–04
Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence
Photo: 2015. Photo Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali

Quotations

1 Baldasar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans. Leonard Eckstein Opdycke (New York: H. Liveright, 1929), p. 21.

2 Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. De Vere, 10 vols. (London: Macmillan and Co. Ld., 1912–15), vol. 5, p. 190.

3 Quoted in Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, History of Aesthetics, ed. D. Petsch, trans. Adam and Ann Czerniawski, 3 vols. (London and New York: Continuum, 2005), vol. 3, p. 150.

4 Vasari 1912–15 (see note 2), vol. 7, p. 171.