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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.