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It was the misfortune of Agnolo Tori, called Bronzino, to have been antedated by Michel Angelo and by Andrea del Sarto. When Andrea died in 1531, "full of glory and domestic trials", as Vasari recounts, the normal development of Florentine painting ended, and Florence had already seen its artistic star dimmed by the rising splendors of Venice and Rome. Artistically, it became a city of wit and ingenuity, chronicling and criticizing art rather than producing it. Moreover, observes Professor Mather, the sublimity of Michel Angelo worked havoc with his followers. "Some of these have the grace of lucidity, like Agnolo Bronzino, who practiced a reactionary sort of portraiture based on an old tradition of tempera painting."

Noli Me Tangere Agnolo Bronzino Free Image Gallery
Noli Me Tangere, 1561

As a portrait painter, Bronzino found congenial sitters in the haughty patricians surrounding the person of Cosimo de Medici, the first grand duke of Florence, and in the field of portraiture he is nearly in the first rank. He was born in 1502, in the Italian village of Monticelli, near San Frediano. His father is said to have been a butcher, which elementary occupation did not blind him to the boy's artistic bent, and Agnolo received such instruction as was available before eventually entering the studio of Jacopo Carucci, known to fame as Pontormo in Florence.

In character and genius this fiery and capricious Pontormo seems to have been the exact antithesis of the gentle, submissive and studious Bronzino. Nevertheless, in his hermit fashion he took a great fancy to the lad, who became as a son to him. We are told that "while the master was jealous of his painting to such a degree that he would never allow his pupils to see one of his pictures until it was finished, he not only permitted Bronzino to watch him work, but often, as his talent developed, permitted him to collaborate on a picture."

Agnolo Bronzino Deposition of Christ Royalty Free Images Gallery
Deposition of Christ, 1543
Agnolo Bronzino Deposition Free Art Gallery
Deposition, 1564

Thus Bronzino lived in a state of tutelage, often in a condition that approached penury. His first pictures, so far as known to be in existence, were a Pieta and a San Lorenzo – now much altered by retouching – painted in conjunction with Pontormo between the years 1522 and 1525. In these pictures, and other of his early paintings, Bronzino wanders between the manner of Andrea del Sarto and its reflection in the work of Pontormo.

Evidently the reputation of the young artist was growing, for in 1530 the Duke of Urbino commissioned him to decorate his villa, near Pesaro. Vasari recounts that while Bronzino was thus employed Pontormo urged him to return to Florence and help him finish the decorations of the Sala di Poggia at Cajano, and that since "Bronzino could not obtain leave of absence from Guidobaldo, who wished to pose for a portrait in armor, he was obliged to meet Pontormo surreptitiously and in the night." Incidentally, this portrait, now in the Pitti Gallery, was the first noteworthy proof that Bronzino was a painter of genius.

The fullest expression of his art dates from 1540 when he entered the service of Cosimo, and decorated the chapel of Eleanora di Toledo. This work is a resume of all his paintings, and it was while engaged upon it that he painted some of his best portraits of the Medici family. Considering that Bronzino was a most conscientious artist the extent of his output is extraordinary. But his energy and the quality of his work suffered a marked decline, and his old age was attended with poverty and infirmities. He died in 1572.

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