Khan Academy Essay Contribution – Cassone with the Conquest of Trebizond

Check out my essay on the Cassone with the Conquest of Trebizond which I wrote for the Khan Academy Website.

https://pl.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/painting-in-florence/a/cassone-with-the-conquest-of-trebizond
3a0d3224481187fbe9fdbc8cf311d1d63eec243b

 

The Bargello Relief- Representing the Realities of the Renaissance Birth Chamber

AKG273603

Figure 1: Andrea del Verrocchio, Bargello Relief, late 1400’s, Bargello Museum, Florence.

The Bargello Relief represents one of the most harrowing and realistic depictions of the realities of childbirth in art (Fig. 1). Located in the Bargello Museum, Florence, the relief depicts two separate scenes; a woman dying during the process of childbirth surrounded by grieving female attendants is portrayed on the right with the presentation of the deceased baby by the midwife to his father and a group of onlookers represented on the left.

The piece was commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni (the father-in-law of Giovanna degli Albizzi whose portrait I looked at in a previous blog post). Giovanni ordered the creation of this work to commemorate the death of his beloved wife Francesca Pitti who died in labour on September 23rd 1477. The relief in fact may have been a component of a much larger sculptural piece, a tomb executed by Andrea del Verrocchio and dedicated to Francesca located in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome (where Giovanni worked as the head of the Medici bank). Unfortunately, the tomb has been dismantled and lost with the Bargello relief the sole surviving piece of the work. The creator of the relief has been the subject of much debate with two of the leading Verrocchio scholars, Butterfield and Covi, attributing it to Francesco di Simone, a Florentine sculptor who worked with Verrocchio.[1] Verrocchio himself designed and executed the most important elements of the commission and assigned artists present in his workshop to assist him in the decoration.

At first glance, the relief appears to have been designed within the traditional format used for birth iconography; the depiction of the ‘lying-in scene’ (depicting the birth of a child) and the portrayal of the presentation of the child to the father for naming.[2] This scene realistically portrays the event which took place within the feminine and private realm of the birth chamber. Verrocchio graphically depicts the apparent dangers associated with childbirth and motherhood, which were faced by all women. Traditional lying-in scenes commonly found on birth trays such as Masaccio’s 1425 Desco da Parto (Fig.2) represented the ideal situation and outcome for this process, namely the successful birth of the child (preferably a boy) and the survival of the mother.

birth-tray-1428

 

Figure 2: Masaccio, Desco da Parto, 1425-28, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

These trays and the illustrations adorning them were believed to possess talismanic properties, acting to protect and reassure the expectant mother at a time when death in childbirth was a common occurrence.[3] The Bargello relief depicts the opposite of these protective scenes. Kisler argues that the authenticity invested by the artist by the sculptor allowed contemporary women to read through the deceased woman’s body, sympathetically in the image and physically and emotionally through their own experiences of birth.[4] From a feminine perspective, the truthful representation of Francesca’s demise in this commemorative piece publicly validated and highlighted the risks women undertook to provide male heirs for their husbands and for the republic.

Bargello_-_Verrocchio_Tornabuoni_2

Eight grieving women surround the free-standing bed where Francesca lies. She is physically held up by one attendant whose right hand touches the deceased’s breast in the traditional position of a birth assistant. The midwife holds the other arm and searches for a pulse.[5] The women display their grief in a variety of ways; one sits hunched over in front of the bed holding her head in her hands while the woman on the far right pulls her hair in anguish.

Bargello_-_Verrocchio_Tornabuoni_2 (2) Bargello_-_Verrocchio_Tornabuoni_2 (3)

Their collective declaration of sadness contrasts sharply to the austere and somewhat restrained expressions of the figures in the presentation scene. The articulation of suffering was customary among Florentine women when a death occurred.[6] They grieve openly whereas when the child was presented to his father and bystanders in the more public sphere, such expressions were internalised as they would have been deemed inappropriate considering the context and environment. Within the confines of the domestic bedchamber, the women disclose their feelings over the loss of the mother and male child.

The pose of the dying figure with her serene expression differentiates to the visible expression of mourning displayed by those who surround her. Francesca’s depiction is heavily influenced by examples of classical art; she is dressed in Roman garb and lies on a bed in the all’antica style. There are a striking number of similarities between Francesca’s depiction and that of the death of Meleager. Murdered by his own mother with the aid of the goddess Diana in revenge for the slaughter of his uncles, the Death of Meleager was a popular subject matter found on ancient Roman sarcophagi (Fig. 3).

meleager sarcophagus louvre large

 

Fig. 3 Death of Meleager, 2nd Century A.D, Louvre, Paris

Traditionally, the dying hero is represented lying in state surrounded by his mourning loved ones. In both the Bargello Relief and the Death of Meleager scene, the dying protagonist lies on a bed surrounded by a group of figures with varying expressions of profound melancholy including the seated female holding her head in her hands. The principal characters do not exhibit the suffering they have endured. By depicting Francesca in this manner, Verrocchio conferred the deceased with a sense of heroic dignity and gravitas. Her calm appearance masks the pain and suffering she obviously endured. It is only subtly referenced to through the depiction of her limp, tousled hair which sticks to her neck, her dress slipping down her left arm and the exposing of her left breast. The fact that she is portrayed as sitting up in the bed demonstrates how she was physically exhausted from the labour.[7]

Bargello_-_Verrocchio_Tornabuoni_2 (4)

It is interesting to note that Verrocchio chose not to depict the caesarean birth which Giovanni alludes to in a personal letter about Francesca’s death. The focus is upon the aftermath of the childbirth process, with the child swaddled and held by the wet nurse whose bodice remain tied, indicating that the child is dead, as well as Francesca’s final moments. The representation of such a traumatic and grisly procedure would have been deemed inappropriate and too graphic for this commission and its contemporary audience. The emphasis here is on Francesca’s portrayal as a courageous woman who, after suffering the agony of a failed delivery, remained dignified to the end. Her willingness to die in order to give birth to her son demonstrates her heroic nature.

Bargello_-_Verrochio_Tornabuoni_1

Unlike typical representations of the presentation of the infant to his father for naming, Verrocchio depicts the moment when the midwife presents the dead swaddled child. Immediately, the viewer is confronted with a sense of tragedy and loss of not only the baby but also his mother. The inclusion of a clearly recognisable Giovanni (when compared to other representations of the patron, (Fig. 4) provides an insight into society’s focus upon the promotion of the patriarchal line and strength of the family. Francesca was only identifiable through her association with her husband and his portrayal in the opposite episode. Emphasis is thus placed upon the Tornabuoni lineage and Francesca’s contribution to it as the mother of the family’s sole heir.

giovanni

 

Fig. 4. Detail of Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Donor Portrait of Giovanni Tornabuoni, 1485-1490, Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

The relief was designed to act as a didactic narrative to emphasise the role of motherhood to the female audience. Although the scene depicts her death, the implied message is a positive one as it points to the possibility of achieving a revered status through the fulfilment of their duties as patrician wives. Verrocchio chose to portray the realities of the surrounding death within the domestic context, respectful of the mourning customs of the time while simultaneously giving a truthful image of this emotional event for all those involved in the process, an event which women would experience in one capacity or another during their lives.

[1] A. Butterfield, The Sculptures of Andrea del Verrocchio, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1997, 238 and D. Covi, Andrea del Verrocchio, Life and Work, Arte e Archeologia, Studi e Documenti, 27, Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence, 2005, 148.

[2] M. Kisler, ‘Florence and the Feminine’, in J. Levaric Smarr and D. Valentini (eds.), Italian Women and the City: Essays, Dickinson Press, Madison, NJ, Fairleigh, 2003, 70.

[3] J.M. Musacchio, ‘Imaginative Conceptions in Renaissance Italy’, in G.A. Johnson and S.F. Matthew Grieco (eds.), Picturing Women in Renaissance and Baroque Italy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, 42-60.

[4] Kisler, ‘Florence and the Feminine’, 71.

[5] Ibid, 70.

[6] S. Strocchia, Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1992, 117.

[7] Kisler, ‘Florence and the Feminine’, 71.

The Model Mother- Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni

thyssen museum ghirlandaio image

Fig. 1. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, 1488, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

Pregnancy was a dangerous event in the life of a fifteenth-century Florentine patrician woman. One-fifth of all deaths among females that occurred in Florence during this period were in fact related to complications in childbirth or ensuing post-partum infections. In the years 1424-25 and 1430, the Books of the Dead recorded the deaths of fifty-two women as a result of labour. As conditions for pregnant women did not improve in the ensuing half a century, childbirth remained a dangerous event for women to endure. Husbands took many precautions to ensure a successful birth as can be seen in the vast array of objects associated with this event created at this time. People turned to religion and magic in order to ensure that both the mother and child would survive this perilous process. Death in childbirth affected women from all classes and wealth did not act as a deterrent. The loss of a fertile young woman was detrimental to both her family and to society in general. Not only did her natal and conjugal families lose out on the children she may have had in the future, the loss of the child that she carried (which was commonplace) denied the family the opportunity to forge advantageous marriage alliances and heirs to the family name and wealth.

In a society which had recently experienced the devastating effects of the Black Death, leading to the loss of approximately 80,000 of its citizens, the civic authorities of the city-state began to actively promote the need for the production of children to counter-act the dramatic population decline. A family-centred ideology emerged at the core of Florentine society. In the writings of resident authors such as Leon Battista Alberti, marriage and family were regarded as the building blocks of a strong and prosperous society. The need for children was of paramount importance to the citizens of Florence as a means of ensuring the continuation of family lineages and the prosperity of the society which they were born into. The production of children was thus perceived primarily as for the good of both the family and society rather than just for individual satisfaction. The inhabitants of the city-state and particularly the women were under immense societal pressure to carry out their civic duty by producing offspring. As women were the bearers of children, their roles within their marital families centred upon their ability to fulfil the role of motherhood and produce as many children as possible for their husbands.

A number of art works dedicated to women who died in childbirth survive to the present day and Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni dating from c.1488 is one of the most famous examples [Fig.1]. It is clear through the examination of these art works that a woman received a privileged status through her death in childbirth, particularly if she had already provided her husband with a male heir. Although the depictions of women who died in this manner do not usually reference what caused their demise, these works promote motherhood to contemporary Italian viewers in a number of ways. This argument stems from an idea put forward by the historian David Herlihy who states that, due to motherhood, Renaissance Italian women were elevated in status.[1] The following brief synopsis of a painted portrait of a Florentine woman demonstrates that, within the context of the republican city-state, a woman was clearly defined by her role as mother and contributor to her husband’s dynastic lineage.

Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni

Giovanna was born into one of the most influential and powerful families of the period, the Albizzi. At the age of eighteen, Giovanna entered into another powerful Florentine family, the Tornabuoni, through her marriage to Lorenzo Tornabuoni. Marriage was the key event in the lives of Florentine citizens, particularly for women as they were dependent upon matrimony alone to define their status. Girls were conditioned for their nuptials from an early age. The similarities in the ages of the bride and groom is considered unusual in the Florentine context; usually the man would choose his bride when he was twenty to twenty-five years old and, if he should feel that his position would improve, he would wait until he reached thirty to marry. The bride was usually in her early teenage years at the time of betrothal. Gert Jan van der Sman argues that the similarity in their age suggests that their union was for dynastic purposes.[2] On 11th October 1487, Giovanna successfully gave birth to her first child, a boy who was named Giovanni after his grandfather, the family patriarch. Giovanna died less than a year later on 7th October 1488, as a result of childbirth. Of particular interest are the series of images created by the prominent Florentine artist Domenico Ghirlandaio commissioned by her grieving husband and also her father-in-law shortly after her death.

Ghirlandaio’s Portrait

The Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni dating from 1488 includes a number of interesting elements such as the Latin epigram. It reads as:

                                ‘Ars Utinam Mores Animum que Effingere Posses                                                                                             Pulchrior In Terris Nulla Tabella Foret’

[Art, if only you were able to portray character and soul, no painting on earth would be more beautiful]

thyssen museum ghirlandaio image (4)

The identity of the author of these words has been a matter of much contention amongst art historians. Maria DePrano presents the most relevant interpretation and identification of the true author of the verse by arguing that it was Lorenzo’s composition which had been based upon an epigram written by the ancient Roman poet Martial with a minor change in the verb conjugation to make the words more personalised.[3] Lorenzo verbalises his sorrow over the sudden death of his wife. Not only did he lose his beloved wife who he had been married to for only a brief period of time, he also lost the child which she was giving birth to. Their first-born son, Giovanni, who was less than a year old at the time of her death, lost his mother. Therefore the epigram is one of both anguish and lament by a grief-stricken husband beseeching art to bring his wife back to life. The position of the inscription within the portrait itself is interesting and deliberate on the part of the artist as the bottom left hand corner is partially obscured by the sitter’s beautifully elongated neck. The viewer is left in no doubt that the words of this epigram are in fact referring to Giovanna herself, her character, mind and feminine virtues. It is important to note that the majority of inscriptions included in the portraiture of Florentine women were located on the reverse side of the images such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci c.1474-78 [Fig. 2] Their placement on the reverse suggests that they were intended to be viewed by a select private audience such as the patron who commissioned the work and close family. In the case of Ghirlandaio’s portrait, the inscription’s prominence within the work itself must be interpreted as a public statement, intended to be viewed by a wider audience.

ginevra

 

Fig. 2. Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, c.1474-78, National Gallery of Art, Washington

The open nature of this personal statement of Lorenzo’s lament is furthered by the work’s original location. This image is one of the only female portraits of the Renaissance period whose exact location was documented in an inventory. It was located in Lorenzo’s personal chambers in the chamera del palcho d’oro (‘chamber with the gold ceiling’) of the Palazzo Tornabuoni and hung in this room for nearly ten years after her death when Lorenzo had in fact remarried.[4] The private chambers of Florentine patrician men were quasi-public spaces within the palazzo and the camera was in fact the most controlled space, only accessible to those who were admitted to the space by its owner. Those who saw the portrait would have been invited by Lorenzo himself into the room. It was within these spaces that men placed their most valuable art works and prized possessions so that their wealth and prestige could be exhibited and seen. By placing Giovanna’s portrait in this chamber, Lorenzo not only gave Giovanna a prized position within his household but simultaneously suggested that her image and thus Giovanna herself was in fact a cherished possession of his. The inscription acts as a public acknowledgement of her worth and significance to her husband and adds to the sense of high regard she achieved posthumously.

The significance of physical appearance in female portraiture

thyssen museum ghirlandaio image

The manner in which Ghirlandaio represents his sitter including the profile format and her appearance added to the perception of her privileged status within the Tornabuoni family. In classical times, the use of the strict profile pose was allied to biography so that these portraits came to stand for their sitters’ virtuous behaviour. Its use in Florentine art asserted similar virtues upon those represented. With her eyes and face averted, Giovanna’s depiction was particularly apt in a society which idealised the images of women in terms of their chastity and modesty. Her upright posture emphasised through the pose demonstrates her chaste nature, considered the most fundamental virtue for a patrician woman to possess as it was deemed vital to ensure the legitimacy of the offspring she produced. It also allowed the viewer to appreciate Giovanna’s beauty, as the observer can clearly see her domed forehead, elongated neck and high hairline, features considered beautiful in Florentine society. Beauty was regarded as another significant quality for women to possess which was clearly emphasised by its reference in the portrait’s inscription.

The domestic environment was seen as the space reserved for women and Jacqueline Marie Musacchio points out that many Florentine women spent a large portion of their lives being controlled by male family members and contained within the walls of the family palazzo.[5] Alberti argued that it was in fact natural for a woman to remain inside and to tend to the household while the man’s place was outside the home, tending to all other matters. In a culture which believed that a woman should give the impression that her body was contained and protected with her limbs controlled, the use of the profile in female portraiture was perfectly suited to demonstrate this ideal.[6] This is furthered by Giovanna’s physical containment within the confines of the Netherlandish motif of the dark tomb-like niche.[7] Therefore Giovanna is shown here as exemplary and virtuous in the 1488 portrait.

Giovanna’s pose and appearance also held importance with regards to the exhibition of the wealth and prestige of her marital family. Extravagant costumes and jewellery were symbols of affluence and status in this society. The dominance of the initial ‘L’ on the sleeve of Giovanna’s giornea (dress) refers to her husband and thus denotes her as Lorenzo’s wife. The use of heraldic or familial devices on women’s clothing demonstrates how women were perceived in terms of their families- firstly their father’s and then, through marriage, their husband’s. A woman was thus never viewed as an individual with a separate identity who earned honour for their own merits, but was only seen in terms of her ability to assist in the continuation of the patriarchal lineage of the family.

thyssen museum ghirlandaio image (3)

Each of the objects included in the portrait were carefully chosen to provide a further insight into the sitter’s personality and nature which the artist could not evoke in the portrait. The prayer book symbolised the piety Giovanna possessed and the string of coral beads alluded to the use of talismanic objects to safeguard the wellbeing and health of the new born child. Of particular interest is the dragon pendant with its reference to the symbol of St. Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth, to whom women in labour prayed to ensure a safe delivery. The dragon pendant is an unusual inclusion as no other example of such a necklace has been found in a Quattrocento female portrait. The incorporation of the coral beads and dragon necklace in particular subtly allude to the circumstances surrounding her death. The artist successfully constructed an image of Giovanna as a paradigm for the ideals a woman was expected to possess and an exemplar which other women should aspire to imitate in their own lives.

thyssen museum ghirlandaio image (2)

Giovanna’s fate was shared by many of her contemporaries, including her closest female kin. Her mother, Caterina Soderini, mother-in-law Francesca Pitti Tornabuoni, and sister-in-law Ludovica, all died as a result of childbirth, demonstrating the devastating effects of this event on Florentine families. The emphasis on the commemoration of Giovanna in the painted portrait by Ghirlandaio expresses how she was perceived as having played a crucial role in this family in ensuring its continuation and was thus regarded as a valued member due to her role as the mother of the Tornabuoni male heir. Lorenzo, through the medium of art, venerated his spouse for her achievements as a woman through the realisation of her civic duty as a wife. To commission a painted portrait of an individual at this time was to commemorate the sitter for their accomplishments, confirmed in the writings of Alberti who asserted that: ‘Through painting the faces of the dead go on living for a very long time’.[8] Accordingly, Giovanna was commemorated for posterity as an exemplar amongst her sex, the highest of accolades.

[1] D. Herlihy, ‘The Natural History of Medieval Women’ in D. Herlihy, Women, Family and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991, ed. A. Molho, Berghahn Books, Providence, 1991, 53.

[2] Gert van der Sman, Lorenzo and Giovanna: Timeless Art and Fleeting Lives in Renaissance Florence, trans. By D. Webb, Madragora, Florence, 2010, 29.

[3] Maria DePrano, ‘No Painting on Earth would be more beautiful’: an analysis of Giovanna degli Albizzi’s portrait inscription’, Renaissance Studies, Vol. 22, No. 5, 2008, 632-33.

[4] Ibid, 634.

[5] Jacqueline Marie Musacchio, Art, Marriage and Family in the Florentine Renaissance Palace, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008, 62.

[6] L.B. Alberti, The Family in Renaissance Florence, Waveland Press, Illinois, 2004, 207-8.

[7] J. Woods-Marsden, ‘Portraits of the Lady, 1430-1520’, in D.A. Brown (ed.), Virtue and Beauty Leonardo’s Ginevra de’ Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2001, 69.

[8] L.B. Alberti, On Painting and Sculpture, trans. C. Grayson, Phaidon, London, 1972, 60.

Art in the Service of the Ideal- The Florentine Matriarch Eleonora di Toledo

 portrait1  

(Agnolo Bronzino’s Eleonora di Toledo with her son Giovanni, c.1545, Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

ELEONORA FLORENTIAE DVCISSA

 CVM PVDORE LAETA FOECVNDITAS

 [Eleonora, Duchess of Florence/ Fecundity, joyful with modesty]

 

The image above by the renowned artist Agnolo Bronzino depicts Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici of Florence executed c.1545. This double portrait has been juxtaposed with an example of a Latin inscription found on a medal dating from c.1551 dedicated to Eleonora demonstrating how both visual and written forms were utilised by the duke to promote the gendered ideals of his court. Images such as the state portrait by Bronzino were used to exemplify the ideal societal role of women during this period, namely motherhood. From the celebration of her marriage to Cosimo in 1539 until her death in 1562, Eleonora’s depiction was synonymous with her ability to fulfil her role as a wife and provide male heirs for her husband. Simultaneously Cosimo used the representation of his wife and children as a form of dynastic propaganda, showing the strength of the Medici family in a politically turbulent period in Florence’s history. As the daughter of the Spanish viceroy of Naples and a member of a family of royal prestige, Eleonora’s marriage to Cosimo greatly enhanced the duke’s political standing as he attempted to establish and legitimise his court in Florence. Cosimo was the first of the Medici to govern Florence as an appointed ruler, a title given to him by Emperor Charles V. Throughout his rule, Cosimo exploited images to attempt to persuade his subjects with visual evidence of his legitimacy as leader of the new court. Eleonora’s image therefore embodied two key purposes: to provide a female exemplar which Florentine women were to attempt to emulate while simultaneously demonstrating the dynastic power of the Medici in a society dominated by patriarchy.

 Fifteenth century Florentine women were expected to get married and provide their husbands with as many children as possible, preferably sons. L.B. Alberti, in his book entitled Della Famiglia (On the Family) wrote that the key characteristic a wife should possess was that she should be ‘well made for bearing children, with the kind of constitution that promises to make them big’.[1] Responsibility for conceiving was therefore placed predominantly upon women. Chastity played an integral role in their lives as it was essential that a woman remain pure both before and during marriage to ensure the legitimacy of her offspring.[2] As the duchess, Eleonora’s fertility and chastity were of paramount importance for the preservation of the Medici name and power. She had to demonstrate her fecundity to both her husband and to those who resided in the court leading to the commissioning of art works which memorialised her success in fulfilling her marital duties.

 Eleonora’s success as a fertile woman and mother is given its most explicit depiction in the state portrait by Bronzino. The inclusion of her second son, Giovanni, instead of her eldest child, Francesco was a deliberate choice on the part of Cosimo for several reasons. It could firstly be simply read as a visual testament of Eleonora’s fertility. J. Cox-Rearick argues that Cosimo hoped that Giovanni would follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and become a pope, guaranteeing the piety and salvation of this generation of the family. The duke also hoped that as pope, Giovanni would reunite Rome and Florence as his papal ancestors had, making the ducal court of Florence an immensely powerful entity.[3]

 Another prominent theme depicted in this image is the allusion to the figures’ divinity through their association with the Virgin and Christ Child, the ideal mother and son. By choosing to include the younger son, Bronzino evokes the divinity of Eleonora as a successful mother as the infant Christ was normally depicted in his early years in devotional works of this period.[4] Eleonora’s eldest son would have been considered too old to act as a contemporary substitute for Christ. The association of the holy family would have been easily interpreted by its audience, suggesting the Medici’s divine right to rule. Eleonora’s resemblance to the Virgin is furthered by the artist’s application of an almost pure blue pigment around her head which contrasts with the darker background, drawing the viewers’ attention to this area and making it appear as if she is emitting light similar to a haloed saint.[5] By employing the conventions associated with the depiction of the Virgin, Bronzino and his patron constructed an overt comparison of Eleonora and the ideal mother.

Eleonora’ role as duchess is alluded to in the painting with the inclusion of the verdant Tuscan landscape located in background. By placing her in front of this scene, Bronzino links her fertility which is physically represented in the image by the inclusion of her son with her regency of the lands of Florence. It can also be argued that the association with the Virgin further confirms her power as the wife of the ruler as Mary was the patron saint of Florence and regarded as its protector. By forging this link between Eleonora and the Virgin, Cosimo was attempting to show that his wife would also protect the city through her production of male children who would grow up to rule and guard Florence from its enemies.

portrait3  pomegranate detail

 Eleonora is clearly rewarded for her fertility by the array of jewels and the dress she wears. It was considered the husband’s responsibility to dress his wife in a fashion that was deemed appropriate to his social status.[6] Eleonora is depicted wearing an extravagant and expensive costume demonstrating the wealth and prestige of her husband. The pomegranate motif which adorns her dress attests to her fecund nature as it is deliberately prominent on her abdomen thus physically indicating to the viewer why she wears this symbol. The large number of pearls adorning the duchess can be interpreted as a material reward from her husband for her ability to provide him with children. Pearls were symbols of marital chastity and within the context of this image, the presence of some many of these gemstones reads as a testament of the chaste nature of the duchess during her marriage and the legitimacy of the children she bore.

During her marriage to Cosimo, Eleonora indeed demonstrated her fertile nature by successfully giving birth to eleven children within a fourteen year period. The duchess is not depicted in the state portrait for her intellectual abilities. She is clearly celebrated for her contribution to Cosimo’s lineage, an argument which is strengthened by the fact that she was never depicted with any of her daughters.[7] Bronzino’s portrait reflects the iconic status she enjoyed within her court due to her safe delivery of a number of sons for her husband, honouring her privileged status as an exemplary Florentine matriarch.

 

[1] L.B. Alberti, The Family in Renaissance Florence, Books One to Four, I Libri della Famiglia, translated by Renee Neu Watkins, Waveland Press, Illinois, 2004, 116.

[2] J.M. Musacchio, The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999, 55.

[3] J. Cox-Rearick, Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oxford, 1993, 37.

[4] G. Langdon, Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love and Betrayal from the Court of Duke Cosimo I, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2006, 67.

[5] L. Campbell, Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1990, 25.

[6] R. Orsi Landini and M. Westerman Bulgarella, ‘Costume in Fifteenth Century Florentine Portraits’ in D.A. Brown (ed.), Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo’s Ginevra de’ Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2001, 93.

[7] J. Cox-Rearick, Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio, 42.

Renaissance Mothers and Matriarchs- The beginning of the journey!

Image Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni (1488, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

Welcome to my blog- this is my first ever post and I hope that my random ramblings will keep you entertained over the coming couple of months (and maybe years!!) as I begin my PhD research on Florentine Renaissance matriarchs. What I am hoping (fingers crossed!!) to focus my research on is the examination of the jewellery worn by women in their beautiful portraits and to show that the jewellery they wear is a marker of their success as women in producing children. I will be looking at exquisite portraits of republican and ducal Florentine women as well as the representation of mythical and religious women to analyse the importance of motherhood and fulfilling this role to be a valuable member of society. Of course no discussion of the ‘ideal’ woman would be complete without exploring the ‘fallen women’- those ‘terrible’ women who didn’t fall into the category of what patriarchal society deemed appropriate for women at that time.

My love for exploring the world of Renaissance women all began in my undergrad under the guidance of the Renaissance expert and head of the History of Art department at University College Cork, Dr. Flavio Boggi. When he talked about the portraiture of the Renaissance period, I instantly wanted to know more about these women’s’ lives, who they were, how they lived. I devoted my final year thesis on the examination of the virtuous ideal Renaissance woman and have never looked back. My MPhil examined Renaissance women both of Florence and the courts of Renaissance Italy who died in childbirth and were memorialised in a variety of ways and media by their husbands and other male members of their family. When deciding what subject I wanted to research for my PhD, I got caught up in another idea but after a few months realised that I really wanted to return to my Renaissance women.

So that’s me!! Keep an eye on the blog as I will be updating it regularly with analysis of some of the most beautiful representations of women from the Renaissance from the likes of Domenico Ghirlandaio, Agnolo Bronzino, Leonardo da Vinci among others.