Stripping the armour BOOKED OUT
Uncovering visual culture in the Medici court
Member, Lecture / symposium
Discover the fascinating history of the 16th century Medici court through the visual culture of Renaissance Florence. Bringing together leading scholars, this one-day symposium focuses on the art, power and politics surrounding the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’Medici.
The symposium presents exciting new research on the portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, Cosimo I de’ Medici in armour (1540s), a significant painting held in the Gallery’s collection. The painting has undergone analysis at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, with new details revealed on the underlying portrait beneath the surface of this painting.
Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the birth of Cosimo I de’Medici, the symposium features speakers Dr Sefy Hendler (Tel Aviv University), Dr Paula Dredge (head of paintings conservation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales), Dr Natalie Tomas (Monash University), Dr Nicholas Baker (Macquarie University), Dr John Gagné (Sydney University) and Dr Robert Brennan (Sydney University).
The symposium is presented in partnership with Macquarie University and the Power Institute Foundation for Art and Visual Culture and is supported by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Cultural Office of the Consulate General of Italy.
The accidental Prince: Cosimo I and the creation of a court in Florence
In 1537 Cosimo I de’ Medici suddenly and unexpectedly became Duke of Florence. He inherited a challenging situation, needing to establish a new dynasty, a new court, and a new government in a state with a lengthy history of republican rule. He died in 1574 having achieved all these goals. This paper will provide a brief overview of Cosimo I’s life and reign, paying particular attention to the court culture established by the Duke and his wife, Eleonora de Toledo.
Nicholas Baker teaches early modern European history at Macquarie University. He is the author of The Fruit of Liberty: Political Culture in the Florentine Renaissance, 1480-1550 (Harvard 2013) and numerous articles and essays on 16th century Florence and the Medici court.
The Duke and the dwarf: Poetic portraits by Bronzino at the Medici court
Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, was a leading portrait painter in Florence in the mid-16th century. In addition to serving as the official court painter of the ducal family, Bronzino portrayed other prominent Florentine court figures including the Duke’s loyal companion, Braccio di Bartolo, commonly referred to as Nano Morgante (“the Dwarf Morgante”). This lecture will propose a joint reading of what at first sight seems like two very distinct depictions: the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ outstanding, Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici in Armour and the Uffizi Gallery’s unique recto-verso, Portrait of Nano Morgante. These carefully crafted images of Cosimo and Morgante reveal not only the political ambitions of the Duke, but also the artist’s ability to develop a poetic visual language at one of the most sophisticated humanistic courts of early modern Italy.
Sefy Hendler is an art historian, chair of the Art History Department at the Tel Aviv University and director of the University Gallery. His research focuses on art and art theory in early modern Italy. Among his publications are his book examining the rivalry between painting and sculpture in the Renaissance, La Guerre des Arts. Le Paragone peinture-Sculpture en Italie, XV-XVII siècle (L’Erma de Bretschneider, Rome, 2013, winner of L’Erma per l’arte prize) as well as the book consecrated to Nano Morgante, Gracious and beautiful monster: the literary universe of Bronzinoʼs Nano Morgante (Maschietto Editore, Florence, 2016). Hendler contributed as a scholar to numerous exhibition catalogues, including Bronzino painter and poet at the court of the medici in Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi (2010).
Visible and hidden paintings: Bronzino’s Cosimo I de’ Medici in armour, 1540s
The Art Gallery of New South Wales’, Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, re-emerged from obscurity in 1971 and is considered to be an autograph ¾ length version of an earlier ½ length autograph composition in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. An X-ray image was published in 1987 showing that another portrait of a man in a wide brimmed hat holding a book exists underneath the painting. Since the 1980s, many more works by Agnolo Bronzino have been studied with technical photography, infrared and X-rays and we now have a greater understanding of the artist’s extraordinary tendency to directly re-work and radically modify his paintings. Early this year the Sydney portrait underwent X-ray fluorescence mapping at the Australian Synchrotron to enable detailed examination of its elemental composition and to enhance the imaging of the lower painting. The findings of this cutting-edge technology will be presented at this symposium for the first time
Paula Dredge studied conservation of cultural materials at the University of Canberra and art history at the University of Sydney. She received her PhD from the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne. She is the head of paintings conservation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where she has worked since 1990. In 2017 she was awarded the Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Materials award for outstanding research in the field of conservation and in 2018 she was part of the team awarded the Museum & Galleries National Award (MAGNA) for interpretation, learning and audience engagement (level 1) for the Sidney Nolan unmasked exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art, an augmented reality experience using the synchrotron XRF mapping of Ned Kelly: “Nobody knows anything about my case but myself”.
From Lake Como to Sydney Harbour: The intricate itineraries of a Grand-Ducal portrait, 1551-1996
Remarkably and somewhat unusually for a Renaissance portrait, we can trace the rich and almost unbroken history of Bronzino’s painting, Cosimo I de’ Medici in armour, back to the 16th century, when the panel belonged to one of Europe’s most renowned collectors. On the shores of Lake Como, the historian, bishop, and connoisseur Paolo Giovio, gathered hundreds of portraits in a collection that defined the genre of modern portrait galleries. The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Bronzino was among them. This presentation follows the portrait as it leaves Italy in the 19th century to hang on the walls of Bonaparte apartments in tumultuous Second Empire France, and then across the Channel into the hands of a string of illustrious English owners. The portrait’s arrival in Australia in the 1990s is only the most recent adventure for our armoured Tuscan Duke.
John Gagné is senior lecturer in history and director of the Medieval and Early Modern Centre at the University of Sydney. His research has largely focused on problems in the history of premodern war, especially regarding the Italian Wars of the early 16th century. He is currently at work on two books: a history of obliteration in the early age of European rag paper (1250-1650), supported by the Australian Research Council; and a cultural history of the iron hand, a medieval invention to mechanize the human body.
The politics of architectural form under Cosimo I
This paper examines a series of prominent buildings that Cosimo I de’ Medici patronized in Florence, from Michelangelo’s unfinished architectural projects at the church of San Lorenzo to Giovanni Battista del Tasso’s Mercato Nuovo, Vasari’s Uffizi, and the famous corridor that linked the latter with Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. Focusing on the invention and adaptation of several specific ornamental forms, this paper tracks the ebb and flow of a highly sophisticated, at times openly ironic architectural language that initially served to flaunt the arbitrariness of classical architectural “rules,” but ultimately came to emblematise the historical claims of the Medici dynasty.
Robert Brennan is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. He received his PhD in 2016 from New York University, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz from 2016 to 2019. His first book, titled Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy (forthcoming, 2019), studies the practice of “modern art” (ars moderna) as it was described in fourteenth and early fifteenth-century texts. His second book project investigates the emergence of the art exhibition as an institutionalized event over the course of the sixteenth century.
The Duke’s companion: Eleonora di Toledo, portraiture, patronage and the role of a ducal consort at the Medici court
Agnolo Bronzino painted several portraits of Eleonora di Toledo (1522-1562), consort of Duke Cosimo I, during her lifetime. The first image c.1543, which is perhaps contemporaneous with the original 1543 portrait of Cosimo I, is of a fresh-faced, young, bejeweled and bedecked Eleonora, is now in Prague. This portrait, similar to that of Cosimo I had numerous copies made for distribution as gifts. The second portrait of Eleonora of 1545 in the Uffizi has now reached iconic status and was also replicated during her lifetime and for decades after her death. This portrait will be used as a focal point of discussion about Eleonora, her various roles as a consort and her companionate relationship with Cosimo I, both in real life and as companion portraits in the Uffizi.
Natalie Tomas has a BA (honours) from Monash University, a graduate diploma in librarianship (RMIT), a master of arts in women’s studies and a PhD in Italian Renaissance history from Monash University and a master’s in public policy and management from the University of Melbourne. Natalie is an adjunct senior research fellow with the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies and an associate of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University. Her research interests have focused on women, gender and female participation in public life in Renaissance and Grand Ducal Florence. She is the author of The Medici Women: Gender and Power in Renaissance Florence (Ashgate 2003; Reprinted Routledge 2017 ebook). Natalie has produced several book chapters and articles, most recently on Eleonora of Toledo and state formation (2015) and on the role of Duke Cosimo I’s mother, Maria Salviati de’ Medici, at her son’s court (2016). Natalie has also produced a bibliography on Eleonora of Toledo for the Oxford Bibliographies: Renaissance and Reformation (2017) doi: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0370
Featuring Sefy Hendler, Paula Dredge, John Gagné, Natalie Tomas, Robert Brennan. Chaired by Nicholas Baker.
Saturday 31 August 2019, 10am
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Duration 6 hours, 30 minutes
Location: Domain Theatre
Image: Agnolo Bronzino Cosimo I de’Medici in armour 1540s (detail)