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Agnolo Bronzion The Brazen Serpent, Fresco Chapel of Elenora of Toldeo Palazzo Vecchio

Agnolo Bronzino
The Brazen Serpent, Fresco
Chapel of Eleanora of Toledo
Palazzo Vecchio

Hidden surprises await!

Imagine a Renaissance artist tracking progress on his fresco’s by writing notes on the frame of a door. Such is the case in one of the most underrated and least visited of Florence’s architectural treasures, the Ponte Vecchio.

Built as the seat of government for the city, the palace was completed in 1299. Its history, alone, is a fascinating overview of the city’s political challenges – a topic for another article.

Located upstairs on the main level of Palazzo is a jewel of a chapel created for Eleonora of Toledo, wife of the first grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I. Commissioned by Cosimo I, Agnolo Bronzino (he of much fame, including his incredible Martyrdom of St. Lawrence in the Medici family church of San Lorenzo), the chapel is an oft overlooked treasure. Cosimo favored the work by Bronzino and commissioned portraits of himself and Eleonora as well as his children.

After Bronzino completed the large fresco on the south wall, The Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses Anointing Joshua, he began work on The Brazen Serpent. He created the fresco while working around an extant door (see photo above) within the chapel.

As he worked, he recorded what I call diary notes about start and stop dates on his frescoes. On the upper right and left door frames of this doorway are the following notes, written by the master:

On the upper right door frame: (“/” indicate new line on the door frame)

Martedi/A di 6/di Sett/bre [1541]/

comincio/lastoria di/

faraone/A di 30 di/

Marzo/1542 fu fin[i]/

la lastai [a] di farone/lunedi adi

5/di giunio 154[2]/comincino/lastoria/delle se’pe

TRANSLATION: On Tuesday 6 September [1541] the story of the pharaoh was begun; on 30 march a542 the story of the pharaoh was completed. On Monday 5 June 154[2] the story of the serpent was begun.

On the left upper door frame:

A di 15../fins la [sto]/ria d’aq’ua

TRANSLATION: On the 15th…the story of the water was completed.

Within the chapel, Bronzino and his apprentices completed the Crossing of the Red Sea and Moses appointing Joshua, as well as the Brazen Serpent, hence the master’s reference to the ‘water’ and the ‘pharaoh’.

Yet another surprise, a note written in the middle 16th Century by a Renaissance master about his work. If you are able to visit the Palazzo Vecchio during a visit to Florence, be sure to stop by the door in the Chapel of Eleanora of Toledo…and be surprised.

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Vecchio

Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Tickets:

Museum only: Euro 6.50 per person

Tower only: Euro 6.50 per person

Museum and Tower: Euro 10.00 per person

Please note below that you can also climb the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, though the hours are significantly reduced from the full museum hours.

April/May/June/July/
August/September
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m. – Midnight
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Following days are included: 1 April, 1 may, 2 and 24 June, 15 august
October
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
13-28-29-30-31 October: 9 a.m. – Midnight
November
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
1-2-3-10 November: 9 a.m. – Midnight
December
Every day except for Thursday: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Exceptionally the museum will be open:
7-8-22-23-26-27-28-29-30 December: 9 a.m. – Midnight
(Closed on Christmas Day)

The TOWER of the Palazzo Vecchio:

Summer opening time:
1st April – 30th September
Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat/Sun
9 – 21   (no admission after 20.30)

Thursday
9 – 14    (no admission after 13.30)

Winter opening time:
1st October – 31st march
Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat/Sun
10 – 17    (no admission after 16.30)
Thursday
10 – 14      (no admission after 13.30)

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Allegory with Venus and CupidAgnolo di CosimoCalled Bronzinoca. 1545

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Agnolo di Cosimo
Called Bronzino
ca. 1545

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, studied from the age of fourteen in the bottega of Jacopo da Pontormo. In 1545, he received a commission (most likely from Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany though some attributions list this as a commission from Francesco Salviati) for a painting to be given to King Francis I of France. The oil on wood painting is called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” or “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.”

What many people do not know is that Bronzino included an homage to the master, Leonardo da Vinci, in this complicated and convoluted work.

From Venus’s intimate embrace with her son, Cupid, to the upper right  bald figure of Time who holds the hour glass in his hand, most of the foreground of the work is relatively easy to understand. Move to the background and interpretations dissolve in what is a surreal backdrop of shadow and mannerist painting.

One particular figure is the subject of this article.

To the left of Cupid, whose naked buttocks disconcertingly intrudes on the left, is the figure of someone – a woman? a man? – in the midst of agony, anger and despair. Various interpretations have this figure representing jealousy or, by some, as the figure of syphilis, representative of unwise (out of wedlock?) intercourse. Regardless, it is clearly the image of someone in great distress.

Now, more back story.

In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission for a fresco depicting the Battle of Anghiari to be completed on a wall in the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. His cartoon, long lost, depicted a tortuous configuration of horses and men engaged in the heat of battle.

It was to one particular figure that Leonardo gave the most fearsome features-one Niccolò Piccinino. A condottiero (military leader) of considerable fame and success, he succumbed to the forces of Ludovico Sforza at the Battle of Anghiari (1440). In the throws of that battle, as Leonardo portrayed the action, Niccolò’s fierce and focused face is grimaced in a combination of determination and madness.

battle of AnghiariCartoon copy by RubensOrig by Leonardo da Vinci1505Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Detail, Battle of Anghiari
Cartoon copy by Rubens – 1603
Orig by Leonardo da Vinci
1505
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Now, back to Bronzino.

It is believed that Bronzino was given the opportunity to study Leonardo’s design, most likely from a 1553 engraving by Lorenzo Zacchia. Historians believe Zacchia created the engraving from studying the actual cartoon. Leonardo’s figures made a deep impression on the young Bronzino.

During some recent discussions with friends in Florence, it was posited that Bronzino was so affected by the face of Niccolò Piccinino that he created a mirror of the condottiero’s face, and used it (in homage to da Vinci) for a face in his Allegory.

Below is a close up detail of the Anghiari face, flipped horizontally and a close up the Bronzino’s figure.

Bronzino, Leftda Vinci, Right

Bronzino, Left
da Vinci, Right

Whether this recent interpretation will stand the test of time remains to be seen. What is true is that there is a startling similarity in the faces – one on a cartoon created by Leonardo, and the allegorical figure included in Bronzino’s work.

IF YOU GO:

The Bronzino work, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, is in the National Museum in London

Battle of Anghiari, by Leonardo da Vinci.

There has been a great deal of inquiry recently about whether some of Leonardo’s work existed behind a ‘second wall’ in the Sala dei Cinquicento (once the Council Chamber) in the Palazzo Vecchio. In March of 2012, the search for this possible fresco was terminated, though these articles are interesting. Listed below are a few links for those who are interested.

New York Times

U.K. Telegraph

Discovery News

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