Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Lady, c.
1533, oil on panel, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main
In the first half of the sixteenth century,
portraits became larger and included more of the sitter's body.
This new type originated with Leonardo's Mona Lisa, which
portrays the sitter in a relaxed pose with her hands resting in
her lap. Bronzino reflected Leonardo's influence in his Portrait
of a Lady, thought to represent Francesca Salviati at
the time of her second marriage to Ottaviano de' Medici. The painting
projects a new emotional warmth and sense of character: Francesca's
astute gaze, frank expression, and hint of a smile suggest an
amiable woman of intellect, wit, and self-confidence. The attentive
lapdog adds a note of playfulness, as does the gilded face of
a grotesque on the arm of the chair, intended to remind us that
all faces are masks.
The exploration of character seen in this vibrant
portrait would be short-lived. In 1537, the Medici consolidated
their power and transformed formerly republican Florence into
a duchy. After establishing their family as the city's hereditary
dukes, the Medici commissioned elaborate portraits that emphasized
dynastic connections. Unlike fifteenth-century images of beautiful
young wives, female portraits of the early-to-mid-sixteenth century
depict mature women, sometimes accompanied by their children.
The paintings of women in the Medici circle by Pontormo, Bronzino,
and other artists took on the force of official court portraits.
With masklike faces and rigid bearing, the women appear as icons
of power in portraits that relinquish individuality in favor of
courtly elegance and grandeur.