The painting is an official portrait of Eleanor of Toledo (1519-1562), the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici. She’s depicted with one of her sons first identified as Ferdinando, then Garcia and finally Francesco.
According to Luisa Becherucci the painting would be one of the works mentioned by Giorgio Vasari, depicting Giovanni (1542-1562) the second son of the couple, who his father wanted to become a cardinal and then pope. At just seven years Giovanni was ordained a priest and at 17 cardinal but he died before he could achieve his father’s dream.
Eleanor is depicted sitting wearing an elegant dress. Her neck, hair and shoulders are decorated with pearls as well as the pendants of her precious earrings. The look on her face is proud and melancholic, and she is looking directly at the viewer. Her hand is placed on her leg while the other on the shoulder of the little boy standing next to her holding his mother’s wide skirt.
Bronzino depicts little details and the material of Eleanor’s dress very realistically. The dress is richly embroidered with arabesques and pomegranate flower patterns, which symbolizes Eleanor’s fertility and role as a mother, as she gave Cosimo many children. The pomegranate is also a symbol of marriage and emblem of Isabella of Spain.
The elaborated brocade dress has Spanish origins like the lady herself. The dress has a fitted bodice, a golden pearl embellished net that covers the shoulders and wide sleeves with cuts that show the white shirt underneath. The skirt is very wide and embellished with a golden chain belt decorated with precious stones and a pearl tassel.
The two noble figures stand out from the dark background. The painting is clear, sharp and full of details. The lighting is clear and cool in the same time, as if it was supposed to freeze the two figures.
The painting was completed in the summer of 1545 when the Grand Ducal family was staying at the Villa di Poggio a Caiano. On the blue background, there is still a hint of a landscape resembling the areas Cosimo had recently conquered near Pisa.
Bronzino was born in Florence in 1503. He started his studies in Raffaellino del Garbo’s workshop and then with Pontormo, who influenced a lot his artistic style.
His first major works were portraits commissioned by high-profile clients. In 1533 he painted the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo, then Bartolomeo and Lucrezia Panciatichi and Ugolino Martelli, all between 1533 and 1540.
In these works he already showed a great ability to depict faces, clothes, jewelry and precious accessories with minimal details. He used very light and cool colors that tend to freeze the image, which was typical for Bronzino. He enriched his style by studying Michelangelo’s works, creating more sculptural figures with simplified forms.
In 1540 he entered the court of Cosimo de’ Medici who had just become the Grand Duke of Tuscany a year before. He portrayed Cosimo and his wife Eleanor of Toledo with their children and other members of the family. Most of the paintings were small and they were for Cosimo’s studio in Palazzo Vecchio, which was designed by Giorgio Vasari. In Palazzo Vecchio he also painted Eleanor of Toledo’s chapel with the stories of Moses and the apotheosis of St. Francis, St. Jerome, St. John and the archangel Michael (1545-1564).
Bronzino was sent to work in Pisa by Cosimo, where he painted the portrait of Luca Martini (Florence, Palatina Gallery) and a panel for the Pisa cathedral.
When he returned to Florence he completed the frescoes of Pontormo in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. In 1563 he was one of the founders of Accademia del Disegno, an artistic association created by Cosimo and Vasari, who was taking care of the rights of the artists and the artistic heritage. Bronzino continued to work for the Medici family but he wasn’t just a painter, he was also writer and a poet. He loved Petrarch, who was very popular at the time, and wrote many sonnets, like those for beautiful Laura Battiferri, Bartolomeo Ammannati’s wife, who had a passion for literature. Bronzino also wrote humoristic letters and he became a member of the Crusca Academy.
He died in 1572.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.