Grey Matters

Jacopo Carrucci, known as Pontormo (Pontormo 1494–1557 Florence)
Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, ca. 1537
oil on panel
39 5/8 x 30 3/8 inches
100.6 x 77 cm

The great Florentine artist Jacopo Pontormo painted this imposing portrait of the eighteen-year-old Cosimo I de’ Medici who had recently been elected Duke of Florence in January 1537. A work of the artist’s mature phase, the portrait typifies Pontormo’s approach to the genre, in which the elegantly elongated and haughtily posed sitter is intensely alive as a psychological presence yet at the same time “hauntingly inaccessible” (Cox-Rearick, op. cit., p. 38).

Recent cleaning has retrieved the authority of this important portrait which was for years defaced with extensive overpaint. It is painted with thin, transparent glazes similar to the surface of the near-contemporary Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici (fig. 1) in Philadelphia.

Shown in the sober dark costume in the Spanish style which Cosimo is described as wearing soon after becoming Duke (D. Mellini, Ricordi intorno ai costumi, azioni, e governo del serenissimo gran duca Cosimo I, 1820 ed., p. 2), he stands within a palazzo flanked by doors framed in pietra serena, the famous blue-grey stone used for architectural detailing in Renaissance Florence. His head set high in the picture field, the handsome young Duke stands holding a book – the attribute of the literary man in Florentine portraiture – thus embodying, as Simon has noted, the ideal prince (Simon, op. cit., p. 183). Indeed, the book and the sword, which the sitter also bears, allude to the Neoplatonic notion of wisdom and power, virtues exalted as those of the ideal prince by Castiglione in his enormously influential Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier), published in Venice in 1528 (Costamagna, 1994, op. cit., p. 243). Costamagna has suggested that this portrait – the only one in which the young Cosimo is shown wearing civilian clothing – is in all probability that one sent to Naples for presentation to his fiancée, Eleonora of Toledo, in advance of their nuptials. In this instance, the present portrait might have been displayed in the palace of the Viceroy of Naples on the occasion of their proxy wedding, which took place on 29 March 1539.

Fig. 1 Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici, 1535, oil on panel, 101.3 x 81.9 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Cat. 83

Early records

The earliest secure record of this picture is found in the inventory of Riccardo Romolo Riccardi, drawn up in Florence in 1612, where it is described as a portrait of the Duke Cosimo wearing a beret with white feather, sword and black garment:

Alla undecima lunette à lato alla porta/Un ritratto conforme agli altri ritratti dell’altre lunette si crede di mano di Jac.o da Puntormo con berrettino in testa, penna bianca, et arme à canto con saio dell’ Duca Cosimo con (MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 258, n. 1; quoted Keutner, op. cit. p. 152).

The portrait was listed again in the Riccardi inventory of 1814, in which more details about the sitter’s attributes and attire, such as his “dark costume in the Spanish style” and the fact of his holding a book, are included.

Un quadro in cornice dorata rappresenta un ritratto di un giovane mezza figura in abito nero alla spagnola con spada e pennacchio bianco sul cappello, tenando in mano un libro mezzo servato stima scudi sessanta (MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 278, c. 15; see Costamagna, 1994, op. cit.,p. 242).

Although Cosimo’s name is not repeated in the latter document, the identification of the sitter as Cosimo has been endorsed by Keutner, who first published the 1612 inventory; Forster (1964); Simon (1982); Cox-Rearick (1989); and Costamagna (1994). Cropper, on the other hand, proposed an alternative identification of the sitter as the Florentine nobleman Carlo Neroni whose likeness by Pontormo is recorded by Vasari (Cropper, 1996, op. cit., p. 380). However, that is more likely to be a portrait formerly in the collection of the Earl of Caledon.

The sitter

Fig. 2 Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Cosimo I de Medici aged 12, ca. 1531. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Fig. 3 Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici as Orpheus, ca. 1537-39, oil on panel, 93.7 x 76.4 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 1950-86-1

Comparison with other portraits of Cosimo argue strongly in favor of identifying the present sitter as the newly-elected Duke. Ridolfo Ghirlandaio’s Cosimo I de’ Medici, aged 12 of 1531 (fig. 2) shows much younger Cosimo, but with a similar round face, wide eyes and small mouth. Bronzino’s allegorical portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus of ca. 1537-39 (fig. 3), painted around the same time as the present picture, provides clearer evidence for Cosimo’s physiognomy at this stage, which, as Costamagna has observed, is very close to that of the present sitter. Although Berti pointed out that Cosimo always wore a beard after 1537 (Berti, 1990, op. cit., p. 96), the Philadelphia picture suggests that the beard was not yet fully grown, as does a sketch of the Duke, executed in 1543 by Baccio Bandinelli, which shows a rather uneven beard (whereabouts unknown; see Costamagna, 1994, op. cit., p. 242).

Pontormo vs. Bronzino

Fig. 4 Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici exhibited in the Maniera exhibition, Städel Museum, Frankfurt a.M, 2016

Although the picture was attributed to Pontormo in the Riccardi inventory of 1612, its authorship was the subject of some debate earlier in the last century. It was offered at Christie’s, London in 1915 and again in 1930 as by Bronzino, an attribution also put forth by Berti in 1964, though Forster assigned it to Bronzino’s studio in that same year. It was exhibited in Baltimore in 1961 as Pontormo and published as such by Berenson two years later. While Simon judged it “close” to Pontormo on the basis of a photograph in 1982, Fabre and Costamagna included it as Pontormo in full in their 1986 catalogue of 16th-century Florentine portraits. More recently, Cox-Rearick, Cropper and Fahy have all decisively endorsed Pontormo’s authorship. In his 1994 catalogue raisonné of Pontormo’s paintings, Costamagna reconfirmed its autograph status, referring to it as a “splendid portrait…in which the spirit is incontestably that of Pontormo’s works…Above all, the modeling of the face and hands, and no less the expression of his gaze” recall the style of the artist (ibid.). Dennis Geronimus, author of the catalogue entry for the painting in the Städel Museum Maniera exhibition (fig. 4) concurs both with the attribution and the identification of the sitter as Cosimo I. He dates it to ca. 1537, the year of Cosimo’s betrothal to Eleanora of Toledo and recognition by the Emperor as Duke of Florence.

More on the dating

Fig. 5 Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi), 1528-30, oil on panel transferred to canvas, 95.3 x 73 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Scholars have remarked on the striking similarities in format and pose which the picture bears to Pontormo’s Portrait of a Halberdier in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, traditionally called a portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici (fig. 5), but recently published by Cropper as possibly representing the Florentine nobleman Francesco Guardi and datable to ca. 1529-30. A similar pose was used by Pontormo in his Portrait of Carlo Neroni(?) of ca. 1530, though it has no architectural background. Although Cropper dates the present picture to the end of the third decade of the 16th century, both circumstantial and stylistic evidence support a dating toward the late 1530s, which the majority of scholars, including Forster, Simon, Costamagna, Cox-Rearick and Geronimus, have endorsed.

Fig. 6 Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Ugolino Martelli, 1536/40, oil on panel, 102 x 85 cm. Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche museen zu Berlin
Fig. 7 Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, 1530s, oil on panel, 95.6 x 74.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 29.100.16

The present picture shares commonalities with other of Pontormo’s portraits of the 1530s, such as the Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici of ca. 1534-35 (fig. 1), which shows a similar angular architectural background, format, and figural proportions. As Costamagna was first to suggest, Pontormo most likely re-used the cartoon for the earlier Getty picture in the genesis of the present portrait, making slight adjustments to the pose as the picture progressed (1994, op. cit., p. 242; see also Cropper, 1997, op. cit., p. 104). The Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici also relates to certain of Bronzino’s portraits, in particular, the Portrait of Ugolino Martelli of ca. 1536-37 (fig. 6), which seems to have inspired its architectural setting. The figure’s pose in Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 7) is in turn closely based on that of Cosimo in the present portrait, which Costamagna refers to as the pivotal connection (il cardine) between Pontormo’s portraits of the first third of the century and those of Bronzino and his school.

Fig. 8 Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of Maria Salviati de’ Medici and Giulia de’ Medici, ca. 1539, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore 37.596

Although the history of the picture before its mention in the Riccardi inventory of 1612 has yet to be established, Costamagna has hypothesized that, like the Getty Halberdier and Pontormo’s Portrait of Maria Salviati and Giulia de’ Medici (fig. 8), it might have entered the collection of Ottaviano de’ Medici (1484-1546), possibly in 1540, and later, that of his son Alessandro, who could have in turn sold the picture to the wealthy banker, Riccardo Romolo Riccardi, its first documented owner (1994, op. cit., p. 244). Well-established within the Medici court by the end of the 16th century, Riccardi was an avid collector of books, antiquities and Italian pictures, among them works by Raphael, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Bronzino and Rosso Fiorentino. His collection was especially rich in portraits from the Medici collection: the 1612 inventory of his collection lists “Ventidue ritratti di Casa Medici” (Keutner, op. cit., p. 151). ❖

Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
Left to right: Apollo and Cupid; Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici; Apollo and Daphne; all works by Jacopo da Pontormo.

Riccardo Romolo Riccardi (1558-1612), before 1612, Florence, and thence by descent until at least 1814

Charles T.D. Crews, London; (+), Christie’s, London, 2 July 1915, lot 144, as Bronzino, where acquired by the following

with Pawsey & Payne, London

Sir Thomas Merton, Winforton House, Hereford (according to Witt Library Mount)

with F.A. Drey, London

Lord Burton, England

with Wildenstein & Co., New York, by 1952

Private collection, 1952

New York, Christie’s 29 January 2014, lot 166

Private Collection, United States

London, Burlington House, 1888

Houston, Allied Arts Association, Masterpieces of Painting through Six Centuries, 16 – 27 November 1952

Baltimore, Museum of Art, Bacchiacca and His Friends: Florentine Paintings and Drawings of the Sixteenth Century, 10 January – 19 February 1961

Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Style, Truth, and The Portrait, 1 October – 10 November 1963

Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, L’officina della maniera, 18 September 1996 – 6 January 1997

Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Maniera: Pontormo, Bronzino and Medici Florence, 24 February – 5 June 2016

MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 258, n. 1.

MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 278, c. 15.

Bernard Berenson, I Pittori italiani del rinascimento, Milan 1948, p. 272, no. 133, reproduced.

Herbert Keutner, “Zu einigen Bildnissen des frühen Florentiner Manierismus,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, VIII, 1959, p. 152.

Gertrude Rosenthal, ‘Bacchiacca and his friends. Comments on the exhibition’, The Baltimore Museum of Art News, XXIV, no. 2, 1961, pp. 14f, 58, no. 56.

Bernard Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Florentine School, London, 1963, I, p. 181.

Kurt W. Forster, ‘Probleme um Pontormos Porträtmalerei (I)’, Pantheon, XXII, 1964, p. 380, as by workshop of Bronzino, datable to ca. 1540-41.

Luciano Berti, Pontormo, Florence 1964, p. 101.

Robert B. Simon, Bronzino’s Portraits of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Ph.D., Columbia University, 1982, pp. 181-87, 343, as close to Pontormo.

Philippe Costamagna and Anne Fabre, Les portraits florentins du début du XVI siècle à l’avènement de Cosimo I: catalogue raisonné d’Albertinelli à Pontormo, II, Paris 1986, pp. 384-88, no. 98.

Janet Cox-Rearick, ‘The Influence of Pontormo’s Portrait’, in Christie’s sale catalogue, New York, 31 May 1989.

Luciano Berti, ‘L’ Alabardiere del Pontormo, Critica d’Arte, LVI, 1990, p. 46, as workshop of Bronzino.

Philippe Costamagna, Pontormo, Milan 1994, pp. 242-44, no. 79.

Anna Forlani Tempesti and Alessandra Giovannetti, Pontormo, Florence, 1994, p. 142, no. 48, repeats earlier attributions.

Elizabeth Cropper, L’Officina della Maniera, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Uffizi, 1996, p. 380, no. 142.

Elizabeth Cropper, Pontormo. Portrait of a Halberdier, Los Angeles 1997, pp. 100-05, no. 52.

Antonio Pinelli, La bellezza impure: Arte e politica nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Rome 2004, p. 129.

Francis Russell, ‘A Portrait of a Young Man in Black by Pontormo’, The Burlington Magazine, CL, October 2008, p. 676.

Bastian Eclercy, Maniera: Pontormo, Bronzino and Medici Florence, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2016, exh. cat. pp. 220-21, no. 95, reproduced.

Bruce Edelstein and Davide Gasparotto, Miraculous Encounters: Pontormo from Drawing to Painting, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2018, exh. cat., p. 130.

More from Grey Matters