The great Florentine artist Jacopo Pontormo painted this imposing portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici around 1537-1538, just after he was elected Duke of Florence in January 1537 at the age of 18. 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). 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 sent to Naples for presentation to his fianceé, 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 (ibid.).
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'Ecc.mo Duca Cosimo con ornam.to (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, has proposed an alternative identification of the sitter as the Florentine nobleman Carlo Neroni, although no certain image of him is known to exist (Cropper, 1996, op. cit., p. 380).
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 (Florence, Uffizi; fig. 1) 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 c. 1537-39 (Philadelphia Museum of Art; fig. 2), 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).
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.).
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, but recently published by Cropper as possibly representing the Florentine nobleman Francesco Guardi and datable to c. 1529-30 (see fig. 6 on p. 187; Cropper, 1997, op. cit., pp. 23f.). Although she similarly dates the present picture to the end of the third decade of the 16th century, both circumstantial and stylistic evidence clearly support a dating toward the late 1530s, which the majority of scholars, including Forster, Simon, Costamagna, and Cox-Rearick, have endorsed.
The present picture shares commonalities with other of Pontormo's portraits of the 1530s, such as the Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici of c. 1534-35 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), 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 c. 1536-37 (Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie), which seems to have inspired its architectural setting (Costamagna, 1994, op. cit., p. 244). The figure's pose in Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig.4) 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 (ibid.).
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 with Cosimo de' Medici as a Baby (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery), 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).
(fig. 1) Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Cosimo I de Medici, aged 12, 1531, The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
(fig. 2) Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici as Orpheus, c. 1538-1840. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1950 /Art Resource, NY.
(fig. 3) Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.
(fig. 1) Raphael, School of Athens, from the Stanza della Segnatura Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City Giraudon The Bridgeman Art Library.
(fig. 2) Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sistine Chapel Ceiling: Libyan Sibyl Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City Alinari The Bridgeman Art Library.
(fig. 5) Agnolo Bronzino, The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy.
(fig. 3) Jacopo Pontormo, The Deposition of Christ Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence, Italy The Bridgeman Art Library.
(fig. 4) Rosso Fiorentino, The Descent from the Cros Pinacoteca, Volterra, Italy The Bridgeman Art Library.
(fig. 6) Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, The Bridgeman Art Library.
(fig. 7) Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus National Gallery, London, UK The Bridgeman Art Library.