Monday, 20 June 2016

Men in Black


Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

Portrait of Lorenzo Lenzi by Bronzino, 1527-28.

Bronzino is one of the most talented portraits of the Florentine court. The Lenzi family were second only to the Medicis and young Lorenzo was about 11 years old in this portrait. His maternal uncles were great patrons of the arts. He was the protege of a family friend and poet, and this portrait was probably done while he stayed with this older mentor, outside of the city to escape the plague. The book is poetry written by his mentor. His father died a year later and his uncles, brothers and mentor brought him up and paid for his education. As an adult he moved to Bologna, studied law and became a bishop. In his forties he is sent to France as an ambassador, probably partly because of his distant kinship to the French Queen Catherine de Medici. He was a witness to the Amboise Conspiracy and is closely associated with the Guise family and the Catholic faction. After spending a decade in France he dies in Italy aged 55. We know a lot about his life because much of his correspondence survives.

Portrait of a Gentleman with his Dog by Antonio Sacchiense, 1530.

I love the way this wealthy educated beardy bloke has had his portrait painted with his funny little pooch, presumably a much loved pet. I assume the artist, whose real name is Licinio, is related to the other artist of that name mentioned below, but I can't find out any details.

Portrait of a Youth by Lorenzo Lotto, 1524-27.

Lorenzo Lotto is a bit of an oddball. He's one of the earliest Mannerist painters so his subjects are often positioned in uncomfortable and unlikely looking poses, with elongated body parts. He was much in demand in his lifetime, but fell out of fashion in his seventies and has never really had a revival. Once he could no longer make a living as a painter he joined a monastery as a lay brother. He is one of the painters I was introduced to when I lived and worked in London, so I have a bit of a soft spot for him despite his awkwardness.

I can't read the label for this painting...

The reason I took this photo is because this man is absolutely typical of a 16th century gentleman -- dressed head to toe in deepest black, bearded and serious looking. I couldn't identify the artist or the subject unfortunately.

Portrait of a Woman Holding Her Husband's Portrait, by Bernardino Licinio, 1530.

I found this painting surprisingly moving. It is a portrait of a woman (who was once believed to be Isabella d'Este), holding a portrait of her husband. It is clear that the husband is absent, and I assume probably in fact dead. If the woman is Isabella d'Este then the man must be Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. There are known portraits of both of them, and although I could believe the woman is Isabella, the man looks nothing like Francesco. What I find so touching about this painting is that these two people appear to be ordinary looking and in their prime. It is sad to think that this woman must shortly go back to her father's house and try to negotiate a second advantageous marriage. If she has children they will not be allowed to go with her but must remain with their father's family. No wonder she looks pensive. He looks vigorous and determined. It is hard to believe he never lives to achieve his ambitions.

The artist, Bernardino Licinio, came from Lombardy, but until relatively recently we knew nothing about him and many of his paintings were wrongly attributed. Vasari, who is the source of much background information about 16th century Italian artists, had mixed him up with another artist and so there was no entry in his 'Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects' for Licinio.

A quick twirl around any fine arts gallery with a collection from the 16th century will reveal that black was a very fashionable colour at that time. The reason is the dominance of the Spanish court, who chose to project an aura of sombre richness. Also black is an expensive dye that doesn't wear very well so to wear black was a demonstration of wealth. Even in the more licentious and frivolous French and Italian courts black was the choice of many, for portraits at least. And once the Protestant movement got underway, restrained and businesslike black was adopted by those who would reform the Church too. All of these portraits hang in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

On Mondays our blog posts are dedicated to the northern Italian city of Milan. If you want to read more, click here.

2 comments:

  1. "Portrait of a Youth by Lorenzo Lotto, 1524-27."....
    Sly looking b'stard that yoof...
    destined to be a politician, no doubt!
    "Portrait of a Gentleman with his Dog"....
    this is a 'fun' portrait... not just the woofit...
    look at the twinkle in the sitter's eye.. and the slight smile!

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    Replies
    1. I think the yoof was probably raised by a paedophile, and lived in very dangerous times, so needed to be sly to survive.

      I agree entirely about the Gentleman with Dog. It would be nice to know who he was.

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