Alessandro Allori, Florence 1535 - 1607
Portrait of Francesco I de’ Medici, early 1580s
Carlo Orsi, Milan;
Private collection, Italy.
Carlo Falciani in Portraits/Self- Portraits from the 16th to the 21st Century, exh. cat. Sperone Westwater, New York, 2012, pp. 24–27.
New York, Sperone Westwater, Portraits/Self-Portraits from the 16th to the 21st Century, 12 January–25 February 2012
Following the death of his father in 1540, Alessandro Allori was adopted by the leading painter of sixteenth-century Florence and court artist to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Agnolo Bronzino. After training in Bronzino’s workshop, from 1554 to 1560 Allori travelled to Rome, where he studied antique statuary and the works of Michelangelo and became known as a portrait painter. After returning to Florence, Allori became involved in a number of projects relating to Florence’s recently formed Accademia del Disegno, including the decorations for the funeral of Michelangelo in 1564 and for the marriage the following year of Cosimo’s son Francesco to Joanna of Austria. Between 1570 and 1571 Allori executed the Pearl Fishers as part of the prestigious commission given to Vasari and his followers to decorate Francesco’s studiolo in the Palazzo Vecchio. Its elegant artificiality reveals Allori’s careful study of Vasari’s decorative paintings in the Palazzo Vecchio, while the smooth bodies of the divers have a marmoreal quality like that found in Bronzino’s work, and Allori quoted directly from Michelangelo for certain poses. Thematically a seascape, the idyllic scene conveys a sense of unnatural, arrested energy that is reinforced by the use of soft colours. The Pearl Fishers is one of the most recognizable paintings from the second half of the sixteenth century in Florence, almost a symbol of the late Florentine maniera.
The present portrait of Allori’s most illustrious patron, Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1541–1587), is clearly informed by Bronzino, who habitually concentrated on details of costume, jewellery, and decoration, to the extent of conceiving the faces of his ducal sitters as polished stones rendered with a scrupulous surface frigidity in a consciously artificial style. By the 1580s, when the present portrait was painted, Allori’s smooth luminous, Bronzinesque style had begun to incorporate more naturalistic effects, especially a tactile sensitivity in defining the details of the clothing—in the present portrait, the fur on the cape is soft and almost seems a bit tousled—revealing Venetian influences also evident in the works of other Florentine artists of the day.
A date in the very early 1580s also corresponds to the sitter’s age: Francesco is no longer the lean thirty-year-old depicted in Stradanus’s Alchemist’s Laboratory or Butteri’s Vetreria, both painted for the studiolo, but is instead solidly middle aged. Francesco was born in 1541, was regent until 1564 and then grand duke of Florence from 1574 until his death in 1587. There are many portraits of him painted during his life, and around 1560, Allori himself painted him as a youth in a very Bronzinesque portrait now in the Art Institute of Chicago. In that work, Francesco is seated at a table with his left hand resting on a book and his right holding a small portrait of his sister Lucrezia. There is an autograph replica of this painting in the Wawel Castle in Cracow, while a half-length version is conserved in the Villa di Poggio Imperiale, Florence, and a variant if found in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The painting in which Francesco’s appearance is closest to the present work is the large official portrait of 1585 by Scipione Pulzone, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. In that work Francesco is portrayed almost in full-length, with the Golden Fleece in his hands and wearing a fur-lined mantel. His face is heavier and more marked by the years than in the present work, which can consequently be dated a bit closer to 1580.
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