The Young Men of Pontormo & Bronzino
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Pontormo and Bronzino are both painters of the Florentine High Renaissance period. They are both mannerist painters and they are both known by nicknames. Pontormo’s real name was Jacopo Carucci and Agnolo di Cosimo is known as Bronzino. They were friends and probably lovers. The current exhibition at the Met entitled ‘The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512 - 1570’ is a treasure trove of many portraits done by these two great Renaissance painters. As a matter of fact, I could have easily entitled this exhibition 'Pontormo and Bronzino under the Medici’. Let’s put aside the court portraits done for the Medici and let me feature the young men of Bronzino and Pontormo.
These young men, although at times similarly posed with one hand on a hip and the other holding a book, are the work of two distinct painters. Pontormo’s young men are introspective and serious. Their arms are unusually long and there is a palpable disquietude in their poses. Bronzino’s young men are much more sensual and they carry an assurance and confidence in their manners.
My favorite Bronzino painting ‘Portrait of a Young Man with Book’ (see above) is in the Met collection so luckily I can visit it whenever I want. It looks at the viewer with a clear message : “ I am what I am.” It may be interpreted as arrogance but to me, it reflects the right to be oneself over the demands imposed on us by society at large. Notice the background of the painting where the pieces of furniture are used as props instead of creating an actual space.
When Pontormo tries to bring some levity to his work, it doesn’t quite work. In ‘Portrait of a Young Man with Red Cap’ (see above), the red cap awkwardly sits on top of his head and it does nothing to alleviate the intensity of the sitter. And for that matter, Bronzino attempts at seriousness also don’t add up. In Bronzino’s ‘ Portrait of a Young Man’ (see below), the pose and the black garment reflect a certain sense of responsibility but look at the expression of the young man posing in front of a colorful and vibrant drapery. This is a young man capable of having fun. The classical sculpture, visible on the other side of the drapery, may be a reference to the sexual orientation of the sitter. Look at the shadow that falls from the face to the neck and then gently down the outline of the garment with such loving care.
Whenever I find myself in a museum, I always look with anticipation to see the works of these two artists and this exhibition at the Met is eye candy for lovers of Pontormo and Bronzino’s art.
Exhibit at Met ‘The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512 - 1570’ ends on October 11, 2021