In the 16th century, the art of portraiture became increasingly common among the Florentine elite, who had found in it a means of capturing their facial characteristics and social status for posterity. They drew on literary characters such as Petrarch, musical references or a staged production full of symbols to describe the model's life in all its facets.
The Jacquemart-André Museum has devoted an unrivalled exhibition to the great Florentine portrait painters of the 16th century, based on around forty works. Alongside the presentation of masterpieces by Pontormo, a pupil of Andrea del Sarto and master of mannerism, there will be a chance to appreciate the refined and graceful features, typical of the portraits of Bronzino or Salviati, which are testimony to a meaningful sense of sophistication.
This exhibition will offer a panorama of Florentine portraiture in the 16th century with all its main themes and stylistic transformations. Through the eyes of the painters experimenting with new ways of representing their contemporaries, it will allow visitors to appreciate the style developments of the Cinquecento, an especially eventful century in cultural and religious terms.
The portraits of the republican period in the early 16th century in all their gravitas gave way to heroic representations of men at war, symbols of military and political conflicts that led the Medici to seize power in Florence in 1530. Next come the court portraits, distinguished by their richness and elegance, and the portraits of artists, witnesses to a new role bestowed on court painters and opening their minds to other forms of art such as poetry and music.
This exhibition has benefited from an extraordinary partnership with the Museums of Florence. Other renowned international museum institutions and exceptional collections such as the Royal Collection (London), the Louvre (Paris) and even the Städel Museum (Frankfurt) are also supporting this event with remarkable loans.
The route through the exhibition will be split into five sections built around a thematic and searching history of portraiture in Florence in the golden age of the Medici (1512-1599).
Great painters such as Rosso Fiorentino, Andrea del Sarto, Alessandro Allori, Francesco Salviati, Pontormo and Bronzino will be the emblematic figures of this history of the portrait through some forty paintings.
After the stern-featured portraits from the beginning of the century, effigies of men and women linked to stoic values of the republican period, which ended shortly after the death of Savonarole (1494-1512), the second section presents the leaders in arms. The portrait evolves into the heroic staging of warriors in the service of Alessandro and Cosimo de Medici to cement the dynasty's power.
The third section will be devoted to court portraiture, and more specifically to the luxury and elegance that appear not only in the decorative profusion in the portraits, especially those by Bronzino, but also in the richness of the materials in some works (paintings on copper or lapis lazuli), which give the portrait a sumptuous nature, characteristic of the golden age of the Medici.
Women are major figures in this world of pomp, such as Eleanor of Toledo. Daughter of the Viceroy of Naples, one of the richest and most powerful men in Italy, she was the ideal candidate to enhance the image of the future Grand Duke of Tuscany and the splendour of his court was legendary.
The fourth section will open up the exhibition space to other forms of art, poetry and music, symbols of the cultural emancipation that poets, writers and the men of the Florentine bourgeoisie associate with their own image.
Finally, the last section will showcase the two major portraiture trends from 1560 to the end of the century: firstly, a confirmation of the allegorical language used in the portrayal of the model and his or her relatives; secondly, a return to a certain simplicity in the portrayal of emotions and family happiness, especially noteworthy in Santi di Tito's series of portraits of children.