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A Busy Day

November 16, 2010

Well, synchronicity is a funny thing.  The same day I write about the homosexual undertones in Bronzino, an article comes out (found via Gawker) in which an Italian art historian states that Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

…is replete with homosexual imagery, including a man being dragged into Damnation by his testicles and kisses and embraces between male figures.

She has explored the theory in a new book, claiming that Michelangelo drew much of his knowledge of male anatomy from his frequent visits to gay brothels and ‘Turkish baths’ in 16th century Italy.

"The virile male bodies are inspired by the physiology of labourers engaged in physical exertion, with taut muscles, strenuous exertion and pain etched into the expression on their faces," said Miss Lazzarini.

She said it was well documented that Michelangelo, who is believed by many historians to have been homosexual, frequented bathhouses and steam rooms tucked away in Rome’s maze of cobbled alleyways.

"The bathhouses had many rooms where people could take hot and cold baths and massages. "And then there were other, secluded rooms, places of promiscuity and both male and female prostitution."

Goodness gracious.  Gawker took the liberty of finding some instances it thought fit the bill.  I think they may be reaching a bit –picture #1, with the out and out male embraces, does fit the bill, though it could be explained by embraces prompted by the terror of the imminent doom which sinners etc.  And picture #3 is about as phallic as it gets.  So while I think someone may be seeing what isn’t there…still, knowing as I do now how Bronzino inserted sly bits of sexuality in his works, it makes me wonder.

Also, in the Times today an article on “digital humanities,” or how computers and data are being used to give us deeper understanding of art.  No mention of my own contribution to the cause, the idea of scanning paintings and using facial recognition software to find matches and possibly identify some unknown models.  Given my computer skills and experience, I’d be a perfect match for this field if I really do complete an art history education.

In addition to my idea about Pierino da Vinci’s recurrence in one of Bronzino’s paintings of “an unknown man,” I think I may have spotted Bronzino’s (I’m supposing) long term companion, Cristofano Allori, in a couple of paintings.  Again, this is pure guesswork and intuition talking, but having seen this picture of, respectively, Pontormo, Bronzino, and Allori from The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, 1565-69:

ThreeFriends

I have to wonder if I’ve found two other instances of Allori as a model.  The “holy family” portrait in the Panciatichi Madonna seems dramatically different from other such Madonna-and-child compositions, even as it adheres to standards such as the use of baby John the Baptist to “point” to Jesus.  But the tone of the portrait feels more like a picture of a real family than just a reverent religious piece.  Is  Cristofano Allori the model for Joseph, and were Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus also drawn from life, his wife and his children?

PanciatichiMadonna

The Madonna is dated to “c. 1540,” and Allori died in the summer of 1541, so if it is Allori, it could have been painted when he was a relatively new father, or after his death in tribute to him.  I’ve yet to read anything that discusses how artists chose their models, so I’m looking forward to getting any info that confirms or denies my theory or its possibility.

I also “see” Allori in an earlier painting, in a younger form, tucked into a corner of the Adoration of the Shepherds from “c. 1535-40.”  Here’s the full painting:

AdorationOfTheShepherds

And here’s the detail:

AdorationDetail

As for the bagpiper, could he be Bronzino himself, exchanging a loving glance with his friend?  Comparing this figure to the St. Lawrence figure above, and with this portrait of Bronzino by an unknown artist, it’s hard to say.

BronzinoSelf

In the St. Lawrence, something is wrong with Allori’s right eye – it’s either missing or has some obstructive growth over it.  The man in the Adoration is pictured from the left, obscuring any physical defect or injury he may have.   (Of course, in a “holy family” portrait no defect would be allowed but rather erased and replaced with a symmetrical representation of the “good” side.)  I wonder if he lost an eye in battle, or from a flying spark of metal in his workshop, or if there’s just an unrestored smudge on the St. Lawrence.

I don’t know that even facial recognition software could work on paintings, especially when not only do different artists see the same subject differently, but the same artist can see himself in so many different ways throughout his life, and present his self-image in different ways in his work, as we all do over time, if we grow or even change at all.

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