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Bronzino in Limbo

November 18, 2010

The title of the New York Times article on the new Bronzino show in Florence is “Bronzino Emerges from Limbo,” but the tone reminds me of the limbo in which gay people dwelt in the Times for years.  Ignoring pretty much everything we’ve learned about the artist and his circle in Florence over the last several hundred years, article author Roderick Conway Morris references only Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists”:

Although only a few years older than Bronzino, Pontormo came “to love him as a son,” according to Vasari. But close though this lifelong relationship remained, Bronzino was manifestly determined to forge a style of his own.

THEY WERE GAY.  GAY LOVERS LOVING GAYLY TOGETHER WITH THE GAYNESS.  Pontormo loved Bronzino not “as a son,” but as a partner.  The rest of the article reads much like it was cobbled together from Wikipedia, with deep incisive comments like this one:

Cosimo was a great statesman, commanding respect both at home and abroad.

But he was also a devoted husband and father, dining with his family and thoroughly enjoying their company. Thus Bronzino’s pictures of his children were official images of his progeny, yet have a depth and sympathy that must have delighted their doting parents.

Where o where is Holland Cotter, who wrote this about the Bronzino drawings exhibit at the Met, which prompted me to see it in the first place and started this whole project?  Why didn’t the paper of record spring for him to go to Florence?  Roderick Conway Morris (whose name sounds like a character in Henry “I Can’t” James, and yes I am aware that in the field of preposterous names I haven’t a leg to stand on) appears to have been given the job because he was there.  Certainly there’s nothing in the article that suggests any depth of feeling or attachment to the artist, or for that matter to art at all.  PS THEY WERE GAY.  To omit this, to omit everything learned since Vasari, to ignore the “problems” with Vasari’s text and his prejudices against his competitors, and worst of all to either actively suppress the gayness of the artists in question, or to have done so little research that you didn’t even effin’ know it, is just…well, buddy, there’s a C on your transcript now.

There, I feel better.  I try not to rant bloggishly, but sometimes, ya know, well, there ya go, okey dokey? 

So, a few things I’ve learned in the last day.  To my shock, it looks as if I may have misread what Brock said early in his book about the St. Lawrence trio – I’m near the end now, and I suddenly discover he means it’s Pontormo, Bronzino, and Alessandro Allori, not his father and Bronzino’s (probable) lover Cristofano Allori, representing the “line” from one artist to the next. 


But I have a hard time believing this for a couple reasons.  First of all, the timing.  Take a look at this detail from Christ in Limbo:


In the left corner, with his arms outstretched, Bronzino depicts himself.  Over Christ’s right shoulder, nearly in total shadow, is Pontormo.  And just below Christ’s right elbow is Alessandro Allori, according to Brock and other scholars.  This was painted in 1552; the St. Lawrence was painted “c. 1565-69” – or 12 to 16 years later.  Alessandro Allori was born in 1535, so he was 17 when Christ in Limbo was painted, so therefore between 37 and 41 when St. Lawrence was painted. It’s hard for me to believe that Allori, seen here in a self portrait from 1555:


Could look like this only ten years later, if ever:


The bloom of youth inarguably didn’t last long in those days, but I think it’s a huge stretch to make the jump from the delicate, “artist’s” features of the self-portrait to the rough-hewn, “butch” for lack of a better word manner of the man in the St. Lawrence, who looks more like an armorer than a painter.

I would argue that there may well be a different “line of succession” inserted in the St. Lawrence – not that from artist to artist, as seen in Christ in Limbo, but that of lover to lover.  Pontormo to Bronzino to Cristofano Allori. Gay gay gay – take that, New York Times!


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