Let's be clear that we're talking here about Agnolo Bronzino the 16th century Italian artist, and not Branzino the European sea bass, which other people seem to like but I think can be kind of bony. Anyway, I'm not a food critic. Back to the artist. While this show focuses on his drawings, Bronzino was a very popular figure in his day, both as a painter, teacher, tapestry designer, and poet. He was, in fact court painter to Cosimo de' Medici for the majority of his professional life, which makes you wonder why he has been for the most part overlooked at least as a major figure. Well, for one thing he belongs to the Mannerist movement which is kind of a subsection of the high Renaissance, and can be seen as a sort of foreshadowing to the baroque. Actually, the term "Mannerism" is thrown around kind of loosely and some use it to refer to any part of the renaissance after Raphael. Others use it to refer to a late Gothic style of painting. I never really understood why historians trivialized it so much. I guess it's because it's seen as a transitional movement, neither quite classical nor romantic. But you know, so what? The other thing that really hurt Bronzino is that he pissed off rival artist Giorgio Vasari. Vasari was a painter and architect, but is most known for his book "Vasari's Lives of the Artists," first published in 1550, and seen as the seminal biography of the artists of the time. In it Vasari dismisses Bronzino as a minor figure in order to get back at him for competing with Vasari over mural commissions. It's amazing how petty personal crap like that can influence our view of history over 400 years later. Christ, what a douchbag.
Anyhow, a young Bronzino was strongly influenced by his contemporary Jacopo Pontormo, and they worked together closely for a number of years, sometimes even sharing opposite sides of the same paper to draw on. Their styles were so similar that attribution has subsequently became a bit of a problem. Their relationship kind of reminded me of the one between Piccaso and Braque, and how their early cubist paintings can seem almost interchangeable. He and Pontormo worked mostly in red and black chalk, and almost exclusively drew figures, portraits, and draped cloth. Also, neither artist used drawing as an independent art form, and all the drawings in the show are studies for paintings or tapestries. In fact a number of drawings are done on top of grids to aid in the transfer of the image. The fact that they were never made to be exhibited gives the drawings a sketchy, spontaneous, work-in-progress quality. It also shows off what a light handed virtuoso Bronzino was with his materials. He was really kind of a magician with the chalk, and one drawing "Head of Smiling Young Woman" (1542-43) looks like it could have been drawn by da Vinci. Also, considering that the drawings are all studies, a lot of them seem to have a surprisingly high degree of finish and are very purposefully composed on the page, so they easily could be appreciated as autonomous works of art. Maybe that was a reflection of the artists pride in his work, or maybe he was just so good that he couldn't help himself.
I think Bronzino's most well known painting is probably "Allegory of Venus and Cupid" (1545), for obvious reasons if you've ever seen it. But, the only painting in the show is "Portrait of a Young Man" (1534-38), from the Met's permanent collection. It's a great painting, but it seems kind of stiff and lifeless next to the drawings. Few artists of his age could draw as well as Bronzino, and I can't think of any who can, or do today. He was an amazing draftsman, and hopefully this show will create a revival of interest in his work. The drawings make me want to see more of his paintings. I have to admit that I'm not that familiar with his work, but everything I have seen of his has been great.