Beyond Isabella: Secular Women Patrons of Art in Renaissance Italy

By Sheryl E. Reiss; David G. Wilkins | Go to book overview

A Medici Miniature:
Juno and a Woman with
"Eyes in Her Head Like Two Stars in Their Beauty"

Gabrielle Langdon

Giorgio Vasari describes Italian miniatures as a rarified genre of portraiture, seen by few but their owners, and portraying "lords, friends, or ladies beloved by them."1 To this last category belongs an exceptional miniature from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, now exhibited in Madrid, with the portrait of a young woman on its face (fig. 1) and a detailed allegory of Juno as Protectress of Brides on its reverse (fig. 2).2 The woman is here identified as Eleonora ("Dianora") di Toledo the younger, wife of Pietro di Cosimo de' Medici. She is proposed as patron, and the miniature allegory interpreted as an implicit plea to Pietro for marital accord. Evidence demonstrates that the allegory derives from the Juno float in the Mascherata della geneologia degli dei gentili that wound through Florence in February 1566 to celebrate the marriage of Francesco I to Giovanna of Austria. Portrait and allegory can also be linked to wider contexts of Medici imagery and patronage through Vincenzo Borghini, Giorgio Vasari, and Alessandro Allori, the artistic team entrusted with Cosimo de' Medici's programs in the Palazzo della Signoria. Attribution to Alessandro Allori, court portraitist to the Medici at this time, is supported by his extant Mascherata drawings, his miniatures, and his style. Most importantly, examination of this work of art exposes a web of ideology at the core of Medici dynastic aspirations that transcends this intimate work of art.


The Sixteenth-Century Miniature

It was in a commentary on his contemporary Giulio Clovio that Vasari noted that the tiny images executed by master miniaturists were luxury items, and that this branch of portraiture was almost exclusively a court genre:

His "miniatures"…cannot be seen, because nearly all are in the hands of great
lords or of men of high rank: I say almost all, because some of these people have
beautiful portraits in tiny cases from his hand, of lords, friends, or ladies beloved
by them. But such works are not for public viewing, and cannot be seen by
everyone, such as paintings, sculpture and architecture by our other artists and
artisans.3

Miniatures were evidently keepsakes exchanged between the sexes, and spouses and lovers demonstrably did so, as Spanish, English, and Florentine examples attest.4

In the sixteenth century, the talismanic power of images made it certain that an aura of intimacy and secrecy would be associated with viewing these minute portraits, as suggested by Bronzino in his Portrait of Lodovico Capponi, painted around 1555–60.5 Lodovico, who is posed in a curtained space, holds a miniature of his love to his heart, visible to him but averted

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