Reviews -- Bronzino's Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio (California Studies in the History of Art, XXIX) by Janet Cox-Rearick
Edelstein, Bruce L., The Art Bulletin
JANET COX-REARICK, Bronzino's Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio (California Studies in the History of Art, XXIX), Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993. Pp. XXIX + 448; 33 color pls. + 187 black-and-white ills. $75.
Bronzino studies constitute a strange lacuna in the massive literature on Italian Renaissance art. After Arthur McComb's pioneering monograph of 1928, more than twenty years passed before Craig Hugh Smyth's first publication on this subject.(1) Smyth's dissertation and his 1971 study of Bronzino's drawings followed, along with significant contributions by Graham Smith and Janet Cox-Rearick, the latter working particularly on the Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio.(2) Despite these specialized studies, however, a truly comprehensive monograph on Bronzino remained to be written.(3)
Cox-Rearick's new book is thus an important contribution to the field. Although it does not offer the much-needed monograph, it does constitute a profound study of what may be considered Bronzino's greatest work, the chapel decorated by him for the private devotions of Eleonora di Toledo, second duchess of Florence. This study is the culmination of more than twenty years of research and thought about Bronzino and this chapel. Here Cox-Rearick not only brings together the findings of her previous studies, but offers new thoughts and discoveries about the chapel and its decorations.
One of Cox-Rearick's most important contributions is a new, more accurate set of dates for the chapel frescoes (pp. 59-73). Her critical reading of the relevant documents in conjunction with the physical evidence of the chapel itself is an exemplary piece of scholarship. Inscriptions and account books by themselves are not sufficient as evidence. One must always return to examine the objects themselves, which the author has admirably done here. She also proposes a logical date after which Eleonora probably began using the chapel; and she concludes her account of the chronology of the frescoes with useful suggestions about the appearance of the wall with the fresco of Moses Striking the Rock and the Gathering of the Manna, into which a doorway was cut later in the century.
Cox-Rearick offers a good review of earlier and contemporary examples of Moses scenes, including the fundamental Sistine Chapel cycle (pp. 213-222); and she employs Signorelli's Last Acts and Death of Moses well in her interpretation of Bronzino's Crossing of the Red Sea fresco (pp. 235, 313). Although numerous other Moses subjects could be added to her selection, however, it is surprising that one in particular was left out. This is the tabernacle that Neri di Bicci provided in 1454 for the Sala delle Udienze, on the same floor as the chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio, to house the famous Pandects. This featured an image of Moses with the symbols of the Evangelists and Saint John the Baptist. Cox-Rearick's discussion of Bronzino's response to the art of both Michelangelo and Tribolo in the chapel vault leads to an especially useful analysis of Bronzino's reliance on sculptural sources and the role of the Paragone in mid-16th-century Florentine art (pp. 107-118). The sources, both painted and sculptural, for Bronzino's three wall frescoes are equally well surveyed (pp. 121-138). Cox-Rearick is then able to suggest with greater authority than has previously been possible that Bronzino traveled to Rome around 1539 (p. 137). She also reclaims for Bronzino a number of preparatory studies formerly thought to be copies by Allori after the chapel frescoes (p. 138).
More accurate dates for Bronzino's first Lamentation Altarpiece and for the decision to send it to Lord Granvelle in Besancon are provided as well. The discussion of the function that the altarpiece was to serve in its new context is an important addition to the literature on this painting (p. 77). The author continues to make good use of technical analysis (p. 182) in her discussion of the infrared reflectograms of the head of the Magdalene in this work (figs. …