A show of hands…
The very particular way the Italian painter Bronzino portrays hands….
Portrait of Marie de’ Medici (1573-1642)
I visited the charming exhibit “Florence: Portraits at the Medici Court” at the Musée Jacquemart André in Paris and was immediately drawn to several Bronzino portraits. By 1540, Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572) was the leading artist and court painter in Florence to Cosimo I de’ Medici. His opulent yet restrained portraits of noble men, women and children are as vibrant and fascinating today as they must have been during his lifetime.
Portrait of Ludovico Capponi (1551)
The most striking thing is the way Bronzino depicts the hands of his sitters. He was ofcourse a “mannerist” painter and that style took Italy and the rest of Europe by storm in the mid 16th century.
Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her son Giovanni (1544-45)
Bronzino paints the hands in a very particular manner: a large gap between the index and middle finger, a smaller gap between the ring finger and pink…this is quite an unnatural pose for a hand, what is he trying to say?
Portrait of Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici (1560)
The positions of the hands are also intriguing, as if just lightly caressing the objects they hold or shield…what are they saying, are they just symbolizing the fact that those aristocratic hands were delicate and had never seen hard work? Or were the hands secret messengers?
The French art critic Hector Obalk made a short film shown at the exhibition about the difference in the way the Florentine painters painted hands, but I find the Bronzino “hands” the most fascinating.
Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (1545)
The faces in the portraits are never smiling, always a little solemn and distant, the eyes gazing, mostly sideways, but sometimes fixing themselves at you, with a mixture of disdain and wariness…
Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo as a Young Woman (1539)
These portraits never fail to amaze and enchant me, these people could just jump out of their frames and stand in the room with you, you can nearly smell the perfume on the women’s clothes and feel the touch of their hands…
Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (1530–39)
“If the hands of time were hands that I could hold,
I’d keep them warm and in my hands,
They’d not turn cold!”
Lyrics “The Hands of Time” by Michel Legrand