We are proud to present the virtual exhibition “Medici Portraits at the Stibbert Museum.” Frederick Stibbert, a British citizen, divided his time between London and Florence, the city where he pursued his passion for collecting art. Although known mostly for his collection of ancient armour and weapons, his museum also houses paintings executed from the 16th to the 19th century. This exhibition reflects not only Stibbert’s interest in costumes and armour, but also his regard for historical paintings, and most of all, for Medici portraits.
The virtual exhibition’s portraits depict members of the Medici family in their many roles, as they were viewed in their lifetime.
The portraits of the 16th and 17th centuries, mark significant occasions such as political alliances and marriages. Many were done with the subjects in stylized poses, using gestures and clothing to signify power, prestige, and wealth. Through the portraits of Cosimo I (1519-1574) and Francesco I (1541-1587), we can see the evolution of Medici iconography: first Cosimo I as a young condottiere in armour, to demonstrate the Medici’s power, subsequently transformed into a crowned Grand Duke in an Ermine cape, to show the consolidation of his rule. By the time Cosimo’s son, Francesco, came to rule, there was no need for him to be portrayed in armour.
The presence in the collection of several portraits of the same members of the Medici family, some 19th-century copies, others original 16th-century works by renowned artists, such Bronzino, Salviati and Allori, demonstrates Stibbert’s interest in having a historical record of those particular subjects.
Benedetto Servolini (1805 - 1879)
The portrait of Cosimo I, son of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and Maria Salviati, is a 19th
century copy of a Bronzino model. Court painter for the Medici, Agnolo Bronzino
painted several similar portraits of the Grand Duke in his day. Copies of portraits were
made for diplomatic purposes.
Here, Cosimo is shown in his youth clad in armour, turning slightly to the side with his hand on a helmet, a pose typical of his many portraits. The painting captures a moment of triumph as Cosimo restores power to the Medicis in Florence. The serene dignity of his stance and the lyrical use of light follows Bronzini’s signature style.
The portrait, painted in Stibbert’s time points to the collector’s interest in not just the military aspects of Cosimo’s life but to the historical context. Cosimo is shown here as he would have been portrayed by Bronzino in his lifetime. A prototype of the portrait by Bronzino dated 1545 is currently housed in the Uffizi Gallery (Langedijk, 1981)
The half-length portrait of Cosimo I depicts the Grand Duke in his forties. The artist,
Francesco de Rossi, also known as Cecchino Salviati was an important portrait artist of
the 16th century who worked in Florence and in Rome.
A contemporary and at times rival to Agnolo Bronzino (1502-1574), Cecchino was also a Mannerist painter, and was commissioned by the Medicis to design frescoes on the family in Palazzo Vecchio and other important works. The fur-lined cape and the hilt of the sword in Cosimo’s left hand give him a look of authority as he is now the Duke of Florence.
He is shown here with thinning hair and wears a dark beard, and exudes a sense of calmness and stability. The portrait is considered to be one of the last works done by the artist
Giovanni Battista Naldini (1537 ca. - 1591)
Area of Alessandro Allori (1535-1607)