Bronzino was an Italian Mannerist painter from Florence. His sobriquet, Bronzino, in all probability refers to his relatively dark skin. Bronzino was born in Florence, the son of a butcher. According to his contemporary Vasari, Bronzino was a pupil first of Raffaellino del Garbo, and then of Pontormo, to whom he was apprenticed at 14. Pontormo exercised a dominant influence on Bronzino's developing style, and the two were to remain collaborators for most of the former's life.
An early example of Bronzino's hand has often been detected in the Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Of the four empanelled tondi or roundels depicting each of the evangelists, two were said by Vasari to have been painted by Bronzino. His style however is so similar to his master's that scholars still debate the specific attributions.
Bronzino first received Medici patronage in 1539, when he was one of the many artists chosen to execute the elaborate decorations for the wedding of Cosimo I de' Medici to Eleonora di Toledo, daughter of the Viceroy of Naples. It was not long before he became, and remained for most of his career, the official court painter of the Duke and his court. His portrait figures—often read as static, elegant, and stylish exemplars of unemotional haughtiness and assurance—influenced the course of European court portraiture for a century.
Bronzino's best known works comprise the aforementioned series of the duke and duchess, Cosimo and Eleonora, and figures of their court such as Bartolomeo Panciatichi and his wife Lucrezia. These paintings, especially those of the duchess, are known for their minute attention to the detail of her costume, which almost takes on a personality of its own in the image at right.
Bronzino's so-called "allegorical portraits", such as that of a Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria as Neptune, are less typical but possibly even more fascinating due to the peculiarity of placing a publicly recognized personality in the nude as a mythical figure. Finally, in addition to being a painter, Bronzino was also a poet, and his most personal portraits are perhaps those of other literary figures such as that of his friend the poet Laura Battiferri.
In 1540/41, Bronzino began work on the fresco decoration of the Chapel of Eleanora di Toledo in the Palazzo Vecchio. Before this painting his style in the religious genre was less Mannerist, and was based in balanced compositions of the High Renaissance. Yet he became elegant and classicizing (cf. Smyth) in this fresco cycle, and his religious works are examples of the mid-16th-century aesthetics of the Florentine court—traditionally interpreted as highly stylized and non-personal or emotive.
Bronzino's work tends to include sophisticated references to earlier painters, as in one of his last grand frescoes called The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo, 1569), in which almost every one of the extraordinarily contorted poses can be traced back to Raphael or to Michelangelo, whom Bronzino idolized. Bronzino's skill with the nude was even more enigmatically deployed in the celebrated Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, which conveys strong feelings of eroticism under the pretext of a moralizing allegory. His other major works include the design of a series of tapestries on The Story of Joseph, for the Palazzo Vecchio.
Many of Bronzino's works are still in Florence but other examples can be found in the National Gallery, London, and elsewhere. Towards the end of his life, Bronzino took a prominent part in the activities of the Florentine Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, of which he was a founding member in 1563. The painter Alessandro Allori was his favourite pupil, and Bronzino was living in the Allori family house at the time of his death in Florence in 1572.