Bronzino at the Palazzo Strozzi.

The work of Agnolo Bronzino, court painter to Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, has provoked violently diverse responses. John Ruskin positively hated the artists creations, reserving his greatest loathing for the monumental erotic mythologies that Bronzino painted in the 1550s vividly polychrome, polymorphously perverse compositions in which dark-skinned satyrs, coldly marmoreal Venuses and pert-bottomed Cupids frolic in fields of sharply metallic drapery painted in acid blues and vibrant greens.

The exuberant decadence of such pictures aroused, in the most famously prudish of English art historians, something akin to a sexual terror, so that even when looking at Bronzinos religious altarpieces he could see nothing but bodies orgiastically intertwined in a carnal hell: vile in colour, vacant in invention, void in light and shade, a heap of cumbrous nothingnesses, and sickening offensivenesses was Ruskins damning judgement of Bronzinos monumental Descent of Christ into Limbo.

Ruskins contemporaries agreed that Bronzino must have been a very bad man. John Adington Symonds described Bronzinos paintings as brilliant, but hard, cold, calculated, comparing his art to a form of moral syphilis. By the end of the nineteenth century, his work had become an epitome of thrilling decadence: evil, morbid and fascinating in equal measure.

Henry James found himself virtually hypnotised by Bronzinos Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi in the Uffizi galleries in Florence. She became the inspiration for the lady handsome in sadness in The Wings of the Dove, with her eyes of other days, her full lips, her long neck, her recorded jewels, her brocaded and wasted reds ... a very great personage only unaccompanied by a joy. And she was dead, dead, dead.

Bronzino, Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici, an exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, sets out to rescue the painter from...

To read the full article please either login or register .