Towards a reading of Bronzino's burlesque poetry.
There is no shortage of allusions to Bronzino's literary activities in the works and letters of his contemporaries. Benedetto Varchi, in a poem echoing Berni's designation of Michelangelo as a "nuovo Apelle e nuovo Apollo," praises Bronzino's poetic and artistic talents: "Noi siam nulla Bronzino e voi, che sete? Si grande Apelle, e non minore Apollo" (We are nothing, Bronzino, and you are so great an Apelles, and no less an Apollo).(2) Admittedly a rhetorical cliche, such allusions to Apelles and Apollo, the classical embodiments of artistic and poetic excellence, nevertheless attest to admiration for Bronzino's accomplishments among his contemporaries. Vasari also alludes to Bronzino's activities as a poet in the second edition of the Vite dei piu eccellenti pittori: "Si e dilettato e dilettasi ancora assai della poesia, onde ha fatto molti capitoli e sonetti, una parte de' quali sono stampati. Ma sopra tutto e maraviglioso nello stile e capitoli bernieschi, intanto che non e oggi chi faccia in questo genere di versi meglio, ne cose piu bizarre e capricciose di lui, come un giorno si vedra se tutte le sue opere, come si crede e spera, si stamperanno" (This master has delighted much, and still delights, in poetry; wherefore he has written many capitoli and sonnets, part of which have been printed. But above all, with regard to poetry, he is marvelous in the style of his capitoli after the manner of Berni, insomuch that at the present day there is no one who writes better in that kind of verse, nor things more fanciful and bizarre, as will be seen one day if all his works, as is believed and hoped, come to be printed).(3)
Vasari's tribute underscores a number of important points: Bronzino's poems were circulated and published during his lifetime; Tuscan artists and letterati were familiar with his literary activities; the painter's poetry was notable for its capricious qualities; and, although Bronzino wrote both sonnets and burlesque rhymes, it was the ingenuity of the latter works which contemporaries most admired.
Despite such testimonies and the impressive size of the corpus, Bronzino's poetry has attracted scant critical notice. While art historians such as Robert Gaston, Leatrice Mendelsohn, and Elizabeth Cropper have explored the influence of a variety of vernacular works on Bronzino's paintings, less attention has been paid to the artist's own poems and the literary traditions which inform these writings.4 Renewed attention to Bronzino's poetry would illuminate the artist's literary culture and the social world that fostered so striking a combination of activity. Moreover, closer study of Bronzino's poetry contributes greatly to our understanding of an artist who has remained, as Ronald Firbank observes, largely "unglimpseable."(5) While Bronzino wrote both lyric and burlesque poems, this study will focus on the painter's burlesque compositions. Before turning to an analysis of the poems themselves, however, I would like to clarify some of the sociocultural factors which contributed to Bronzino's emergence as a poet and the way in which two different poetic traditions - trecento classics such as the Commedia and Canzoniere, and sixteenth-century burlesque poetry - influenced the tenor of the painter's capitoli.
Bronzino's particular historical moment was conducive to his development as a poet. The rebuilding of the Florentine cultural and intellectual community after the devastating succession of political and economic crises, plagues, and invasions between 1494 and 1537 spurred the emergence of the artist-poet in the middle of the sixteenth century. This revitalization of learning benefitted men of humble birth such as Bronzino and Giovanbattista Gelli, who did not possess a traditional humanistic education, and it facilitated the emergence of women writers such as Laura Battiferri and Tullia d'Aragona, all of whom mingled freely with prominent Florentine intellectuals such as Benedetto Varchi and Vincenzo Borghini.(6)
Bronzino circulated among a small cultural elite in Florence that included fellow artists, men and women of letters, craftsmen, members of the Accademia Fiorentina, and members of Cosimo I's court. Among the contemporaries named in Bronzino's poems are Pier Francesco Ricci, Cosimo's majordomo and secretary, the woodworker Giovan Battista Tasso, the poets Francesco Berni, Giovanni Della Casa, and Benedetto Varchi, Ciano, a perfume maker, and Giovanni Mazzuoli (also known as Lo Stradino). The latter two men's homes served as meeting places for members of the Accademia degli Umidi. Bronzino exchanged sonnets with Benedetto Varchi, Laura Battiferri, Annibal Caro, Antonfrancesco Grazzini (also known as Il Lasca), Benvenuto Cellini, and minor poets such as Gherardo Spini, Jacopo Sellori, and Arsiccio Intronato. As an artist Bronzino reinforced his connections with many of these personages by painting portraits of some of the men and women with whom he exchanged poems, among them Luca Martini and Laura Battiferri.(7)
The importance of these friendships cannot be overestimated in the shaping of Bronzino's literary sensibilities. Varchi's role in particular should not be overlooked.(8) Recalled from exile in 1543 by Cosimo I, Varchi, who had assimilated many of Bembo's linguistic views during his years in Padua, vigorously promoted the translation of classical works into Italian and championed the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. While Bronzino had remained in contact with Varchi during his years in exile, it was much easier for the two friends to exchange ideas after Varchi's return to Florence.
Bronzino shared Varchi's interest in the vernacular canon of poetry. Numerous documents allude to the kind of activities that united Bronzino to this learned cultural community. Varchi, in a letter of 1 May 1539 to Bronzino and the sculptor Niccolo Tribolo, declares: "oltra l'essermi ciascuno di voi egualmente amicissimo ed oltra la pari e grandissima eccellenzia vostra, dell'uno nella scultura e dell'altro nella pittura, vi dilettate ambo duoi ed intendete nelle cose poetiche, e massimamente il Bronzino come, oltra suoi componimenti, dimostra l'avere tutto Dante e grandissima parte del Petrarca nella memoria assai piu oltre che non crederebbero per aventura quelli i quali non sanno che, si come la poesia non e altro che una dipintura che favelli, cosi la pittura non e altro che una poesia mutola"(9) (In addition to both of you being very close friends of mine and your great and equal excellence - one in the area of sculpture the other in the field of painting - you both enjoy and understand poetic matters, especially Bronzino, as is shown not only in his compositions, but also by the fact he has memorized the whole of Dante and a great part of Petrarch much more than perhaps would be believed by people who do not understand that just as poetry is nothing other than a speaking picture, so painting is nothing other than mute poetry). Varchi singles out for admiration Bronzino's artistic and poetic production, his capacious memory, and the painter's thorough familiarity with the works of Dante and Petrarch. Pontormo's diary entry for 27 January 1555 also testifies to Bronzino's interest in the vernacular classics; in it, Pontormo records that he had lost a bet to Bronzino over the content of a passage from Petrarch's Trionfo della morte. Similarly, Alessandro Allori's 1590 dialogue Sopra l'arte del disegnare le figure, reveals that Bronzino met frequently with Varchi and Luca Martini to discuss passages from Dante's Commedia.(10) Bronzino's interest in the vernacular classics of the Trecento was not confined to friendly discussions of Dante's and Petrarch's poetry but extended to a series of portraits of Tuscan poets he painted for the merchant Bartolomeo Bettini around 1532.(11) As his involvement in these activities demonstrate, Bronzino was an active writer and avid reader, an engaged artist-poet who regularly debated the merits of literary works with his friends.
In addition to his discussion of other poets' work with close friends such
as Varchi, Martini, Pontormo, and Allori, Bronzino's ties to the Accademia Fiorentina stimulated his literary interests. As a member of the Accademia Fiorentina from 1541-47 and from 1563-72, Bronzino would have had the opportunity to attend poetry readings, recite his own poetry, participate in discussions on literary and cultural matters, and hear lectures on writers such as Dante, Petrarch, and Michelangelo. Among the members of the Accademia Fiorentina well known to Bronzino were Benedetto Varchi, Luca Martini, Ugolino Martelli, Giovanni Mazzuoli, Antonfrancesco Grazzini, and Michelangelo. Each member of this edectic group, whose intellectual and cultural interests span a wide range of disciplines and professions, engaged in one of the most popular pursuits of the time - the composition of burlesque and lyric poetry. Not surprisingly, Bronzino's poetic production closely reflects the literary production of many of his talented contemporaries.(12)
A complex of factors, then, contributed to Bronzino's development as a poet - the renewal of intellectual life in Florence, the rise of vernacular literary culture, his personal friendships with prominent intellectuals and poets, the artist's membership in the Accademia Fiorentina, and - as one might expect - "un po' di vena naturale" (some natural ability) ("Delle sense," 1:324). Finally to these social factors we can add the crucial material factor: the ready diffusion of literature afforded by the printing press facilitated Bronzino's emergence as a poet. A small selection of the artist's lyric and burlesque poems were published in sixteenth-century anthologies of poetry.
During his lifetime Bronzino's burlesque poems were circulated in both manuscript and printed editions.(13) In 1548 Antonfrancesco Grazzini edited an anthology of burlesque poetry for the Giunti press in Florence. While none of Bronzino's capitoli appeared in this first volume, five of the artist's poems - "In lode della galea," which consists of two parts, "I romori," the "Capitolo contro a le campane," and "In lode delle zanzare" - were included in II secondo libro dell'opere burlesche (1555).(14) These two anthologies are among the most important sixteenth century editions of burlesque verse. Subsequent editions of these works tended to be modeled on these two collections. The inclusion of Bronzino's works in the second Giunti anthology, which includes numerous poems by Francesco Berni as well as a selection of works by Francesco Maria Molza, Giovanni Francesco Bini, Lodovico Martelli, Mattio Francesi, Pietro Aretino, and Benedetto Varchi, establishes the painter as a significant burlesque poet.
A closer look at the title of the 1555 Giunti anthology as well as the Magliabechiano manuscript of Bronzino's capitoli, titled "Le rime in burla del Bronzino pittore," illuminates the tenor of the poems. The appearance of the term burla in the manuscript and burlesche in the Giunti anthology is not coincidental: the word characterizes for readers the humorous, whimsical, and ribald contents of the collection. Prefaces that accompanied anthologies of burlesque poetry typically describe the compositions as "capitoli giocosi," "non meno arguti et artifiosi che giocondi e piacevoli capitoli," "rime in sulla burla," and "stil burlesco giocondo, lieto, amorevole, e per dir cosi buono compagno" (jocund capitoli; no less witty and artful than jocund and pleasing capitoli; facetious poems; and a jocund, happy, and loving burlesque style, and, so to speak, companionable).(15) In his preface to Il secondo libro dell'opere burlesche, the printer Filippo Giunti, clearly playing on Horace's declaration that the object of literature is to instruct and delight, proclaims that the chief goal of burlesque poetry is "recar piacere et diletto alle genti" (to bring pleasure and delight to people). Filippo's comments, admittedly commonplace, nevertheless underscore amusement and diversion as the chief objectives of these works. Burlesque is above all a poetry of comic effect.(16) Readers expected to be titillated by such works. The descriptions informed them that the poems were full of ingenuity, teasing images, and sexual innuendo. In Bronzino's day the audience for these works would have included courtiers, secretaries to ecclesiasts, other poets, and statesmen-scholars. Florentines from varying backgrounds would have also had the opportunity of hearing the poems during carnival celebrations, which frequently included public recitals.
In his life of Bronzino, Vasari singles out for praise the "bizarre and capricious" nature of the artist's capitoli. These adjectives underscore the whimsical novelty of Bronzino's compositions. As Vasari also makes dear, Bronzino's capitoli were inspired by those of Francesco Berni. Loosely modeled on the classical paradoxical encomium, the Bernesque capitolo is known for its comic realism, expressiveness, sexual double entendres, and parodic qualities. The poems are, above all, scurrilous. Under the pretext of treating an apparently innocuous subject, typically the praise or condemnation of a mundane object such as bells, gelatine, or peaches, the poet elaborates an obscene subject through the use of a highly coded vocabulary. Berni's originality lies in the ingenuity with which this second meaning is developed. While other burlesque poets follow Berni in his frequent use of sexual euphemisms, their use of innuendo often lacks the subtlety of his works. Furthermore, while Berni's capitoli possess an admirable concision, many of his followers, including Bronzino, tend to be rather prolix. Nevertheless, Bronzino was one of Berni's more accomplished imitators; the artist's capitoli feature outlandish, teasing analogies as well as droll caricatures of other poets' works.
Hence the title which accompanies the Magliabechiano manuscript of Bronzino's poems - "Le rime in burla del Bronzino pittore" - situates the artist-poet within an established comic literary tradition, one which tended to define itself in opposition to Petrarchism. Antonfrancesco Grazzini's preface to the first volume of burlesque poems makes explicit the rejection of Petrarchan lyricism by Berni and his followers: "avendo le petrarcherie, le squisitezze e le bemberie anzi che no mezzo ristucco e 'nfastidito il mondo, per cio che ogni cosa e quasi ripieno di fior, frond'erb' ombre, antri, ond' aure soavi" (imitation of Petrarch and Bembo and excessive poetic refinement have half sated and bored the world because everything is replete with flowers, foliage, grass and shadows, caverns and billows and sweet breezes).(17) The capitoli giocosi offer a spirited alternative to readers glutted with the exaggerated refinements and formulaic verses of Petrarch's imitators. Berni and his followers ridicule the sublimation of desire characteristic of works by Petrarch and Bembo by singing the praises of immediate sexual gratification. Berni's "Sonetto alla sua donna," which mocks Bembo's "Crin d'or crespo e d'ambra tersa e pura" by transforming Bembo's lady into a decrepit hag, typifies the way in which burlesque poetry caricatures prevailing literary conventions.(18)
A brief comparison of the artist's classical and contemporary allusions illustrates the ludic spirit and mocking attitude which pervades Bronzino's poetry.(19) Much of the raillery is directed toward vernacular classics and Bronzino's contemporary world. Generally, references to vernacular works and contemporary personages far outweigh classical allusions. Among the classical authors named are Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Vitruvius, Virgil, Horace, Livy, Pliny, Plutarch, Juvenal, and Donatus. The extent of Bronzino's knowledge of Latin, however, cannot be determined with any certainty. Bronzino's poetry contains only a smattering of Latin phrases. Citations such as the following from "La padella" - "Il Filosofo dice ed io lo scrivo:/'Nemo dat quod non habet'" (The Philosopher says and I write it: 'No one gives what he does not have') ("La padella," 244-245) are - to say the least - hardly revealing. Bronzino's classical allusions often invoke familiar associations - Cicero's rhetorical skills, Pythagoras's and Archimedes's invention of mathematical instruments, Vitruvius's works on architecture.(20) The artist's mythological references function in a similar manner. In "II secondo delle scuse" ("The Second [poem] on Excuses"), a poem praising the importance of excuses, the artist lists mythological characters who had recourse to excuses: Aeneas excused himself with Dido before abandoning her, Brutus conspired against Rome with the excuse of wishing to free it, and Caesar excused himself for having subjugated the empire by claiming that his enemies were assailing him ("II secondo delle scuse," 304-15). Such allusions serve primarily to introduce quickly particular themes or concepts.(21) The perfunctory use which Bronzino makes of classical works suggests that these texts do not constitute his chief literary sources. While Bronzino clearly had some knowledge of classical literature, especially myths, his knowledge of them was general and likely derived from handbooks of classical mythology and Italian translations.(22)
Whereas Bronzino's classical allusions are somewhat prosaic, often little more than thematic touchstones, his allusions to vernacular works often involve playful, impudent parodies. Many poems, for example, feature variations on Dante's "lascia pur grattar dov'e la rogna" (let them scratch wherever it may itch) (Paradiso 17.129). One version from "In lode della galea" exemplifies the way in which Bronzino slyly transforms other poets' lines: "e bene spesso gratta anche la rogna/e cavane in un tratto il pizzicore/e tutto fa per non aver vergogna" (The triaco [a medical concoction composed of numerous herbs] scratches well the itch and extracts the itch in a moment and it does all this in order not to be ashamed) ("In lode della galea," 2:181-83).(23) Dante's words come at a propitious moment in the Coramedia; indeed, Cacciaguida, the poet's great-great-grandfather, urges the pilgrim to tell the truth about all that he witnesses during his journey even if certain revelations will enrage many readers. Bronzino blunts the force of Cacciaguida's admittedly coarse statement by recontextualizing the "rogna;" the "itch" is no longer the provocation excited by the disclosure of harsh realities, but a fanciful medicine which cures sexual pangs. In the painter's capricious reworking of this line, the coarseness remains, but its solemnity is considerably diminished: Cacciaguida's words address nothing less than the issue of how to write the Commedia, whereas Bronzino is merely concerned with touting a cure for sexual desire. Bronzino's grotesque juxtaposition makes a travesty of Dante's text.
The irreverence and scabrous immorality which pervades Bronzino's works, not to mention that of other burlesque poets, has alienated many readers. John Addington Symonds went so far as to equate what he characterized as Bronzino's "barren art" - or his "inexpressibly chilly portraits" - with the personal corruption" he detected in the poems. In a similar vein, Albertina Furno attributes Bronzino's deviation from "oneste e piacevoli e pure" subjects to the "corruzione del secolo che tali bassezze incoraggiava col plauso."(24) Such observations however do little justice to the comic spirit of burlesque poetry or its ambivalent mode of signification; while the poems' obscenity has estranged some readers, their obscurity constitutes the greatest interpretive obstacle. Such poems, because of their linguistic ambiguity, are notoriously elusive. "La ricerca delle strutture del linguaggio buriesco," observes Silvia Longhi, "urta contro una superficie mistificante e ingannevole" (The search for the structures of burlesque language collides with a mystifying and deceptive surface).(25) Given its scurrilous content and linguistic complexity, we can derive a more critical appreciation of Bronzino's poetry by examining the ways in which obscene meanings are created and exploring the ways in which multiple meanings are encoded into these works. Particular attention must also be paid to the way in which Bronzino often supersedes conventional burlesque techniques of encoding erotic meanings into the text by creating a level of allusive play that parodies other literary works and refers to a broad range of social practices.
The obscurity of burlesque poetry results largely from two factors: the use of a highly coded lexicon, and the tendency of burlesque poets to allude to cultural ideas, social practices, and opinions whose significance eludes most readers today. Burlesque poets, extending a practice made popular by earlier comic poets such as Burchiello, Za, and the authors of Florentine carnival songs, typically transform or disguise the meaning of words. As Jean Toscan has shown in his masterful study of burlesque poetry, words in burlesque poems characteristically provide two levels of signification. The first level is innocuous: the poet offers a facetious, amusing description of an object, psychological state, or condition. The second level, in contrast, is obscene. Determining the various means by which the meanings of words are altered, however, is no easy task as burlesque poets, like Shakespeare's Cleopatra, tend to make all language use erotic.(26)
Toscan's examination of the numerous ways in which Berni and his followers eroticize language is largely confined to the poems published in the two Giunti anthologies of burlesque verse of 1548 and 1555. Since the 1555 anthology includes only five of Bronzino's capitoli, Toscan accords little attention to the painter's works. While Toscan's observations concerning the way in which language is encoded illuminate Bronzino's deployment of equivocal terms, more attention needs to be paid to the precise way in which Bronzino eroticizes language. Toscan's tendency to focus on the erotic level of meaning causes him to overlook burlesque poets' parodies of other works and the satirical treatment of various social practices. At times Berni adopts a highly polemical attitude towards political and religious matters; the "Capitolo di papa Adriano," for example, criticizes the election of Adrian VI. While Bronzino does not mock political events to the same extent as Berni, the artist's capitoli do exhibit a similar vibrant and amusing polysemy, in which a passage's literal and erotic meanings overlap with literary parodies.
More importantly, Toscan's approach toward burlesque poetry tends to reduce reading to an act of decoding that does not adequately describe the manner in which Bronzino and other burlesque poets invest words or a passage with erotic meaning. Bronzino's elaboration of erotic meaning is not simply effected through the establishment of a series of one-to-one correspondences (or even one-to-two or three), between a signifier and an erotic signified. Context often determines the extent of a passage's or word's ambiguity. While Bronzino uses terms such as "pennello," "galea," and "zanzare" as euphemisms for the penis, he does not evoke their obscene meaning consistently in any given poem. Often a word's literal sense is foremost in a passage, despite prior and subsequent usage in an erotic sense. The process is less one of decoding than one of creating a level of allusive play. The obscenity arises from a term's interplay with other words on the level of the signifier. Obscenity is less a matter of certain words summoning specific sexual meanings than of language considered as a system working toward an erotic affect. I am not claiming that language does not at times signify in the way that Toscan describes; familiarity with the coded lexicon of burlesque poetry is essential to the reading of these works. Nevertheless, the identification of a word's possible obscene meaning should be seen as a point of departure rather than as an end in itself. It is perhaps more productive to see Bronzino's procedure as creating a relation among signifiers. Given the linguistic difficulties presented by these works, any reading of Bronzino must take into account the way in which language functions in these poems.
The poem "Del pennello" ("On the Paintbrush") exemplifies the manner in which Bronzino charges ordinary words with erotic meaning. The poem begins with Bronzino describing a portrait of a nude man and woman who are engaged in "un piacevol atto" ("Del pennello," 3).(27) The unspecified nature of this "pleasing act" invests the poem with ambiguity from the onset. Bronzino effectively heightens the suggestiveness of his description by stopping just short of delineating what they are doing. The artist then turns from the contemplation of the work of art to the object which created it: the depiction is so realistic-- the couple appears to be moving -- that the artist decides to praise the glories of the paintbrush. All men and women, Bronzino declares, take pleasure in the "things" which the paintbrush creates.
Chi e colui che a ragionar non goda delle cose che fa questo cotale, nato di pel de setola o di coda?
E non e uomo o donna si bestiale, che non cerchi d'aver delle sue cose o di farsi ritrar al naturale.
Chi si ritrae sul letto o faticose attitudin fa, ritto o a sedere; chi tien qualcosa in man, chi l'ha nascose;
chi si vuol dietro ad un altro vedere; chi vuol esser dipinto innanzi ad uno; chi s'attien; chi fa vista di cadere.
Io non saprei contame de' mille uno de' diversi atti e modi stravaganti; sapete cheil variar piace ad ognuno
Basta, che a fargli o dirietro o davanti a traverso, in iscorcio o in prospettiva s'adopera il pennello a tutti quanti ("Del pennello," 13-30).
(Who is the person who does not take pleasure in discussing the things that this thing does, which is born from the bristle or tail hair? And there is no man or woman so savage that he or she does not seek to have some of its things or to have himself drawn from life. There are those who portray themselves on the bed or in difficult positions, standing up, or seated - those who hold something in hand, those who hide it, those who want to be seen behind another person, those who want to be painted in front of another, those who hold on, those who pretend to fall. I would not know how to recount one of the thousand different actions and extravagant ways; you know that everyone likes variety. It is enough that in order to make it from behind, in front, across, foreshortened, or in perspective one uses the paintbrush for them all.)
In this highly equivocal passage "pennello" signifies both paintbrush and penis. On one level these lines describe the different poses in which people have themselves painted. Read in terms of the paintbrush's phallic meaning, however, the passage describes a variety of sexual positions. Bronzino activates the erotic meaning of "pennello" by adducing a series of suggestive images - the desire of all men and women to be painted, the various poses in which people can be portrayed, everyone's appreciation of variety, the centrality of the paintbrush in all these activities - "s'adopera il pennello a tutti quanti." The allusion to "pennello" at the beginning and the end of the citation reinforces the term's ambiguity as well as imbues other expressions - notably the different positions in which people are painted - with erotic meaning.
In his reading of this passage Toscan focuses on uncovering the equivocal meaning of specific terms, noting that the words "ritrae," "letto," and "faticose attitudini" in lines 19-21 are generally substitutions for "penetrer," "seant" and "les poses adaptees au rapport contre nature" respectively.(28) For Toscan the passage alludes primarily to acts of sodomy. The practice of identifying specific substitutions for each equivocal term, however, tends to foreclose other possible responses to these lines. Bronzino stresses that everyone - men and women - enjoys the things made by the paintbrush; the passage emphasizes everyone's appreciation of variety. That a variety of sexual positions are implied is clear, though the extent to which they can or should be exactly categorized is debatable. It is perhaps more accurate to characterize Bronzino's procedure as one of suffusing a passage with lubricity. Reducing the reading of burlesque poetry to an act of decoding ultimately overlooks the lighthearted irreverence and humor which constitutes one of the most distinctive characteristics of these works. The ambiguity of the meaning of "pennello" generates playful relations among a variety of expressions. Having established an erotic tone from the poem's onset, Bronzino encourages - indeed, invites - readers to entertain and develop the paintbrush's obscene meaning.
Bronzino suffuses a passage with lubricity in a similar manner in "La padella del Bronzino pittore" ("The Frying Pan of Bronzino the Painter"). The capitolo fancifully celebrates the indispensability of the frying pan. Among the "padella's" admirable features is its capacity to revive certain foods that are cooked in it.
E chi non l'ama eteme ha tutti i toni, ch'io l'ho veduta delle volte mille uccider vivi e risuscitar morti.
Voi arete pur visto dell'anguille, tagliato il capo e morte d'un gran pezzo, far la padella vive risentille.
E cosi anche qualche volta un pezzo di porco o di vitella o lepre o bue saltar della padella verdemezzo
e stridere e soffiare; onde, che piue volete vol da lei, s'ella da il moto e la favella con le virtu sue? ("La padella," 226-37).
(And he who does not love and fear the frying pan is all in the wrong, as I have seen it kill living things and revive dead ones thousands of times. You have certainly seen the frying pan restore life to eels, their heads having been cut off and dead for a while. And the frying pan also sometimes makes a piece of pork, hare, or beef jump from it half cooked, screeching and blowing. Whence what more do you want from the frying pan if it has the power to bestow movement and speech?)
In this passage Bronzino eroticizes a very mundane object - the frying pan - by combining it with more ambiguous terms such as "anguille" and "riscuscitar." These lines recall Berni's "Capitolo dell'anguille," in which eels are thinly veiled euphemisms for the penis. Bronzino's allusion to eels serves to underscore in turn the obscene meaning of "padella" as a euphemism for the buttocks: the significance of the resuscitation of headless eels, which become erect upon contact with the "padella," requires little commentary. Bronzino is not merely corralling sexually charged words, but creates a sexual atmosphere by generating suggestive connotations for ordinary words. The erotic meaning of "padella" is mobilized by its interplay with other sexually charged terms. As a result the entire passage is suffused with sexual innuendo.
"Del pennello" and "La padella" illustrate how Bronzino eroticizes language in general. The poem "In lode della galea" ("In Praise of the Galley") exhibits a similar lubricity as well as another typical feature of Bronzino's capitoli - the parodic use of courtly language. The capitolo belongs to a genre of burlesque poems - paradoxical encomiums - which praise unpleasant conditions or places, such as plague, sickness and prison. Bini wrote a poem lauding "il mal francese" (syphilis), Berni celebrated the plague, and Bronzino composed capitoli praising prisons and hospitals as well as two poems on the galley. "In lode della galea" presents a series of playful pseudo-arguments and witty reversals intended to glorify one of the Florentine state's most common punishments - rowing on the galleys. Bronzino presents the galley as a carefree place in which harmony reigns among a young, homogenous group of men: "credo piu oltre ch'e non vi s'invecchi;/dall'uno all'altro e poco e stanno tutti/rasi e 'nbruniti, che paian specchi" (Moreover, I believe that one does not get old there; there is little space from one person to another, and everyone remains shaven, tanned, that they seem mirrors) ("In lode della galea," 1:163-65). That the galley is a kind of haven for men is further underscored by the highly equivocal claim that it is a place in which "quivi rado s'accosta lesso e arrosto" (here boiled and roasted foods are rarely thrown together) ("In lode della galea," 1:118). The phrase marshals common expressions in burlesque poetry that denote vaginal and anal intercourse respectively ("lesso" referring to a humid meat prepared in a liquid, "arrosto" to meat that is roasted or dry).(29) Among the utopian features of the galley is its freedom from the tribulations of everyday life - crime, accidents, taxes, domestic worries, work, and love. The lines describing the galley as a place devoid of the suffering occasioned by unrequited desire offer a hilarious spoof on the tribulations of courtly and heterosexual love.
Amor, con le sue fiamme e co' suoi duoli, mai non s'accosta quant'e lungo un remo a costoro e bisogna ben che'e voli.
Ch'e s'e gia visto un uom piu ch'all'estremo, fracido, pesto, sfegatato e morto per qualche donna e sbigottito e scemo;
giunto in galea non bisogna conforto altro, a tal male: un guarisce in un tratto con un po' po' di dondol corto corto ("In lode della galea," 1:124-32).
(Love, with its flames and pains never comes near them so much as the length of an oar, and it is necessary that it flies. And one has already seen a man more dead than alive, ruined, crushed, exhausted, and dead on account of some woman and bewildered and dazed. Once on board the galley one has no need of other comforts for such ills. One heals in an instant with a short little bit of rocking.)(30)
In this passage Bronzino effectively juxtaposes not only spirit and body - an unrequited love and the rocking motion that the galley offers in compensation - but also two stylistic registers. While Bronzino's characterization of the tribulations of love incorporates common Petrarchan terms ("amor," "fiamma," "duol," "morto," and "sbigottito"), the language used to describe the state to which love reduces man ("fracido," "pesto," "sfegatato") and its cure ("un po' po' di dondol corto corto"), is decidedly unethereal, colloquial, and pedestrian. The result is a homely puncturing of airy schemes.
This last line "un po' po' di dondol corto corto," which borders on onomatopoeia, reorients the meaning of this passage. The precise nature of the rocking motion which the galley offers the lovesick is highly ambiguous as burlesque poets often used the word "dondolare" to refer to intercourse.(31) Bronzino would have no doubt been familiar with Ugolino Martelli's "Capitolo in lode dell'altalena," which was also published in II secondo libro dell'opere burlesche: "Un che tra gli altri si trovo men grosso,/comincio questo gioco, e 'n poco d'ora/Divento dondolando altero e rosso" (One who among the others was found to be less large, began this game, and in a short time he became red and proud with swinging). In both Bronzino's and Martelli's poems "dondolare" denotes a sexual act. Given the context in which the word appears in Bronzino's poem, the suggestion is that the consolation which the galley offers the lovesick is sodomy. The realignment or displacement of the Petrarchan world could not be more emphatic. Unlike the world of the Petrarchan lyric, in which the object of love is often absent and consummation never a possibility, sexual gratification on board the galley is immediate and ubiquitous. Not only does Bronzino blithely deflate familiar Petrarchan terms, he also effects a sexual reorientation by presenting a male community blissfully devoid of the bittersweet tribulations which plague the lover of the traditional lyric.
Elsewhere in the poem Bronzino recounts examples of the rapidity with which recently arrived convicts are converted to the galley's activities. One man is initially bewildered by the sexual practices aboard ship. However, he realizes quickly that he must change his habits ("mutar vezzo").
dopo la tratta d'un sospiro amaro chiese di stare in fin alla mattina in quell'albergo desiato e caro.
E chi gl'avesse offerto la sentina pur ch'e' non fusse uscito di quel legno, gli sare' parso una stanza divina.
Chi vi s'avvezza e non v e poi disegno, bisogna ritornarvi in capo al giuoco o ir pazzo pel mondo e senza ingegno ("In lode della galea," 1: 295-303).
(After the emission of a bitter sigh, he asked to stay in that clear and desirable abode until the morning. And whoever had offered him the bilge provided that he did not leave that vessel, it would have seemed a divine room to him. He who becomes accustomed to it and does not then plan this, must start again or go wandering through the world, crazy without intelligence.)
This passage abounds with references to an enclosed space or receptacle ("albergo," "sentina," stanza"). In burlesque poetry the word "camera" (room) and its synonyms usually connote either the anus or vagina.(32)
There is little doubt, however, that "albergo," "sentina," and "stanza" in this context refer to the anus. The words denoting room are progressively charged by repetition and a series of adjectives - "desiato," "caro," and "divina" - intended to convey its attractiveness. That this recently arrived convict is kept in the bilge for a time underscores further the term's ambiguity, as expressions indicating interiority or exteriority in burlesque poetry generally refer to one's proximity to sexual organs.(33) Taken together, these elements - the amusement which the galley offers to the lovesick, the necessity of altering one's habits, the bitter sigh which accompanies this realization, the references to a small receptacle, and the notion of a practice becoming habitual - saturate the passage with sexual innuendo.(34) Each expression reinforces and enhances the erotic meaning of the other words.
"In lode della galea" shows how Bronzino tends to eroticize courtly language generally. In other poems Bronzino's erotic allusions overlap and intersect with more complex literary parodies. In such passages one sees the spirited juxtaposition of two poetic traditions as Bronzino intertwines the colorful, provocative language of the burlesque capitolo with the refined language of the lyric. The poem "La cipolla del Bronzino pittore" ("The Onion of Bronzino the Painter") exemplifies many of the most attractive features of Bronzino's capitoli - humor, wit, equivocal meanings, and capricious literary allusions. Bronzino's praise of the onion recalls other burlesque poems on food, such as Berni's tributes to artichokes and peaches, and Varchi's poems on fennel and ricotta.(35) Bronzino's paean to the "alma cipolla" consists of three parts. The first capitolo is a rhapsody on the onion's overall qualities - its noble appearance, culinary versatility, miraculous medicinal qualities, and unique aroma. The second capitolo irreverently compares the effects of the onion to those of love, claims that the onion's stalk provided the inspiration for the first flutes, and describes a dinner at which onions form the piece de resistance. The lines comparing the onion to love raucously satirize the language and conventions of courtly love:
Amor passa per gl'occhi e questa appunto passa per gl'occhi e passa anche pel naso e 'n questa parte vince amor d'un punto.
Amor di pianto e sempre fonte e vaso, questa fa piagner piu che la mostarda e non gli cede punto in questo caso.
Amor riscalda e questa par che ci arda; amor saetta e questa ancor s'awenta, ne stato o condizion d'alcun riguarda.
Amor fa che l'amato si diventa e chi mangia di queste si trasforma in esse, si che par ch'ognun lo senta.
Amore unisce l'un con l'altro e 'informa questa per modo gli spicchi congiunge, che l'uno a l'altro son materia e forma ("Della cipolla," 2:52-66).
(Love enters through the eyes and the onion enters through the eyes, and passes through the nose as well, and in this respect the onion scores an extra point over love. Love is always a fountain and vase of tears: the onion causes more tears than mustard and in this respect is in no way inferior to love. Love warms and the onion seems to bum us. Love shoots arrows, and this onion assails anyone without any regard for his rank or condition. Love makes you become like the beloved; he who eats onions becomes onions since it seems that everyone can smell you. Love unites one soul with another and gives them one form. Similarly, the onion joins with its layers in such a way that each gives matter and form to each of the other layers.)
Bronzino not only ridicules the actions and language that form the stock material of the Petrarchisti, but boldly proclaims that the effects of the onion surpass those of love: the onion enters not only through the eyes, but through the nose as well. The onion also occasions far more torment than love. In an outlandish subversion of the idea of the lover becoming the beloved, Bronzino proclaims that he who eats an onion "si trasforma in esse." In these lines the onion's literal meaning is aggressively prominent as Bronzino inserts this most pungent of vegetables into the transcendent realm of courtly love. Sentiments traditionally considered sublime and spiritual become grotesquely physical as lovers are literally transformed into onions. Bronzino's humorous deployment of standard Petrarchan terms such as "fonte," "amore," "arda," and "saetta," as well as the extensive use of anaphora (which recalls Francesca da Rimini's memorable repetition of "amore" in Inferno 5), heightens the parodic effect. "La Cipolla" thus gleefully interweaves the crude and the sublime.
The third capitolo of "La Cipolla" mocks philosophical concepts and familiar passages from the works of Dante and Petrarch. Bronzino wryly presents the onion as the inspiration for poets and philosophers. Dante modeled the twisting journey through Hell's circles on the cutting of an onion. Philosophers learned the art of revealing only parts of their secrets from onions: "come vol vedeste loro/mezze scoprirsi e mezze star nascose,/tal voi faceste del vostro tesoro" (just as you saw them [the onions] partly revealing and partly concealing themselves, so did you do the same with your treasure). Petrarch derived from the onion "quell'amare dolcezze e 'l pianto e 'l riso,/la verde speme e l'impiagato fianco,/e dovea disegnar, quand'era miso/dove ne fusse, me' che 'n pino o 'n sasso/nella prima cipolla il suo bel viso" (that bittersweetness, tears, and laughter/the green hope and the wounded heart; and when Petrarch arrived at the place that he wanted to be, rather than on a pine or a rock he would have done better to have portrayed her lovely face in the first onion he saw) ("La cipolla," 3:221-25). These lines reprise a passage from Petrarch's canzone "Di pensier in pensier, di monte in monte," in which the poet describes his evocation of Laura's face while wandering through a remote landscape: "Ove porge ombra un pino alto od un colle/talor m'arresto, et pur nel primo sasso/disegno co la mente il suo bel viso" (Where a tall pine or a hillside extends shade, there I sometimes stop, and in the first stone I see I portray her lovely face with my mind).(36) Bronzino gently satirizes Petrarch's search for a suitably desolate landscape in which to contemplate his tribulations. Instead of pro-viding his suffering lover with appropriate scenery, the "alto pino" and "colle," Bronzino dryly observes that "he stopped where he was." Having deprived the poet of his customary atmospherics, Bronzino insouciantly reproves Petrarch for not having portrayed Laura's face in the onion. We descend once again from an aloof sublime to a vital grotesque.(37)
The last lines of "La Cipolla" caricature the opening of Paradiso 25 in which Dante envisions himself returning to Florence from exile. Dante opines that "Se mai continga che 'l poema sacro/al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra,/si che m'ha fatto per molti anni macro,/vinca la crudelta fuor mi serra/del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello,/nimico ai lupi che li danno guerra;/con altra voce omai, con altro vello/ritornero poeta, e in sul fonte/del mio battesmo prendero 'I capello (If it should happen . . . . If this sacred poem - /this work so shared by heaven and by earth/that it has made me lean through these long years - /can ever overcome the cruelty/that bars me from the fair fold where I slept,/a lamb opposed to wolves that war on it,/by then with other voice, with other fleece,/I shall return as poet and put on,/at my baptismal font, the laurel crown) (Paradiso 25.1-9).(38) Bronzino, too, desires recognition for his poetic accomplishments in "La cipolla":
se mai continga ch'e si giunga al vero fin di lodarle qualche 'ngegno acuto, che possa al hove mio giugner un zero,
sara ben degnio ch'e' ne sia tenuto conto e ch'e' se gli cavi la berretta e ch'e sia dalla fama intrattenuto
e, come a simil poeti s'aspetta, carezzato e menato sopra il colle Parnaso fra le Muse e lassu in vetta coronato di foglie di cipolle ("La cipolla," 3:268-77).
(If it should happen that some brilliant genius should arrive at the truth in praising onions, such that he can add a zero to my nine, it will be fitting that notice should be taken of him, and that one should doff one's hat to him, and that he should be entertained by Fame, and as one expects for similar poets, he should be feted and led up to Mt. Parnassus among the muses and there at the summit be crowned with the leaves of the onion.)
These lines constitute an impertinent dismissal of one of the most poignant moments in the Commedia, when Dante hopes that his monumental achievement will enable him to return to Florence to be crowned poet laureate.(39) While Bronzino follows the general contours of Dante's verses, the artist also makes some capricious alterations: "La cipolla," for example, contains no allusions to hardships endured, while a crown of onions playfully substitutes the laurel crown of poets.(40)
Bronzino also introduces elements foreign to Dante's conception, notably the declaration that the poet who surpasses the painter in praising onions "possa al hove mio giugner un zero" (can add a zero to my nine). On one level the line proclaims that this poet would be ten times a better writer than Bronzino: adding a zero to nine makes ninety. But read in terms of the erotic significance accorded numbers in burlesque poetry, the line acquires quite a different meaning: zero, because of its circular shape, often represents the anus in burlesque poetry, while nine is considered a phallic symbol due to its shape.(41) The artist, then, suggests that the reward for poetic achievement will be that he will sodomize his successor. Bronzino's reworking of Dante goes beyond the mere humorous recontextualization of the poet's lines, as the eroticizing of Dante's images and words makes this a particularly irreverent parody. A quick perusal of Toscan's glossary shows that the passage is teeming with equivocal terms, among them - "berretta" (anus), "lama" (sodomy), "genio" (penis), "poeti" (sodomites), "il colle Parnaso" (buttocks), and "coronato" (orifice).(42) Given the redundancy of erotic meanings, however, one might question the extent to which a coherent obscene meaning can be obtained. Bronzino seems more interested in reinforcing generally the idea of sodomy as a reward for the poet who succeeds in praising onions than in generating a precise erotic meaning. As elsewhere, Bronzino suffuses the passage with erotic innuendo. Like the banter of Mercutio and Benvoglio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, there is salacious intent, but it is not necessarily exact.(43)
The problems which Bronzino's capitoli pose to readers are by no means confined to his equivocal use of language. Attention to the way in which language functions in these poems constitutes but one of the coordinates that can help clarify their mode of signification. Future studies of Bronzino must also seek to recover the meaning of various social practices described in these works. Many of the references to Bronzino's contemporary world remain obscure, though attention to archival sources and historical investigations have clarified some of the artist's contemporary allusions. One recent study documents the extent to which Bronzino drew upon his immediate surroundings in the poem "I romori," a humorous diatribe against the noise of city life.(44) Bronzino lived in a tiny room on the present-day Via Calzaiuoli, a street very close to the Duomo, the center of Florentine civic life. Among those contributing to the intolerable clamor are playing children, yelping dogs, chattering pedestrians, screaming neighbors, and various artisans - the spice merchant Capello, the tailor Aglietto, a leather dresser, and hosiers - whose singing, mincing, and beating go on at all hours of the day. The leather dresser, Bronzino complains, beats and strikes damp leather so noisily that "buona parte m'ha del cervel tolto" (he has taken away a good part of my mind) ("I romori," 72). Through this catalog of noises, Bronzino produces a hyperbolic crescendo, as each annoyance compounds the din of the others enumerated. The painter embodies and particularizes a familiar poetic trope - Juvenal had famously complained of noise - by creating a vivid portrait of his cacophonous surroundings, one which draws on his actual living conditions.
The long eight-part poem "Il piato" ("The Argument") also contains many allusions to contemporary Florence and its social practices. The nature of the realities to which Bronzino alludes in this work, however, are more difficult to unravel given its allegorical nature and linguistic complexity. Loosely modeled on Dante's voyage through the Afterlife, "II piato," describes a journey across the body of a giant named Arcigrandone, who loosely represents the world in the poem. Ostensibly a fantastic journey, which entails the observation of and participation in numerous altercations, on another level the poem seems to recount a series of sexual encounters. The first four capitoli, and the second one in particular, are notable for the number of violent fights which Bronzino witnesses. As Bronzino observes these altercations, he is invariably approached or assailed by some of the litigants. The first fight takes place in an unspecified landscape where a "turba velenosa e ria" (a poisonous and evil crowd) ("Il piato," 1:94) viciously attacks Bronzino. A "saggia," who arrives on the scene in terms highly reminiscent of Beatrice's solicitation of Dante in Inferno 2, comes to Bronzino's rescue and offers to serve as his guide so that she might show him "la cagione stessa di tante liti" (the very cause of so many arguments) ("Il piato," 1:129). The first capitolo ends with the guide (who, while never identified, likely embodies Truth) leading Bronzino to the foot of a giant. In capitoli 24 while climbing up the giant's foot, Bronzino is assailed repeatedly, trapped in a cave, and obliged to witness the tormenting of a young girl that recalls his earlier experiences. Capitoli 5-8 describe the climb up the giant's leg, the traversing of his chest, and the arrival at the top of the giant's head. During this part of the journey Bronzino witnesses more strange scenes - people undertaking absurd activities such as attempting to fly, sages and commoners debating the meaning of a hybrid tree, and birds flying into the giant's ears. Atop the giant's head, a misstep causes Bronzino to fall down the giant's nostril. Inside the giant he witnesses further bizarre sights and emerges only after promising to bring an end to all arguments.
The second capitolo of "Il piato" lends itself particularly well to a consideration of the poem's sexual themes as well as Bronzino's incorporation of contemporary social customs into his poetry. This section of "Il piato" details one of the few incidents that do not occur on some part of Arcigrandone's body; all the events take place on the streets of Florence over the course of one evening. At the beginning of this capitolo Bronzino finds himself amidst a crowd of savage men hurling sharp objects at one another. As Bronzino approaches to obtain a clearer view of their violent activities, a rock strikes his leg. During the ensuing kay Bronzino loses his hat. Severely lamed, he looks for a place to rest. One of the men, after momentarily sympathizing with Bronzino, robs him. Destitute and incapacitated, Bronzino waits in misery - a horrific rainstorm has commenced in the meantime - for someone to come to his aid. Finally a man with a lantern appears and accompanies him briefly. Abandoned again, Bronzino finally encounters a blindman who agrees to lead him home.
Numerous particulars in the second capitolo suggest that the episode constitutes a sexual allegory. The events take place in the night world of same sex encounters described by Michael Rocke in his study of the regulation of sodomy in early modern Florence.(45) These encounters tended to take place on public streets, private homes, workshops, or taverns.(46) While many same sex encounters tended to take place in the prostitution zones of Florence, meetings were by no means confined to these areas.(47) The lack of domestic privacy obliged many men and boys to meet in public areas: narrow, poorly illuminated streets and covered doorways afforded some measure of privacy. Bronzino's adventures in the second capitolo take place in the center of Florence; among the locations to which he alludes are the Baptistry, a tavern named Coroncina, and via Panico and via al Giglio, two roads which in the sixteenth century ran into the present day via del Corso. The attack appears to take the form of a rather brutal sexual initiation.(48) The objects which the men hurl at one another - rocks, scissors, and knives - underscore the sexual nature of the assault - in burlesque poetry these items typically function as coded language for phallic references. The pain inflicted upon Bronzino by the rock is evident from his cry: "succiai piu uova ch'un abate sano" (I sucked more eggs than a healthy abbot) ("II piato," 2:42). The words themselves are highly equivocal. The mere mention of an ecdesiast is suggestive as burlesque poets tended to present clerics as sodomites. The reference to sucking eggs is even more revealing. In Bronzino's time sucking eggs was considered a remedy for pain. Pulci, for example, employs the expression in the Morgante: "tal che Morgante di molte uova succia/per le ferite, e come orso si cruccia" (such that Morgante sucks many eggs for his wounds, and becomes angry like a bear).(49) Toscan notes that the verb "succiare" typically describes one who assumes the passive role in sodomy.(50) Hence Bronzino's use of the verb "succiare" seems to capitalize on its double meaning of "to suck" and to assume the passive role in sodomy: on one level the artist calls out for a remedy for his pain; on another his words can be read as a comic repetition of the initial violence done to him. In this context "succiare" refers to both the injury and its remedy.
That Bronzino has undergone a sexual tormenting is further reinforced by one other particular - the painter's loss of his "berretta." Bronzino first notices that he has lost his hat when the man with a lantern approaches him: "Ancor che 'n zucca e a si scura/aria e si tarda qui m'abbiate colto/non ci ha men colpa ch'io, la mia sventura" (You have discovered me bareheaded and in such darkness and at so late an hour, my misfortune is to blame no less than I) ("Il plato," 2:106-08). What is especially noteworthy is the speaker's shame and humiliation over the loss of his hat. In Bronzino's time young boys, adopting a practice earlier used by prostitutes, would often play the hat-stealing game, a kind of ritual extortion for sex. Men seeking sex stole boys' hats as a means of obliging boys to have sex with them; occasionally boys stole men's hats in a kind of courting game. "Losing one's hat," writes Rocke, "meant being sexually and publicly compromised, a disgrace that both men with prostitutes and boys with sodomires could avoid only by giving in to their 'aggressors.'"(51)
Bronzino's account of this episode incorporates many ritual elements of same sex encounters in his day. While the artist's Florentine contemporaries might have had little difficulty in uncovering the meaning of such allusions, they remain all but unintelligible for many readers today. Events such as the narrator's loss of his hat in "Il pinto" have a clear resonance, but its precise nature is elusive to say the least. The particular example of the attack on Bronzino in "Il pinto" shows how attention to the way in which various social practices are encoded in these works can help clarify their meaning. Given that many of the capitoli allude to sexual acts between men, particular attention needs to be paid to historical and literary accounts of same sex encounters in Bronzino's day.
Bronzino's poetry remains a largely unexplored subject. Varchi's comment in his letter to Bronzino cited earlier in this essay, while admittedly a commonplace, nevertheless sets out the particular complexity of analyzing Bronzino's work. Varchi repeats the famous remark attributed to Simonides by Plutarch: just as painting is mute poetry, so is poetry a speaking picture.(52) The Florentine historian emphasizes especially the "somiglianza" and the "parentela" that has always existed "in moltissime cose" between art and poetry. While criticism has clarified what Bronzino's paintings may be articulating, we know far less about what his poems are portraying. One of the "many things" worth pursuing is the mode of signification both verbal and visual in Bronzino's work. It is such representational strategies - the adoption of a highly coded language and the incorporation of highly coded social practices - that a criticism of Bronzino's poetry needs to explore further. Ultimately, renewed attention to Bronzino's poetry would clarify how two modes of representation - the graphic and visual - are entwined.
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
BNF Magl. VII 730, f. 15-16v. Benedetto Varchi's letter to Bronzino and Tribolo, May, 1539.
Varchi al Tribolo scultore e al Bronzino dipintore amicissimi suoi.
Luca Martini, cui dopo la partita mia discosti almasero insieme col libri molti scritti e componimenti miei, e fra quelli alcune cose tradotte di greco e di latino nella lingua nostra cosi in versi come in prosa fatte gia da me, piu per esercitarmi nel comporre e per acquistare meglio l'intelligenza delle lingue che per altro, mi scrive d'avere tra esse ritrovato e trascritto il principio del tredecimo libro delle trasformazioni d'Ovidio nel quale si contengono le due orazioni, una d'Aiace et l'altra d'Ulisse fatte sopra l'armi d'Achille; e mi manda pregando, o che mi piaccia di fornire il detto libro, o ch'io almeno sia contento ch'egli le possa mostrare e dar fuori come quelli che giudica ingannato dall'amore che mi porta, che spesso occhio ben sano fa veder torto, che elli non cosi altrui piacere debbano come a lui fanno. Ora io che a gli amici non posso e a lui non debbo dinegare cosa alcuna, trovandomi occupato in altri studi tutti lontani e diversi da quelli d'allora, ho eletto piuttosto la seconda condizione di lasciarle vedere ancora che malvolentieri parendomi pericoloso che quello, ch'io aveva scritto per me solo, si divolgassi come scritto per tutti. E per seguire l'usanza mia di mandare le cose fatte o tradotte da me, o a quelle persone, le quali avendone ottima cognizione le potessero correggere e amendarle, o a quelle che per essermi amiche che di buona natura le dovessero tener care e scusarle. L'ho indirizzate a voi duoi, nei quali e l'una e l'altra di queste cose percio che oltra l'essermi ciascuno di voi egualmente amicissimo e oltra la pari e grandissima eccellenzia vostra, dell'uno nella scultura e dell'altro nella pittura, vi dilettate ambo duoi e intendete nelle cose poetiche, e massimamente il Bronzino, come oltra suoi componimenti, dimostra l'avere tutto Dante, e grandissima parte del Petrarca nella memoria assai piu oltre che non crederrebbero per awentura quelli i quali non sanno che si come la poesia non e altro che una dipintura che favelli, cosi la pittura non e altro che una poesia mutola. La somiglianza poi e la parentela, la quale fu sempre tra i dipintori e poeti in moltissime cose, e piu nota che mestier faccia di raccontarla onde avverra che voi non solamente, se in questa traduzione fusse cosa alcuna riguardevole e degna di lode, potrete per l'ingegno e intelligenza vostra conoscendola prenderne diletto, ma correggendo ancora gli errori per l'amicizia nostra e bonta vostra, scusare tutte quelle cose le quali vi paressero o troppo volgarmente detto o con poca gravita. Con cio che anco a me piacesse in quel tempo di seguitare il costume dei traduttori moderni, i quali insieme col senso cercano ancora e si sforzano di sprimere le stesse parole quasi una per una, la qual cosa se non e del tutto impossibile, per esser i modi e i pafiari di diverse lingue diversi, e per certo malagevolissima e di vero non necessaria ne usata dagli antichi migliori, i quali delle parole poco o niente, ma de' sensi grandissimamente curavano. Restami a dirvi in queste toscane non si conosce quella forza e vivezza che nelle latine si vede, cio non essere colpa ne difetto della lingua e idioma nostra come alcuni pensano, il quale capevole di tutti i lumi di leggiadro e ornato parlare, ma solamente del poco sapere e giudizio mio. State sani e salutatemi col buon Tasso e con il nostro Ciano e tutti gli amici e specialmente il nostro non men buono e amorevole che valente messer Raffaello da Montelupo. di Padova. Il di delle calendi di maggio, l'anno 1539. [Varchi's summary of the beginning of book 13 of the Metamorphoses follows the letter. I have modernized the spelling and punctuation of this document.]
Part of the research for this article was made possible by grants from the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti, Florence and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. I am grateful to the staffs of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence and the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. I would like to thank Peter Armour for his kind assistance with the translations of Bronziao's poetry, and Paul Barolsky, Renzo Bragantini, Robert Rodini, as well as the two readers, Robert Gaston and William Kennedy, for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this essay. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine.
1 Bronzino makes a similar confession in the poem, "Delle scuse," 1:337-42, where he reveals: "Sta ben, tutto confesso, ma s'io veglio/gran parte della notte e poco dormo/e sol quel tempo alle mie rime sceglio,/che debb'io fare allor? fabbrico o formo/castelli in aria? e vengo a nnoia all'ozio/e 'n peggio assai ch'uom morto mi trasformo?" All citations from Bronzino's poetry are taken from Franca Petrucci Nardelli's edition of the Rime in burla. The numbers following the title of works cited in the article refer to Line numbers. While Petrucci Nardelli's edition represents a significant improvement over nineteenth-century editions of Bronzino's poetry, her commentary is very sketchy and many notes are misleading.
2 Berni, "Capitolo a Fra Bastian dal Piombo," 184. Jacopo Sellari's makes a similar pronouncement in his poem, "Cinga le tempie a te, saggio Bronzino." Sellari proclaims: [Bronzino's paintings] "Ti fanno un nuovo Apollo, un nuovo Apelle." See Sonetti di Angiolo Allori, 18.
3 Vasari, 6:237. The translation is Gaston Du C. de Vere's, 2077-78.
4 For general discussions of Bronzino's poetry, see Furno, Longhi, Toscan, Gaston, "Love's Sweet Poison," and Claudio Mutini's introduction to Petrucci Nardelli's edition of the capitoli. For examinations of the possible influence of a variety of texts, both vernacular and Latin, on Bronzino's paintings, see Gaston, Cropper's two articles, and Mendelsohn, "L'Allegoria."
5 Firbank cited in McCorquodale, 7.
6 For a discussion of the emergence of this different class writers during this period, see Dionisotti, 236-43.
7 According to recent studies by Matteoli and Gaston, Bronzino also paid tribute to some of his friends by incorporating their likenesses in paintings such as the Christ in Limbo of 1552. See Matteoil; and Gaston, "Iconography and Portraiture."
8 For discussions of Bronzino's friendship with Varchi, see Plaisance, 374-375, 377; Mendelsohn, 1982, 4-5, 31-33; Gaston, "Love's Sweet Poison," 264-68; and Cecchi's two articles. For a general study of Varchi's works, see Pirotti.
9 BNF Magl. VII.730. See Appendix I for a transcription of Varchi's entire letter. Heikamp, 148 n.3, cites a section of one of the sentences in the letter. While Varchi's letter was published in the early nineteenth century, I have reproduced it in its entirety due to the volume's obscurity. My version follows the BNF manuscript. For the earlier printing, see Varchi, 167-89. For other contemporary accounts of Bronzino's artistic and literary activities, see Alessandro Allori's and Antonfrancesco Grazzini's funeral orations for Bronzino. Allori's and Grazzini's praises are cited in Furno, 56.
10 For Pontormo's allusion to this bet, see Pontormo, 54. In his dialogue, Allori reports that Bronzino, Varchi, and Martini would frequently gather to discuss "alcuni passi sopra il nostro stupendissimo poeta Dante." See Allori cited in Furno, 52. Bronzino dedicated "I romori" and the "Capitolo contro ale campane" to Luca Martini and "In lode delle zanzare" to Benedetto Varchi. Varchi dedicated his two poems the "Capitolo del finocchio" and the "Capitolo dell'uova sode," which were published in the 1548 Primo libro dell'opere burlesche, to Bronzino and Luca Martini. Such dedications underscore further the solidarity among this group of friends with mutual cultural interests.
11 The portraits, which included Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, were painted for the lunettes of Bettini's bedchamber. For a discussion of these works, see Nelson, 65-69.
12 Bronzino entered the Accademia Fiorentina (at that time known as the Accademia degli Umidi), along with forty-one other persons on 11 February 1540 (1541 modern style), in a mass admission designed to increase support for Cosimo within the Accademia Fiorentina. On 4 March 1547 reformers within the Academy decided to expel the more carefree and spirited members, which included most of the mists, among them Bronzino and Tribolo. The Academy modified this resolution in 1549 and decreed that those who had been rejected could be reinstated upon the presentation of a poem which passed the approval of the censors. Among the artists only Bronzino took advantage of this opportunity. He won readmission at the age of sixty-two, on 26 May 1566 after the presentation of his three "Canzoni sorelle" on the grand duke. This second application for admission to the Accademia Fiorentina suggests that the artist attached considerable importance to his literary pursuits.
The literary interests of the Accademia Fiorentina changed after the reforms of 1547. Whereas the Umidi tended to compose burlesque poetry, the two chief reformers, Cosimo Bartoli and Pier Francesco Giambullari, discouraged the writing of "cose inhoneste e nefande." Plaisance offers the most detailed account of the transformation of the Accademia degli Umidi to the Accademia Fiorentina. See also Heikamp, Samuels, Di Filippo Bareggi, and Romei, 83, for discussions of Cosimo's influence on the tenor of the Accademia Fiorentina.
13 The most important manuscript of Bronzino's burlesque capitoli is Magi. VII. 115 in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence. Petrucci Nardelli has examined the three different hands which appear in the manuscript carefully and the ordering of the manuscript's pages. She concludes that this manuscript likely belonged to Bronzino and that the artist kept it as a good copy of a "work in progress" (464). Most of the manuscript is written in an italic mid-sixteenth century hand. Bronzino copied some of the poems himself and made corrections to some of the poems. See Bronzino, 1988, 444-47, for Petrucci Nardelli's discussion of the state of the manuscript. Three other manuscripts contain the majority of the capitoli: Marc. Ital. IX 5 (5738) in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice; the University of Texas at Austin has a seventeenth-century manuscript in their Vincenzo Antonio Ranuzzi collection; and Sloane 1880 in the British Library in London. For a list of the printed editions of Bronzino's poetry from 1555-1983, see Petrucci Nardelli, 474-82.
The first fifteen poems in Petrucci Nardelli's edition (which generally follows the ordering of the poems in the Magliabechiano manuscript) are paradoxical encomiums of trivial objects - paintbrushes, bells, mosquitoes, frying pans, and onions. "I Salterelli" and an eight-part capitolo entitled "Il plato," which describes a journey across the body of a giant, follow these works. The last group of poems, which are more somber in tone, praise abstract states - "Il caparbio," "Del bisogno," "La vergogna," "La paura,""Lo sdegno." The poems range in length from 120 to over 500 lines.
Determining the dates of individual compositions is at best an approximate enterprise as Bronzino's poems contain few historical allusions. Bronzino's poetic production covers the years 1538 - late 1560s: these dates encompass the publication of his first poem "Del pennello" and the dates of the sonnets commemorating the deaths of Michelangelo and Varchi in 1562 and 1565 respectively. The bulk of the poems were written in the 1540s and 1550s, a period which corresponds roughly to Bronzino's most productive years as a painter. Bronzino executed his famous portraits of letterati, statesmen, and members of Cosimo's family in the 1540s and 1550s; he completed the fresco decorations for Cosimo's wife, Elconora, the London Allegory, and the cartoons for the Joseph tapestries in the first half of the 1540s; and many of the important altarpieces were completed by 1553.
14 The editor of the second anthology of 1555 is unknown.
15 For a discussion of such characterizations of burlesque poetry, see Longhi, 23.
16 For recent studies of Italian burlesque poetry, see Longhi, Romei, Lanza, Cherchi, Watkins, and Martin, 4-40.
17 Grazzini, Il primo libro dell'opere burlesche (1552), Aii. For the translation, see Rodini, 18. Grazzini mocks here the second quatrain of Petrarch's sonnet "Amor, che meco al buon tempo ti stavi" - "fior, frondi, erbe, ombre, antri, onde, aure soavi." Grazzini's mocking of Petrarchisti is also evident in the sonnet which precedes the collection. The sonnet is modeled on the first poem of the Canzoniere. Grazzini echoes Petrarch's words and the rhyme scheme of the first quatrain: "Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono/Di quei capricci, the 'l Berni divino/Scrisse cantando in volgar Fioreutino,/Udite nella fin quel ch'io ragiono" [emphasis mine]. See Il primo libro, 7.
18 See Longhi, 5 for more examples of Berni's parodies of the other poets' compositions
19 Bronzino's parodies of other artist's work was not confined to one medium. See Cox-Rearick, 107, for a discussion of how the painter whimsically modeled the poses of some of his putti in Eleonora's chapel on the ignudi from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Cox-Rearick, 118, also observes that the chapel's spandrels, which depict the Cardinal Virtues under the feet of Bronzino's heroic putti, "constitute a tour de force of illusionistic painting - intricate caprices typical of Bronzino's taste for the bizarre and fantastic, which is a hallmark of the Maniera." Paul Barolsky and Andrew Ladis have recently stressed the importance of attending to the ludic spirit which pervades Bronzino's paintings. For a discussion of the "pleasurable deceits" depicted in the famous London Allegory, see Barolsky and Ladis, 32-36.
20 For Bronzino's reference to Cicero's rhetorical art, see "In lode della galen," 1:13-15. For the artist's discussion of the instruments invented by Pythagorus and Archimedes, see "Il raviggiuolo," 85-87.
21 Among the capitoli featuring short catalogues of mythological references are "La vergogna," and "II secondo delle scuse."
22 Gaston, "Love's Poison," 252, believes that Bronzino did not know Latin. In his letter of 1539 (Appendix I), Varchi asks Bronzino and Tribolo to look over his translation of book 13 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Varchi seems to be seeking their views on the overall readability of this translation rather than its accuracy.
The subject of Renaissance artists' literary culture and education remains an elusive topic. Very little is known of Bronzino's life before he commenced working with Pontormo in 1518-19. Like many artists, Bronzino began painting at a fairly young age. McCorquodale, 13, estimates that Bronzino entered Raffaellino del Garbo's workshop at the age of eleven. Bronzino would have received only a rudimentary education before he began working full time as an artist. The extent, if any, of Bronzino's knowledge of Latin remains an open question. Bronzino was likely familiar with vernacular translations and anthologies of classical texts. Notwithstanding what appears to be a rather sketchy education, Bronzino's friendships with men like Varchi and Luca Martini clearly refined his cultural sensibilities.
23 For Bronzino's other workings of this Dantesque line, see "La pace," 58-60, "Lo sdegno," 73-75, and "Del bisogno," 1:22-24. For examples of Bronzino's parodies of Petrarch, see the "Capitolo contro a le campane" and "La vergogna."
24 Symonds, 355; Furno, 63.
25 Longhi, 2.
26 "Le vocabulaire des burlesques," observes Toscan, 1:140, "est un vocabulaire de travestissement de termes edeologiques [sic] et qui, par consequent se caracterise par une certain pauvrete au niveau des signifies et par une richesse exuberante au niveau des signficants." While the signifieds - the obscenities - are limited, the signifiers - the sexual euphemisms - are unlimited.
27 Although the agency of the "I" is not obvious, I assume that the speaker in a burlesque poem is essentially the author. See Gaston, "Love's Sweet Poison," 271, for a discussion of "Il pennello." Gaston, 271, notes that Bronzino's capitolo "engages poetically" with Giulio Romano's drawings of different sexual positions and Pietro Aretino's series of sixteen sonnets, entitled "I modi" (c.1525). Marcantonio Raimondi subsequently made engravings based on Romano's illustrations. Raimondi's engravings and Aretino's sonnets were published c.1525, probably in Venice. Because of its scabrous content, Clement VIII ordered all copies of the edition destroyed. Given that Bronzino claims that he could not enumerate "de' mille uno de' diversi atti e raodi [my emphasis] stravaganti," and suggestively alludes to the various poses in which people are painted, it seems to me highly probable that the painter was familiar with this work. It should be noted, however, that the teasing, ambivalent language of "Il pennello" differs dramatically from the graphic language of Merino sonnets. For a discussion of Romano's, Aretino's, and Raimonali's contributions to this work, see I modi.
28 "Les uns recoivent le phallus (si ritrae) entre les fesses (sul letto) ou prennent les positions les mieux adaptees aux jeux de l'a rebours (faticose): debout et jouant du seant (ritto e a sedere); certains tiennent en main ce que vous savez, alors che d'autres l'ont deja entonne." See Toscan, 1:336-37.
29 See Toscan, 1:546, for an analysis of the arrosto/lesso opposition in burlesque poetry. For Berni's use of the arrosto/lesso opposition in a similarly ambiguous way, see Romei's commentary to the "Capitolo della primiera" and the "Capitolo in laude d'Aristotele" in his edition of the poems.
30 Although "dondolare" means "to swing" or "to rock" in present-day Italian, Petrucci Nardelli notes that it means "amusement" in this context. However, given that Bronzino is referring to the coursing of the galley across the seas, I believe that "dondolare" in this context refers to a rocking motion.
31 See Toscan, 2:1182 and 1:375 respectively, for a discussion of the equivocal meaning of "altalena" and "corto." Toscan notes that "corto" generally describes the duration of copulation in acts of sodomy.
32 See Toscan, 3:1351-54.
33 See Toscan, 1:435, on "dentro" and "fuori."
34 The allusion to someone wandering mad through the world also evokes Orlando's madness after his discovery of Angelica's marriage to Medoro in the Orlando furioso.
35 See Longhi, 57-94, for a discussion of the popularity of the theme of food in burlesque poetry.
36 Petrarch, 265.
37 With respect to Boccaccio, Bronzino notes that the writer gave the name Fra Cipolla to one of his more scurrilous monks "per mostrar di fuori/come cosa di forza e di gran pregio/certi segreti e non intesi errori" ("La Cipolla," 3:220-22, 229-31).
38 Dante, 153.
39 It is worth noting that a painting which has been attributed to Bronzino's workshop, the Allegorical Portrait of Dante in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C, depicts the poet holding the Commedia open to this passage. For a recent discussion of the authorship of this painting, see Nelson, 67-68.
40 See Longhi, 60, for other examples of burlesque poems which parody the laurel crown of poets.
41 See Toscan, 2:907-78, for a discussion of the equivocal meaning of numbers in burlesque poetry.
42 See Toscan, 4:s.v., for the equivocal meanings of these terms. Many of the words listed have more than one equivocal meaning.
43 Bronzino has a clear affinity for Dante's verses. The pervasive presence of Dante's verses in Bronzino's capitoli ultimately constitutes an affectionate and whimsical tribute to a poet whom Bronzino admired greatly. Dante's Commedia lends itself particularly well to parody. The Commedia's terza rima rhyme scheme is the same as that of the capitolo. This metrical scheme with its open rambling structure enables Bronzino to incorporate and transform Dantesque lines. Bronzino seems to take particular delight in exploring and developing equivocal meanings for Dante's verses. In this respect Bronzino vigorously pursues exactly the kind of obscene linguistic transformations decried by the speaker in chapter 22 of Della Casa's Galateo.
44 Pilliod, 95, shows that Bronzino alludes to two of his actual neighbors, a leather dresser and a spice merchant named Capello. Pilliod also speculates that "I romori" may have been impired by a satirical letter of Seneca's. The subject is a well known literary topos: Juvenal, in one of his poems, complains about the cacophony of dry life. Bronzino decries bothersome noises, especially the ringing of bells, in the "Capitolo contro a le campane." Both poems were addressed to Luca Martini. In a letter of 9 August 1545 written to Pier Francesco Ricci Bronzino alludes to the "Capitolo contro a le campane" while enjoying the rustic tranquillity of the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano where he was assisting Portormo on some fresco decorations. Bronzino writes: "Circa le Campane, vi cofesso che m'hanno non manco infastidito scrivendone, che costi mi facessino udendole, tanto che non so quel che mi faro di loro, pure me le soho levate dinanzi." For the text of this letter, see Carteggio, 2:330. See "Capitolo contro ale campane," 325-37, for the painter's description of the peaceful surroundings at the villa.
45 Rocke, 152.
46 Ibid., 153.
47 In the late fifteenth century encounters with prostitutes as well as same sex encounters often took place around the area of the Mercato Vecchio and the Chiasso de' Buoi. See Trexler, 1003, and Rocke, 154. Rocke, 154, notes that one street in particular was "a recognized rendevous and 'cruising' area for males looking for sex with boys." This was the via tra' Pelliciai, a street running from via Porta Possa into the Mercato Vecchio.
48 See Rocke, 161-75, for a discussion of the character of sexual relations among males in Florence in the late fifteenth century.
49 Luigi Pulci cited in Toscan, 3:1215.
50 See Toscan, 3:1215, on the ambiguity of the word "succiare."
51 Rocke, 155. For a discussion of prostitutes' use of the "hatstealing" trick, see Trexler. By the end of "Il pinto," however, the narrator celebrates sodomy. Among the other equivocal incidents in "Il pinto" are the appearance of a "uomo leggero," probably a euphemism for Arcigrandone's penis, the discussion of a hybrid tree - half sorb, half fig, and the allusion to Ganymede at the end of the journey.
52 On the currency of this expression in Bronzino's time, see Lee, 197.
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|Title Annotation:||painter and poet Agnolo Bronzino|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1997|
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