Questions to Ponder regarding Bronzino’s Methods of Engagement in his Portraiture:

1. What is the paragone debate? When did it begin and when was its heyday?
2. What are the characteristics of Cosimo I de’Medici as Orpheus that make it such a distinctive portrait?
3. How does Bronzino achieve “rilievo” in this painting?
4. Do you subscribe to the author’s interpretation of the wall-eyed gaze in this work? If we concede that it was a desirable trait in the cinquecento (because it was a sign of uniqueness?), is it employed in this portrait to subvert the viewer’s gaze?
5. Does Bronzino employ the double gaze in other portraits? Why is it particularly “fitting” in the portrait of Cosimo I as Orpheus?
6. What other devices could painting employ to “defeat” sculpture in the paragone contest?
7. Does the double gaze trump the science of perspective in Bronzino’s portraits?
8. Where do you stand in the paragone debate? Discuss!

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21 responses

  1. As a classics major, of course I want to address the mythological components of Cosimo I de’Medici as Orpheus!

    First of all, I think that Orpheus does not work really well as a character for a wedding painting, at least its something I would never want. It’s true that Orpheus loved his wife Eurydice (or so it is said), enough to travel to the underworld to bring her back. I had to look at the picture closer online in color, but you can definitely see Cerberus and the pathway in the upper right of the painting is the path to the Underworld, which is a pretty good depiction of what it might look like. However, Verstegen so tactfully leaves out an important aspect of the myth! When Orpheus came to the Underworld, Hades and Persephone permitted Eurydice to leave with him as long as he did not look back the entire way home. If he turned for even one second, she would be forced to return to the Underworld permanently. So this ties into the wall-eyed aspect of the painting nicely, because it almost foreshadows what will happen on the trip back. With his two eyes looking in separate directions, Orpheus will not be able to help himself from looking back and losing her (which he does in the myth).

    So for someone who knows the myth, this painting is quite amusing. Not to mention the fact that another reason this painting would be a horrible wedding present is that in the myth, Eurydice dies on her wedding day from a snake bite. Once again, I must state a horrible wedding present. Sorry for my long tangent but I couldn’t resist!

    – Jess

    • Wow, I didn’t really know about the myth until the reading but of course it still left much to be said. And the author also conveniently left out that little part as well; whether it was purposeful in order to feel sympathetic and empathize Bronzino’s intent of the portrait, who really knows. But it is rather amusing with the interpretation of the of the story in the painting. Why they thought it would make a suitable wedding gift is beyond me.

    • I literally laughed out loud when I read your post, Jess, because I know the Orpheus myth well! I agree that in that sense, the painting would make a terrible omen of a wedding present–unless one were considering Orpheus’ heroic qualities and musical skill.

      I am personally unclear on how to distinguish the double gaze from the double aspect–are they the same thing?? Is the double aspect referring to the illusion of depth, or to the two fields of vision? Am I the only one who found da Vinci’s diagram a bit of a puzzle?

      The paragone debate is a contest of sculpture versus painting as the ultimate, most superior form of art. It could continue forever! I am generally opposed to choosing one art form over another. Although they can both be used to capture a likeness, two dimensional art has similar but different production aims and process than three dimensional art. Sculpture offers multiple perspectives at once; it is made for the viewer to move around and look at it from several angles. One form is not superior to the other! Both have tailored purposes, strengths and weaknesses.

  2. I’d love to go over the perspective diagrams. I was able to follow Leonardo da Vinci’s, but found myself completely confused by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola’s. I don’t think we need to devote too much time to this, but it would help my overall understanding.

    I’m not quite sure Bronzino achieves relievo in “Cosimo I de’ Medici As Orpheus.” I believe that the double-gaze allows for an interruption between the sitter and viewer (28) but I’m not convinced that there is any stereoscopy present here. What do you all think?

    Jess, you’re point about the double-gaze referencing Orpheus’ mistake of looking back at Eurydice is really interesting! I never would have thought about it that way, but really like that idea. I also would like to second you by saying that the story of Orpheus is not one that I would want to commemorate my marriage!

    Overall, this article was interesting, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was lacking in evidence after I finished reading it. See you all tomorrow!

    • I have to agree with you there about whether or not Bronzino achieves rilievo in in Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus. I took pains this time to define all the words that I was unfamiliar with (and that counts for a lot, or maybe I had the patience for once since I read the article ahead of time and it was the shortest by far that we have read) and in the definition of rilievo and stereoscopy it’s hard to imagine that the painting exemplifies a ‘relief sculpture of shapes carved on a surface to stand out from the background.

      Stereoscopy is a little more confusing to me since it’s hard to imagine a painting as 3 dimensional due to the fusion of two slightly different views of a scene on each retina. Is it the subject of the painting’s viewpoint that accounts for the somewhat optical illusion of 3 dimensionality or is it the viewers perception? It’s a little confusing because I can’t exactly see how the eyesight of the subject i.e. Orpheous contributes to the effect of the viewer doing a double take of the alternate gaze. They look more cross eyed to me. I can understand Bronzino’s intent on focusing more on the figural contortions than the visual effect to have paintings approximate sculpture and prove Leonardo da Vinci wrong about paintings not being “in depth” or naturalistic.

      By the way, does anyone else think that Leonardo’s whole commentary in the case of the Paragone Debate kind of douche bagg-ish? I don’t know, I guess we’ll discuss it tomorrow. Other than that, it was a very interesting article and not as hard to read as i thought it would be.

      • Leonardo and Michelangelo, from my understanding, did not always see eye to eye. Both of them sort of fought with each other to justify their own artistic practices, hence where the paragone comes from. I feel like he had to be a little cocky about painting in order to justify it more.

  3. I am really intruiged by this idea of the paragone and how it created debates among painters and sculptors about which is the better of more visually stimulating art.

    This article really helped clarify, rather logically with variable, why and how artists created the double gaze. I have always thought that this phenomenon was weird and maybe even the mistake of the artist, but I now know that it was purposeful and witty

    Jess- I sure am glad we have a classics person in the class!! The connection you make with the story behind the mythological character is so convincing to the whole double meaning apsect of the painting.

    I am excited to talk more about this and what skepticism we have about it tomorrow!

  4. Wow, Jess, I love your interpretation of the gaze and agree with everyone else that this is not an ideal wedding present!

    I was more than a little surprised to discover that this “double gaze” might have actually been perceived as a positive and “unique” feature! Times have certainly changed. I found the entire article fascinating. I thought the graphs were helpful, though at times I was a little confused, much like Katharine, by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola. While the figure certainly stands out from the background, I am not sure that rilivo is achieved in the painting.

    I am really excited to look forward to discussing this tomorrow! There are so many interesting opinions here already formed and I can’t wait to hear them!

  5. Hello portrait friends!!

    First of all, can we talk about the graphs? Specifically the one by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola…I apologize if this is super easy to you all, but honestly, I have always been challenged anytime a graph is introduced! (I am glad Katherine and Natalie agree!)

    In reference to Dr. Sadler’s last question: Honestly, from what I learned from this article, I find the paragone debate (that places sculpture against painting in an effort to see which is superior) to be about as ridiculous as a debate over the superiority of vanilla or chocolate. Neither is better than the other, since art (like flavors) is quite subjective! Sculpture occupies a different place in art than does painting. Like you all have said, both have weaknesses and strengths. So to answer Vylencia’s question, yes, I also think that Leonardo’s opinions on the Paragone Debate to be “kind of douche bagg-ish.”

    Jess: Your analysis is fabulous! Thanks for the quickie version of the myth. What a crap wedding gift! I mean, the only reason I could see this wonky-eyed picture as being a nice wedding gift for the wife is if Cosimo just wanted his wife to have a nice picture of his back/arm/thigh (haha). Or maybe to use it as a memento for when he is old of how his body looked when they got married?

    What I loved about this article: On page 28, the author suggests that the double gaze is a device Bronzino invented to interrupt the exchange between the sitter and viewer, permitting the patrons/ sitters to guard their privacy, and that this dual gaze would disrupt identification with the sitter– I actually really like this idea! We often, in our class at least, want to look at a portrait and “read” into what we see and attempt to demystify the face of the sitter, we want to identify with said sitter (remember me putting Marilyn Monroe’s entire life story onto her images on the Warhol piece?), so I think this theory of the double gaze is extremely clever (even if it is incredible bizarre to look at…)

    See you all in the morning! –Jenna

  6. P.S. about the paragone: isn’t it almost more effective to justify something by not not commenting on it? When people try too hard to say one thing is soo much better than something else by pointing out that other thing’s weaknesses, it seems like they’re almost trying to cover up their own thing’s weakness. (God I am so eloquent!! haha not.) So Leonardo being, as Sarah said, “a little cocky about painting in order to justify it more” just seems to me like he is trying to point fingers at the weakness of something else (sculpture) so that no one will notice the weakness of painting.

    I hope this makes sense!!! I realize trying to discuss scholarly works at 2 am is really, really risky….

  7. My understanding of the paragone debate is that it is a discussion about the merits of painting versus sculpture. Artists not only competed with each other but with the classical Greek and Roman artists. This developed during the Renaissance, and as we know this word means “rebirth” because art all’antica was intended to be created in the same manner as ancient art. I don’t see the reason for the debate between which medium is better. I see the power in sculpture as much as I do in paintings. I love the 3-dimensionality of sculpture, its durability and naturalism. With paintings I am moved by bold colors, realism and imagination. Painting definitely has a strong advantage over sculpture when it comes to the power of color!

    I found it interesting to read the posts from the previous class and to learn more about the story of Orpheus! This adds so much more intrigue to the work, which I found to be about as weird as you can get for a wedding present!! I am interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the double gaze.

    • Definitely would have preferred the steak knife set for a wedding present. Yes you are quite right about the Paragone—it was really more about who had the artistic upper hand—-did sculpture or painting best rival nature? It all goes back to the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius and who could outwit the audience, be it birds or people….again, am curious about how students will react to this article.

  8. I found this article more than a little hard to follow, but from what I did gather is was very interesting. I’d like to apologize in advance for any typos in my post as I’m posting from my phone (I’m out of town on a family matter).
    I’d like the focus personally on what I felt made Cosimo I de’Medici’s portrait as Orpheus so interesting to me personally from an observational standpoint.

    Bronzino’s focus on the pose and gaze of the sitter draws in an observer, and the title of Orpheus, while interesting almost doesn’t fit who I see in the image. His depiction of Cosimo as Orpheus rather looks like his depiction of Pan/a satyr within the chair arm in another of his portraits. Even while holding his instrument and surrounded by his hunting dogs, this depiction reads more micheveous than the sad talented figure of Orpheus from mythology. Thoughts?

    I realize this is an incredibly topical analysis, and I’m very sorry! I really struggled to get a grip on this piece!!

    • Argh—-my apologies. It was a lengthy and not always rewarding article to assign to the class. I think your reflections on Bronzino’s portrait of Cosimo I as Orpheus are interesting and would be worth following up with comparisons to other depictions of Orpheus, both as a mythological figure and as a portrait in the guise of Orpheus.

  9. I thought that this article was interesting, but dense and hard to get through at times. The depiction of Cosimo as Orpheus has always been a very bizarre depiction for me and this article did not do much to reverse my opinion of that! There is something about a Duke being guised as a naked mythological figure that I never liked too much. In comparison to the other more formal state portraits of Cosimo discussed in this article the Orpheus portrait is rather confrontational due to the direct gaze and nudity of the Duke. Although it was a common trend for royalty to want to depict themselves as a mythological figure both the story of Orpheus and the way Bronzino represents his subject feels off. Also I find it interesting that in the portrait examples provided it is the Duchess that engages the viewer head on, where as the Duke is always looking off to the side (with the exception of the Orpheus painting).

    I would like to discuss more about the double gaze I am not sure if I fully understand the definition of this. There are so many gazes we can discusses within art history. In the painting of Cosimo as Orpheus can we call this the male gaze if the male is a mythological figure/we are considering the double gaze?

  10. Ah yes, the double gaze and does it exist? I think it may be useful to go back to the roots of the gaze (Laura Mulvey, et. al.) and talk about the uses of the term from a feminist perspective and contrasting the male and female gaze. Here is a simple definition: http://panels.net/2015/04/20/male-gaze-vs-female-gaze/
    But the double gaze may just be a useful fiction, which frankly does not in my opinion enhance our understanding of these Bronzino portraits.

  11. 3. I am unsure what “Rilievo” means so I did end up looking it up. The definition I found is relief, which is a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following a release of anxiety or distress. If it means this, then I am unsure if it is in “rilievo”. Since the figure faces and stares at us, it feels as if it is confrontational. It is just so different than other Bronzino paintings of the time. In this work, Cosimo is portrayed as being Orpheus. Like Grace, I do not understand why the artist or the sitter would choose to be Orpheus. It just seems like an interesting choice.

  12. First, I wanted to mention how I loved the way this article described the process of proving the identity of the two portraits of the man and lady, and how they worked to pair the two together as well, and how they were able to make the argument that Bronzino had worked from one cartoon to create these portraits, and it becomes fairly apparent when presented with the visuals.
    I totally agree with you Grace on how it can be a bit odd to see a member of the upper class, or any specific person really, portrayed purposefully in the nude, especially when it is done mainly for the aesthetic value/ is just referential to greek and roman styles.
    As to the double gaze idea, I’m also a bit confused, but at least in regards to the Orpheus painting, my first thought looking at it is that the viewer is meant to be Eurydice, and as sight is so important to their story, Bronzino has caught Orpheus in the moment when he first turns back to look at his beloved, but has not yet lost her quite yet. I looked for a lighter version of the painting, and in the background is some light shining on the path, so Orpheus is still on his way back from the underworld, so it seems to me to be that moment as he tries to bring his love back.
    I personally do not like the paragone debate at all. I adore both painting and sculpture because they are so different and they have different purposes but can also reference each other and learn from the other. I do not understand the need for a debate of the merits of the two when the comparison between them seems ridiculous to me anyway, but maybe that is just me.

    • Rilievo in this context actually refers to relief sculpture and thus has to do with the paragone debate—which I realize seems absurd to a 21st-century audience, but was all the rage in the Renaissance. I believe it was all about creating the illusion of another medium in either painting or sculpture so that one’s carved curtain looked like velvet and one’s painted putti looked like carved nude mischievous babies. Which medium/artist can outwit the other? Remind me to tell you about the wetting games that became popular during the 16th century! Stokes I am glad that you appreciated the careful looking that went into this article on Bronzino’s portraits—I’m afraid it was rather lengthy and perhaps too focused on individual works to have greater value or wider application to the subject of this course.

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