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Oil painting - Portrait of Isabella de Medici
  • Portrait of Isabella de Medici
    Bronzino, Agnolo, born 1503 - died 1572
  • Enlarge image

Portrait of Isabella de Medici

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (painted)

  • Date:

    late 17th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bronzino, Agnolo, born 1503 - died 1572 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on limewood panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Mitchell

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Osterley Park House, London

Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) was born in Florence and first trained under Raffaellino del Garbo (ca.1466-1524) and then with Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557) who largely influenced his art. As court painter to Cosimo I de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Bronzino produced a number of portraits as well as religious and mythological works. Bronzino also worked on decorative schemes and executed a number of works now lost, damaged or destroyed such as lunettes and the allegorical fresco decorations in the many Medici's villas and palace in and out Florence.

This painting is a copy after the famous portrait of Isabella de' Medici by Agnolo Bronzino, in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. She is represented in a lavish black and white satin dress, wearing a pearl neck while a very fine almost transparent veil hold by a head brooch covers her hair. The whole figure is set against a dark neutral background that enhanced by contrast her extreme pallor and the delicate modelling of her face, typical characteristics of Bronzino's art.

Physical description

Portrait of an elegant lady with dark hair hold by a head brooch; she wears a black and white satin dress with a rolled up large white collar and puffed leaves.

Place of Origin

Florence (painted)


late 17th century (painted)


Bronzino, Agnolo, born 1503 - died 1572 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on limewood panel

Marks and inscriptions

'Rustica Medica'
Inscribed on the back


Height: 61 cm estimate, Width: 45.4 cm estimate

Object history note

Bequeathed by George Mitchell, 1878

Historical significance: This painting is a copy with some noticeable differences of Bronzino's portrait of Isabella de Medici, (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) the daughter of Cosimo I Duke of Tuscany, executed around 1560-65 when she was about 25 years old. Bronzino who was the official court painter of Cosimo I de Medici executed many portraits of the Medici family including Duke Cosimo himself, his wife, Eleonora di Toledo and their children as well as important characters of the Medici court. The Uffizi painting is a fine example of Bronzino's new approach to portraiture intended as propagandist images of the Medici rules combined with polished forms and colouristic effects.
Bronzino chose to represent Isabella de Medici's bust in three-quarter profile. She originally wears a black and white satin dress enlivened with golden stripes and slashed sleeves surmounted by finestrelle. The present painting reproduces this outfit without the golden stripes and adds a yellowish cloth at the bottom of her large ruff. Her pearl necklace originally echoed her headgear also made of pearl holding a delicate veil, here replaced by a head brooch. The modelling of her face with a subtle play of shadow and red hues delineating her cheeks and chin are less pronounced in the V&A picture, which overall quality is far inferior to the original work.
The overall picture conveys a sense of intelligent beauty and great serenity, forming thus an idealised image of the sitter and reflecting a different conception of identity based more on the sitter's social status than on her physical likeness. Here Bronzino enhanced the particular status of a Medici woman who was privileged a certain freedom and independence compare with the other women her age. Duke Cosimo particularly protected his daughter Isabella who was able to reside in Florence even after her marriage with the Duke of Bracciano, Paolo Giordano Orsini. She however had to pay a high price for this as after her father's death, she was accused of adultery with her husband's cousin, Troilo Orsini, and strangled to death on Paolo Giordano's order.

Historical context note

In his encyclopaedic work, Historia Naturalis, the ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder described the origins of painting in the outlining of a man's projected shadow in profile. In the ancient period, profile portraits were found primarily in imperial coins. With the rediscovery and the increasing interest in the Antique during the early Renaissance, artists and craftsmen looked back to this ancient tradition and created medals with profile portraits on the obverse and personal devise on the reverse in order to commemorate and celebrate the sitter. Over time these profile portraits were also depicted on panels and canvas, and progressively evolved towards three-quarter and eventually frontal portraits.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Portrait of Isabella de' Medici', after Agnolo Bronzino, late 17th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 47-48, cat. no. 49.
Gabrielle Langdon, Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal from the Court of Duke Cosimo I, Toronto-London, 2006.
Caroline P. Murphy, Isabella de' Medici, London, 2009.


Oil paint; Linden


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figure; Portrait


Paintings; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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