“From Arms to Letters: Presenting Masculinity in the Child Portraits of Giovanni de’ Medici, Cardinal-Prince”. The New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies. March 8, 2018 - March 10, 2018

International Meeting or Conference

Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned portraits of his children throughout his reign (1537-74); the majority depict his second son, Giovanni (1543-62) as exceptional through the inclusion of atypical and often overlooked attributes. Though some of Giovanni's portraits have been studied individually, there has been no focus on their significance as a group, allowing for new consideration of unique choices of representation that departed from contemporary conventions. Examination of nine childhood portraits captures the transition of a boy in infanzia (age 0-7) bearing arms to a man-child in puerizia (age 7-14) with letters. From infancy, Giovanni was positioned for a dual destiny; either as a leader of Florence or the Church. Giovanni’s desired trajectory demanded unusually complex representation through a visual campaign crafted to broadcast his exceptionalism. Created in cinquecento Florence during a period of diplomatic exchange between the Medici and the papal court, Giovanni’s portraits are analyzed in comparison to those of Italian and European peers. Presenting an alternate model of humanist maturity and masculinity, his portraits can be viewed as an attempt by the Medici to distinguish themselves from other princely families. Evaluation of this visual campaign suggests that the Medici developed a formula of representation directed toward the pope rather than the Emperor, in their desire to use Giovanni as a vehicle to promote Medici power in Rome. These findings indicate that the comparative analysis of child portraits in sequence in addition to evaluation in isolation may yield new readings and information about patron intent.

Service Performed By


  • March 8, 2018 - March 10, 2018

Host Organization

  • The New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Location or Venue

  • Sarasota, Florida