Constructing the image of a cardinal-prince: Child portraits of Giovanni de' Medici by bronzino and Salviati
Duke Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned portraits of his children throughout his reign (1537-1574). The majority depict his second son, Giovanni (1543-1562), and are exceptional because of the inclusion of atypical and often overlooked attributes that distinguish his images from those his siblings and other courtly youth of the mid-fifteenth century. Though some of these portraits have been studied individually, they have not been studied as a group, allowing for new consideration of unique visual choices that depart from contemporary conventions. Giovanni's nine individual childhood portraits capture his transition from a boy in infanzia (age 0-7) bearing arms to a man-child in puerizia (age 7-14) with books. Because Giovanni was positioned from infancy for a dual destiny as a leader of Florence or the Church, his expected trajectory demanded an unusually complex representation through a visual campaign that was crafted to broadcast his exceptional position. The present paper analyzes Giovanni's portraits in comparison to more than 700 portraits of his Italian and European peers. Created in Florence during a period of diplomatic exchange between the Medici and the papal court, these representations of Giovanni as a child present an alternate model of humanist maturity and masculinity, and illustrate an attempt by the Medici to distinguish themselves from other princely families. The critical evaluation of this visual campaign suggests that the Medici developed a formula of representation directed toward the pope, rather than the Holy Roman Emperor, in their desire to use Giovanni as a vehicle to promote Medici power in Rome. Ultimately, these findings indicate that the comparative analysis of one child's portraits in sequence, in addition to their evaluation in isolation, can yield new readings and information about patrons' intentions and the visual conventions of early modern portraiture.
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