Eleonora de Medici, the Duchess of Florence and wife of Cosimo de Medici is one of Sophia’s muses in the novel Italy my novel entitled “Dreaming Sophia.” I have always had a secret fantasy of dressing like Eleonora di Toledo. This desire is played out in a new book I have written called “Dreaming Sophia.” Have you seen the painting by Agnolo di Cosimo Bronzino of Eleonora? It is housed in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence and was painted around 1545.
The woman featured in the portrait is the wife of Cosimo I de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. She was the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, Don Pedro de Toledo, Marquis of Francavilla, the Viceroy of Naples, and the senior officer to Emperor Charles V.
In this charming portrait by Bronzino, Eleonora is regally seated beside her small child Giovanni. She gazes at the viewer, secure in her role as a wife, mother, mistress of a large house, regent, businesswoman, and contributor to the Medici dynasty. She is depicted as the ideal woman of the Renaissance. The intense blue of the background of the picture further emphasizes the stateliness of the woman. It enhances the marvelous beauty of Eleonora’s dress which visually overwhelms the figures in the picture.
As court painter to the Medici in Florence, Bronzino produced large numbers of portraits. His stylized figures, with their long lines and elegant poses, were highly admired by his Medici patrons. In this particular portrait, the artist pays particular attention to Eleonora’s elegant formal brocade gown, rendering it with an astonishingly clever artistic hand.
The clarity of style is photorealistic in style. The artist beautifully renders the dimensionality of the brocade silk fabric with its loops of gold, silver, and black arabesque designs. The motif is that of pomegranates, which refer to Eleonora’s abundant fertility and role as a mother. (In total, she produced eleven children!) Just by gazing at the painting, one can feel the weight of the fabric and the heft of the peals and gold ruby necklace that grace the duchesses’ throat.
Eleonora de Medici was a patron of the arts and a lover of fine things. In fact, Eleonora kept ten gold and silver weavers in her employ to work on her court attire! Although rumored to be a gambler, she was also a devoted wife and mother and increased the Medici holdings through her wise investments. Testimony to this can be seen in the Pitti Palace, which she purchased and refurbished, along with the Boboli Gardens that grace the palace grounds.
Apparently, I am not the only one who fantasizes about dressing up like Eleonora! A few years ago, Fausto Fornasari, a costume maker based near Mantua, set about recreating Eleonora’s gown that she wears in the Bronzino painting. It took Mr. Fornasari’s King Studio three years to reconstruct the dress, and the result is a faithful replication, down to the pearl-studded gold netting around the shoulders and the decorated sleeves.
Also, the next time you are in Florence, you can find a lovely little shop called Tharros Bijous where Carlo Amato, a Florentine jeweler, creates dazzling museum reproductions of jewelry found in famous masterpieces, like the necklace worn by Eleonora in Bronzino’s painting and by other celebrated artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Raffaello. In fact! Just today, I met the jeweler in Florence in Piazza della Repubblica!
So, even today, we can dress like royalty and adorn ourselves with jewels, just as if we had stepped out of a Renaissance painting!