Sketch for the ceiling fresco in the Capella d’Eleonora di Toledo, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

ca. 1540/41

Pen in black and brown ink, brush in grey and brown ink over black pencil, brown wash, heightened in white, on grey-blue tinted paper
Inv. No. 4344 (Purchased by Johann Friedrich Städel)

34.3 × 16.2 cm

zur  Biographie

Following a period of political turmoil, Cosimo I (1519–1574) used his long reign to reconsolidate the Medici power in Florence. Made a duke in 1537, two years later he married the daughter of the Spanish viceroy of Naples, Eleonora di Toledo (1522–1562). It was also in this period that he moved to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city palace. Agnolo Bronzino, pupil and close collaborator of Pontormo, was commissioned to decorate the duchess’s private chapel. The result was one of the great masterworks of Florentine Mannerism, and Bronzino became the leading artist at Cosimo’s court.


Putti clutching long bands of garlands divide the ceiling of the tiny chapel into four zones, each of which features a different saint: above the altar, the Archangel Michael defends two souls (personified as little children) against the devil; to his left is St. John the Evangelist, accompanied by an eagle, followed by St. Francis receiving the stigmata and, finally, the penitent St. Jerome with a lion. The sheet in the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings, acquired by Johann Friedrich Städel as a work by Raphael’s pupil Giulio Romano, served as the modello for the ceiling painting. It was probably executed around 1540 in order to provide the artist’s patron with an impression of how the final work would look.


The washed pen drawing, executed on grey-blue tinted paper and heightened in white, tells nothing of the brilliant coloration and porcelainlike surface of the final fresco. It shows the arrangement of the figures, their poses and three-dimensional form, as well as the manner in which the scenes were to be lit. Deviations from a likewise extant preliminary sketch can be recognized in several places; the finished work, for its part, is different again, for example in the reversal of the group with St. Francis, which gives the ensemble a clockwise rotating orientation. Because of the chapel’s low ceiling, Bronzino decided against a strong foreshortening of the figures, which float on clouds. St. Michael, with his halfkneeling, half-seated pose, his »gyrating« limbs and strong orientation towards the pictorial plane is a downright anti-classical – and therefore exemplary Mannerist – figure.

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