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Portait of Cosimo I de' Medici

Allori Alessandro

(Florence 1535 - 1607)

This painting derives from an original by Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo) dating to 1560, of which numerous copies and variations were made, some directly in the master’s workshop. Among these figures the Borghese panel, which is one of the best. Critics believe it to be the work of Alessandro Allori, who was Bronzino’s first collaborator. Of unknown provenance, the work was first documented with certainty in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1833, when it was ascribed to Cristofano Allori, Alessandro’s son.

Object details

post 1560
oil on panel
cm 84 x 66

Salvator Rosa, 102.5 x 84.5 x 8.7 cm


Borghese Collection, first cited in Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 13, no. 15; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2008-2009 Brügge, Groeningemuseum
  • 2010-2011 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi
  • 2020-2021 Genova, Palazzo Ducale
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1905-1909 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1937 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1992 Istituto Centrale del Restauro
  • 2009 Laura Ferretti


Bronzino’s painting portraying Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici at the age of 40 is cited in two contemporary documents. The first is a Medicean inventory which lists ‘a portrait of His Excellency Duke Cosimo executed in the year 1560’; the second is an extract from Vasari’s Lives (Florence, 1568, p. 866), which narrates that ‘Bronzino executed the portrait of the Duke when his Excellency was come to the age of forty’. The work in question is clearly connected to this prototype; yet in the context of the numerous copies that were made, critics are still uncertain as to which of these is the original.

The Borghese panel is a half-length portrait of the Duke in a three-quarter pose. Cosimo wears not an official uniform but a mantle made from precious fabrics – silk and fur – whose fine details are carefully rendered, as seen in the edges of the garment richly decorated in gold and the simple embroidered handkerchief which he holds in his hand. The half-length depiction and the duke’s pose are identical to those of another such portrait, also replicated on many occasions, which shows Cosimo some 15 years younger, dressed in armour with his right hand resting on his helmet. (The original of this version is also attributed to Bronzino and is believed to be the exemplar held at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.) Aside from the beard, which is just visible in the younger portrait but longer in the more mature one, the most marked difference between the two versions is his dress, which points to a clear choice on Cosimo’s part for how he wished to be represented. With the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis of 1559 and the definitive conquest of Siena – which had been threatened by the presence of the French – Cosimo had in fact extended his dominion over much of Tuscany; it was this circumstance which probably induced him to commission an image of himself that better reflected the new stability of his duchy. Indeed the duke no longer needed to have himself portrayed in armour, as a condottiere ready to defend his dominions; the substitution of the white handkerchief for the helmet evidently also indicates this change. The production of a great number of copies of both portraits confirms their propagandistic character and points to the political function of these images, some of which were donated for diplomatic purposes (Geremicca 2010, p. 142).

The provenance of this painting is still unsure; the first certain reference to it in connection with the Borghese Collection dates to 1833, when the Inventario Fidecommissario cited it as a ‘portrait of Cosmo de’ Medici, by Cristofaro Allori, 2 spans 11 inches wide, 3 spans 9 inches high, on panel’. The subject, support material and dimensions all match those of the work in question.

By contrast, the dimensions given in a payment receipt of five scudi made out to Battista Serio in 1618 for ‘having made a frame for the portrait of the Grand Duke of Tuscany (9 spans high by 6 ¾), in beechwood’ are too large for our work. The possibility that the panel in question is the one referred to in this document is thus ruled out, in spite of the hypothesis cautiously put forth by Paola Della Pergola to this effect (1959, p. 21). The receipt probably concerns the larger portrait of Cosimo mentioned in the inventory of Scipione Borghese which was discovered and published by Sandro Corradini (‘Un antico inventario della quadreria del Cardinal Borghese’, in Bernini scultore. La nascita del barocco in Casa Borghese, exhibition catalogue, edited by A. Coliva, S. Schütze and A. Campitelli (Rome, Galleria Borghese, 1998, pp. 449-56)). This inventory dates to roughly 1633 (for a discussion of this dating, see S. Pierguidi, ‘“In materia totale di pitture si rivolsero al singolar Museo Borghesiano”’, in Journal of the History of Collections, XXVI, 2014:2, pp. 161-170).

Yet another version of the portrait appears in the same inventory, yet unfortunately the entry lacks indications useful for determining its correspondence to any of the numerous known exemplars, including our panel. Nonetheless, the mention of this work attests to the popularity of Bronzino’s original as well as to the early presence of at least two copies deriving from it in the Borghese Collection.

The attribution to ‘Cristofaro Allori’ made in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario led some critics to rather propose Alessandro Allori, Cristofano’s father, as the actual artist, or more generally to consider it a product of Bronzino’s workshop, from which many copies of the work must have issued (Longhi 1928, p. 186; Della Pergola, 1959; Baccheschi 1973, pp. 103-104; Langedijk 1981, pp. 86-88, 420; Simon 1982, pp. 151-158, 297; Lecchini Giovannoni 1991, p. 304; Cecchi 2012, p. 344, and 2020, pp. 341-342). Some early 20th-century scholars were more audacious, suggesting that the Borghese panel was the prototype described by Vasari (Schulze 1911, p. XXXVI; Voss 1920, I, p. 229; Mc Comb 1928, p. 119, 127, 140; Venturi 1933, p. 73, who had previously ascribed it to Bronzino’s workshop); yet over time later critics rejected this thesis in favour of a follower. The quality of the work, which perhaps establishes it as the best of the known copies, provides evidence for an attribution to Bronzino’s first collaborator, Alessandro Allori, whose style is evident here (Lecchini Giovannoni, 1991).

The dating of the original portrait to 1560 given in the above-mentioned Medicean inventory suggests that the Borghese panel was executed shortly thereafter.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • F. Harck, Quadri di Maestri Italiani in possesso di privati a Berlino, in “Archivio Storico dell’Arte”, I, 1889, p. 205.
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 250.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 81.
  • G. Lafenestre, E. Richtenberger, La peinture en Europe. Rome. Les Musées, les Collections particulières, les Palais, Paris 1905, p. 14.
  • J.A. Rusconi, La Villa, il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 82.
  • H. Schulze, Die Werke Angelo Bronzino, Strassburg 1911, p. XXXVI.
  • H. Voss, Die Molerei der Spätrenaissance in Rom und Florenz, Berlin 1920, I, p. 229
  • Wallace Collection Catalogues. Pictures and Drawings, (15a ed.), London 1928, p. 40.
  • C. Galassi Paluzzi, Indice delle Opere di Pittura esistenti in Roma, in “Roma”, VI, 1928, p. 267.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 186.
  • A. Mc Comb, Angelo Bronzino. His Life and Works, Cambridge 1928, pp. 119, 127, 140.
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, IX (parte 6), Roma 1933, p. 73.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 20, n. 19.
  • A. Emiliani, Il Bronzino, Busto Arsizio 1960, p. 103.
  • D. Heikamp, Die Bildwerke des Clemente Bandinelli, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Institutes in Florenz”, IX, 1959-1960 (1960), II, p. 135.
  • E. Baccheschi, Il Bronzino, Milano 1973, pp. 103-104, n. 113a.
  • K. Langedijk, The Portraits of the Medici. 15th-18th Centuries, I, Firenze 1981, pp. 86-88, 420, n. 34.
  • R.B. Simon, Bronzino’s Portraits of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Ph.D. Diss., New York, Columbia University 1982, pp. 151-158, 297, B26.
  • S. Lecchini Giovannoni, Alessandro Allori, Torino 1991, p. 304, n. 186.
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 339, n. 1.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 35.
  • A. Cecchi, in Stradanus, 1523-1605. Court Artist of the Medici, catalogo della mostra (Brügge, Groeningemuseum, 2008-2009), a cura di A. Baroni Vannucci et alii, Turnhout 2012, p. 344.
  • A. Geremicca in Bronzino. Pittore e poeta alla corte dei Medici, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, 2010-2011), a cura di C. Falciani, A. Natali, Firenze 2010, pp. 142-143, n. II.16.
  • A. Cecchi, in Michelangelo divino artista, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Palazzo Ducale, 2020-2021), a cura di C. Acidini Luchinat, A. Cecchi, E. Capretti, Genova 2020, pp. 341-342, n. 117.