Sunday, 9 October 2016


“The great beauty and striking presence of Venus led to an association by the Greeks with Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love. Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte and Venus are other names given to variations of this goddess in Western history, all associated with the planet. A knowledge of close coincidence between the cycles of Venus and human pregnancy may have contributed to the persistent, but nonexclusive of female characteristic to Venus. The Venus de Milo and Botticelli’s birth of Venus (popularly known as Venus on the Half Shell) are icons of this imagery in Western culture.” - Robert Hunter

Alessandro di Cristofano di Lorenzo del Bronzino Allori (Florence, 31 May 1535 – 22 September 1607) was an Italian portrait painter of the late Mannerist Florentine school. Mannerism is a style in European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520, lasting until about 1580 in Italy, when the Baroque style began to replace it. Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century. Stylistically, Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo.

Where High Renaissance art emphasises proportion, balance, and ideal beauty, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities, often resulting in compositions that are asymmetrical or unnaturally elegant. Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. Mannerism favours compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance painting. Mannerism in literature and music is notable for its highly florid style and intellectual sophistication.

Alessandro Allori lost his father when he was 5 years of age. In 1540, after the death of his father, he was brought up and trained in art by a close friend, often referred to as his “uncle”', the mannerist painter Agnolo Bronzino, whose name he sometimes assumed in his pictures. In some ways, Allori is the last of the line of prominent Florentine painters, of generally undiluted Tuscan artistic heritage: Andrea del Sarto worked with Fra Bartolomeo (as well as Leonardo da Vinci), Pontormo briefly worked under Andrea, and trained Bronzino, who trained Allori.

Subsequent generations in the city would be strongly influenced by the tide of Baroque styles pre-eminent in other parts of Italy. Some art critics deride Allori as derivative, claiming he illustrates the ideal of Mannerism by which art (and style) are generated out of pre-existing art. The polish of figures has an unnatural marble-like form as if he aimed for cold statuary. It can be said of late phase mannerist painting in Florence, that the city that had early breathed life into statuary with the works of masters like Donatello and Michelangelo, was still so awed by them that it petrified the poses of figures in painting.

While by 1600 the Baroque elsewhere was beginning to give life to painted figures, Florence was “painting two-dimensional statues”. Furthermore, in general, with the exception of the Contra-Maniera (Counter-Mannerism) artists, it dared not stray from high themes or stray into high emotion. Among his collaborators was Giovanni Maria Butteri and his main pupil was Giovanni Bizzelli. Cristoforo del Altissimo, Cesare Dandini, Aurelio Lomi, John Mosnier, Alessandro Pieroni, Giovanni Battista Vanni, and Monanni also were his pupils. Allori was one of the artists, working under Vasari, included in the decoration of the Studiola of Francesco I. He was the father of the painter Cristofano Allori (1577–1621).

Illustrated above is his “Venus and Cupid” c.1580-c.1607. Venus lies full-length, her head to the right, on blue-grey drapery. She teases Cupid by refusing him his bow and arrow, which she holds in her left hand. He leans across her right shoulder in an attempt to recover them, knowing that even Venus is susceptible to the irresistible power of his arrows that cause whoever is struck to fall in love. There are two doves, pink roses and a golden orb in the right foreground. These are all symbols of Venus, the doves being her sacred bird because of the pair bonding between them; the roses her sacred flowers as a symbol of love; and the golden ball being the prize Paris gave Venus as the most beautiful goddess when she was competing with Juno and Minerva (his prize being Venus’ promise to make Helen of Troy fall in love him).

The painting is a replica of a composition of which better versions are the small painting in the Uffizi (1512; 29 x 38 cm) and a large panel in the Kress Collection (County Museum, Los Angeles, K. 224: 143.5 x 227.3 cm). There are minor differences in the landscape background, and in colour, and in the Kress picture Venus's nakedness is partly covered by veils and roses, apparently later additions. At Montpellier (Musée Fabre) there is a large version, signed by Alessandro Allori, in which the lower limbs of Venus are differently disposed, and again some colours are different. A similar painting, perhaps the same, was in the Orléans Collection until 1792. The technique is close to that of Allori and it was probably painted in his workshop. This shows that successful and popular paintings were often copied in the past so that wealthy patrons could be satisfied even if they were unable to obtain the original.

1 comment:

  1. This shows that successful and
    popular paintings were often copied

    This is interesting. Never thought it could have been. No copyright then perhaps!