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Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici as Orpheus

c. 1537-1539
Agnolo Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano), Italian (active Florence), 1503 - 1572
Duke Cosimo I de' Medici is shown as the mythological musician and poet Orpheus after having calmed Cerberus, the doglike guardian to Hades from which Orpheus wished to retrieve his wife, Eurydice. The highly sensual portrait of the naked young duke may have several meanings: the peaceful age that the new generation of Medici wished to usher in, the duke's patronage of the arts and literature, or his marriage to Eleonora di Toledo in 1539. This painting could have been made in conjunction with ceremonies celebrating the latter occasion....

Object Details
Possibly Simone Berti (1589-1659), Florence, by between 1647 and 1649 [1]. Sale, Christie and Ansell, London, March 14-15, 1777, no. 43 in the second day's sale (as "Orpheus" by Bronzino); purchased by Serafini [2]. Probably Edward Knight (1734-1812), Wolverly House, Kidderminster, England [3]; his nephew John Knight (1765-1860), Wolverly House, by 1819; offered in three sales by John Knight, bought in at all three [4]; by descent to Major Eric Ayshford Knight (b. 1863), Wolverly House, through at least 1939 [5]. With Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London, by 1948 [6]; sold to PMA, July 17, 1950 [7].1. An inventory of his collection, dating sometime between 1647 and 1659 and made by Berti from memory after his house was robbed, describes a painting of a nude, seated Orpheus with the head of a dog, but does not mention the artist; see Carl Brandon Strehlke, Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence, (exh. cat.), Philadelphia, 2004, no. 38, p. 130-133.2. The consignor name is given as "Lun" (with the "n" in superscript); see Robert B. Simon, "Bronzino's 'Cosimo I de' Medici as Orpheus'," Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 81, no. 348, 1985, p. 25.3. See letter from Burton B. Fredericksen to Carl Strehlke dated March 19, 2009 (curatorial file). 4. The three sales are: Phillips, London, March 23, 1819, no. 87; Phillips, London, March 17, 1821; Phillips, London, May 24, 1839. For Edward Knight's collection and his nephew John Knight's repeated attempts to sell the "Bronzeno Orpheus [sic]" see Joan Lane, "The Dark Knight: Edward Knight of Wolverly and his Collections," Apollo, June 1999, pp. 25-30.5. The painting was published as the collection of Major Eric Knight in The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, London, 1939.6. The painting appeared in an advertisement for Roland, Browse and Delbanco in the Art News Annual, vol. 18, 1948, p. 176.7. The painting was purchased with funds provided by Mrs. John Wintersteen.

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