Holy Family with St. Anne and the Infant St. John


Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

Completely in contrast to the principles of Venetian painting, which made colour the dominant means of expression, Renaissance painting in Florence gave priority to the drawing as the means of expressing artistic invention. Thus there was a demand that the contours in painting be dear and sometimes even sharp. Bronzino’s works are considered the epitome of Florentine disegno and, at the same time, its final pinnacle, which had already assumed the character of Mannerism. Bronzino, who was a pupil of Jacopo Pontormo and thus extremely familiar with the works of Michelangelo, served for many years as court painter to the Medici. He created decorations (now lost) for numerous theatrical works and festive occasions and supplied brilliant designs for the Medici tapestry factory. In his composition Bronzino organises the group in close proximity to one another in the foreground. Nevertheless the figures are arranged next to and behind each other in a way that makes them easy to recognise. The infant St. John is in the foremost position, his gaze and gesture pointing to the infant Jesus, who is depicted frontally. Behind them stands St. Mary, who is holding her son’s arm in a loving gesture. The composition is extended by St. Anne and St. Joseph, who stand out from the central group of three because of their more natural skin colour. More than in almost any other of his works, Bronzino has emphasised the sharply outlined and sculptural figures almost to the point of stony coldness, especially in the case of the two boys. This artistic decision is also an example of paragone (Italian: comparison) – the competition, discussed in art theory at the time, between painting and sculpture to see which could create the better depiction of three-dimensional forms. Here Bronzino creates exciting contrasts: the coolness and clarity of his composition as opposed to the intimate familiar atmosphere; soft and gentle movements contrasted with formal severity and abstraction; turning away from natural models on the one hand but depicting all of their details on the other. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: Holy Family with St. Anne and the Infant St. John
  • Creator: Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino
  • Creator Lifespan: 1503/1572
  • Creator Nationality: italian
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Florence
  • Creator Birth Place: Monticelli near Florence
  • Date Created: 1545/1546
  • Style: Italian Mannerism
  • Provenance: 1792 in Vienna
  • Physical Dimensions: w1015 x h1268 x d58 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 183
  • Artist Biography: Mannerist painter and poet Agnolo di Cosimo Bronzino was the pupil of Pontormo, who influenced him heavily early in his career. By about 1530 Bronzino had moved away from Pontormo's nervous sensibility and developed an art and career independent of his master. His new style was first evident in his portraits. For Bronzino, a portrait was a mask. Rather than revealing the sitter's character, the Florentine aimed to convey his subject's social standing, elegance, and restraint. Bronzino expressed the material world in his portraits; the enameled colors and attention to depicting details like his sitters' lace collars, hair, and jewelry, and even the veins in their hands gave his portraits a remote decorativeness. As court painter to Cosimo I de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Bronzino also painted religious works, which he approached with the same cool detachment as his portraits. Between 1546 and 1548, Bronzino lived in Rome. His allegorical paintings influenced younger Mannerist painters with their distorted poses, exaggerated expressions, and emphasis on movement. In his later work, Bronzino discarded his frozen passion, conceiving his public paintings as cumulative displays of his encyclopedic knowledge of art history and his talent for assimilating it into his own works, a notion that also typified Mannerism. © J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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