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Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici as Orpheus

Agnolo Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano), Italian (active Florence), 1503 - 1572

Made in Florence, Italy, Europe

c. 1537-1539

Oil on panel

36 7/8 × 30 1/16 inches (93.7 × 76.4 cm) Framed: 45 × 38 × 4 1/8 inches (114.3 × 96.5 × 10.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 250, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1950

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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.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Cosimo de' Medici, sixteenth-century ruler of Florence, is here personified as the mythological poet and musician Orpheus at the mouth of Hades, where he had gone to reclaim his dead wife Eurydice. The felicitous circumstances of this allegorical portrait, which was painted at the time of Cosimo's marriage to Eleanor of Toledo in 1539, may have warranted several changes during the picture's execution. For example, technical evidence shows that the three-headed dog Cerberus, guardian of the underworld, originally growled at Orpheus's attempts to gain admittance, but here has been calmed by soothing music. The newly married couple would have appreciated the romantic overtones achieved in the revised version. In addition, many contemporary viewers would have noticed that the seductive turn of Cosimo's muscular body was based on the much admired ancient sculpture known as the Torso Belvedere, then as now on display in the Vatican in Rome. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 170.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.