There are two paintings I know of in which Bronzino appears, but hides his face. The first is by Vasari, called the Studio of the Painter:
In the painting above the head of the girl on the right we see four youngsters learning how to paint. Three are well defined, and named Veronese to the left, Breughel in the middle, and Tintoretto to the right. The other, just a blob in the background, is named Bronzino:
The other painting is by Bronzino himself, of the Deposition of Christ:
WE may at first glance note that the lad bearing most of the weight of Christ is anatomically a little odd. His head does not fit on his body correctly. The reason for that is not incompetence, but that we are seeing two people there, not one. The face is that of Bernardino, and the painting tells us he was Bronzino’s son. The body, though, is labelled ‘Bronzino’. His face is hidden.
I wondered why Bronzino’s face was hidden. Everything had meaning in his paintings, and those of Vasari, and these two would be no exception. So what was the tale that lay behind it? Is this where the scandalous birth comes in? Indeed so. The tale is told in a portrait of one ‘Bartolomeo Panchiatichi’, but it was actually of himself commemorating his 40th birthday, and wearing his favourite hat.
The traditional place to name one’s mum was beneath the jawline, and this is no exception. I have not marked in the ‘Mamma’ above the name, but it’s there in big letters if you have the patience to look for it. It says his mum was called Cattochia, and that she was the daughter of… Arturo 8 and Giovanna Farnese.
Bronzino was the great grandson of Arturo 7. Yes, THAT Arturo – the one you have been reading about, the one that stabbed his wife to death in 1485. The first child Arturo 7 could be sure was his he named after himself: Arturo 8. He was born in 1451, and in those days fathers expected their first born to produce an heir just as soon as the equipment started working. Little Arturo 8 did not disappoint: since he didn’t have a wife of his own, he borrowed someone else’s, a lady called Giovanna Caetani, and she was married to a Farnese.
Together they made more than a few babies, including the future lover of the Borgia Pope, Julia Farnese… and Alessandro, who became Pope Paul III. Their sixth child, though, Cattocchia, was born in 1471, and it was she who was to become Bronzino’s mother. But no scandal so far, except his great grandpa was a murderer. So where does the scandal come in?
Simply this. Bronzino was the result of an incestuous liaison. And no commonplace one either. The same portrait also tells us the name of his dad, if anyone has the patience to spend two hours meticulously filling it in, letter by painful letter:
Bronzino’s dad was Arturo. Not the younger one, the older one, the one who murdered his wife. Arturo 7 made Bronzino with his own granddaughter, and so Arturo was not only Bronzino’s father, he was also his great grandfather. And that is why his face was hidden, poor guy.
Now here’s the thing. There is what Wikipedia calls a ‘persistent tradition’ that Nostradamus was educated by someone called ‘Jean’, and that was the very same name Arturo used when based in France. But that is a common name – so what – doesn’t prove anything! Well, the tradition goes on to say that this Jean was actually the great grandfather of Nostradamus. Now it may be common to be educated by one’s father, but how common is it to be educated by one’s great grandfather?
But of course, this isn’t the big story. The big story is who Arturo 8 really was. He too used a multitude of aliases, but there is one in particular that any schoolchild anywhere in the world will recognise. But I am going to save that titbit for later!