Dallas Museum of Art: Medici Portrait Project

A grant of $28,000.00, starting in 2011, to support a Medici portrait project. During the course of 2011, Alessandro Allori’s Portrait of Grand Duchess Bianca Cappello de Medici and her son Antonio was studied and documented, and has been the subject of a course taught by UTD Assistant Professor of Art History, Dr. Mark Rosen. Dr. Heather Mac Donald, The Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art at the Dallas Museum of Art and Dr. Amy Freund, Associate Professor of Art History at the Texas Christian University taught a class on portraiture to The University of Texas students in Fall 2011. Since then, Mark Leonard, Chief Conservator at the Dallas Museum of Art and Claire Barry, Director of Conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum, examined the painting and a complete report (with Xrays, UV, infra red, etc.) will be published at a later date.

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) portrait of Grand Duchess Bianca Cappello de’ Medici and her Son Antonio executed in the 1580s and attributed to Alessandro Allori, is not only a good example of late Renaissance Florentine portraiture, but also an important survivor from a politically contentious period in the history of the Medici dukes. The second wife of Duke Francesco I, Bianca Cappello used portraiture and other works of art to affirm her legitimacy as the new Medici Grand Duchess. After the sudden death of Bianca and her husband in 1587, Francesco’s brother, Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, usurped the granducal throne from their son, Antonio, and decreed that Bianca’s portraits be destroyed in an effort to remove her from public memory. Despite the ostensible historical significance of the DMA’s painting, though, no thorough scholarly study has been published on the painting in at least forty years, and much about its history as an object, such as its provenance from 1737 until its appearance in the Torre Tagle Collection in Lima, Peru during the nineteenth century, remains unknown. Moreover, while the painting is in overall excellent condition, the face of Bianca’s son appears severely abraded and repainted, a defacement—possibly politically motivated—that has confined the painting to storage. In order to answer pressing questions about the history of this painting, and explore possibilities for its future, the DMA proposed convening a panel of scholars to discuss the portrait in depth.

DMA Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Olivier Meslay has worked in collaboration with Dr. Rosen to identify a number of key scholars and curators who would be asked to participate in a study day, along with the local participants from the DMA and The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). Jacqueline Marie Musacchio, Associate Professor at Wellesley College, has already studied the painting and included it in her recent catalogue for the exhibition Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1750 at the Art Institute of Chicago, is a specialist on Medici women of the 16th and 17th century. Gabrielle Langdon, independent scholar and author of Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal, is also a key expert in the history of Medici female rulers.  Heather L. Sale Holian, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and author of two recent articles on late Cinquecento portraits of Medici women, would also be a valuable participant in the study day. Louis Waldman, Associate Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of many works on sixteenth-century Florence, would be an important voice from within Texas. If the budget permitted for international travel, it would be desirable to include Lisa Kaborycha, currently a Research Fellow at Villa I Tatti and former NEH Fellow at the Medici Archive Project in Florence, who is a specialist in the study of gender and the Florentine state.

The study day will allow additional scholars working for varied institutions and in different theoretical frameworks to participate and will provide the DMA an opportunity to consider the painting from a variety of scholarly perspectives. The scholars will also use this occasion to discuss the most effective means of exhibiting and publishing the painting. The study day panel’s discussions will form the basis for the DMA’s organization of a focused exhibition on the painting in the coming years. As a result visitors and scholars will have future opportunities to see and learn about a significant painting that has long been out of the public view.
The preparation for the study day itself provides a valuable learning opportunity for young scholars at the DMA and at UT Dallas.