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  • The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena
  • Clifford M. Brown
Konrad Eisenbichler , ed. The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo: Duchess of Florence and Siena. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004. xiv + 280 pp. index. illus. $84.95. ISBN: 0–7546–3774–3.

Although many of the essays in this volume are by art historians, due attention is given to Eleonora's striking contributions to the political, economic, andspiritual life of the duchy of Florence during the reign of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici. Indeed it could not be otherwise since the iconography of the frescoesin her apartments celebrate most if not all of these aspects. And thus whileEisenbichler — in his carefully crafted and most useful introduction — stressed that the book was in no way a comprehensive reexamination of her life, The Cultural World of Eleonora of Toledo points in that direction in a collection of interconnected essays that are clearly written and tightly organized.

Mary A. Watt's essay sets the tone for the volume in her "Love and Politics at the Wedding of Eleonora of Toledo," it being followed by Gabrielle Langdon's analysis of Bronzino's portrait and its Petrarchan overtones, an essay that includes a number of the artist's own sonnets. Bruce Edelstein's discussion of Eleonora's Scrittoio and the iconography of fertility (both of person and of land) leads logically to Ilaria Hoppe's overview of the frescoes in Eleonora's apartment in the Palazzo della Signoria. One key aspect of those frescoes — famous women — is the subject of Paola Tinagli's essay. Robert Gaston's treatment of Eleonora's chapel leads to Chiara Franceschini's analysis of Eleonora's relationship to the Jesuit order. Mary Westerman Bulgarella's account of the burial attire of Eleonora di Toledo precedes the final essay, the one by Janet Cox-Rearick on the death and posthumous fame of Cosimo I's wife.

Each of the essays has it own set of footnotes (ever so much more useful than endnotes which force the reader to keep flipping back and forth) as well as a bibliography of the more frequently cited sources. Equally useful was the decision to place the illustrations as they related to the individual essays.

The book edited by Eisenbichler provides new insights especially into how the frescoed decorations of her apartment in the Palazzo della Signoria should be read, and it will make a visit to them all the more profitable since the viewer is now better prepared to understand the complexities and cultural cross-currents in such work as the Crossing of the Red Sea in Eleonora's Chapel.

As is to be expected in a compendium of this type there is the occasional [End Page 917] repetition of the obvious, especially about the main aspects of Eleonora's biography. Yet rather than detracting from, these repetitions actually enhance the interconnectedness of the essays. Few indeed are the internal contradictions. It may well be, as Hoppe stated, that the principal figure on the ceiling of Eleonora's Scrittoio was intended to represent fertility but it might have been useful to have added a note referring the reader to Edelstein's essay where the figure is Dovizia, or Wealth. And as for that Scrittoio, although it would have been extraneous to the main thrust of the book, it would be useful to compare and contrast Eleonora's use of the room as an office which served as the repository for her financial transactions, to those would viewed the room more as a museum for the display of books and works of art. Indeed the impression one gains is that Eleonora was not an impassioned collector of objects even though her active role in defining the subject-matter of the frescoes in her apartment has now been strikingly clarified.

Clifford M. Brown
Carleton University


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Archived 2009
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