Morgante: dwarf at the Grand Duke of Florence’s court
Being a dwarf in the Renaissance was certainly not easy. Abused from an early age, they were often sold to circuses to be shown to people as monsters and obliged to do the most degrading performances.
Some of them had a better life when they became members of a court and some even succeeded to become advisers of their Lord.
This is the case of Braccio di Bartolo, who became the favorite court dwarf of Cosimo I de Medici. He was given the irreverent name of Morgante, that Luigi Pulci had given to his Giant in his very famous poem.
In Florence there are 3 portraits of Morgante: a small fountain by Giambologna in the Bargello, another small fountain (called Bacchino) by Cioli in the Boboli Gardens and the double painting by Bronzino in the Uffizi.
Morgante is portrayed here completely naked and shown both sides while “bird hunting” Morgante holds in one hand an owl tied with a string that ends in the other hand while waiting. On the back of the painting, and this is on the second picture, Bronzino represents Morgante from the back while holding the result of his hunt.
The work is particular for the subject but it is for sure unique in its significance because it perfectly fits in the discussion that Benedetto Varchi introduced at the court of Cosimo I in those years about the primacy of sculpture or of painting.
Bronzino was a cultured painter (he knew all the Divine Comedy by heart) and wrote to Varchi a long essay about the virtues of carving.
Nothing is left about his ideas about painting. We can only deduct them from this painting that has 2 sides. It has thus the three-dimensionality of sculpture but in addition also the temporal dimension is represented as the before and the after the hunt. What a tribute to painting!
Finally what to say about the humor of this great painter who shows at once his intellectual ability and his playful side representing Cosimo’s jester!