PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
From whom acquired by a private collector, New York, on 31 May 2005;
Thence by descent to the present owners.
Michele Tosini was prized for his depictions of women. Here he has drawn inspiration from Michelangelo’s monumental nudes and formed a Cleopatra whose statuesque physique and musculature expresses her strength, her nobility and her resolve at the moment she raises the poisonous asp to her breast. She shows none of the weakness and instability traditionally associated with women, instead she unites two different kinds of beauty distinguished by Cicero: loveliness, and dignity.2 The former traditionally an attribute of women, the latter, of men. Male virtues thus ennoble this representation of Cleopatra as an image of ideal beauty.
Tosini began his artistic career under the tutelage of Lorenzo di Credi and Antonio del Ceraiolo entering the workshop of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. By 1525 he was frequently collaborating with Ghirlandaio, and their closeness is reflected in Tosini’s adopted name. The mannerist style of his later paintings was influenced by his friends and colleagues Agnolo Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari, with whom he worked on the formation of the Accademia del Disegno in 1563. Through Vasari’s example, Tosini adopted a vocabulary derived from the work of Michelangelo and painted some of his best-known works in this manner. Cleopatra might be compared with his Lucretia,3 also half-length, her body twisted in a similar contrapposto pose and wrapped in pink fabric. The application of paint in both figures' blonde hair is also directly comparable. The underdrawing in Cleopatra, visible in part through the paint layers, appears to be particularly free and expressive, especially in the hatched areas delineating the areas of shadow and contours of her body.
We are grateful to Heidi J. Hornik, Professor of Italian Renaissance Art, Baylor University, for endorsing the attribution to Michele Tosini. Hornik dates the Cleopatra to circa 1565, at a time when the Ghirlandaio workshop in Florence was under Tosini's careful direction. She compares Cleopatra to Tosini's Mary Magdalen of circa 1570 in The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.4
1 A. Firenzuola, On the Beauty of Women, Philadelphia 2010, (K. Eisenbichler and J. Murray eds.), pp. 46, 49, 63, 67.
2 M.T. Cicero, Cicero De Officiis, I. XXXVI. London and New York 1938, pp. 131–32.
3 Offered New York, Christie's, 25 January 2002, lot 24, citing Everett Fahy and Mina Gregori in support of the attribution to Tosini, and dated to post 1540.
4 H.J. Hornik, Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio workshop in Cinquecento Florence, Brighton 2009, reproduced fig. 9.
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