The Florentine Tradition in the mid-16th Century
During the mid-sixteenth century, Florentine portraitists were individualizing their sitters through symbolic, rather than formal elements. They incorporated complex symbolic elements into their works that were not immediately apparent, but represented aspects of the sitter’s personality and identity. These artists conformed to the idealized tradition in the figures, but manipulated the symbolic elements in the work to reflect their subject.
On example of this is Agnolo Bronzino’s Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi from 1540. The sitter is shown sitting in a ¾ pose and looking straight out towards the viewer. Her elaborate dress is made of a rich red silk or satin with purple undersleeves and a sheer gold collar. She wears a pearl necklace with a jeweled pendant as well as a gold chain and a girdle made of what look to be glass beads. Her hair is uncovered and pinned in an elaborate style atop her head. She sits on a wooden chair and holds an open book in her lap. The background is dark and architectural. In true Mannerist fashion, Lucrezia’s neck is slightly elongated.
The most obvious symbolic element in this portrait is the gold chain necklace, which has the words “amour dure sans fin” written on it. This, along with the book of poetry she holds in her lap, may symbolize her association with the culture of courtly love prevalent at the time, as well as her reputation as a poet. Like the figures in Titian’s portraits, Lucrezia makes eye contact with the viewer. However, like in the portraits by Lotto and Sebastiano del Piombo, there seems to be a lack of connection. Although she is looking at the viewers of her portrait, her eyes are cold and distant. There isn’t any hint of personality or individuality in her blank stare.
 Mina Gregori, Antonio Paolucci, and Marco Chiarini.Paintings in the Uffizi and Pitti Galleries. (Boston, MA: Little,Brown and Co., 1994), 223
This distance is also evident in Bronzino’s Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son Giovanni from 1545. Eleonora’s gaze, although directed towards the viewer, is cold and distant, with no trace of individual personality. The dress she wears is the one she was married in, which serves as a reminder of her wedding day and of the connection between her natal family and the Medici. Even her pose is calculated to indicate a specific dynastic significance. There is nothing of the woman Eleonora in this painting; she is simply the wife of Cosimo I and the mother of his children. This portrait exudes nothing of the power and character of Titian’s Isabella d’Este, of the control and shrewdness of his Eleonora Gonzaga, or of the tenderness and poignancy of his Isabella of Portugal.
These comparisons make it clear that Titian’s works contain an unprecedented quality of individualism. Nowhere else, neither in Venetian nor in Florentine portraiture, do female subjects have as much character and individuality as they do in Titian’s works. The standard practice seems to be the creation of a blank, distant stare that does not allow a connection to be made between sitter and viewer. As a result, no dialogue is created. Titian’s portraits do exactly the opposite. His subjects acknowledge their viewers and choose whether or not to form a dialogue.