As the wife of Duke Cosimo de' Medici* of Florence, Eleanora of Toledo became renowned as a patron of Renaissance artists, especially Bronzino,* who decorated her eponymous chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. As the daughter of the viceroy of Naples, Eleanora attracted the attention of Cosimo de' Medici, who wedded her in 1539. The spectacular celebrations of the mar­riage involved the participation of many Renaissance artists, and the central theme emphasized Eleanora's role as the future mother of Medici heirs. Eleanora and Cosimo enjoyed a true love match, and within a year Eleanora gave birth to the first of seven children, among them five sons. Cosimo entrusted Eleanora with state affairs in his absences, but her abiding interest was as a patron of the arts. Their court thus became a center for the artistic and literary geniuses of the Renaissance.
Work on her chapel began in 1540 and was completed by 1545. Bronzino portrayed Eleanora as the embodiment of motherhood and identified her with the goddess of matrimony, Juno. The chapel reflected these themes, along with piety and dynastic continuity; its decoration also revealed her affinity for things Spanish and her devotion to the Jesuits. Along with the decoration of the chapel, Bronzino made a number of portraits of the ducal family, and these portraits show Eleanora's physical decline over the years of her marriage.
Eleanora was most likely a victim of tuberculosis by the 1550s, and by 1560 her public appearances came to an end. In an attempt to seek a more temperate climate, the ducal couple embarked on a tour; their three youngest sons con­tracted malaria, and two of them subsequently died within days of each other. Having previously lost a daughter, Eleanora was broken by this latest tragedy and was unable to rally from a last attack of her illness. She died on 17 De­cember 1562, and a heartbroken Cosimo brought her body back to Florence for an elaborate funeral. Eleanora did much to shore up the reputation of her hus­band's family as patrons of the arts, and her death, in many ways, signaled the beginning of a decline in this avocation of the Medici.
C. Booth, Cosimo I, Duke ofFlorence, 1921.
J. Cox-Rearick, Bronzino's Chapel ofEleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio, 1993.
Connie S. Evans

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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