The Threads of a Life Well Lived: Beyond the Portrait

  • Abstract:

    This paper investigates the history, cultural memory, art and identity of Eleonora di Toledo (1522-1562), a Spanish noblewoman and the first Duchess of Florence in Renaissance Italy. It explores how Eleonora is presented beyond the visual culture of Bronzino’s radiant portraiture and beyond the scope of pictorial and historical narratives, seeking the other story of women’s lives and how they are expressed. It is through the interrogation of her world of fashion, textiles, fabrics and trade that she is socially staged; a self-expression of her personal identity. This performing identity is examined in the habitus of the person, with particular reference to appearance, to constitution as related to health, well-being and disease, and to her attitude and approach to the apothecary’s cabinet, comparing the letters of the Medici Court Doctor, Andrea Pasquali with Bronzino’s portraiture. This research interrogates textile as the principle decorative medium in how fabrics were woven, dyed, printed and stitched to give varying textures, and the threads woven to create a life lived through performance and the mediums of language, fashion and culture to create specific cultural memory. Research processes are discussed, including interviews of contemporary Florentine aristocracy, whose gifts of personal fashion mementoes for Eleonora, reflect an intermingling of the past with the contemporary. This is considered within the context of the devising, writing and performing of this woman’s life, in the theatrical performance of ‘A Gift for Eleonora’, a cultural health intervention for public engagement. This was performed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Basilica di Santa Croce, in the Cappella dei Pazzi, Florence, Italy on May 13-15, 2015 and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath, UK, at the Roman Baths on March 3, 2016 as part of the Bath Literature Festival.