Agnolo di Cosimo, came to be known to all as il Bronzino, or just Bronzino, and the speculation was that the nickname was a reference to the color of his skin. He was born the son of a butcher, in the city of Florence, in Italy, in 1503. He was apprenticed when he was a young child, first to Raffaellino del Garbo, and when he was fourteen he worked for Pontormo, who was an Italian Mannerist. This information comes from the historical writings of Giorgio Vasari, who was an artist and author who lived in Florence during the years of Bronzino’s fame.
Pontormo and Bronzino worked closely together for most of Pontormo’s life; the incredible similarities in their work make it difficult sometimes to tell the master from the pupil. Besides the many paintings made in the workshop, Bronzino assisted Pontormo with work to be done in the Capponi Chapel in Florence. According to Vasari, Bronzino was given the task to produce the frescoes on the dome and on two of four roundels. Unfortunately the frescoes did not survive and because Bronzino’s brushwork was so similar to Pontormo’s there is real debate as to which of the two roundels were Bronzino’s to complete.
The wedding of Cosimo I de’Medici in 1539 was Bronzino’s stepping stone into a valuable Medici patronage that lasted throughout the rest of his career. His work was so well-received and appreciated by the Medici’s that they rewarded him by making him their official court painter. The elegance and hauteur of the court nobles depicted in the portraits by Bronzino were influential on the way in which European court portraits were painted for the next hundred years.
One of the more famous of Bronzino’s portraits was that of the Cosimo Medici’s wife, the Duchess Eleonora, where she was portrayed in an extremely elaborate dress. Bronzino reproduced "Eleanor of Toledo" (1544-45) several times in his shop and the popularity of the painting made it one of the most recognized images ever of Duchess Eleonora. Several of the portraits survived; one of the finest examples is now in the Uffizi Gallery, a renowned historic art museum located in Florence.
In 1563 Bronzino and a few of his contemporaries founded the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence. He continued to play an important part in its activities for many years. He also enjoyed writing poetry and had acquaintances in the literary circles; more than a few of his portraits are of writers and poets, such as Palazzo Vecchio and Laura Battiferri.
For some time he lived with the Allori family, his favorite pupil being Alessandro Allori. After Allori’s father’s death in 1540, Bronzino, who was a good friend of the family, sometimes called “uncle”, raised and trained Allori in the arts, particularly in the same Mannerist style that he was so skilled at. It was a surprisingly similar situation whereas Pontormo had "adopted" Bronzino at a young age, and in turn Bronzino had "adopted" Alessandro Alllori. Angolo di Cosimo “Bronzino” died in 1572, in the home of his friends and in the city of Florence where he’d spent most of his life.