His are classically formal portraits of the Mannerist style, elegant exemplars of the courtly Medici ideal of the 16th century, his subjects as haughty as they are assured of their position in society. He was Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Il Bronzino, and his work influenced European court portraiture for a century. Not to mention one Swiss-Italian photographer more than half a millennium later...
For his latest exhibition, that photographer, Christian Tagliavini, recreates the intense level of artistry present in the original works while creating a gallery that is a playful homage to art history. The exhibition, called Cut Out and Keep, takes in two projects – 1503 (the year of Di Cosimo's birth, and whose frame of reference is the Renaissance) and Dame di Cartone (encompassing eras from the 17th century to the Cubists).
Where Il Bronzino offered austere likenesses that lay themselves open to speculation about the sitter, their rank and reputation, Tagliavini's depictions are deliberately engineered to eschew any notion of three-dimensional character. Deliberately, because his sitters – whom he largely found on the street, and so come with no known background attached – are fringed or entirely clothed in two-dimensional couture made of cardboard (Dame di Cartone literally translates as Cardboard Ladies). It's hard to be a rounded character, he seems to say, when we can literally see your edges.
Yet Tagliavini's work is no less grand, intimate or considered than Di Cosimo's: the photographer himself made both the fabric and cardboard elements of the costumes, created the mise-en-scène and authored the intricate poses. Indeed, each photo could take up to seven hours to put together – time well spent in creating a parodic aesthetic of his very own.
Cut Out and Keep is at Diemar/Noble Photography, London W1 (diemarnoblephotography.com), from Thursday to 7 January