Jan van der Straet, also called Giovanni Stradano, was a renowned court artist in Florence during the second half of the sixteenth century. His contemporary Raffaello Borghini refers to the artist as the first among ‘the valentuomi forestieri’. Prints after his design were spread throughout the whole world. Their popularity and ‘nachleben’, especially of the Venationes ferarum, avium, piscium and the Equile Ioannis austriaci Caroli V imp.f., continues until the present day. However Stradanus as a person and an artist at the court of Cosimo I Medici in Florence has not yet been introduced to a larger public. Therefore the Museums of Bruges, his hometown, prepare the first monographic exhibition based on research regarding the Flemish and Italian context of Stradanus and his oeuvre of paintings, fresco’s, drawings, prints and tapestries.
Born in Bruges, Stradanus soon moved to Antwerp and entered the workshop of Pieter Aertsen, and was introduced to the circle of the Romanists. Stradanus arrived in Florence before 1550. Some years later, in 1557 he worked as cartoonist in the Arazzeria Medicea along with Francesco Salviati and would receive numerous commissions from the Medici court.
As a painter he collaborated with Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Salviati on the decorative programs in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and with Francesco Salviati in the Belvedere in the Vatican. Stradanus’ style balances between Flemish realism and Italian elegance and follows the tradition of the narrative art and style of Giorgio Vasari and Alessandro Allori. In the midst of works by Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati, Alessandro Allori, Pieter Aertsen, Frans Floris… altarpieces and easel paintings of Stradanus will be presented in their italo-fiamingo context.
The Medici court was Stradanus’ main commissioner. His themes and manner of representation became with great success an inherent part of the allegorical and decorative tradition of the Medici court. He reinvented in Florence a new descriptive style for the iconography of nobility linked up to his Flemish roots in
depicting animals, nature, courtly life and every day life connected with themes from history, morality and religion.
Cosimo I Medici employed Stradanus as designer for tapestries in the Arazzeria Medicea. The tapestries with hunting scenes, inspired by antique literature of Plini, Homer and Herodotos but also by hunting practice at the Florentine court, were destined for the villa at Poggio a Caiano and grew out to be a major success. As a consequence of their popularity, these Hunts were translated in prints; this marks the beginning of Stradanus’ activity as designer of prints. In collaboration with the renowned printmakers in Antwerp, Hieronymus Cock and the Galle family, Stradanus produced a vast amount of prints in series with profane and religious subjects. Through the combination of his knowledge and insight in the courtly Florentine and Italian culture and his contacts with the internationally oriented engravers and editors in Antwerp, Stradanus played an important role in the history of the art of printmaking.
Central to Stradanus’ activity as designer of tapestries and prints is his draughtsmanship. His virtuosity and great souplesse in the art of drawing will be illustrated with a critical selection of preparatory sketches, designs and drawings in relation to the finished prints and tapestries.
Stradanus’ production is characterized by a distinct originality, his graphical work knew during his life and afterwards a large spread and resonance. His oeuvre offers an fascinating image and introduces innovations not only from an artistic point of view but also for cultural history. As a designer of prints Stradanus’ breaks new ground linked up with the broad intellectual and cultural need for images in Europe, with Antwerpen as the crucial centre for the spread of illustrated books and prints. Through his work Stradanus gained an exceptional and characteristic role at the Medici court and in the artistic and cultural life of the second half of the sixteenth century in Florence.
The exhibition Stradanus (1523-1605), court artist of the Medici will be the first one to focus on this exceptional artist and his work.