Dwarf Morgante at Medici’s Court

In many European courts there were dwarfs working like clowns, constantly taunted and held up to ridicule.

The were often painted in official works as rare curiosities or exotic animals. Between the artists who painted dwarfs there are Andrea Mantegna (in the Bridal Chamber in Mantua), Antoon van Dyck, Diego Velázquez and Pieter Paul Rubens. But also Agnolo di Cosimo, better known with the name of Agnolo Bronzino, for his copper-colored hair. Braccio di Bartolo, called Morgante (ironically, with reference to the theatre work by Luigi Pulci Morgante, whose protagonist Morgante was a giant) suffered from Achondroplasia dwarfism and got a job as entertainer at the palace of the Gran Duke Cosimo I.

We know from the chronicles of that times that he was continuosly humbled, for instance one of the delights at court was to assist at  the fight among Morgante and a monkey. In spite of this degraded condition, he had a privileged life compared with other people. He also was in charge of the so called “uccellagione”, which consisted in the hunting with the owl to catch little birds, like larks and quails. Around 1553  Bronzino painted the dwarf Morgante in a unique way: Morgante is completely naked and he is hunting.

The table has a front and a back, because the artist wanted to show the naturalism of painting, able to represent the deformed body of the dwarf, but he also wanted to state the supremacy of painting on sculpture. The painting can actually provide different points of view of a body, like the sculpture does, but can also represent the pass of the time, impossible to do for the sculpture. On the front sight we see Morgante preparing the hunting, on the back we see him with the quarries after the hunt. In the 19th century, the ugly body of Morgante was probably felt like obscene and he was changed into a Bacchus pouring out some wine.

The painting has been restored just in occasion of the exposition about Agnolo Bronzino in 2010 and, after so many years of oblivion, is today finally exposed at the . Everytime we look at Morgante is impossible not to kindly smile at him, because of his dumpy body, but we have to keep in mind that it is a unvaluable masterpiece. So, welcome back Morgante!