The Medici were at once individuals and interchangeable members of a broad dynasty. For any person of prominence, commissioning a portrait was an act of identity-shaping. Nowhere is this clearer than in Parmigianino’s massive allegorical portrait of Charles V receiving the world. His face — purportedly incomplete after two brief sittings with the Mannerist master — is merely one shard of the glinting image projected by the work. This is equally true in works of smaller scale, as in the case of the portrait of Guillaume de Croy, Lord of Chievres, who served as Charles’s tutor and first chamberlain. The portrait of Catherine de’ Medici is underscored by a letter of hers to her agent Bourdillon, concerning a rather brazen act of international espionage.
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