Even today, a proper portrait painter cannot exist without a following of wealth. His or her work is the best advertisement of his skills and clients come largely by word of mouth. Nothing has changed in five hundred years of portrait painting in this regard. Perhaps today, it doesn't take quite as MUCH wealth to have ones portrait painted but then again, that depends upon the portrait PAINTER. The best don't come cheap. During the Renaissance, for instance, that meant Raphaello Santi--Raphael. After his untimely death, as the Mannerist period heated up, his place as the premier portrait painter in Italy was taken up by Agnolo Bronzino.
Bronzino was born in 1503, at the height of the High Renaissance. He studied with the early Mannerist painter, Jacopo da Pontormo. During the mid-1500s he found the wealth so needed by a portrait painter in Florence. He became the darling of the Medici family. Even before this, the Medici family had a long history of support for the arts, particularly sculptors. Michelangelo grew out of their womb-like benefaction, and Leonardo himself also profited from their largess though in a backhanded sort of way. Though his genius was recognized, he was considered too undependable to work for either the church or "the family," so he was sent, somewhat as a "gift," to the Sforza family in Milan where he worked for eighteen years.
Agnolo Bronzino painted in what has come to be known as the "High Mannerist" style. His portraits of Medici family members such as "Cosimo de'Medici" and "Eleanora di Toledo with her Son Giovanni de'Medici, painted about 1550, are coolly elegant without appearing ostentatious. Perhaps his best work may or may not be a de'Medici. Sometimes it's known as simply "Portrait of a Young Man" and sometimes "Portrait of a Sculptor." It appears to have been done about 1535 and may well have been Bronzino's key to entry into the Medici court. In any case, it's an exquisitely elegant, yet quiet image of discreet royalty. The dark-haired young man, probably still in his teens, his features delicate, his eyes penetrating, his nose strong without appearing obtrusive, fondly embraces a small, carved Venus. Slender, dressed all in black with a high lace collar, his sensitive hands have a feminine beauty that further enhance his refined, detached quality making this portrait not only Bronzino's best but possibly the best from the entire Mannerist period.