Maria of Hungary1553 - 1564. Bronze, 175 x 60 cm.
Together with her brother Charles V, Mary of Hungary (1505–1558) was Leone Leoni’s most important patron at the imperial court. Leoni and Mary, governor of the Low Countries, met on three occasions: in Brussels in 1549, in Augsburg three years later, and again in Brussels in 1556.The present bronze, together with a further nine, full-length figures, was commissioned in 1549 for the dynastic gallery that Mary had devised for her palace at Binche. In fact, Leoni delayed the execution of the project until at least 1553 according to a letter of 28 December of that year from Ferrante Gonzaga to Charles V. Leoni referred to the commission again in a letter of 14 August 1555 in which he listed the statues that he was considering taking to Flanders.The present bronze was delivered to Mary in Brussels in 1556, two years after French troops had destroyed Binche, as a consequence of which it never occupied the position for which it was intended.That same year Mary moved to Spain where she died in Cigales near Valladolid in 1558. The sculptures followed her, accompanied by Pompeo Leoni, who moved to Madrid in 1556 in order to complete them, which explains the presence of his signature and the date of 1564 on the base. As in the case of the sculpture of Philip II and the bronze of the Empress Elizabeth that Leoni executed for Charles V (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, E-274), the reference-point for the present work is the funerary monument of Maximilian I in the Hofkirche in Innsbruck, although Mary’s condition as widow (her husband Louis II of Hungary had died at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526) obliged the sculptor to restrain his tendency for busy decoration on the clothing.This proved beneficial to the present work from an artistic sense as Leoni focused on the folds of the gown and thus gave the sculpture a sense of dynamism lacking in the hieratic portraits of the Empress Elizabeth. Mary is depicted standing, dressed as a widow and with her joined hands holding a missal.The long ribbons of her headdress, tied at the back of her head and bearing a cross motif at each end, fall forwards in the manner of a stole. According to Mary’s biographer Nogarola (1553), she dressed in this way when going to church or when ‘si appresenta in maestà’. Titian also depicted her in this manner in 1548 (Paris, Musée des Arts Decoratifs). Leoni produced a preparatory terracotta bust for the present work, executed during his first meeting with Mary in Brussels in 1549, and which would also serve as the model for two further busts of this sitter, in marble (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, E-262) and bronze (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. 5496), the latter made for Antoine Perrenot de Granvela. ( Falomir Faus, M.: El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 508)