In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eleonora di Toledo

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Studies
  • Wedding Festivities
  • Spanish Heritage
  • Economic Resources
  • Regency
  • Religious Patronage
  • Portraits
  • Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens
  • Illness, Death, and Remembrance

Renaissance and Reformation Eleonora di Toledo
Natalie Tomas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0370


Eleonora Álvarez di (of) Toledo (b. 1522–d. 1562) was the second duchess of Florence and married Cosimo I de’ Medici (b. 1519–d. 1574) in 1539. She was born in Léon, Spain, and then moved to Naples in 1534, when her father, Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba and Marquis of Villafranca, became Viceroy of Naples. Her mother, Maria Osorio Pimentel, was connected to the Spanish ruling household, and so Eleonora received a traditional Spanish upbringing. Eleonora had eleven children, including five sons, and contemporaries celebrated her fertility. The marriage between the ducal couple appeared to be a very happy one. Eleonora traveled with her husband frequently to their various palaces and villas across Tuscany, enjoying hunting, fishing, riding horses, and gambling. Apart from the production of children, Eleonora was a wealthy landowner who traded in commodities such as grain. The duchess acted as regent at least four times during her marriage, because of Cosimo I’s absence during war (1541, 1543) or illness (1544–1545). The longest period of Eleonora’s regency was between 1551 and 1554, while Cosimo I was away fighting the War of Siena. Eleonora was duchess of Siena from 1559 and together with her husband made a triumphal entry into Siena in 1560. Eleonora was a great patron of art, employing Agnolo Bronzino to decorate her private chapel and paint a series of portraits of her. She also employed other artists, including the sculptors Baccio Bandinelli and Benvenuto Cellini, the miniaturist Giulio Clovio, and the painter and architect Giorgio Vasari. Eleonora acquired the Palazzo Pitti and began renovations, including the development of the Boboli Gardens. However, she did not live to see the completion of the project. Her court included both Italian and Spanish speakers, and she supported the Jesuits in Florence. Her religious patronage reflected her support for Spanish religious practice. She favored female lyric poets at her court, as well as Spanish poets. Eleonora was often ill with tuberculosis from the 1550s, and she died on 17 December 1562 after contracting a malarial fever along with two of her sons, Giovanni and Garzia, who both had died shortly before her. Eleonora di Toledo is best remembered because of the iconic 1545 state portrait of her with her son Giovanni, painted by Bronzino, which is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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