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Jacopo Carucci (May 24, 1494 — January 2, 1557), usually known as Jacopo da Pontormo, Jacopo Pontormo or simply Pontormo, was an Italianmarker Mannerist painter and portraitist from the Florentine school. His work represents a profound stylistic shift from the calm perspectival regularity that characterized the art of the Florentine Renaissance. He is famous for his use of twining poses, coupled with ambiguous perspective; his figures often seem to float in an uncertain environment, unhampered by the forces of gravity.

Biography and Early Work

Visitation, 1514-16; Fresco; 392 x 337 cm; SS.
Annunziata, Florence.


Jacopo Carucci was born at Pontorme, near Empolimarker. Vasari relates how the orphaned boy, "young, melancholy and lonely," was shuttled around as a young apprentice:

Pontormo painted in and around Florencemarker, often supported by Medici patronage. A foray to Romemarker, largely to see Michelangelo's work, influenced his later style. Haunted faces and elongated bodies are characteristic of his work. An example of Pontormo's early style is The Visitation of the Virgin and St Elizabeth, with its dancelike, balanced figures, painted from 1514 to 1516.

This early Visitation makes an interesting comparison with his painting of the same subject (at right), which was done about a decade later for the parish church of St. Michael in Carmignanomarker, a few miles from Florence. Placing these two pictures together—one from his early style, and another from his mature period—throws Pontormo's artistic development into sharp relief. In the earlier work, Pontormo is much closer in style to his teacher, Andrea del Sarto, and to the early sixteenth century renaissance artistic principles. For example, the figures stand at just under half the height of the overall picture, and though a bit more crowded than true high renaissance balance would prefer, at least are placed in a classicizing architectural setting at a comfortable distance from the viewer. In the later work, the viewer is brought almost uncomfortably close to the Virgin and St. Elizabeth, who drift toward each other in clouds of drapery. Moreover, the clear architectural setting that is carefully constructed in earlier piece has been completely abandoned in favor of a peculiar nondescript urban setting.

Joseph in Egypt, 1515-18; Oil on wood; 96 x 109 cm; National Gallery, London.


The Joseph canvases (now in the National Gallery in Londonmarker) offer another example of Pontormo's developing style. Done around the same time as the earlier Visitation, these works (such as Joseph in Egypt, at left) show a much more mannerist leaning.

In the years between the SS Annunziata and San Michele Visitations, Pontormo took part in the fresco decoration of the salon of the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caianomarker (1519-20), not far from Florence. There he painted frescoes in a pastoral genre style, very uncommon for Florentine painters; their subject was the obscure classical myth of Vertumnus and Pomona in a lunette.

In 1522, when the plague broke out in Florence, Pontormo left for the Certosa di Galluzzo, a cloistered Carthusian monastery where the monks followed vows of silence. He painted a series of frescoes, now quite damaged, on the passion and resurrection of Christ.

Main works in Florence

The Deposition from the Cross, 1525-1528.
The large altarpiece canvas for the Brunelleschi-designed Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicitamarker in Florence, portraying The Deposition from the Cross, is considered by many Pontormo's surviving masterpiece (1528).

The figures, with their sharply modeled forms and brilliant colors are united in an enormously complex, swirling ovular composition, housed by a shallow, somewhat flattened space. Although commonly known as The Deposition from the Cross, there is no actual cross in the picture, making the subject matter of this painting is as uncertain as the space in which it takes place. The scene might more properly be called a Lamentation or Bearing the Body of Christ. Those who are lowering (or supporting) Christ appear as anguished as the mourners. Though they are bearing the weight of a full-grown man, they barely seem to be touching the ground; the lower figure in particular balances delicately and implausibly on his front two toes. These two boys have sometimes been interpreted as Angels, carrying Christ in his journey to Heaven. In this case, the subject of the picture would be more akin to an Entombment, though the lack of any discernible tombmarker disrupts that theory, just as the lack of cross poses a problem for the Deposition interpretation. Finally, it has also been noted that the positions of Christ and the Virgin seem to echo those of Michelangelo's Pietà in Rome, though here in the Deposition mother and son have been separated. Thus in addition to elements of a Lamentation and Entombment, this picture carries hints of a Pietà. It has been speculated that the bearded figure in the background at the far right is a self-portrait of Pontormo as Joseph of Arimathea. Another unique feature of this particular Deposition is the empty space occupying the central pictorial plane as all the Biblical personages seem to fall back from this point. It has been suggested that this emptiness may be a physical representation of the Virgin Mary's emotional emptiness at the prospect of losing her son.
On the wall to the right of the Deposition, Pontormo frescoed an Annunciation scene (at right). As with the Deposition, the artist's primary attention is on the figures themselves rather than their setting. Placed against white walls, the Angel Gabriel and Virgin Mary are presented in an environment that is so simplified as to almost seem stark. The fictive architectural details above each of them, are painted to resemble the gray stone pietra serena that adorns the interior of Santa Felicità, thus uniting their painted space with the viewer's actual space. The startling contrast between the figures and ground makes their brilliant garments almost seem to glow in the light of the window between them, against the stripped-down background, as if the couple miraculously appeared in an extension of the chapel wall. The Annunciation resembles his above mentioned Visitation in the church of San Michele at Carmignanomarker in both the style and swaying postures.

Vasari tells us that the cupola was originally painted with God the Father and Four Patriarchs. The decoration in the dome of the chapel is now lost, but four roundels with the Evangelists still adorn the pendentives, worked on by both Pontormo and his chief pupil Agnolo Bronzino. The two artists collaborated so intimately, that specialists dispute which roundels each of them painted.

This tumultuous oval of figures took three years for Pontormo to complete. According to Vasari, because Pontormo desired above all to "do things his own way without being bothered by anyone," the artist screened off the chapel so as to prevent interfering opinions. Vasari continues, "And so, having painted it in his own way without any of his friends being able to point anything out to him, it was finally uncovered and seen with astonishment by all of Florence..."

A number of Pontormo's other works have also remained in Florence; the Uffizi Gallerymarker holds his mystical Supper at Emmaus as well as portraits.

Many of Pontormo's well known canvases, such as the early Joseph in Egypt series (c. 1515) and the later Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion (c. 1531) depict crowds milling about in extreme contrapposto of greatly varied positions.

His portraits, acutely characterized, show similarly Mannerist proportions.

Lost or damaged works

Part of decorative scheme for the Medici Villa in Poggio a Cajano, 1520-21
Many of Pontormo's works have been damaged, including the lunnettes for the cloister in the Carthusian monastery of Galluzo. They are now displayed indoors, although in their damaged state.

Perhaps most tragic is the loss of the unfinished frescoes for the church of San Lorenzomarker which consumed the last decade of his life. His frescoes depicted a last judgement day composed of an unsettling morass of writhing figures. The remaining drawings, showing a bizarre and mystical ribboning of bodies, had an almost hallucinatory effect. Florentine figure painting had mainly stressed linear and sculptural figures. For example, the Christ in Michelangelo's Last Judgmentmarker in the Sistine Chapelmarker is a massive painted block, stern in his wrath; by contrast, Pontormo's Jesus in the Last Judgment twists sinuously, as if rippling through the heavens in the dance of ultimate finality. Angels swirl about him in even more serpentine poses. If Pontormo's work from the 1520s seemed to float an a world little touched by gravitational force, the Last Judgment figures seem to have escaped it altogether and fly through a rarefied air.
Portrait of a Halberdier, 1528-1530; Oil on canvas, 92 x 72 cm; J.
Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles


In his Last Judgment Pontormo went against pictorial and theological tradition by placing God the Father at the feet of Christ, instead of above him, an idea Vasari found deeply disturbing:

Critical assessment and legacy

Portrait of a Lady in Red, 1532; Oil on wood; 89,7 x 70,5 cm; Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.
Vasari's Life of Pontormo, depicts him as withdrawn and steeped in neurosis while at the center of the artists and patrons of his lifetime. This image of Pontormo has tended to color the popular conception of the artist, as seen in the film of Giovanni Fago, Pontormo, a heretical love. Fago portrays Pontormo as mired in a lonely and ultimately paranoid dedication to his final Last Judgment project, which he often kept shielded from onlookers. Yet as the art historian Elizabeth Pilliod has pointed out, Vasari was in fierce competition with the Pontormo/Bronzino workshop at the time when he was writing his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. This professional rivalry between the two bottegas could well have have provided Vasari with ample motivation for running down the artistic lineage of his opponent for Medici patronage.

Perhaps as a result of Vasari's derision, or perhaps because of the vagaries of aesthetic taste, Potormo's work was quite out of fashion for several centuries. The fact that so much of his work has been lost or severely damaged is testament to this neglect, though he has received renewed attention by contemporary art historians. Indeed, between 1989 and 2002, Pontormo's Portrait of a Halberdier (at right), held the title of the world's most expensive painting by an Old Master.

Regardless as to the veracity of Vasari's account, it is certainly true that Pontormo's artistic idiosyncrasies produced a style that few were able (or willing) to imitate, with the exception of his closest pupil Bronzino. Bronzino's early work is so close to that of his teacher, that the authorship of several paintings from the 1520s and '30s are still under dispute—for example the four tondi containing the evangelists in the Capponi Chapel, and the Portrait of a Lady in Red now in Frankfurt (at left).

Pontormo shares some of the mannerism of Rosso Fiorentino and of Parmigianino. In some ways he anticipated the Baroque as well as the tensions of El Greco. His eccentricities also resulted in an original sense of composition. At best, his compositions are cohesive. The figures in the Deposition, for example, appear to sustain each other: removal of any one of them would cause the edifice to collapse. In other works, as in the Joseph canvases, the crowding makes for a confusing pictorial melee. It is in the later drawings that we see a graceful fusion of bodies in a composition which includes the oval frame of Jesus in the Last Judgement.

Anthology of works

Early works (until 1521)

Painting Date Site Link
Leda and the Swan (uncertain attribution) 1512-1513 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
Holy Conversation 1514 San Luca Chapel, Santa Annunziatamarker, Florence.
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist c.1514 Whitfield Fine Art, London. [38289]
Episode of Hospital Life 1514 Accademiamarker, Florence [38290]
Veronica and the Image 1515 Medici Chapel, Santa Maria Novellamarker, Florence
Visitation 1514-1516 Santa Annunziatamarker, Florence [38291]
Lady with Basket of Spindles(attributed to Andrea del Sarto) 1516-1517 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
Marriage bedchamber panels for Pier Francesco Borgherini. (Two others by Francesco Bachiacca)
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers 1516-17 National Gallery, Londonmarker
Joseph sold to Potiphar 1516-17 National Gallery, London [38292]
Joseph's Brothers Beg for Help 1515 National Gallery, London [38293]
Pharaoh with his Butler and Baker 1516-1517 National Gallery, London [38294]
Joseph in Egypt 1517-18 National Gallery, London [38295]
*St. Quentin (Also attributed to Giovanni Maria Pichi) 1517 Pinacoteca comunale, Sansepolcromarker
Portrait of Furrier 1517-1518 Louvre, Paris [38296]
St Jerome & St Francis 1518 Whitfield Fine Art, London [38297]
Madonna with Child and Saints 1518 San Michele Visdominimarker, Florence
Portrait of Musician 1518-1519 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
St Anthony Abbott 1518-1519 Uffizi Gallery, Florence [38298]
Portrait of Cosimo the Elder 1518-1519 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence [38299]
John the Evangelist & the Archangel Gabriel 1519 Church of S. Michele, Empolimarker
Adoration of the Magi 1519-21 Palazzo Pittimarker, Florence
Vertumnus and Pomona 1519-1521 Villa Medici, Poggio a Caianomarker
Study of Man's Head (Drawing) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City [38300]


Mature works (1522-1530)

Painting Date Site Link
Mary and Child with Four saints 1520-30 Metropolitan Museummarker, New York City
Portrait of two friends c. 1522 Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venicemarker
Madonna with Child & Two Saints (Bronzino?) c. 1522 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence [38301]
Holy Family with St John 1522-1524 Hermitage Museummarker, St Petersburgmarker [38302]
Madonna with Child & St John (Attributed to Rosso Fiorentino) 1523-1525 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
Prayer in Gesthemane (copies by Jacopo da Empoli) 1523-1525 Certosa di Galluzo [38303]
Walk to Calvary 1523-1525 Certosa di Galluzo [38304]
Christ before Pilate 1523-1525 Certosa di Galluzo [38305]
Deposition 1523-1525 Certosa di Galluzo
Resurrection 1523-1525 Certosa di Galluzo [38306]
Supper in Emmaus 1525 Uffizi Gallery, Florence [38307]
Study of a Carthusian Monk (Drawing) 1525 Uffizi Gallery, Florence [38308]
Madonna and child & two angels 1525 San Francisco Museum Art, San Franciscomarker [38309]
Portrait of young man in pink 1525-1526, Pinacoteca Communale, Luccamarker.
Tabernacle of San Giuliano, Boldrone, Crucifix with Madonna & St. John, and Sant'Agostino 1525-1526: Accademiamarker, Florence
Birth of St. John Baptist 1526 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
Saint Jerome Penitent 1526-1527 Landesmuseummarker, Hannovermarker.
Madonna with Child & St John (Bronzino?) 1526-1528 Palazzo Corsinimarker, Florence.
Madonna with Child & St John 1527-1528. Uffizi Gallery, Florence [38310]
Matthew, Luke, & John (Mark painted by Bronzino) 1525-1526 Santa Felicitamarker, Capponi Chapel, Florence.
Deposition 1526-1528 Santa Felicita, Capponi Chapel, Florence. [38311]
Annunciation 1527-1528 Santa Felicita, Capponi Chapel, Florence. [38312] [38313]
Portrait of Francesca Capponi, as St. Mary Magdalen 1527-1528 Whitfield Fine Art, London. [38314]
Visitation 1528-1529 Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignanomarker [38315]
Madonna with Child, Saint Anne and Four saints 1528-1529 Louvre Museummarker, Paris. [38316]
Portrait of a Halberdier 1528-1530 J.marker Paul Getty Museummarker, Los Angeles [38317]
Eleven Thousand Martyrs 1529-1530 Palazzo Pittimarker, Florence


Late works (after 1530)

Painting Date Site Link
Martyrdom of San Maurizio and the Theban Legions (Pontormo & Bronzino) 1531 Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Noli me Tangere (Bronzino?) 1531 Casa Buonarrotimarker, Florence [38318]
Portrait of lady in red with puppy, (Bronzino?) 1532-1533 Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
Venus and Cupid 1532-1534 Galleria dell'Accademiamarker, Florence
Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici c. 1534-1535 Philadelphia Museum of Artmarker, Philadelphia [38319]
Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici c. 1534-1535 Art Institute of Chicagomarker, Chicago [38320]
Adam and Eve 1535 Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Study for the Three Graces (Drawing) 1535 Uffizi Gallery, Florence [38321]
Portrait of Maria Salviati de Medici and Giulia de Medici (Painting) c. 1539 The Walters Art Museummarker, Baltimore [38322]
Portrait of Niccolò Ardinghelli National Gallery, Washington D.C. [38323]
Portrait of Maria Salviati 1543-1545 Uffizi Gallerymarker, Florence
Sacrificial Scene c. 1545 Capodimonte Museum, Naples
My Book (Pontormo's Diary) 1554-1556 National Library, Florence
Portrait of Pontormo (Bronzino) [38324]
St. Francis (Drawing) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [38325]
San Lorenzomarker (Fresco cartoons) [38326][38327][38328]


References

  1. One attempt at defining mannerist art is to characterize it as art that follows art rather than art that follows nature, or life. [See for example Sydney Freedberg's notion of the 'quoted' form in "Observations on the Painting of the Maniera" Art Bulletin 47 (1965), pp. 187–97.] Though Freedberg did not classify Pontormo as a strictly maniera painter, if we accept that the Deposition does hold a quotation from Michelangelo's Pietà, then perhaps we can understand better how Pontormo fits in as a mannerist and into his own larger history of sixteenth century art.
  2. Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, tr. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 409
  3. See "An Introduction to Vasari's Story" in Pontormo, Bronzino, and Allori: A Genealogy of Florentine Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001).


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