PontormoJacopo Carrucci, called Pontormo (Puntormo or Pontorme in contemporary documents) from the village (now a suburb of Empoli) where he was born on 24-25 May 1494. His painter father, Bartolomeo di Jacopo di Martino, was allegedly a pupil of Domenico Ghirlandaio, but no works of his are known to survive. Vasari, who knew Pontormo well, says he was brought as an orphan to Florence when he was thirteen, and was successively a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo and (from 1512) Andrea del Sarto. He came to prominence, aged less than nineteen, as a painter of decorations for the Medici carnival celebrations in 1513. He worked in Florence and its neighbourhood throughout his life. Early works, such as the Visitation of 1514-16 in the Annunziata courtyard, show the influence of Sarto and Fra Bartolommeo. But the altarpiece of 1518 for the church of San Michele Visdomini already shows the restless agitation and emotional intensity that characterises his highly individual Mannerist style. In 1520-21 he was commissioned to paint both ends of the hall in the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano, but only one fresco was actually done. He left Florence in 1522 to escape the plague, and was occupied until 1526 on a Passion cycle at the Certosa del Galluzzo. Bronzino worked as Pontormo’s assistant at this time, and he continued to do so in 1526-28 in the decoration of the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita. The chapel’s altarpiece – an ethereal Deposition painted in beautifully strange, pale luminous colours – is perhaps Pontormo’s supreme masterpiece. The influence of Michelangelo on Pontormo’s draughtsmanship is obvious, and was to become still more marked in the 1530s, when Pontormo painted two monumental panel paintings (a Noli Me Tangere and a Venus and Adonis) from Michelangelo’s cartoons.
Pontormo’s decorations at the Medici villas at Careggi (1535-36) and Castello (1537-43) have all disappeared. The frescoes of biblical subjects, including huge scenes of the Flood and Last Judgement, he worked on from 1545-46 in the choir of the church of San Lorenzo were still uncompleted after eleven years labour and were finished by Bronzino after his death. They were destroyed during building work in 1738-42, but many extraordinary drawings for the project have survived (mainly writhing masses of oddly proportioned nudes, with small heads, arms and legs and elongated but muscular torsos). Pontormo’s last works were even more extreme and exaggerated than his earlier ones. They were considered a failure by early writers, including Vasari, who was unable to discern ‘any order of composition or measurement … rule, proportion or law of perspective’ in the San Lorenzo frescoes.
Pontormo’s work was mainly of religious subjects, but he also painted a number of portraits, including the famous posthumous Cosimo il Vecchio of about 1519 (Uffizi) and the exquisitely sensitive Halberdier of about 1530 (Getty Museum). His output of panel pictures declined from around 1530 and, with the destruction of his frescoes, no paintings of any kind have certainly survived from the last ten or fifteen years of his life. He died on New Year’s Eve 1556-57. He was buried initially under his fresco of the Visitation in the Annunziata, but his body was later moved to the church's Cappella di San Luca, where many Florentine artists are interred. The fascinating and intimate diary of Pontormo's last years (discovered in 1902) and Vasari’s biography show him to have been strange, solitary and highly neurotic, obsessed with his art, his privacy, his deteriorating health, his diet and his bowels. He shut himself away in a room accessible only by a ladder, which he drew up after him with a pulley. He had few pupils. Apart from Bronzino, the only one of note was Battista Naldini (1535-91), a former ward of the Ospedale degli Innocenti who lived with him from the age of ten.
After his death, Pontormo was soon forgotten. Even the pioneering art historians of the nineteenth century largely ignored him (Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s monumental account of the Florentine school ending with Andrea del Sarto). He was rediscovered only in the early twentieth century, the seminal monographs by Frederick Mortimer Clapp on his drawings and paintings appearing in 1914-16. He was a prolific draughtsman, and his drawings are as original and eccentric as his paintings. Nearly four hundred have survived, including many in the Uffizi for the lost fresco cycles in San Lorenzo and in the villas at Careggi and Castello.
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery.
Maria Salviati with a Child. Wood, 88 x 71.
The identity of the sitter was established in 1940 by the Walter's director Edward KIng, who compared the portrait to Vasari's tondo, painted in 1556, in the Sala Giovanni delle Bande Nere in the Palazzo Vecchio. Maria Salviati (1499-1543), granddaughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, married Giovanni delle Bande Nere, the great soldier of the Medici family, in 1516, and was mother of Cosimo I. Giovanni was mortally wounded at Mincio in 1526, and Maria is shown wearing the widow’s veil. The medal she is holding is very possibly one struck in 1522 in honour of her husband. The child who clutches her hand had been painted over at some unknown date and its image was not detected until 1937. The child was originally thought to be Cosimo but has been identified more recently as Giulia de’ Medici, daughter of Duke Alessandro by his mistress Taddea Malespina. Giulia lived with Maria in the Medici villa at Castello after her father’s murder in 1537. The portrait is first recorded in 1612 in the collection of the wealthy Florentine merchant banker Riccardo Romolo Riccardi. It is listed in an inventory, drawn up after his death, as hanging in a lunette of the courtyard of the Palazzo di Valfonda (near Santa Maria Novella). The child is described as a little girl ('una puttina'). The portrait was acquired by the railroad tycoon Henry Walters in 1902 from the Massarenti collection at Rome (where it was described as a portrait of Vittoria Colonna by Sebastiano). Only the head and shoulders of the child are visible, and it is possible that the panel has been cut down at the bottom. The lower part of the painting is quite damaged.
Brunswick (Maine). Bowdoin College. Walker Art Museum.
Apollo and Daphne. Canvas, 60 x 47.
The river nymph Daphne, caught by Apollo, calls out to her father, the river god Peneus of Thessaly, who turns her into a laurel tree (Ovid's Metamorphoses: Book I, lines 525-552). This small delicately finished grisaille and its companion of Cupid and Apollo (now at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania) may be among Pontormo’s earliest works. With their deep black backgrounds, they look like precious cameos. They were identified by John Shearman (in the November 1962 Burlington Magazine) with paintings decorating the carnival floats used for the Medici celebrations of 6-8 February 1513. Vasari says that Pontormo (then aged less than nineteen) painted ‘scenes in chiaroscuro depicting many instances of the Gods transforming themselves into diverse forms’ for the three floats of Giuliano de’ Medici’s Diamante company. Critical opinion has been divided over whether the grisailles in Brunswick and Lewisburg are Pontormo’s originals or later imitations. They were formerly in the Cook collection at Richmond, where they were ascribed to the school of Andrea del Sarto. Acquired by Kress (via Contini-Bonacossi) in 1949 and allocated to their present museums in 1961.
Carmignano (near Florence). Pieve di San Michele (2nd altar right).
*Visitation. Wood, 205 x 156.
The identity of the two female figures behind Mary and Elizabeth is a mystery. (They have been interpreted as accompanying servants; alternatively, it has been suggested that Mary and Elizabeth are being shown twice – in profile and again in full face.) As first suggested by Frederick Clapp in his pioneering study of Pontormo's drawings (1914), the circular arrangement of the four figures may have been influenced by Albrecht Dürer's famous 1497 print of Four Nude Women. The strange, haunting picture was unknown to Vasari, who otherwise gives a very full list of Pontormo's works. It is first recorded in 1677 in the villa of the Pinadori at Carmignano. In Pontormo’s day, the Pinadori were spice merchants who sold artists’ materials in a shop in Florence. The Visitation was probably commissioned either by Piero di Paolo Pinadori (who died in 1526) or his widow Bartolomea del Pugliese (who left money in her will of 1538 for masses to be said on the Feast of the Visitation). The picture has been in the parish church at Carmignano since 1740. It remained virtually unknown until 1904, when it was published as a work of Pontormo by Carlo Gamba in the Italian journal Rivista d'Arte. It is now acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of early Florentine Mannerism.
During the Second World War, the picture was removed for safety to the Villa Guicciardini at Poppiano, which was hit by a German artillery shell in 1944. According to a report by the British War Office, the painting 'had been thrown on the floor ... and thus received the full weight of the ceiling when it fell; furthermore the soldiers had walked on it later, rubbing the plaster into the surface and removing considerable areas of paint'. In spite of this ill-treament, the picture appears to be remarkably well preserved. It was restored for the 2014 Pontormo e Rosso Fiorentino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, and the removal of dirt and old varnish revealed new background details, including the tiny figure of a woman leaning out of the window on the left. There is a black chalk preparatory drawing, close to the final composition and pricked for transfer, in the Uffizi.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici. Wood, 35 x 26.
Alessandro de’ Medici (1511-37), the first Duke of Florence, was of dubious parentage. Called Il Moro on account of his dark skin and reputedly the child of a black servant in the Medici household, he was officially recognised as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, but it was rumoured that he was fathered by the teenage Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (later Pope Clement VII). At the age of barely twenty, he was installed as the hereditary ruler of Florence by the Emperor Charles V, whose illegitimate daughter, Margaret of Austria, he married. His murder, at the age of twenty-six, by his cousin and boon companion Lorenzino is dramatized in Alfred de Musset’s classic Lorenzaccio (1834). Vasari says that Pontormo did a small portrait of the Duke, ‘the size of a half-folio sheet’, from which he did a large portrait. The large portrait is generally identified with the picture in Philadelphia. Until quite recently, the small portrait was assumed lost. But in 1989 the Chicago picture, previously considered merely one of many copies, was re-examined and published as the original. The attribution was accepted in Lloyd’s 1993 museum catalogue and Costamagna’s 1994 monograph. The melancholy portrait must date from about 1534. By 1854 it was in the collection of Lord Dudley in London (where it was described as a work of Pontormo in Waagen’s Art Treasures). It was acquired at Christie’s in 1892 for £180 by Martin A. Ryerson of Chicago, who left his collection to the Art Institute in 1933. The coat of mail worn by the Duke in the portrait appears to have been added later by another hand.
Dijon. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Saint Sebastian. Wood, 65 x 48.
This damaged half-length figure of the saint holding an arrow was traditionally ascribed to Andrea del Sarto and later attributed to Rosso Fiorentino. Since 1965, when it was restored and freed of heavy repaint for an exhibition at the Petit Palais, it has been regarded as a very early work of Pontormo (about 1515). From the Austrian Imperial collection; brought from Vienna to Paris in 1809 and given to the Dijon Museum in 1812.
*Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici. Wood, 87 x 65.
The quotation from Virgil, on the scroll wrapped around the laurel branch on the left, alludes to the continuity of the Medici dynasty (‘if one is cut down, the other remains’). This posthumous portrait, painted over fifty years after Cosimo’s death, was probably taken from a medal (or possibly a terracotta relief in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo). According to Vasari, it was commissioned by Goro Gheri da Pistoia, secretary to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino. It is presumed to have been painted in about 1519 – the year Lorenzo died and also the year of the birth of a son Cosimo (the future first Duke of Tuscany) to Maria Salviati and Giovanni delle Bande Nere. In Vasari’s day, it belonged to Alessandro di Ottaviano de’ Medici (later Pope Leo X). In the eighteenth century it was transferred from the Uffizi to Cosimo’s cell in the convent of San Marco. It was returned to the Uffizi in 1912 and replaced by a copy.
*Supper at Emmaus. Wood, 230 x 175.
This damaged picture, which is dated 1525 on the small paper scroll at the bottom edge, was painted for the refectory of the Certosa del Galluzzo, after Pontormo had worked on the frescoes in the cloister. The eye in the triangle above Christ, representing the Holy Trinity, seems to have been added by a later hand. (It may have replaced a three-headed or three-faced depiction of the Trinity of the kind condemned by the Council of Trent.) Vasari vouches for the accuracy of the portraits of Carthusian monks, who stand behind Christ at the table with Cleophas and Luke. To the left is the Certosa’s prior, Buonafé, who was responsible for the programme of decoration. An early copy of the picture, by Jacopo da Empoli, is still in the Certosa.
The Eleven Thousand Martyrs. Wood, 66 x 45.
The second painting by Pontormo of this subject; the first was painted for the Hospital of the Innocenti and is now in the Pitti Palace. The Uffizi version was painted for Carlo Neroni, according to Vasari, and probably dates from about 1530. The execution has sometimes been ascribed partly or wholly to the young Bronzino.
*Madonna with the Infant St John. Wood, 89 x 74.
The little St John, who has seen the tragic future, whispers into the Virgin’s ear. This famous picture was once called ‘Charity’, as the figures lack the usual attributes (eg St John’s cross). It probably dates from about 1526-30. It is recorded in the Tribuna of the Uffizi as early as 1589, but subsequently disappeared from sight. It was rediscovered, heavily repainted, in the Uffizi storerooms in 1907. Elizabeth Pilliod (2001) has suggested that it could be the panel of Our Lady left in Pontormo’s house at his death and sold by his heirs to Piero Salviati. It would have entered Duke Cosimo’s collection in 1564, when Salviati’s estate was confiscated because his son Alessandro had been declared a traitor.
Saint Anthony Abbot. Canvas, 80 x 70.
The depiction of the aged monk, grasping his Tau-shaped staff and displaying an unfurled scroll, may have been influenced by Michelangelo's Prophets on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The picture formerly hung in the Pitti Palace, where it was first catalogued in 1837-42. Its earlier provenance is uncertain, though it could have come from the convent of Sant’Antonio da Vienna on Via Faenza. Painted on canvas, it might have been a processional banner. It was once considered a very late work, but is now usually dated quite early (about 1519).
Birth of John the Baptist. Wood, 59 in dia.
Zacharias, struck dumb, writes the name of his son (Luke 1: 57-63). One of the women attending to the mother and baby may be holding a wafering iron, used to make waffles bearing the family’s coat-of-arms and details of the newborn child. Usually described as a desco da parto, a decorated tray used to carry gifts to the mother, but more accurately a tafferia da parto, a bowl that was designed to be eaten from. It is thought to have been painted in 1526 to mark the birth of the first son, Aldighieri, of Girolamo della Casa and Lisabella di Giovanni Tornaquinci; the arms of the two families are on the back of the panel, which is painted to look like porphyry. The execution is sometimes ascribed to Pontormo’s workshop from his design. Another version, now in a private collection, is slightly smaller and has the coats-of-arms of two other Florentine families (the Ughi and Antinori) on the back. It is possible that Pontormo's workshop made such objects for stock, and customised them with appropriate coats-of-arms when they were sold.
Madonna with Saints Francis and Jerome. Wood, 73 x 61.
This comparatively small panel is composed like an altarpiece. St Jerome, clutching a stone against his bare breast, and St Francis, with his hand on his heart, gaze with rapt devotion at the Virgin and Child, who are enthroned in front of a classical balustrade. A lamb lies on a step of the throne between two naked boy angels. When the picture was first recorded in the eighteenth century with the heirs of Carlo de’ Medici, it was ascribed to Pontormo. Later opinion gave it to Rosso for a time, until Berenson revived the earlier attribution. Berti (1973), who dated the panel 1520-25, thought that only the design is Pontormo’s and the execution is by Bronzino.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Wood, 99 x 50.
She holds a martyr's palm (now barely decipherable) in her right hand and a fragment of her spiked wheel lies at her feet. The panel is dated 1512 along the bottom. Long forgotten, it was published in 1992 (by Serena Padovani) as Pontormo’s earliest dated work. It is probably the panel of St Catherine ‘with a palm in her hand and wearing red by the hand of Jacopo da Pontormo’ recorded in the inventory of the collection of Carlo de’ Medici. In 1925 it was deposited with the Italian Embassy in Washington, where it was discovered in a poor state in the 1960s. After restoration in Rome, it was returned to the Uffizi in 1992.
Expulsion of Adam and Eve. Wood, 43 x 31.
The serpent, with a man's head, is coiled around the trunk of the tree to the right. A cherubic (but muscular) angel descends with a sword. This small panel came from the collection of Don Antonio de’ Medici. The attribution to Pontormo is recorded as early as 1632, but has sometimes been doubted by modern critics. The picture may originally have had a pendant, the Creation of Eve.
Two Warriors with Lances; Arms-Bearers with Putti. Canvas, each 90 x 66.
The subjects of these two unusual pictures, painted quite coarsely in grisaille, have not been identified. Attributed to Pontormo as very early works and presumed to have been painted as festival decorations. Two grisailles in American museums – the Cupid and Apollo at the Samek Art Museum (Lewisburg) and the Apollo and Daphne at Bowdoin College (Brunswick) – may have belonged to the same decorations. Transferred in 1925 to the Palazzo di Montecitorio (seat of the Chamber of Deputies in Rome) and returned to the Uffizi only in 2013.
Portrait of Maria Salviati. Wood, 87 x 71.
She wears the habit of the Third Order of St Dominic in which she was buried. The portrait was acquired by the Uffizi in 1911 as an unattributed Sienese work. It has been sometimes identified as the portrait, mentioned by Vasari, that Pontormo painted for Maria Salviati at Castello, where she lived after Cosimo became Duke of Florence in 1537. However, the sitter appears surprisingly youthful for a woman in her late thirties. The picture is much damaged and repainted, and some critics (including Philippe Costamagna in his 1994 monograph) have considered it an early copy by a Sienese painter.
Portrait of a Musician. Wood, 88 x 67.
This portrait entered the Medici collections in 1675 with the estate of Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici, and was transferred to the Uffizi in 1836 from the villa at Poggio Imperiale. The sitter, who holds a book with musical notation (a composition for three voices), was traditionally known as the musician Francesco dell’Ajolle, who was born in 1492 and emigrated to France in 1530. Costamagna (1994) suggested that he could be Rosso Fiorentino, with whom Pontormo worked closely at SS. Annunziata, arguing that the red of the chair upholstery and the bookbinding could be an allusion to Rosso’s name. Formerly ascribed to Andrea del Sarto, it has often been considered an early Pontormo, although an attribution to Pierfrancesco Foschi (a pupil of Andrea del Sarto who assisted Pontormo at Careggi) was suggested when the portrait was included in the exhibition L’Officina della Maniera at the Uffizi in 1996-97.
Leda and the Swan. Wood, 55 x 40.
In a popular version of the myth, Leda conceived four children during the same evening – two by her husband, the King of Sparta, and two by Jupiter disguised as a swan. The two boys on the right, just hatched from the same egg and embracing each other, are probably the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. This small panel, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's famous lost Leda, has been recorded in the Tribuna of the Uffizi since 1589. However, early inventories shed no clear light on the authorship of the painting, which has been variously attributed to Pontormo (as a very early work), Andrea del Sarto, Domenico Puligo and Perino del Vaga.
Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampi.
Drawings for the Lost Frescoes in San Lorenzo.
Vasari says that the decoration of the choir of San Lorenzo was commissioned by Duke Cosino, but it is likely that the choice of Pontormo as the artist was made by the Prior of the church, Pierfrancesco Riccio. Riccio (or Ricci) is known to have had strong Protestant sympathies, and the cycle has been interpreted as presenting an heretical, pro-Lutheran doctrine of salvation through faith alone (sola fide). The work was underway by 1545. It was still unfinished some eleven years later, when Pontormo died on 31 December 1556 or 1 January 1557, and the lower tier of scenes was completed by Bronzino. The frescoes were unveiled on 23 July 1558. They were completely destroyed in 1738-42, when the choir was rebuilt.
There is no comprehensive visual record of the frescoes. The only engraving (made in 1598 and showing the choir of San Lorenzo decorated for the funeral of Philip of Spain) gives only an indistinct view of the upper part of the end wall and shows nothing of the scenes on the side walls. However, some thirty of Pontormo's preparatory drawings have survived (nearly all at the Uffizi). These include finished studies for five scenes from the upper tier: the Christ in Glory (which was situated in the centre of the end wall); Expulsion of Adam and Eve (on the right of the end wall); the double scene of the Sacrifice of Cain and the Death of Abel (left wall); Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law (also left wall); and the Four Evangelists (right wall). For the large scenes in the lower tier, there are preliminary drawings for the Flood (left wall) and for the Ascension of the Souls (end wall), and there is a copy of the Resurrection of the Dead (right wall) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The frescoes were not liked. Vasari, writing just a few years after they were unveiled, complained that he could not discern 'any order of composition, or measurement, or time, of variety in the faces, or changes in the flesh colours or ... any rule, proportion or law of perspective'. Vasari's damning verdict was largely repeated by subsequent commentators (such as Raffaello Borghini in his Riposo (1584)). Some recent scholars have suggested that critics of the frescoes, while ostensibly voicing aesthetic objections, were actually motivated by a desire to distance themselves from heresy. The surviving drawings include many superb figure studies.
The Eleven Thousand Martyrs. Wood, 67 x 73.
According to early Christian legend, the Emperor Maximian butchered St Maurice and the entire Theban Legion because of their refusal to join in pagan sacrifices for victory against the Gauls. In the right foreground, the Emperor commands the persecution. On the left, Christians are martyred. In the background are scenes of baptism (left) and crucifixion (right). The picture was painted for the woman’s section of the Hospital of the Innocenti, and in Vasari’s day was ‘greatly cherished by Don Vincenzo Borghini, the spedalingo (governor) of the hospital, who was once Jacopo’s close friend’. It was painted in about 1528-29 – shortly after the Sack of Rome – which may account for the concentration on violence and horror. The influence of Michelangelo is evident in the complex of male nude poses. There is a second version in the Uffizi.
*Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 85 x 191.
This long narrow painting was one of four panels commissioned by Giovanni Maria Benintendi for the antechamber of his palazzo on the Via Larga (now Via Cavour). One of the other panels is by Franciabigio (the Story of Bathsheba at Dresden) and two are by Bacchiacca (the Legend of the Son of the Dead King at Dresden and the Baptism of Christ at Berlin). Franciabigio's painting is dated 1523; Pontormo's is sometimes judged slightly earlier (around 1520). Andrea del Sarto's famous Saint John the Baptist in the Pitti Palace was also commissioned by Benintendi and may have formed part of the same decorative scheme. Some of the heads in Pontormo's painting seem to have been borrowed from Dürer’s prints, while the kneeling Magus resembles the figure in Leonardo’s unfinished Adoration of 1481-82. The figure on the extreme left, staring intently out of the picture as though urgently seeking the viewer's atrention, has been claimed to be a self-portrait.
Portrait of a Man in Profile. Wood, 50 x 38.
The sitter was identified by Schaeffer (1910) as Francesco da Castiglione, a Florentine canon, on the basis of a resemblance to his portrait in Vasari’s fresco of the Entrance of Leo X into Florence in the Palazzo Vecchio. The attribution to Pontormo, recorded in an 1828 inventory, is unsupported by any documentary evidence and has been rejected by some recent critics. The 2003 gallery catalogue accepts Falciani’s recent attribution to Rosso Fiorentino (in Commentari d’Arte, 1996).
Portrait of a Woman. Wood, 41 x 33.
The traditional attribution (recorded from 1612) was to Andrea del Sarto. The attribution to the young Pontormo (first published in 1932 by Berenson) was accepted only with some reserve in Philippe Costamagna’s 1994 monograph and the 2003 gallery catalogue. There have been other attributions to Franciabigio and to Puligo.
Venus and Cupid. Wood, 127 x 191.
Cupid kisses the languid, androgynous Venus, who points to her heart with her left hand and takes an arrow from Cupid’s quiver with her right. On the left, an altar (?) is decked with masks, a bow and arrows, a bowl of roses and a small statue of a dead or wounded man (Adonis?). The exact subject is unclear: it could be either Cupid Disarmed (with Venus restraining Cupid from making mischief with his arrows of love) or Venus Wounded (illustrating the episode in Ovid's Metamorphoses when Venus is accidently scratched by Cupid's arrow, causing her to fall in love with Adonis). This rather damaged spalliera panel is designed to be seen from below. It is usually identified as the ‘nude Venus being kissed by Cupid’ mentioned by Vasari as painted in about 1533 from a cartoon created by Michelangelo for his friend, the anti-Medici merchant banker Bartolomeo Bettini. According to Vasari, it was intended for a room in Bettini’s house, for which Bronzino had painted some lunettes of Florentine poets. But Pontormo’s picture was seized by ‘certain sycophants in order to spite Bettini’ and given to Alessandro de’ Medici, who paid Pontormo fifty scudi for it. Michelangelo blamed the innocent Pontormo for the loss of the picture. An early restorer prudishly covered the body of Venus in white drapery, which was removed (using abrasive methods that damaged the paint surface) after the picture was discovered in storage in 1850. Before the picture was cleaned in 2002, critics had disagreed over whether it was Pontormo’s original or a replica.
The composition enjoyed immediate popularity, and more than thirty other versions – of varying size and quality – are known. A to--scale version in the British Royal Collection (Kensington Palace) is attributed to Vasari, another at Naples to Vasari’s Flemish collaborator Hendrik Van den Brock, and two others at Dublin and in the Galleria Colonna, Rome, to Vasari’s pupil Michele Tosini. Michelangelo's cartoon – or a nearly contemporary copy of it – is preserved (much damaged and restored) at the Capodimonte, Naples.
Hospital Scene. Detached fresco, 102 x 163.
The fresco, painted in terra verde, shows the interior of a woman’s ward. It comes from the former hospital of San Matteo, now incorporated into the buildings of the Accademia. Long regarded as an early work of Andrea del Sarto, it is rather (as Gamba and Berenson recognised in the early years of the twentieth century) an early work of Pontormo, painted in about 1514.
Florence. Palazzo Vecchio.
Panels from the Carro della Moneta. Mostly about 69 x 45.
The panels include a Baptism, a Visitation, four separate pictures of saints (John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Matthew and Zenobius), and four smaller pictures of putti. They are among Pontormo’s earliest surviving works. They were painted, as Vasari records, to decorate the Carro della Moneta, a chariot used every year by the masters of the Mint in a procession on St John’s Day (24 June). The Carro was dismantled in 1810. Payments for the Visitation are documented from late 1514. The panels were evidently executed in great haste and are highly derivative. The Visitation is a copy of Albertinelli’s famous picture in the Uffizi.
Florence. Casa Buonarroti.
‘Noli Me Tangere’. Wood, 176 x 135.
In 1531, Alfonso d’Avalos, Marchese del Vasto, commissioned Pontormo to paint a picture of this subject from a cartoon by Michelangelo. Alfonso wanted the picture for his adoptive mother, Vittoria Colonna, who was particularly devoted to the Magdalen. According to Vasari, Pontormo also painted another version for the powerful Alessandro Vitelli, ruler of Città di Castello and commander of the Imperial troops garrisoned in Florence. Yet a third version was later painted by Battista Franco for Cosimo I. At least four versions survive. A smaller one (124 x 95) in a private collection at Busto Arsizio has sometimes been identified as Pontormo’s original. There are two versions in the Casa Buonarroti. One has sometimes been ascribed to Pontormo or the young Bronzino and identified as the second version painted for Vitelli. The other has sometimes been identified as Battista Franco’s picture.
Florence. Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (on deposit).
These three detached frescoes of the Crucifixion (307 x 175) and St Julian and St Augustine (each 175 x 127) are from a roadside tabernacle at Quarto, near the Benedictine monastery at Boldrone. The tabernacle was probably painted in the early or mid-1520s (when Pontormo ‘was still fond of that German style’ according to Vasari). In 1955, the very damaged frescoes were removed, transferred to synthetic panels and restored.
Florence. Palazzo Corsini.
Madonna and Infant St John (no. 141). Wood, 87 x 67.
The Virgin supports the Christ Child, who stands with his left hand raised in blessing. The little St John wraps himself in the Virgin's mantle; only his head and shoulders are seen in the bottom left corner. Once ascribed to Rosso Fiorentino or to Bacchiacca and attributed to Pontormo by Berenson (1901). Sometimes considered a studio work or copy, but exhibited as an autograph work at the Palazzo Strozzi in 2014. The composition probably dates from the early or mid-1520s. Sometimes identified with the picture ('Our Lady with her Son in her arms, surrounded by some putti') seen by Vasari in the house of Alessandro Neroni. However, a more likely candidate is perhaps another picture mentioned by Vasari ('likewise a Madonna, but different from the above'), which was painted for 'some Spaniards' and some years later was bought by Bartolommeo Panciatichi, on Bronzino's recommendation, from a second-hand shop. A very similar picture from the Kress collection, now in the museum at San Francisco, is probably a workshop variant or copy.
Madonna and Infant St John (no. 185). Wood, 52 x 40.
The Virgin, seated on a rocky ledge, supports the Christ Child, who stands with his right hand raised in blessing. St John sits on the right, gazing up at the Virgin. His scroll is inscribed with the familiar quotation (Ecce Agnus Dei) from St John's Gospel and his reed cross rests by his left leg. The execution of this little picture, which is probably contemporary with the Santa Felicita Deposition and frescoes of 1526-28, has sometimes been ascribed to the young Bronzino.
The Palazzo Corsini has been closed for many years and can by visited only by special appointment.
Florence. SS. Annunziata.
*Courtyard. Visitation. Fresco, 392 x 337.
The meeting between the pregnant cousins, Elizabeth kneeling before Mary, is staged on the steps of a classical exedra. The two elderly husbands, Joseph kneeling and Zacharias blessing, appear on the right. Above the arch is a scene of the Sacrifice of Isaac, traditionally held to foretell that of Christ . One of a cycle of five scenes from the Life of the Virgin painted by Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, Franciabigio and Pontormo. Painted between the summer of 1514 and winter of 1516, it is Pontormo’s first major work and shows the influence of Fra Bartolommeo’s monumental altarpiece (Pala Pitti) of 1512 for nearby San Marco. According to Vasari, Pontormo was paid only sixteen crowns for the Visitation. He was buried beneath the fresco on 2 January 1557, but then re-interred a few years later in the Cappella di San Luca. The fresco was detached from the wall during restoration in 1958. It was newly restored for the Pontormo e Rosso Fiorentino exhibition held in 2014 at the Palazzo Strozzi.
Pontormo also painted, between October 1513 and June 1514, figures of Faith and Charity around the marble coat-of-arms of Leo X at the entrance of SS. Annunziata. These, his earliest documented works, are now ruinous (on deposit in the Museo di San Salvi).
Cappella di San Luca. Madonna and Saints. Fresco, 222 x 195.
On the left, St Lucy raises the salver containing her eyes. Next to her kneels St Agnes (?) in an ecstasy of suffering. The Madonna turns towards St Michael, holding his scales, while the Child gazes down at the grey-bearded kneeling St Alexis. The fresco was painted for the right-hand altar of the oratory of San Ruffillo (San Raffaelino del Vescovo) in the Piazza dell’Olio in Florence (behind the Archiepiscopal Palace). It was commissioned by the rector Ser Michele d’Alessio di Papi, whose name saint and his father’s are represented in the frescoed altarpiece. When San Ruffillo was demolished in 1823, the whole wall on which the fresco was painted was cut out and moved to SS. Annunziata. The frescoed lunette, depicting God the Father, was unfortunately destroyed. During restoration after the 1966 flood, the fresco was detached from the supporting chunk of wall. It is a very early work (probably around 1513-14).
Florence. Santa Felicita. Cappella Capponi (first right).
*Frescoes: Annunciation; Medallions: Evangelists; **Altarpiece: Deposition.
The chapel, situated in the front right-hand corner of the church, was designed by Brunelleschi in 1419-23. It belonged originally to the Barbadori family and was acquired by the banker Lodovico di Gino Capponi in 1525 as his burial chapel. Pontormo was commissioned to redecorate it completely. Vasari says that the artist shut himself up in the chapel for three years, allowing no one to see what he was doing.
The Virgin Annunciate is frescoed on one side of the window and the Angel on the other (368 x 168 each). Their fictive architectural background, with pietra serena corbels, echoes the church interior. The frescoes were detached and cleaned in 1967. The ceiling fresco (God the Father and Four Patriarchs) was destroyed either in the later sixteenth century (when the Vasari Corridor linking the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace was built) or in the eighteenth century (when the organ loft was remodelled). The tondi (70 in dia.) of the Four Evangelists were re-inserted into the corners (not necessarily in the original order). In his Life of Pontormo, Vasari says that three of the tondi were painted by Pontormo and one by Bronzino; but in his Life of Bronzino, he gives two to each artist. Modern attributions are conflicting, but it is usually agreed that Bronzino designed and executed the St Mark. The St Matthew (ruined and repainted) was replaced by a modern copy in 1975.
The Deposition (313 x 192) over the altar, still in its original frame, is Pontormo’s most famous work. The luminous colours (cyclamen pink, pale turquoise and orange scarlet) are astonishing, and may have been intended to compensate for the darkness of the chapel. The form of the dead Christ derives ultimately from Michelangelo’s Pietà in St Peter’s, although there is no evidence that Pontormo ever visited Rome. Of the eleven protagonists, only Christ and the Virgin are certainly identifiable. The man in green behind the Virgin is probably John the Evangelist. The bare-headed woman, with her back turned to the viewer and holding a blue cloth, could be either Veronica or Mary Magdalene. The young men carrying Christ's body seem too youthful to be Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the usual body-bearers. They might represent angels. The melancholy figure on the extreme right, who appears to be entreating the worshipper to share his own grief at the sight of the dead Christ, is usually thought to be a self-portrait of Pontormo (or else a portrait of the donor Lodovico Capponi). A highly finished study in red chalk for the head of the figure is preserved in the Uffizi. There is a compositional drawing in black chalk for the whole altarpiece at Christ Church, Oxford.
The chapel and all the works in it were restored in 2017.
Florence. San Michele Visdomini.
*‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 214 x 185.
This altarpiece, described by Vasari as ‘the finest panel picture this most rare painter ever did’, is considered a key work in the development of Florentine Mannerism – its unbalanced design and agitated figures breaking with the classical ideals of the High Renaissance. It was painted for Francesco di Giovanni Pucci, a former Gonfalonier (standard-bearer) of the Florentine Republic, and still hangs in the Pucci Chapel (second on the right of the nave). It is dated 1518 on the book held by John the Evangelist (Francesco’s father’s name saint), sitting on a rock. St Francis (his own name saint) kneels in adoration. The prominence of Joseph, holding the Child, is explained by the dedication of the chapel to St Joseph, for whom Francesco Pucci had a special devotion. St James, standing on the right, probably commemorates Francesco’s son Jacopo, who died at Lyon in 1515. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena de’ Medici tried unsuccessfully to buy the picture from Pucci’s descendants for 1,000 scudi. The altarpiece was removed from the church for restoration in 2012-13. It had lost the ‘lively colouring’ admired by Vasari, and was so darkened that it was hard to see in the dimly lit church. With the removal of grime and old retouchings, the colours are now clearer and brighter. A rapid charcoal drawing by Pontormo of a figure bending over a bench was discovered by the restorers on the back of the panel.
Florence. Santa Maria Novella. Cappella del Papa.
Veronica. Frescoed lunette, 307 x 413.
St Veronica, wearing a bright orange dress and white headscarf, holds up the veil (Sudarium) bearing the imprint of Christ's face. She kneels on a cloud under a canopy, the curtains of which are drawn back by two adolescent angels kneeling on pedastals and holding flaming vessels.
The chapel, which is on the west side of the Great Cloister, was part of the apartments used to accommodate visiting dignitaries. It is now incorporated into the police barracks and difficult to visit. The apartments were decorated in 1515, when Pontormo was only twenty, for the visit of Pope Leo X. The bulk of the work (now largely destroyed) was done by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, who painted the Coronation of the Virgin on the end wall of the chapel. Pontormo, working under great pressure of time according to Vasari, painted the ceiling panels (God the Father in the central tondo, with eight putti holding instruments of the Passion and the Medici coat-of-arms) and the lunette fresco of Veronica. The grotesque ceiling decoration was painted by Andrea di Cosimo Feltrini.
Florence (near). Certosa del Galluzzo. Galleria.
*Scenes from the Passion. Frescoed lunettes, 300 x 290.
The five lunettes, detached from the Great Cloister of the Carthusian monastery, depict the Agony in the Garden, Christ before Pilate, the Ascent to Calvary, the Deposition, and the Resurrection. (Preparatory drawings also exist for a Nailing to the Cross, but there is no evidence that this scene was ever executed.) The frescoes are very damaged by exposure. With the loss of modelling, the figures appear flat and ethereal; sixteenth-century copies by Jacopo da Empoli give some idea of their original appearance. They were begun in 1523, when Pontormo went to the monastery to escape the plague in Florence, and finished by 1526. The programme was devised by the Certosa’s prior, Buonafé, who had reformist, Lutheran sympathies. Some figures and poses are adapted from Northern prints (including Dürer’s Great Passion and Small Passion series of woodcuts), and Vasari condemns the ‘German style’ of the frescoes.
Of Pontormo’s other works for the monastery, the panel painting of the Supper at Emmaus (dated 1525) is now in the Uffizi; but the portrait of the 120-year old lay brother (which Vasari says was painted over the door of one of the chapels in the church) is lost, as is a Nativity painted for the prior’s room. Pontormo was assisted by the young Bronzino, who painted the lunettes of the Man of Sorrows and the Martyrdom of St Lawrence.
Frankfurt. Stadëlsches Kunstinstitut.
*Portrait of a Lady with a Dog. Wood, 89 x 70.
The sitter, coolly elegant in a brilliant red dress, is seated in front of a curved niche, a small spaniel perched on her lap. Identified with ‘a portrait from the hand of Jacopo Pontormo representing a lady with a dog’ listed in a 1612 inventory of the Riccardi Gallery at Florence. After leaving Florence early in the nineteenth century, it passed through the Le Brun, Fesch and Maitland collections and entered the Frankfurt Gallery in 1882. The finish is harder than is usual for Pontormo, and the portrait has often been attributed to Bronzino. (Comparison has been made with Bronzino’s Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi in the Uffizi, which has a closely similar composition.) However, the 2004 museum catalogue (by Rudolf Hiller von Gaertringen) retains the attribution to Pontormo, with a comparatively late dating of about 1540. Costamagna (1994) thought that the sitter could be Francesca Salviati – Lorenzo the Magnificent's granddaughter and Duke Cosimo's aunt – who married her cousin Ottaviano de’ Medici in 1533. Red and white were the Salviati heraldic colours and the crossed bronconi motif on the gold necklace was common in Medici art.
Hanover. Niedersachsisches Ländesmuseum.
Saint Jerome. Wood, 105 x 80.
There are no early references to this picture, which was ascribed to Leonardo when it was in the collection of August Kestner of Hanover (who lived in Italy for a few years around 1800). It was discovered in the Hanover Gallery and attributed to Pontormo in 1951 by Robert Oertel. It appears to be slightly unfinished. It may date from the late 1520s, and was possibly painted for Lodovico Capponi who commissioned the Santa Felicita Deposition and frescoes.
Lewisburg (Pennsylvania). Samek Art Museum. Bucknell University.
Cupid and Apollo. Canvas, 61 x 47.
Apollo ridicules Cupid for his use of a bow and arrow (Ovid's Metamorphoses: Book I, lines 438-472). This small grisaille is a pair with the Apollo and Daphne at Brunswick (Maine). They are possibly among the paintings made by the youthful Pontormo to decorate floats used in the 1513 carnival celebrating the restoration of the Medici. Both formerly in the Cook collection at Richmond, they were separated when the Kress collection was dispersed in 1961. The two canvases were reunited in 2016 for an exhibition (Maniera: Pontormo, Bronzino and Medici Florence) held at Frankfurt.
Lisbon. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.
Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici. Wood, 101 x 82.
One of two practically identical versions. The other, better-known version at Philadelphia is generally assumed to be the original mentioned by Vasari, which was painted in about 1534. Formerly in the collection of S. Rodoconachi; donated to the museum in 1866.
London. National Gallery.
*Joseph in Egypt. Wood, 96 x 109.
The panel illustrates several episodes in the later Story of Joseph (as told in Genesis 47-48). Joseph appears no fewer than four times in the picture: on the left, cap in hand and pointing to his kneeling father Jacob, he addresses the Pharaoh; on the right, as governor of Egypt, seated in a triumphal car drawn by children, he listens to a mob clamouring for bread; on the steps leading up to a circular building, he takes one of his sons to see the dying Jacob; and inside the room he presents his children for the dying Jacob’s blessing. According to Vasari, the youth sitting on the steps with the basket is the young Bronzino. This vibrantly coloured and delicately finished picture is one of a series of fourteen panels painted by Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, Granacci and Bacchiacca for Pier Francesco Borgherini and Margherita Acciaiuolo, who married in 1515. The panels, all depicting the Story of Joseph, decorated the wainscotting and furniture in the bridal chamber in the Borgherini palazzo in the Borgo SS. Apostoli. Baccio d’Agnolo, architect of the house, also designed the carved walnut furnishings into which the panels were set. Vasari recounts how, during the Siege of Florence when her husband was away in Lucca, Margherita Borgherini frustrated an attempt by Giovan Battista della Palla to strip the bedroom of its decoration and present it to Francis I of France. The Joseph in Egypt previously belonged to the Duke of Hamilton, and was bought by the National Gallery in 1882 for 300 gns. The other panels from the series are now divided between the Pitti and Uffizi Galleries, the Borghese in Rome and the National Gallery.
*Three Panels with the Story of Joseph.
Two panels are almost square (61 x 52). One depicts Joseph sold to Potiphar (Genesis 39: 1). Joseph, the young boy in yellow, is being addressed by his new master Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh's guard. The Ishmaelites, who had sold Joseph, appear on the left. One puts money in a purse and another picks up coins from the ground. The next panel in the series depicts the Pharaoh with His Cupbearer and Baker (Genesis 40: 1-23). The cupbearer is shown in the backround being released from prison and led down stairs. In the foreground, he waits on the Pharaoh at table. The baker, meanwhile, is arrested (right) and dragged to his execution (top right). The third panel is long and narrow (36 x 143). It shows Joseph's Half- Brothers Begging for Grain (Genesis 42: 1-25). The half-brothers kneel before Joseph, sitting as Vizier in a triumphal car, who orders their bags to be filled with grain. The three panels are part of the series painted for Pier Francesco Borgherini’s bridal chamber; according to Vasari, they were let into cassoni. They were formerly in the Cowper collection at Panshanger, Hertfordshire, and passed by inheritance to Lady Salmond in 1952. They were bought by the National Gallery in 1979 for £250,000.
A Discussion. Wood (transferred to canvas), 35 x 23.
This mysterious little panel, much damaged and restored, was acquired in 1892 from Conte Enrico Costa of Florence by the industrialist Ludwig Mond, who bequeathed his collection to the National Gallery in 1924. It has been called Herod and the Three Magi, but the subject has not been conclusively established. The attribution to Pontormo dates back to J. P. Richter’s 1910 catalogue of the Mond collection and was fairly generally accepted for much of the twentieth century. It was recently abandoned by the National Gallery in favour of one to Mirabello Cavalori, a Mannerist painter in Vasari’s circle, whose style was remarkably close to Pontormo’s. Attributions have also been made to other major and minor sixteenth-century Mannerists (Francesco Salviati, Jacopino del Conte, Andrea Lilli of Ancona and Pontormo’s pupil Antonio Natali). Another version was once in the celebrated collection of the Rev. John Sanford at Corsham Court and is now at the Musée Magnin at Dijon.
London. National Gallery. On loan from 2008 to 2014.
Portrait of a Young Man (Carlo Neroni?). Wood, 92 x 73.
The young man, dressed in a tight black jerkin with vertical folds and an improbably small red cap, rests his left hand on his hip in a pose reminiscent of the Halberdier in the Getty Museum. The inscription (Domi…ni/ul/e…elli) on the letter in his right hand has not been satisfactorily interpreted. In 1759, when in the Casa Gerini in Florence, the portrait was engraved as a work of Alessandro Allori. In 1825, the Gerini collection was sold and the portrait was acquired by the Ulster soldier and politician, the 3rd Earl of Caledon. The picture passed by descent to the present (7th) Earl of Caledon. It came to general notice only in 2008, when it was included in the exhibition Renaissance Faces from Van Eyck to Titian at the National Gallery (see the note by Francis Russell in the October 2008 Burlington Magazine). It has been suggested that it is the portrait of Carlo Neroni mentioned by Vasari as painted during the Siege of Florence in 1529-30. It was for Neroni that Pontormo painted the second version of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (now in the Uffizi). After the 2008 exhibition, the portrait was placed on loan with the National Gallery. It was sold in 2015 for £30.6 million to a New York hedge-fund banker, Tom Hill. A temporary export ban was imposed, giving the National Gallery the opportunity to acquire the picture with a matching offer. However, while the National Gallery matched the sterling price, its offer was rejected because of a large fall in the sterling-dollar exchange rate.
London. Royal Collection.
‘Madonna with a Book’. Wood, 122 x 102.
In the background, Joseph takes cherries from the bowl offered by the young boy (John the Baptist?); a woman (Elizabeth or Anne?) stands in the doorway behind. No fewer than twenty-five versions of this picture survive. Those in the Fogg Museum (head and shoulders only), the Yale University Art Museum (an oval fragment), the Uffizi and Munich have all been classed as autograph at various times. The original was probably painted around 1535-45, and may have been the ‘most beautiful painting of Our Lady’, with which Pontormo paid his stonemason, called Rossino, for work on his home. The Royal Collection version is first recorded, as by Andrea del Sarto, at Kensington Palace in 1818. It is thinly painted and abraded in places. When exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery in 2007, it was proposed as an autograph Pontormo – even if not the original of all the other versions. It currently hangs in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
Los Angeles. J. P. Getty Museum.
*Portrait of a Halberdier. Canvas (transferred from panel), 92 x 72.
The vulnerable youth (‘haughty but shy’) wears a red cap and gold tunic and holds a halberd (combined spear and battleaxe). His identity is controversial. The picture has often been identified as the portrait of Francesco di Giovanni Guardi ‘ in the garb of a soldier’ mentioned by Vasari as painted by Pontormo during the Siege of Florence (1529-30). Francesco, who was born in 1514, was about fifteen years old at this time. Bronzino painted a Pygmalion (now in the Uffizi and somewhat smaller) as a cover for the portrait. An alternative identification of the sitter as the youthful Cosimo de’ Medici was first proposed in 1954 by Hubert Keutner and enthusiastically endorsed by Costamagna (1994). It is based on an entry in a 1612 inventory of the Palazzo Riccardi, which describes the portrait in some detail and identifies the sitter as Cosimo. The portrait left Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. It was bought in Paris in 1810 by Cardinal Fesch, and from 1861 to 1904 it was in the collection of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte. It then belonged to the Stillman family of American bankers. The portrait, which had been engraved in 1809 as a work of Raphael's pupil Giovanni Francesco Penni, was attributed to Pontormo only in 1920 (by Hermann Voss). It was sold at Christie’s on 31 May 1989 for $35.2 million – which until 2002 was by far the highest price paid at auction for an Old Master picture. A preparatory red chalk drawing in the Uffizi shows the youth in a more frontal pose. The picture is displayed in a particularly fine sixteenth-century Florentine portrait frame.
Lucca. Museo Nazionale (Palazzo Mansi).
Portrait of a Youth in a Pink Cloak. Wood, 85 x 61.
The exquisitely sensitive portrayal of an adolescent comes from the Medici villa at Poggio Imperiale. The sitter was called Giuliano di Pier Francesco dei Medici, until Gamba (1921) identified him as the (allegedly) red-headed Alessandro de’ Medici. (Vasari mentions a portrait, painted by Pontormo in the ‘German style’, of the young Alessandro when he was sent to Florence by Clement VII with his cousin Ippolito.) A more recent suggestion is that the portrait is one mentioned by Vasari of Amerigo Antinori, which was probably painted in about 1530-31, shortly before the young patrician was exiled from Florence. There are several areas of visible damage (one to the right of the sitter's chin). But the colours – the raspberry-pink of the cloak, the reddish-gold of the wiry hair and the warm flesh tones – have remained remarkably fresh.
Mexico City. Museo de San Carlos.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 88 x 64.
The Virgin, wearing a bright red dress and lilac head scarf, is shown in profile, offering her breast to the disproportionately large Child seated on her knee. First published as a work of Pontormo in 1966 (by Luisa Becherucci in an Italian collection of essays in honour of Edoardo Arslan). The attribution is accepted in the monongraphs by Berti (1973) and Conti (1995), but rejected by Costamagna (1994), who ascribed the painting to Jacone. Jacone – a shadowy figure, ridiculed by Vasari for his 'fantastic and bizarre' manner and bohemian lifestyle – assisted Pontormo in the decoration of the loggia of Alessandro de' Medici's villa at Careggi.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
Virgin and Child ('Madonna del Libro'). Wood, 81 x 61.
The panel, originally rectangular, has been cut down to an oval. There are numerous other versions – many sixteenth century and some of high quality. One at Munich was accepted as an autograph work by Giovanni Morelli (Die Werke Italienischer Meister (1880)), but is now regarded as an early copy. Another version (head and shoulders only), now in the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, was published as a fragment of Pontormo's original by Janet Cox-Rearick and Sydney Freedberg in the September 1983 Burlington Magazine, and is still described as 'attributed to Pontormo' by the museum. A version in the British Royal Collection was catalogued as possibly autograph by John Shearman in 1983 and exhibited as a work of Pontormo at the Queen's Gallery in 2007. The Yale version was discovered only comparatively recently in a French private collection. It was put up for auction at Sotheby's, New York, in 2003. It failed to sell but was acquired in 2006 by the University Art Gallery, which attributes it to Pontormo. It has been conjecturally linked with the 'panel picture of Our Lady', mentioned by Vasari, that was discovered uncompleted in Pontormo's house after his death and sold by his heirs to Piero Salviati.
*St Anne Altarpiece. Wood, 228 x 176.
The Madonna is surrounded by St Anne (behind her), St Sebastian and St Peter (left), and St Philip (?) and Benedict (right). In a medallion at the foot of the group is an unusual miniature scene of the black-and-red-clad members of the Signoria of Florence in procession ‘with trumpeters, fifers, mace-bearers, official messengers and ushers, and the rest of the palace household’ (Vasari). Such a procession was held every year on 26 July, the Feast of St Anne, to commemorate the expulsion in 1343 of the tyrant Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens. The picture was commissioned by the famiglia (household staff) of the Signoria for the convent of Sant’Anna in Verzaia, outside the Porta San Frediano at Florence. The presence of St Sebastian suggests that the altarpiece may have been commissioned, at least in part, as an ex voto following the plague of 1527 that killed at least thirty-five of the famiglia. The convent was destroyed during the Siege of Florence. The picture was taken by the French in 1813 from the Hospital of Sant’Eusebio in Prato.
Portrait of an Engraver of Precious Stones. Wood, 69 x 50.
The object on the table in the bottom right corner appears to be a ring held between two balls of wax. The portrait was in the collection of Louis XIV and was attributed to Pontormo in Le Brun’s catalogue of 1683. The sitter was once supposed to be Giovanni delle Corniolle (1470-1516), a famous engraver of gems. But this would seem to imply an implausibly early date for the picture, and the names of two other Florentine engravers, Michelino di Paolo Poggini and Domenico di Paolo, have been suggested more recently. The portrait, which shows strongly the influence of Andrea del Sarto, has also been ascribed to Domenico Puligo. Usually dated around 1517-18. The colours appear to have darkened considerably.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson collection).
Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici. Wood, 100 x 81.
Generally now considered the original of the ‘large portrait of the Duke with a stylus in his hand drawing the head of a woman’ mentioned by Vasari. Alessandro, seated in a small wood-panelled room, is dressed in mourning for Pope Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici), who died on 25 September 1534. Vasari says that when Alessandro asked Pontormo what reward he wanted for the portrait, he replied that he wanted only enough to enable him to redeem the coat he had pawned. The Duke then persuaded him to accept fifty scudi – money he put towards building a house. Vasari says that Alessandro gave the portrait as a gift to Taddea Malaspina – the aristocratic young widow who was his mistress. However, according to another source (a letter of 1571), Taddea Malaspina only received the portrait after Alessandro's death (he was assassinated by his neurotic cousin Lorenzino de' Medici) in January 1537. By 1571, the picture was at Massa, the home of Taddea Malaspina's brother-in-law. It was acquired by Johnson (on Berenson’s recommendation) from Bölher of Munich in 1911. Rather damaged; but carefully restored for the 2004-5 exhibition at Philadelphia devoted to Pontormo and Bronzino. Another, better preserved, version at Lisbon is usually considered an old copy. Vasari says that Pontormo painted 'a little picture the size of a half-folio sheet' as a modello. This small preparatory painting has been identified as the portrait of Duke Alessandro now at Chicago.
It is often supposed that the woman Alessandro is sketching is Taddea Malaspina. However, it has been recently suggested (by Patricia Simons in Renaissance Studies (2008)) that the portrait could have been intended originally for Charles V and that the female profile represents his illegitimate daughter Margaret of Austria, who was Alessandro's financée. Alessandro met Margaret when she visited Florence in 1533 and the couple, who had been betrothed since June 1529, finally married in 1536, when Margaret turned thirteen years of age.
Poggio a Caiano (near Florence). Medici Villa.
*Frescoed lunette around window. 461 x 990.
Rustic figures sit or lounge under the drooping laurel branches that seem to grow out of the large oculus window. Vasari identifies three of the figures as Vertumnus (the Roman god of harvests and fertility), Pomona (goddess of fruit trees) and Diana. The decoration of the Salone was commissioned under Pope Leo X and directed by Ottaviano de’ Medici. Pontormo was assigned to paint both end walls with mythological scenes, while Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio were to paint the side walls. The programme was devised by the eminent humanist Paolo Giovio. When Leo X died in December 1521, the work was abandoned and only one of Pontormo’s lunettes was ever done. Some ten years later, when Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio were both dead, Pontormo was summoned to complete the decoration of the room. According to Vasari, he prepared cartoons for frescoes of Hercules and Antaeus, Venus and Adonis, and a scene of nude men playing football, but none of these was ever executed. Pontormo's fresco was restored in 1993.
Pontorme (Empoli). San Michele Arcangelo (right transept).
St John the Evangelist and St Michael. Two panels, 173 x 59.
St John writes the Apocalypse; St Michael tramples on a demon (a putto with black wings and ass’s ears) who clutches one cup of his scales. The two full-length saints formed an arched framework for a greatly venerated fourteenth-century Crucifixion. Vasari says they were painted shortly after the altarpiece of 1518 in San Michele Visdomini. The two panels were taken to Florence in 1933 and placed in the Museo della Collegiate at Empoli in 1956. They were restored in 1980-86 and returned to San Michele.
Rivoli (14 km west of Turin). Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea. On long-term loan from the Cerruti collection.
Portrait of a Gentleman. Wood, 98 x 72.
The man, in early middle age and of somewhat ascetic appearance, with short hair and trimmed beard, has looked up from the book he is holding in his left hand and turned his eyes towards the viewer. His right arm rests on a ledge and he holds a pair of leather gloves in that hand. The pose is very like that in Pontormo's Portrait of Giovanni della Casa at Washington. Little is known of the history of the picture, which was published as a work of Pontormo only in 1952 (by Roberto Longhi in Paragone). It was bought for just €2 million in 2011 by the Turin book manufacturer and collector Francesco Federico Cerruti from the Milan dealer Carlo Orsi. Cerruti died in 2015, and it was announced in July 2017 that his collection would be displayed by the Castello di Rivoli Museum.
Rome. Palazzo del Quirinale.
Three Tapestries. 550/560 x 260/280.
From a set of twenty tapestries illustrating the Story of Joseph, which was manufactured in Florence in 1546-53 for the Sala dei Duecento of the Palazzo Vecchio. Pontormo designed three of the scenes: Joseph’s Lament; Joseph and the Wife of Potipher; and Benjamin at the Court of the Pharaoh. According to Vasari, Pontormo’s cartoons failed to please Duke Cosimo, and the other scenes were designed by Bronzino (sixteen) and Salviati (one). The tapestries were manufactured by two Flemish master weavers, Nicolas Karcher and Jan Rost, who had previously worked in Ferrara and Mantua and were attracted to Florence by Cosimo in 1545. Since 1882, the tapestries have been divided equally between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo del Quirinale.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Holy Family with Infant St John. Canvas (transferred), 120 x 99.
The composition probably dates from the early or mid-1520s. The picture has been sometimes accepted as entirely Pontormo’s (eg. in Cox-Rearwick’s 1964 Drawings of Pontormo and Berti’s 1973 L’Opera Completa) and sometimes considered a work executed by Bronzino from Pontormo’s cartoon. From the collection of the Counts Mordvinov at Petrograd and St Petersburg (where it was recorded as a work of Pontormo in a catalogue of 1786). Acquired in 1923. There are studio versions or copies of a similar composition in the Corsini Gallery at Florence (no. 141) and the museum at San Francisco.
St Quentin at the Pillory. Canvas, 163 x 103.
The saint, held in a pillory, is transfixed by a giant nail. According to Vasari, this gruesome picture was started by Giovanni Maria Pichi, a pupil of Pontormo from Sansepolcro, but was so retouched by the master that ‘it can more or less be said that it is all from his hand’. The picture dates from about 1518. The patron was identified in 1998 (by David Franklin in Apollo) as Bartolomea Aggiunti, a noblewoman of Sansepolcro, who left money in her will of 1517 to found a chapel dedicated to Saint Quentin. The new chapel was constructed in the church of the Observant friars, Santa Maria della Neve. The church, located outside the walls to the north of the town, was destroyed in 1529 during the military campaign to return the Medici to power. The picture was transferred to the Franciscans' new home of Santa Maria Maddalena (closed in 1866).
Venice. Galleria di Palazzo Cini.
*Portrait of Two Men. Wood, 88 x 68.
Probably the double portrait by Pontormo mentioned by Vasari of two of the painter’s ‘closest friends’. One of these friends was the son-in-law of Becuccio Bicchieraio (a glass worker, whose portrait by Andrea del Sarto is in Edinburgh); the other was unknown to Vasari. On the piece of paper held by the man on the left is a passage from Cicero’s De Amicitia (‘Of Friendship’). The portrait may date from the early 1520s. It is recorded in a 1796 inventory of the Pucci collection in Florence as ‘a panel representing Calvin and Luther by Pontormo, disciple of Andrea del Sarto’. It passed by marriage in 1804 into the Guiccardini collection, where it remained until 1960. Restoration, undertaken for the 2004-5 exhibition Pontormo, Bronzino and the Medici at Philadelphia, corrected tonal inconsistencies (especially noticeable in the head of the man on the right) and revealed details of the black costumes.
Washington. National Gallery of Art.
*Portrait of Giovanni della Casa (?). Wood, 102 x 79.
From the collection of the Marchese Bargali in Florence, where it was known as the ‘Portrait of Monsignor della Casa’ (the Bargali were heirs of the della Casa family). The sitter has been identified more precisely as Giovanni della Casa (1503-56) on the basis of a resemblance to a portrait (thought to be a copy after Titian) in the Uffizi which is inscribed with his name. Della Casa was a liberal ecclesiastic, poet, political theorist and man of letters who held the office of commissioner of taxes in Florence. An alternative identification of the sitter as Niccolò di Pietro Ardinghelli, a canon of Florence cathedral who was painted by Pontormo according to Vasari, is based on the assumption that it is the interior of the cathedral that is represented in the background. The sombre portrait is unanimously dated after 1540 and is possibly Pontormo’s latest surviving portrait. It remained in Florence until 1909, when it was sold to the Gallerie Trotti in Paris and attributed by Lafenestre to Sebastiano del Piombo. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1952, and attributed to Pontormo only in 1956 (by William Suida).