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Pontormo 1494–1556 Florence

Jacopo Carucci called Pontormo, along with Rosso Fiorentino (1495–1540), was the leading early mannerist painter in Florence. He was both a virtuoso draughtsman and a supreme colorist, whose acid combinations still have the power to amaze. Along with his colleague, Rosso, he shattered the classical balance of his teacher, the "perfect painter" Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530), doyen of modern Florentine painting after the departure of Raphael to Rome. Already by 1515, Pontormo was a successful artist and he was commissioned to produce both altarpieces such as that for Santa Maria Visdomini and such things as ephemeral designs for state pageants, including the grisaille paintings representing Apollo executed to decorate a chariot to be seen in a procession by candlelight. 

An early fresco in the cloister of the Annunziata in Florence still shows his attachment to del Sarto, but his brilliant Joseph in Egypt (National Gallery, London) breaks many of the rules of High Renaissance equilibrium. A staircase, like those in Piranesi's eighteenth-century prints of prisons, leads nowhere, while the packed crowd below and gesticulating statues introduce a restlessness perhaps typical of that uneasy age. In the Visitation at Carmignano of ten years later, the monumental figures are partially deconstructed by draperies which have a life of their own and the intense and unnerving stares of the women plausibly reflect the artist's melancholy and depressed personality. Painted roughly at the same time his masterpiece, the Deposition in San Felicita Florence, is his most hallucinatory and surreal work. The colors have a pale, unearthly iridescence and the figures float in a dream like vacuum as Christ's body is lowered into the tomb. In the Certosa del Galluzzo outside Florence his fresco of Vertumnus and Pomona is quite different and harks back to the carefree Arcadia of Horace and Virgil. Its incisive and witty draftsmanship may reflect a study of the prints of Dürer (1471–1528). Pontormo was a virtuoso draftsman and his last series of frescos for the basilica of San Lorenzo are only known from drawings. They were much influenced by Michelangelo's (1475–1564) Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel but criticized by his biographer Vasari, as muddled and incoherent.

Pontormo produced many strong portraits of which the most famous today is the Halberdier in the Getty museum, sold for a record price at auction in 1989. The sitter is thought to be either the Medici Duke Cosimo I in adolescence, or Francesco Guardi, a Florentine landowner whose portrait in military costume by Pontormo is mentioned by Vasari. Whatever the case, his fashionable outfit looks very paramilitary and he fits the profile of the young Florentine gentlemen one can imagine swaggering about town during the Siege of 1530.


Top Auction Results for Pontormo

Portrait of a Halberdier
Sold for $35,400,000
New York, Christie’s, 31 May 1989, Old Masters Evening Sale, Lot 72

Portrait of Cosimo I de Medici
Sold for £505,250 ($812,429)
London, Sotheby’s, 8 July 2009, The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection: Renaissance & Baroque Masterworks, lot 15


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