24 May 2020

Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo – artist

Painter’s expressive style was the start of Mannerism


Jacopo Pontormo's masterpiece, The Deposition from the Cross
Jacopo Pontormo's masterpiece, The
Deposition from the Cross
Painter Jacopo Carucci, often referred to simply as Pontormo, was born on this day in 1494 in Pontorme near Empoli in Tuscany.

Pontormo is considered to be the founder of the Mannerist style of painting in the later years of the Italian high renaissance, as he was capable of blending Michelangelo’s use of colour and monumental figures with the metallic rigidity of northern painters such as Albrecht Dürer. His work represents a distinct stylistic shift from the art typical of the Florentine Renaissance.

According to Giorgio Vasari in his book, The Lives of the Artists, Pontormo’s father was also a painter but he became an orphan at the age of ten. As a young art apprentice he moved around a lot, staying with Leonardo da Vinci, Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo and Andrea del Sarto.

Pope Leo X, passing through Florence in 1515 on a journey, commissioned the young Pontormo to fresco the Pope’s Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella.

Pontormo also participated in the decoration of the nuptial chamber of Pierfrancesco Borgherini with his Stories of Joseph, four paintings that are now in the National Gallery in London.

According to Vasari, the model for the boy seated on the step in one of the pictures was Pontormo’s young apprentice, Bronzino.

In 1522, when the plague broke out in Florence, Pontormo went to stay at a cloistered Carthusian monastery, the Certosa di Galluzzo, where he painted a series of frescoes on the passion and resurrection of Christ, but sadly these have been damaged over the years.

Pontormo’s surviving masterpiece is considered to be The Deposition from the Cross, a large altarpiece canvas in the church of Santa Felicità in Florence.

Pontormo's portrait, The Halberdier, was once
the most expensive painting in the world
In the last few years of his life, Pontormo worked on frescoes for the choir of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, but only the drawings for these have survived. The artist died, aged 62, in January 1557 before completing this work.

According to Vasari, Pontormo ‘was buried in the first cloister of the Church of the Servite friars under the scene he had previously painted there of the Visitation.’ This is the church of Santissima Annunziata in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata in Florence.

His body was moved in 1562 to the chapel devoted to artists and placed under the Trinity, which had been painted by his pupil, Bronzino.

Vasari portrays Pontormo as withdrawn, neurotic and miserly, but subsequent art historians have pointed out that the two were rivals for Medici commissions, which might have influenced Vasari’s judgment.

Pontormo’s work was out of fashion for centuries, but there has recently been renewed interest in him from art historians. Between 1989 and 2002, Pontormo’s portrait of The Halberdier held the title of the world’s most expensive painting by an Old Master.

The church of San Michele in Pontorme, Empoli, is just a few steps from the house in which Pontormo was born
The church of San Michele in Pontorme, Empoli, is just
a few steps from the house in which Pontormo was born
Travel tip:

The village of Pontorme, where Jacopo Carucci was born, is now a district of the town of Empoli, which can be found 20km (12 miles) southwest of Florence. Pontorme is essentially the network of streets around the church of San Michele Arcangelo. The house where Carucci spent his early years is now a museum in which visitors can see objects and artworks that include preparatory sketches for the altarpiece depicting Saints John the Evangelist and the Archangel Michael from the church of San Michele, a page from the painter’s diary and pieces of ceramic cookware uncovered during the building’s restoration.  The house is close to the church of San Michele in Via Pontorme, who can arrange visits.

The loggia facade of the Basilica della Santissima  Annunziata in Florence, where Carucci was buried
The loggia facade of the Basilica della Santissima
Annunziata in Florence, where Carucci was buried
Travel tip:

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where Carucci was buried, is a Renaissance-style basilica in Florence. Considered the mother church of the Servite Order, it is located at the northeastern side of the Piazza Santissima Annunziata near the city centre. The facade of the church is by the architect Giovanni Battista Caccini, added in 1601 to imitate the Renaissance-style loggia of Brunelleschi's facade of the Foundling Hospital, which defines the eastern side of the piazza. The building opposite the Foundling Hospital, designed by Sangallo the Elder, was also given a Brunelleschian facade in the 1520s.

Also on this day:

1671: The birth of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last Medici to rule Florence

1751: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia

1981: The birth of celebrity chef Simone Rugiati


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