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Jacopo Pontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona (detail, reclining woman), 1519-21, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano, Poggio a Caiano

Travel guide for Tuscany

Jacopo Pontormo


Jacopo Carucci (May 24, 1494 – January 2, 1557), usually known as Jacopo da Pontormo, Jacopo Pontormo or simply Pontormo, was an Italian 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.
Jacopo Carucci was born at Pontorme, near Empoli, to Bartolomeo di Jacopo di Martino Carrucci and Alessandra di Pasquale di Zanobi. Vasari relates how the orphaned boy, "young, melancholy and lonely," was shuttled around as a young apprentice:

Jacopo had not been many months in Florence before Bernardo Vettori sent him to stay with Leonardo da Vinci, and then with Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo, and finally, in 1512, with Andrea del Sarto, with whom he did not remain long, for after he had done the cartoons for the arch of the Servites, it does not seem that Andrea bore him any good will, whatever the cause may have been.

Pontormo painted in and around Florence, often supported by Medici patronage. A foray to Rome, 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 Carmignano, about 20 km west of 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.

The Joseph canvases (now in the National Gallery in London) 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. According to Giorgio Vasari, the sitter for the boy seated on a step is his young apprentice, Bronzino.

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 Caiano (1519–20), 17 km NNW of 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 large altarpiece canvas for the Brunelleschi-designed Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita 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. 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 tomb 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.[1] 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 Carmignano 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..."[2]

A number of Pontormo's other works have also remained in Florence. The Uffizi Gallery 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

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 Lorenzo 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 Judgment in the Sistine Chapel 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.

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:

But I have never been able to understand the significance of this scene, although I know that Jacopo had wit enough for himself, and also associated with learned and lettered persons; I mean, what he could have intended to signify in that part where there is Christ on high, raising the dead, and below His feet is God the Father, who is creating Adam and Eve. Besides this, in one of the corners, where are the four Evangelists, nude, with books in their hands, it does not seem to me that in a single place did he give a thought to any order of composition, or measurement, or time, or variety in the heads, or diversity in the flesh-colours, or, in a word, to any rule, proportion or law of perspective, for the whole work is full of nude figures with an order, design, invention, composition, colouring, and painting contrived after his own fashion, and with such melancholy and so little satisfaction for him who beholds the work, that I am determined, since I myself do not understand it, although I am a painter, to leave all who may see it to form their own judgement, for the reason that I believe that I would drive myself mad with it, and would bury myself alive, even as it appears to me that Jacopo in the period of eleven years that he spent upon it sought to bury himself and all who might see the painting, among all those extraordinary figures... Wherefore it appears that in this work he paid no attention to anything save certain parts, and of the other more important parts he took no account whatever. In a word, whereas he had thought in the work to surpass all the paintings in the world of art, he failed by a great measure to equal his own (past) works; whence it is evident that he who seeks to strive beyond his strength and, as it were, to force nature, ruins the good qualities with which he may have been liberally endowed by her.(1)

Critical assessment and legacy

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 provided Vasari with ample motivation for running down the artistic lineage of his opponent for Medici patronage.[3]

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.



Vertumnus and Pomona, 1519-21, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano

Jacopo Pontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona (detail), 1519-21, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano, Poggio a Caiano

Influenced by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531), Pontormo worked for the Medici, Borgherini and other families of the Florence Renaissance, making his initial reputation with fresco works at the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano.
Through the patronage of Cardinal Ottaviano de' Medici, Pontormo painted a famous portrait of Cosimo de'Medici Il Vecchio (1518-19, Uffizi), noted for its rich warm reds, and was then asked to help decorate the great entrance hall of the Villa at Poggio a Caiano. The series, commissioned by Pope Leo X in memory of his father Lorenzo the Magnificent, was carried out by Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio (1482-1525) and Pontormo, who was responsible for two opposite lunettes pierced by a bull's-eye window (oculus) in the centre. On the death of Leo X the work was left unfinished. Pontormo had completed only one of the lunettes (Vertumnus and Pomona) but it is one of his happier works, a masterpiece of Florentine Mannerism, full of fantasy and elegant arabesques.
The story of Pomona and Vertumnus is the classic Greek mythological love story, however, it is Roman. The main characters of the story are Pomona, a nymph, and her greatest admirer, Vertumnus.[4]


Jacopo Pontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona (details), 1519-21, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano, Poggio a Caiano


Short film in the Casa natale di Pontormo and the Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano, at Poggio a Caiano



| fresco in Santissima Annunziata, Florence

Jacopo Pontormo, Visitation, 1514-16, fresco, 392 x 337 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence

Pontormo painted in and around Florence, often supported by Medici patronage. A foray to Rome, 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.
Like Andrea del Sarto and Rosso, early in his career Pontormo worked in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence where he executed the Visitation as part of the decorative cycle of the Scenes from the Life of the Virgin in the Chiostrino dei Voti.

The painting depicts the meeting of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, both with child, symbolically prefiguring the future interaction of their sons, Jesus and John the Baptist. Pontormo shows himself as under the spell of Raphael, arranging his composition on a set of low steps, similar to Raphael's School of Athens. There is an element of refinement and elegance in this work of Pontormo, both in the poses of the figures and in the creation of the architectural backdrop.
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 Carmignano, about 20 km west of 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.

Jacopo Pontormo, Visitation, 1514-16, Santissima Annunziata, Florence


Jacopo Pontormo, Deposition, detail, 1525-28, (panel), Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence

Art in Tuscany | Jacopo Pontormo, frescoes in the Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence

[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).
[4] Pomona and Vertumnus
The story of Pomona and Vertumnus is the classic Greek mythological love story, however, it is Roman. The main characters of the story are Pomona, a nymph, and her greatest admirer, Vertumnus.
Pomona was the only nymph who did not love the woods. She prefferred gardens, and so that is where she stayed and that was the only thing she cared about. Pomona was very beautiful and and many admirers. Her greatest admirer was a man name Vertumnus. However, Pomona cared nothing of these men and only for her garden.
Vertumnus, being Pomona's greatest admirer, could not go a day without seeing her. He would continue to disguise himself as a different personality every day just to go look upon her beauty without her recognizing him. She grew more beautiful each time he saw her, until finally, looking wasn't enough.
Vertumnus devised another plan in which he would make her not only allow him to see her, but her to love him as well. He disguised himself as an old woman and went to see her to sell her fruit. When he saw Pomona admiring the fruit, he said to her, "But you are far more beautiful." With that statement, he kissed her.
Vertumnus continued to kiss Pomona and she started thinking this was a little strange. Seeing her suprise, Vertumnus stopped and tooke a seat across from her. He looked at the a grape vine near him. Vertumnus cleverly used a metaphor with the grape vine, saying it would not be as beautiful if it were not for the grapes. He was of course, getting at the fact that Pomona was missing a man in her life. Then he went on saying that the Roman goddess of love, Venus, hated hard-hearted women like Pomona.
Vertumnus took one last look at Pomona, and using the metaphor of the grape vine again, told her that she could not stand alone and should love Vertumnus. For Vertumnus had loved Pomona, and would never love anyone else. Also, he would love her garden too. With this, Vertumnus rose and shed his old woman disguise, revealing himself to Pomona. Pomona rushed into Vertumnus's arms, and since then, Pomona's orchard has had two gardeners.

Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism

Palazzo Strozzi in Firenze hosts until 20 July 2014 a major exhibition entitled Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism.

The show tells and compares the story of the two painters who were without question the most original and unconventional, the most anti-conformist and criticized adepts of the new way of interpreting art in that season of the Italian Cinquecento. This landmark exhibition brings together for the first time a selection of some 80 works.

Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Strozzi, 50123 Firenze (Florence)
8 March 2014 - Sunday 20 July 2014

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia articles Pontormo, Barbadori Chapel, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jacopo Pontormo and Cappella Barbadori.

Holiday home in Tuscany, Casa Santa Pia

Residency in Toscany for writers and artists | Podere Santa Pia


Podere Santa Pia
Siena, Piazza del Campo

Siena, Palio

Siena, Piazza del Campo

Villa I Tatti
Siena, Piazza del Campo

Abbazia di Sant' Antimo
San Gimignano
The abbey of Sant'Antimo
Crete Senesi, surroundings
of Podere Santa Pia
Poggio a Caiano is situated north-west of Florence. Poggio a Caiano is most visited for its highly renowned Medici Villa. This Grand Ducal villa is situated on a hill on the shores of the river Ombrone and is one of the most beautiful in Tuscany. The building of the villa was almost entirely due to Laurence the Magnificent who built the Medici Villa on the site of an ancient castle which once belonged to the powerful Cancellieri family of Pistoia. After 1420 it was bought by the Strozzi and finally by the Medici.

The construction of the Villa of Poggio a Caiano started in 1485 and followed the purchase on behalf of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1473 of a large territory which surrounds the villa and includes the areas of Santa Maria in Bonistallo, Ponte a Tigliano and Tavola. Giuliano da Sangallo carried out the project and on the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492, the construction was merely started. In 1495 the basements, the ground portico and probably the facade were finished. When Lorenzo's son Piero de'Medici was exiled from Florence the works were interrupted and resumed in 1512 when Lorenzo's wife Alfonsina Orsini returned to Florence and intensified in 1515 when Lorenzo's son Giovanni became Pope Leo X. His emblem, the yoke, is imprinted in the center of the ceiling of the main hall (Hall of Leo X).
It was only under Cosimo I that the garden and the four bulwarks were completed. Tribolo's project was carried out after his death (1550) by his son-in-law Davide Fortini. In 1562 Giorgio Vasari designed the entrance in Via Pratese and the staircase which is most probably the one in Bianca Capello's apartment. Between 1801 and 1811 Pasquale Poccianti designed and carried out the curved shaped front stairs which lead to the terrace on the front of the Villa and which substituted the original straight stairs designed by Sangallo. He also designed the large internai staircase. The garden was designed by Tribolo on request of Cosimo I and was completed by Davide Fortini. Tribolo also designed the two bulwarks which protect the front entrance, the walls surrounding the Villa and the large building called the Scuderie (horse stables) on the east side of the Villa. The building called the Palatoio or Pallacorda is also attributed to him and can be seen on the rear side of the Villa.
In 1552 the secret garden was planted. This could be reached by crossing a bridge and was separated from the main garden by a small road. The garden, as can be seen in the lunette of the Villa by Giusto Utens, (between 1599 and 1602) has a traditional cross shape, with four major and eight minor partitions. In the center a small wooded area was planted to obtain a nearby hunting ground righi behind the Villa.
The garden was transformed between 1811, when on the north side the new staircase was added to the front of the Villa, and 1830 when the English style garden was created in the back with flower patches and curved paths. This was designed by Pasquale Poccianti who also designed the large building for citrus trees. The road which divided the Villa from the garden was eliminated thus uniting the two with the construction of a large staircase. Nothing remains of the 16th century garden except for the surrounding walls. At the north end of the garden we find the large lemon tree house bulding , used to protect the many citrus plants during the Winter season. It was designed by Pasquale Poccianti.
The Italian style garden today is divided in neatly trimmed patches of flowers and low bushes and a large number of citrus trees, especially lemon trees. Cedrus atlantica, Sequioia sempervirens, Sequoia dendron giganteum and a small collection of roses are the main types of plants we find in the garden. Behind the Villa the garden turns into an English style park with several openings and shady areas and different examples of oak trees such as the large Turkey Oak.

Gardens in Tuscany | Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano

Poggio a Caiano


Alessandro allori, Portrait of Bianca Cappello, c. 1580, fresco, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze