Jacopo Pontormo

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. Vasari relates how the "young, melancholy and lonely," boy 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. 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. Pontormo's early style is close to his teacher, Andrea del Sarto, and to the early 16th century renaissance artistic principles.

Pontormo took part in the fresco decoration of the salon of the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caiano (1519–20). 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.

A number of Pontormo's works have 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. He also did some religious work, the large altarpiece canvas for the Brunelleschi-designed Capponi Chapel in the church of Santa Felicita, Florence, portraying The Deposition from the Cross, is considered by many Pontormo's surviving masterpiece (1528). 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.

Many of Pontormo's works have been damaged, including the lunnettes for the cloister in the Carthusian monastery of Galluzo. Perhaps most tragic is the loss of the unfinished frescoes for the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence which consumed the last decade of his life. Perhaps as a result of Vasari's derision, or perhaps because of the vagaries of aesthetic taste, Pontormo'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, 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. 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.

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