La Visitazione

The brillant solitude of Pontormo
An itinerant and solitary spirit, Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo, (1494-1557), was one of the fathers of Italian Mannerism. His ambiguous visual style represents a clear challenge to the perspective regularity of the Renaissance, showing the fragility of humans in a world ruled by mysterious and uncontrollable forces.
According to Vasari, Jacopo Carucci was always melancholy and lonely. Born in Pontormo, near Empoli, he was orphaned at an early age, spending the rest of his youth following various itinerant artists in the area.
His talent, however, put him in touch with the greatest painters of the Medici court: Bernardo Vettori, Piero di Cosimo, Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci. Ironically, however Carucci became famous bearing the name of his hometown, despite all the suffering he had endured there.

He explored still further the agonizing loneliness of the central figure, almost a general symbol of human frailty, in a new “Visitation”, painted a few years later for the Church of San Michele in Carmignano, near Florence. This time the Madonna and Elizabeth are in foreground, but the world around them is dark and mysterious, devoid of form and light. It is like one of De Chirico’s metaphysical landscapes, emptied of any contact with life’s joys, where only Mary’s embrace guarantees some degree of human warmth. The faces, however, remain cold, solemn, and joyless.
It is likely that Pontormo’s ingrained pessimism was the result of new human vicissitudes, due to a sudden pestilence in Tuscany in 1522. Forced to leave Florence for fear of contagion, the artist withdrew to the Certosa di Galluzzo, where he lived for some time in the company of the ascetic and strict monks. Such isolation increased the severe and oppressive tendencies in his work, widely expressed in a series of paintings for this Carthusian monastery, today severely damaged by the passage of centuries.

Returning to the Medici court in 1525, Carucci was finally given the very prestigious assignment of decorating the Capponi Chapel in the Church of Santa Felicita, originally designed by Brunelleschi.

Despite its visual originality, Pontormo’s decoration of the Capponi Chapel met with great success at the time, allowing him to open an artistic workshop in Florence together with his loyal apprentice, Agnolo Bronzino. Almost all of Carucci’s subsequent commissions were portraits for the Medici family, including the famous one of Maria Salviati, mother of Grand Duke Cosimo I, in the Uffizi. Nonetheless, the brilliant painter experimented once again with his restless and edgy style in some religious paintings, such as “The Martyrdom of St. Maurice” (1531) and the classic myth of “Adam and Eve” (1535).