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Pontormo, Jacopo (1494-1557)  
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Between 1523 and 1525, Pontormo and Bronzino sought refuge from an outbreak of the plague in the monastery of the Certosa di Val d'Ema near Florence. Pontormo's diary notations from this period reveal that he felt that his life was in danger because his sinfulness might have provoked the spread of the illness.

In the cloister of the Certosa, Pontormo executed a series of scenes of the Passion with a searing emotional intensity. In defiance of Renaissance conventions of perspective, the space is flattened and literally tilted up. Thus, the figures--even more angular and elongated than in his earlier works--are pushed out, as if to confront the viewer. The intense but ambiguous facial expressions seem to challenge the role of the spectator in the events being unfolded.

Returning to Florence, Pontormo continued to create powerful religious works, such as the Deposition of Christ (1526-1528). In this painting, he retained the compressed space, elongated figural proportions, and anguished expressions of the Certosa series.

But, continuing to vary his style, he now made the figures seem fully three-dimensional and highly muscled in deliberate imitation of Michelangelo, whose figure of Christ from the Pietà of 1495 is quoted.

Pontormo was also active as a portraitist, creating such works as Portrait of a Halberdier (1529-1530, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum). This elongated figure turns in a graceful, serpentine pose; the facial expression and hand gestures convey intense, but ambiguous feelings, the specific nature of which has long been debated by scholars.

Unfortunately, the frescoes for San Lorenzo in Florence (1546-1556), the primary focus of his creative energies in his later years, have all been destroyed. However, the drawings for these reveal continuing creative explorations of the infinite possibilities of figural poses.

Pontormo most fully revealed his love of the male body in several panoramic scenes of martyrdom, such as the Martyrdom of Ten Thousand (date uncertain). Here, seemingly countless nude men, shown with relatively classicizing proportions (unusual in Pontormo's work), turn and twist in graceful poses.

Executions are depicted in the distance, but the primary goal of this painting seems to be the display of the beauties of the male body--of which the commander in charge seems fully aware, to judge by the bulging cloth around his crotch.

Despite the guilt evident in his writings, Pontormo here seems to be celebrating the splendor of the flesh, rather than consigning it to the destruction required by the subject.

In its boldness, Pontormo's art may be an expression of the desire for freedom from constraints, which he was not able to realize fully in his life.

Richard G. Mann

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Clapp, F. M. Jacop Carucci da Pontormo: His Life and Work. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1916.

Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Cox-Rearick, J. The Drawings of Pontormo. 2nd ed. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1981.

Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568). Gaston C. du Vere, trans. David Ekserdijan, ed. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Mann, Richard G.  
    Entry Title: Pontormo, Jacopo  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 10, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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