Museum  September 7, 2018

The Morgan Hosts Pontormo's "Visitation" for First Time in US

 Photography by Antonio Quattrone

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494–1556), Visitation, 1528–1529, oil on panel, Parrocchia dei Santi Michele e Francesco, Carmignano.

New York, NY — Jacopo da Pontormo (1494–1557) was one of the most extraordinary painters and draftsmen of sixteenth-century Florence. By the end of the 1520s, he had created one of his most moving and groundbreaking works, the Visitation. For the first time, this masterpiece of Mannerist art is traveling to the United States as the focus of the exhibition Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters.

Organized in collaboration with the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the exhibition places the altarpiece in the context of a selection of other exceptional works by the artist and offers new insights into Pontormo’s creative process and the Visitation’s iconography, origin, interpretation and patronage.

The Visitation is the pride of the Pieve dei Santi Michele e Francesco, a small parish church located in Carmignano, a picturesque town west of Florence. Standing over six feet tall, it depicts the intense moment of encounter between the Virgin Mary, shown at left, and her cousin Elizabeth, who reveal to each other that both are pregnant. Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. According to Catholic tradition, this visit, recorded in the Gospel of Luke, was believed to bring divine grace to both Elizabeth and her unborn child, who recognized the presence of Jesus.

Breaking with traditional iconography, Pontormo created a deeply personal version of the miraculous encounter. The event takes place on the streets of the town where Mary had gone to stay with her cousin. Pontormo eliminated most of the narrative details of the encounter and instead focused on the two sacred figures, accompanied by their female attendants, in fluttering garments and with their heels raised in motion. In the background is a cityscape that depicts the door to the house at the far right along with buildings on the left that frame the scene. Two tradesmen engaged in conversation linger in the bottom left corner, while a Florentine housekeeper hangs a cloth from the window of a once-abandoned palazzo. In this altarpiece, Pontormo captured both the human and spiritual elements of the encounter in a composition that has influenced artists from De Chirico to Bill Viola.

Photo courtesy of Shepherd Conservation, London

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494–1557), Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap (Carlo Neroni?), ca. 1530, oil on panel. Private collection. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill.

Until recently, the altarpiece was only accessible by visiting the church. Its restoration has created the unprecedented opportunity for the work to travel to the U.S and brought to light important discoveries about the artist’s technique. During the restoration, the panel was carefully cleaned, and Pontormo’s vivid palette was brought back to life. The removal of old layers of varnish and overpaint uncovered details that had become invisible over time, such as the two male figures and the donkey emerging on the left in the background. Technical analysis also revealed that Pontormo used a charcoal underdrawing to transfer the composition from the preparatory drawing on paper to the surface of the panel.

The exhibition will also feature the only known preparatory drawing for the Visitation as well as Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap, 1529-1530. The rarely seen Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap was known to scholars through documents and engravings but thought lost until it was rediscovered in a private collection in 2008. This show offers the public a first opportunity to see the painting, which belongs to a private collection, after its own recent restoration.

With his extravagant and refined style, Pontormo shaped the Mannerist movement that dominated Italian painting between 1520 and 1580. Michelangelo predicted that a 19-year-old Pontormo “will exalt this art to the heavens.”

Although the artist’s work was nurtured by the rich artistic culture of Florence, some of his most breathtaking paintings were created during a time of crisis. From October 1529 until August 1530, Florence was besieged by the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, who sought to capture the city, vanquish the newly established republican government, and return the Medici family to power. It was precisely during this time that Pontormo painted the Visitation, which was most likely commissioned by the Pinadori family, supporters of the last Florentine Republic who opposed the House of Medici. They owned a villa in Carmignano and had an altar dedicated to the Visitation in the church. Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap was painted during the same dramatic months of the siege.

“Pontormo’s work as a painter of devotional images and his inventions as a portraitist solidified his status as one of the greatest painters active in Florence during the sixteenth century,” said director Colin B. Bailey. “I am delighted that visitors to the Morgan will soon have the extraordinary opportunity to experience this newly restored masterwork and am grateful to our collaborators at the Getty and the Uffizi as well as to the Pieve dei Santi Michele e Francesco for making this exhibition possible.”

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