Il Pontormo

Saint Francis and Saint Jerome

Jacopo Carrucci called Il Pontormo
( Pontormo, 1494 - Florence, 1556 )

Oil on panel 28.5x12 cm (each) Seen and approved by: Janet Cox-Rearick

George Frederick Myddleton Cornwallis-West (1874 - 1951); Julius Weitzner, New York, by January 1955; Count Leonardo Vitetti, Rome; Private collection, New York.

Old Masters in a Modern Light, London, Whitfield Fine Art, June 22 – July 17, 2009 ; Important Old Masters in a New Light, Monte-Carlo, Maison d’Art, September 1 – 18, 2009.

P. Costamagna, Pontormo. L’opera completa, Milan, 1994, p. 38, 134 illustration, p. 136 note no. 2.; J. Cox-Rearick, The Burlington Magazine, 139, no. 1127, february 1997, p. 127; Old Masters in a Modern Light, exh. cat., London, Whitfield Fine Art, 2009, pp.30-33; Important Old Masters in a New Light, exh. cat., Monte-Carlo, Maison d’Art, 2009, pp.28 - 31.

Dr. Philippe Costamagna, in publishing these small panels in 1994, associated them with the Pucci altarpiece, painted by the artist in 1517/1518 (and dated 1518), for the church of San Michele Visdomini. Even though the altarpiece was long coveted by the rich and powerful (the Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria, wife of Cosimo II de’ Medici and mother of Ferdinando II, offered 1000 scudi for it), it has always remained in the church. The suggestion that they might be part of the predella has engaged some minds: the original design of the Pucci Chapel has not survived, and it could well have had such a feature. Prof. Janet Cox-Rearick in her review of the Costamagna monograph (The Burlington Magazine, 139, no. 1127, february 1997, p. 127) doubts the idea that these could be part of the predella, partly because of the absence of St. Jerome in the main altarpiece. Costamagna (oral communication, 2009) reaffirmed his belief that these two panels are by the artist, and links them to the great range of artistic innovation that is associated with the Pucci altarpiece, and the National Gallery Stories of Joseph.

These panels also echo in style the panels painted for the Chariot of the Mint in the Palazzo Vecchio, whilst the nature of the modeling of the hands show Pontormo’s distinctive hesitancy, seen in many of his drawings at this time such as the Study of John the Evangelist, Uffizi, Florence.

The kneeling poses are linked with Pontormo’s drawings in the Uffizi (Inv. No. 6744F recto) and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Inv. No. 83GG379) that Costamagna illustrates on the following pages to the two predella panels, and reflect the artist’s attention to anatomy at this period. It is said that he and Rosso undertook anatomical dissections around this time, and the Pucci altarpiece was clearly a commission that represented in many ways a summation of all the innovations that the artist had participated in.

The pose of the St. Francis in the altarpiece is in reverse to the Getty and Uffizi drawings, which are of a kneeling figure looking left; but reversing a design was often employed, and the many figure studies show how Pontormo, at this period, was engaged in the description of small figures in a larger context. The most important instance of this is, of course, in the panels of Stories of Joseph commissioned in 1515 on the occasion of the wedding of Pierfrancesco Borgherini and Margherita Acciauoli by Pontormo (notably the four panels now in the National Gallery), Del Sarto, Granacci and Bacchiacca. The format of the commission, for the decoration of the nuptial bedroom, and particularly the bed itself, was what dictated the employment of small figures.