Pontormo, La Deposizione (1526-1528)
The Deposition by Pontormo in the Chiesa di San Felicita in Florence is a masterwork of the Mannerist period in Florence. Pontormo's use of bright colors, attenuated and elongated figures their excessively artificial and stylistic movement places this work squarely in the mode of the maniera*.
A note about Mannerism**: As a movement it matured around the year 1520 and was an offshoot of the High Renaissance styles that were refined and promulgated by Michelangelo and then Raphael. The style can first been seen emerging in the late works of Michelangelo as he began to take his depiction of the body past the natural and into the supernatural. In the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel one can see a difference in his priorities when depicting the human form. The artists who followed the great High Renaissance masters, like Michelangelo's student Giulio Romano, took on style as the main priority, abandoning the quest for naturalistic representations that their predecessors had accomplished. A new artistic direction was born. Some of the first artists to excel in this newer, more stylistic mode were Andrea del Sarto and his student, Jacopo Pontormo. They moved away from the subtler colors of Leonardo and worked more on representing a feeling than an object. This can be clearly seen in the The Deposition discussed above. As the style grew and spread it acquired the certain aspects that now define it. The elongation of figures and bodies into impossible proportions, the bright candy colors, the restless and sometimes frenzied movement of those figures. There also starts to be a lack of defined space with perspective falling away in favor of a flatter more nondescript plane. In all, the art looks very different than what had gone before and verges on the strange, weird or sometimes morbid and macabre.
The Deposition by Pontormo is something to be experienced more than understood. Though I will take you through the characters and the story, it is a painting that gives more depth of understanding in the visual account than in the knowledge of history and the Bible. This particular work, though called a Deposition, has elements of the Lamentation and the Pieta as well. These three subjects were commonly depicted in the Renaissance and Mannerist periods and continued to be well into the Baroque era. The Deposition shows Christ coming off the cross, deceased, into the arms of his Mother, the Virgin, and other apostles and mourners. Here Christ is delivered into the arms of his followers while the Virgin swoons into the arms of the Two Marys, Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas. Mary Magdalene is seen above with a pink veil. The two men that carry the body are most likely St. John the Evangelist and another disciple, maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, the three men usually present in a Deposition. The small drab figure who looks out from the right side of the work, the only one not in pastel colors, is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist. I have included a small detail of that figure above.
I hope that you will enjoy this work and the myriad ways it can tell the story of the enormous grief and sorrow of Christ's mourners. I should also mention that the Mannerist movement is one I have studied more than any other and it will definitely feature heavily in some of the works I show you!
This is a link to a fun video I found on YouTube, it is a montage of some of Pontormo's other work:
*If you are interested in this movement and the other works that came out of it, here is a list of the artists more formally considered as Mannerists: Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Parmigianino, Rosso Fiorentino, Bronzino (see previous entry on Laura), and Giorgio Vasari.
**THE defining work on Mannerism was done by John Sherman and is excellent art history.
Posted by Lydia at 1:19 PM