The Artist Birthday Series

Jacopo Pontormo

"Group Of The Dead," drawing by Jacopo Pontormo, 1546-1556, for the now destroyed fresco cycle at San Lorenzo church in Florence, Italy.
“Group Of The Dead,” drawing by Jacopo Pontormo, 1546-1556, for the now destroyed fresco cycle at San Lorenzo church in Florence, Italy.
Study for "Deluge," by Jacopo Pontormo, 1546-1556, for the now destroyed fresco cycle at San Lorenzo church in Florence, Italy.
Study for “Deluge,” by Jacopo Pontormo, 1546-1556, for the now destroyed fresco cycle at San Lorenzo church in Florence, Italy.

Vasari’s Life of Pontormo depicts him as withdrawn and steeped in neurosis while at the center of the artists and patrons of his lifetime. This image of Pontormo has tended to color the popular conception of the artist, as seen in the film of Giovanni Fago, Pontormo, a heretical love. Fago, portrays Pontormo as mired in a lonely and ultimately paranoid dedication to his final Last Judgment project, which he often kept shielded from onlookers. Yet as the art historian Elizabeth Pilliod has pointed out, Vasari was in fierce competition with the Pontormo/Bronzino workshop at the time when he was writing his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. This professional rivalry between the two bottegas could well have provided Vasari with ample motivation for running down the artistic lineage of his opponent for Medici patronage.

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Perhaps as a result of Vasari’s derision, or perhaps because of the vagaries of aesthetic taste, Pontormo’s work was quite out of fashion for several centuries. The fact that so much of his work has been lost or severely damaged is testament to this neglect, though he has received renewed attention by contemporary art historians. Indeed, between 1989 and 2002, his Portrait of a Halberdier, held the title of the world’s most expensive painting by an Old Master, purchased for $35.2 million in 1989 by the Getty Museum.

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