Italian Masterpieces IV:
Entombment by Pontormo

July 17, 2006 10:00 pm



After the peak of the High Renaissance art continued to flourish, but in a very different style. The artwork done in this time period is considered to be Mannerist: personal artistic reactions to the aesthetic ideal set in the High Renaissance. One of the famous pieces from this time is Pontormo’s "Entombment", which is considered by many to be his greatest surviving masterpiece.

This altarpiece was created in 1528 for the Capponi Chapel in Santa Felicita in Florence, Italy. During the High Renaissance, paintings were meant to be windows onto the world: perspective and anatomy were perfected, and 3d space was realistically portrayed on 2d surfaces. Mannerist artists, reacting to this perfection, tended to represent illogical spaces occupied by lengthened forms. The focus was on painting as an art form in itself, rather than on painting as representing real life.

A close look at Pontormo’s Entombment reveals many of these tendencies. Even the subject of the painting is unclear. Is it an entombment scene or a deposition from the cross? Or could it be depicting the moment after the Pieta, where Mary holds Jesus’ body on her lap? The figures in this piece are arranged in such a way that they follow the frame of the painting, rather than being arranged in a logical, realistic space. The people in the back of the painting seem to be higher in space than the figures in the foreground, yet it is impossible to determine where the ground ends and the sky begins and the only clear background object is a single cloud.

Many of the figures are posed in ways that would not make sense in real life. Note in particular, that the two youths carrying Jesus’ body are standing on their tippy toes. The foremost youth appears to have pink skin with blue-green highlights on his torso, though upon inspection this is actually a tight-fitting leather shirt. Also notice the coloring. Having seen this piece in person, I can assure you that the vivid yellows and bright oranges are even more intense in person than they appear on screen, and create a vibrant mosaic of intertwining forms. Close inspection of this painting reveals many more interesting details than a cursory glance might suggest, including the young man with blond curls on the right side of the painting that is a self-portrait of Pontormo himself.

Pontormo’s "Entombment" is a great example of Mannerist painting as a reaction to the High Renaissance. Though Mannerist artists may not have the fame of their Renaissance counterparts, their paintings are fascinating explorations into the creation of profound and dramatic scenes through the bending and the breaking of the rules of the High Renaissance.

Italian Masterpieces: Michelangelo’s David
Italian Masterpieces II: The Calumny of Apelles
Italian Masterpieces III: The Last Supper

 The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The entire collection is copyrighted by The Yorck Project and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.



Italian Masterpieces is a featured column with Staff Columnist, Jenna Hoffstein [bluevenus], as she reports from her studies in Italy!

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Article Comments

Arbelain ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 17 July 2006

Good to read this article, and interesting. Many thanx!

neo_naga ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 18 July 2006

If you want an odd mannerist painting check out Madonna of the Long Neck. The more you look at this painting the less it makes sense.

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 18 July 2006

Another wonderful article in your Art Appreciation Series. I especially enjoyed your observations and critique of the work. Which is even more meaningful from someone who has seen the image in person. Looking forward to the next article in this series. Thanks for bringing the past into the present, and reminding us to never forget the Masters! Dee-Marie

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 18 July 2006

Very nice article. I know someone that would surely like it.

T.Rex ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 19 July 2006

Thanks a lot. Brings me back to the days I studied French culture at the "Cours de Civilization Francaise", Sorbonne Univ., Paris. Keep up the good work. It's a way of educating artists and spurring them on into higher artistic endeavors. This initiative is excellent!

razzell2 ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 20 July 2006

what a beautiful painting. im learning very much reading your words. i would love to know if youve done a thesis on "the last supper"? my daughter tells me that one the men in that painting is a woman..(she read THE DA VINCI CODE). i would love to read what you have to say on that painting. ah yes, i see a link to the last supper. i will go check it out. great stuff Jenna!