Biography and early work
Jacopo Carucci was born at Pontorme, near Empoli, to Bartolomeo di Jacopo di Martino Carrucci and Alessandra di Pasquale di Zanobi. Vasari relates how the orphaned boy, "young, melancholy and lonely," was shuttled around as a young apprentice:
Jacopo had not been many months in Florence before Bernardo Vettori sent him to stay with Leonardo da Vinci, and then with Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo, and finally, in 1512, with Andrea del Sarto, with whom he did not remain long, for after he had done the cartoons for the arch of the Servites, it does not seem that Andrea bore him any good will, whatever the cause may have been.
Pontormo painted in and around Florence, often supported by Medici patronage. A foray to Rome, largely to see Michelangelo's work, influenced his later style. Haunted faces and elongated bodies are characteristic of his work. An example of Pontormo's early style is a fresco depicting the Visitation of the Virgin and St Elizabeth, with its dancelike, balanced figures, painted from 1514 to 1516.
This early Visitation makes an interesting comparison with his painting of the same subject (at right), which was done about a decade later for the parish church of St. Michael in Carmignano, about 20 km west of Florence. Placing these two pictures together—one from his early style, and another from his mature period—throws Pontormo's artistic development into sharp relief. In the earlier work, Pontormo is much closer in style to his teacher, Andrea del Sarto, and to the early sixteenth century renaissance artistic principles. For example, the figures stand at just under half the height of the overall picture, and though a bit more crowded than true high renaissance balance would prefer, at least are placed in a classicizing architectural setting at a comfortable distance from the viewer. In the later work, the viewer is brought almost uncomfortably close to the Virgin and St. Elizabeth, who drift toward each other in clouds of drapery. Moreover, the clear architectural setting that is carefully constructed in earlier piece has been completely abandoned in favor of a peculiar nondescript urban setting.
Joseph in Egypt
, 1515-18; Oil on wood; 96 x 109 cm; National Gallery, London.
The Joseph canvases (now in the National Gallery in London) offer another example of Pontormo's developing style. Done around the same time as the earlier Visitation, these works (such as Joseph in Egypt, at left) show a much more mannerist leaning. According to Giorgio Vasari, the sitter for the boy seated on a step is his young apprentice, Bronzino.
In the years between the SS Annunziata and San Michele Visitations, Pontormo took part in the fresco decoration of the salon of the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caiano (1519–20), 17 km NNW of Florence. There he painted frescoes in a pastoral genre style, very uncommon for Florentine painters; their subject was the obscure classical myth of Vertumnus and Pomona in a lunette.
From lunette of Vertumnus and Pomona
In 1522, when the plague broke out in Florence, Pontormo left for the Certosa di Galluzzo, a cloistered Carthusian monastery where the monks followed vows of silence. He painted a series of frescoes, now quite damaged, on the passion and resurrection of Christ.