Comune di Empoli
Provincia di Firenze Regione Toscana
Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici
e Storici di Firenze presents

of Jacopo da Pontormo

The drawings for the frescoes
in San Lorenzo

At the time of writing the Diary (1554-1556), now in the exhibition at Empoli, Jacopo Pontormo was working on the lower order of frescoes in the Choir of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, an extremely complicated work which included the main chapel of the church which had always been under the patronage of the Medici family. The decoration was based on the story of the Saviour of Man and city gossip said that the artist wanted to emulate and do something even finer than Michelangelo himself who, shortly before, in the years 1536-41, had amazed the world with his dramatic portrayal of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel (commissioned by another Medici, Pope Clement VI). Vasari, who describes the composition in his "Life" of Pontormo, mentions melancholy scenes with dead bodies piled up in heaps.

Pontormo, Study for naked figure
Pontormo was given the commission by Duke Cosimo I in around 1546, but the fresco was still not finished when the artist died on December 31st 1556 (or January 1st 1557), and was somehow completed by Agnolo Bronzino, his faithful assistant. The entire composition was eventually destroyed in around 1740, during alterations to the Choir. Apart from the Diary and Vasari's description (the most important of several), it is also possible to reconstruct the composition of the fresco from an etching of 1598, today in the Albertina Museum in Vienna, and from the numerous preparatory drawings in the Uffizi collections.

The Diary, written during the last three years of life of this genius from Pontorme, contains his remarks on the progress of his great pictorial work, often accompanied by extremely quick and synthetic sketches, drawn as memoranda in the margins of the pages of the manuscript. These 40 small drawings provide a clear description of his ideas for the figures, or groups of figures, on which he was working at the time and, together with the notes about the painting, refer to the great scenes for the lower order of the Choir in San Lorenzo: the Flood, the Resurrection from the Dead, the Martyrdom of St. Laurence (completed by Bronzino) and the Ascension of the Souls.

Some of these sketches are clearly related to a copy of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and to the preparatory studies for the frescoes, whose main nucleus is contained in the Uffizi. The exhibition in Empoli contains three splendid examples by this artist from the Florentine collection, while the other drawings (about thirty) are meanwhile all on display in the exhibition at the Uffizi Gallery of Prints and Drawings, which possesses over 200 drawings by the master from Pontorme, most of them coming from the 17th century collection of Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici (1617-1675), brother of the Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Art historian Filippo Balducci (1625-1696), author of the copy of the Diary of Jacopo Pontormo displayed alongside the original in the exhibition promoted by the City Council of Empoli at the Convent of the Agostiniani, was in fact responsible for the fine arrangement of this collection, th ough, previous to this, he was already a real expert and collector of drawings, both for his personal use as well as for the Cardinal.
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