Florence: exhibition at Palazzo Pitti “Miraculous encounters: Pontormo from drawing to painting”

The return of the painting the “Halberdier” after almost thirty years is the occasion for an exhibition dedicated to Pontormo – “Incontri miracolosi: Pontormo dal disegno alla pittura

Jacopo da Pontormo – Portrait of Halberdier 1529-1530 circa – Oil on canvas – Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum

Florence – In short, who was the Halberdier? The magnificent portrait by Pontormo, now preserved at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (which bought it in 1989 for the more than considerable amount of 32.5 million dollars), finds its way back to Florence after almost 30 years on the occasion of the exhibition Miracle Encounters: Pontormo from drawing to painting, curated by Bruce Edelstein and which from today until July 29 is housed in the Hall of Niches of Palazzo Pitti.

For many years we have been debating around who was the beautiful young man, elegantly dressed, with his head covered by a red hat adorned with a golden brooch, armed with halberd and with the sword in the scabbard on the left side. As all or almost all art historians seem to agree by now, it should be Francesco Guardi, a very young soldier of the Florentine Republic during the siege of Florence, whom Vasari himself pointed out as the subject of a portrait of Pontormo.

And yet doubts still exist, since in the caption of the photo in the catalogue published by Giunti there appears a nice question mark. In fact, some still advance the hypothesis, already very much shared over the years, that it may instead be the young Cosimo de’ Medici, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, also pointed out by Vasari as the subject of a portrait of Pontormo.

There is also the possibility that the Halberdier could instead be Ercole Rangone, a young Florentine nobleman who had enlisted in the Republican militia.

So what then? With respect to the two most shared hypotheses, there is also the chronological question: if it were Francesco Guardi, Pontormo would have painted it during the months of the siege of Florence, between October 1529 and August 1530, but if it were a portrait of Cosimo I, it would have been painted shortly after August 1537.

The preparatory red stone drawing for the Halberdier, shown here, seems to belong to an intermediate phase in the study of the subject: choosing in fact a frontal observation point to also fix aspects that could not be grasped from a lateral perspective, the artist focuses on clothing, leaving aside the investigation of the somatic traits of the model. The sheet therefore has no portrait intent, except with regard to the dress.

Along with the Halberdier, in the Hall of Niches, is also exhibited the Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Beret from a private collection in London. It is perhaps Carlo Neroni (of whom little is known): on the other hand the sure identity of the character had already been lost during the seventeenth century so that in an inventory of 1733 he is identified as Masaniello, the seventeenth-century Neapolitan insurgent. He races in beauty with the Halberdier this portrait of a proud young man, dressed with extreme care and very mysterious in his gesture of hiding (or revealing?) in his leather jacket an enigmatic letter whose words still remain obscure.

As “Scene of sacrifice” was identified the picture that was then recognized as Pigmalion, represented here, following the story of Ovid, while after prayer to Venus sees his ivory sculpture transformed into a living woman. The hypothesis that it is a painting of Bronzino, a pupil of Pontormo, the result of a collaboration between the two, has now been put forward. It is probably correct thesis that the figure of the young man is taken from the drawing of the master depicting Venus and Cupid, while it is certain that the pupil represented Pigmalione taking it almost exactly from another graphic evidence of Pontormo, also on display, depicting St. Francis in prayer, and performed for the Holy Family commissioned by Francesco Pucci for the family funeral chapel in San Michele Visdomini.

It will certainly be the rejoicing of colours and volumes of the Visitation that will strongly attract the attention of all after the recent restoration. In the altarpiece, owned by the parish church of Saints Michael and Francis of Carmignano, Pontormo stages the encounter and the affectionate embrace between the two cousins, the future mother of Christ and that of John the Baptist, who exchange a look of profound serenity. Very different, significantly, is the gaze of the two handmaids turned towards us spectators: they call us into question to share the awareness of the weight of sacrifice and pain that will flow from these miraculous events.

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