Although we are left to speculate as to whether or not Pontormo was familiar with Mantegna’s grisailles, there is little doubt as to his responsiveness to the examples of Sarto and Michelangelo. No artist before Sarto had exploited the indexical power of grisaille in its ability to suggest sculpture on the scale of his Life of Saint John the Baptist in Chiostro dello Scalzo in the neighborhood of San Marco in Florence. Home to the flagellant company known as the Compagnia del disciplinati di San Giovanni Battista (colloquially, Company of the Barefoot [scalzo]), the intimate cloister is a space immersed in light (fig. 60).
Through the ensuing centuries, artists have continued to experiment with grisaille, their pictorial solutions oscillating between supremely tactile illusion and abstraction. The former effect conjures images such as Jean-Jacque Lequeu’s He is Free (1798–99), confusing body and bird with architecture; Louis-Léopold Boilly’s Girl at a Window (after 1799), made in imitation of a mounted engraving; Ingres’s Odalisque in Grisaille (ca. 1824–34) (fig. 64); and, at the turn of the twentieth century, the haunted Danish interiors of Vilhelm Hammershøi. A quietly dramatic turn takes place in the last third of the nineteenth century, signaled by what are among art’s most arresting variations on the theme of shadow and light: the Nocturnes of James Whistler (fig. 65). In the last century, sharing an abiding fascination with shades of grey, the likes of Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Alberto Giacometti, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Vija Celmins, Richard Serra, Chuck Close, and Gerhard Richter have further redefined monochromatic painting in astonishing ways (fig. 66). All of the above examples attest to grey’s boundless expressive potential.