Grey Matters

New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased as the gift of the Fellows with the special assistance of Mrs. Carl Stern and Janos Scholz. 1954.4
Jacopo Carrucci, known as Pontormo (Pontormo 1494–1557 Florence)
Striding Nude with Arms Raised (verso) / Standing Male Nude Seen from the Back, and Two Seated Nudes (recto), ca. 1519-21
black, red, and white chalk / red chalk with stumping, on laid paper
15 15/16 x 8 3/4 inches
405 x 224 mm

On the recto of this impressive red chalk drawing by Pontormo, two male nudes seated on a low wall peer out at some undisclosed object to the left of the viewer. The shallow foreground space is further inhabited by a third nude studio model, seen from the back standing with left arm akimbo and the raised right arm presumably supported by a pole. Although some of the naturalism instilled in Pontormo by his former master, Andrea del Sarto, pervades the standing model in particular, the drawing also exhibits much of Pontormo’s own eccentric grace. The heads of the figures are reduced to a simple oval or curve. Areas of shadow are indicated by partly rubbed or stumped chalk overlaid with parallel hatching. Stronger pressure was applied to the chalk to emphasize the smooth curves and sharp angles of the contours and prominent details, such as the bony ridges on the back of the man leaning forward and the hauntingly expressive deep eye sockets.

Jacopo da Pontormo, Standing Male Nude Seen from the Back, and Two Seated Nudes (recto) © The Morgan Library and Museum, New York

On stylistic grounds the drawing is usually dated to the period of Pontormo’s work on the decoration of the Great Hall in the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano, a project on which he was engaged from 1519 to 1521 but then left unfinished. Though the completed lunette fresco of Vertumnus and Pomona also includes figures seated on a parapet, it is unlikely that the fresco and drawing are directly related. None of the figures correspond, and, furthermore, the sheet is more characteristic of a free exercise in life drawing than of a preparatory study. Philippe Costamagna associated the present sheet with a lost fresco of the arms of Cardinal Salviati supported by two putti that Pontormo painted in the courtyard of Filippo Spina’s house in Florence around 1517–18.[1] The grouping, however, would be unusual for such a project. As noted by Janet Cox-Rearick, the drawing’s draftsmanship (and that of three other nude studies linked in style with it) is difficult to reconcile with the artist’s work before the frescoes at Poggio a Caiano. She also observes that Pontormo’s workshop practice makes it unlikely that he would transform the deliberate, almost academic poses of these model studies into putti, as with the spontaneously moving little boys seen in two paintings of arms with putti in his early work.[2]

The figure on the verso might have served as the study for a soldier in a scene of the Flagellation of Christ, although no such composition by Pontormo is known. Forceful darts in black chalk—with corrections in red chalk—map out the figure, and emphasis is placed on the modeling of the musculature of the back. The hair is probably tied in a kerchief like that of the seated models on the recto. ❖

Rhoda Eitel-Porter published on themorgan.org

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Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
Left: Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgio Vasari; center and right: Striding Nude with Arms Raised, A Standing Figure of a Young Boy, both by Jacopo da Pontormo
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