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Grey Matters

Jacopo Carrucci, known as Pontormo (Pontormo 1494–1557 Florence)
A Standing Male Nude, Holding onto a Ring and Looking Upwards; the same figure restudied with some minor differences (verso), ca. 1519-21
Pen and brown ink, over traces of underdrawings in black chalk
15 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches
40.3 x 24.4 cm
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The early history of this sheet begins at its likely identification with a drawing attributed to Bandinelli in a sale of 1865.[1] In fact, the use of ink and the fine hatching were consonant with what was known of Bandinelli’s draftsmanship at the time. In 1993 it was attributed instead to Giovanni Battista Naldini (1535-1591) the last pupil of the important Florentine master Jacopo da Pontormo.[2]  Naldini had been a ward at the Ospedale degli Innocenti from childhood, but in 1545 he moved in with Pontormo, possibly having been selected to assist the older painter because the prior of the Innocenti (Don Vincenzo Borghini, a close friend of Pontormo) perceived his nascent talent.[3] Naldini had access to Pontormo’s drawings and produced copies and reflections of them, executed almost certainly as exercises in acquiring a mastery of drawing. Several of Naldini’s figure studies appear to be after Pontormo.[4] When closely examined, however, they exhibit striking differences from Pontormo’s graphic style.[5] For instance Uffizi 6743F a reclining nude in red chalk, although Pontormesque, displays Naldini’s typical way of drawing hands and feet as if they were wedges. The outlines are too multiple and an almost neon quality pervades the red chalk over the muscular back.

Detail of the present drawing (recto)

Drawings in ink?

In drawings executed in ink the situation has been complicated by an earlier view that Pontormo did not use ink to draw.  As Naldini did frequently employ that medium, drawings which were close to Pontormo but done in ink were assigned to Naldini. An instructive example is a sheet with a study of standing male figure in Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett 4626r; fig. 1). The figure is drawn in black and red chalk. Some parts are outlined with ink. The same medium was used to make additions to the figure and the slanted parallel hatching creating a halo around the figure. The proper right hand in red chalk is a tour-de-force of Pontormo’s graphic shorthand: cubistic fingers grasp an upright pole. The artist began to sketch the left arm in a raised position. That however was canceled by the hatching in ink. Instead, the fingers of the left hand drawn in ink peek out from behind the man’s left hip. Janet Cox-Rearick interpreted this evidence to mean that the drawing in black and red chalk was by Pontormo, while the ink additions were by Naldini.[6] But one could easily reinterpret this evidence to suggest that Pontormo himself decided to alter his design. He excised the raised left arm by covering it over with hatching and added, in an abbreviated but deft touch, the tips of fingers wrapped around the hip. In fact, already in 1977 Edmund Pillsbury claimed the pen and ink reworking in this drawing was autograph.[7] That would seem the most likely scenario precisely because the ink-wielder was not copying but adjusting—and those adjustments work well.

Fig. 1 Jacopo da Pontormo, Standing male nude, ca. 1520, 40.4 x 26.5. Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz KdZ 4626r © bpk / Kupferstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider

Comparable examples

There is a group of figure studies drawn in ink with strong similarities to the present sheet that have been returned to Pontormo, Uffizi drawings 671E r-v, 445Fr, and 6699F r-v.[8] These vivacious studies of flying putti exhibit a combination of chiaroscuro modeling with patches of dense hatching that is identical to the treatment of the modeling on the torso of the figure in the present drawing. Another case that can be compared to the present drawing is the apparently simply outlined figure, Uffizi 6581Fv, a study for a St. John the Baptist.[9] It is similar to the figure on the verso of the present sheet. Over traces of a black chalk underdrawing, Pontormo has outlined the figure in pen and ink. The fractured line delineating the proper right upper arm of the St. John, as well as the shape and handling of his nose and mouth are similar to the same features in the present sheet.

Other drawings by Pontormo in ink included a fully developed drawing of Noah and the Ark after Raphael (Uffizi 526Er), models for the Poggio a Caiano frescoes (454F, 455F), plus 6355F, 6504v, 6602F, 526Ev, 458Fr, 6545F, and 6506Fr.  In the drawing for a St. Michael (Uffizi 6506Fr), Pontormo used pen and ink to re-draw the saint’s foot as a separate study. The relationship of that foot to the overall design of the saint’s body and the other feet on the sheet is undeniably one of searching for the precise foot Pontormo wanted—and inconceivable as an intervention by Naldini. The shape of that foot with its bulky toes is similar to the proper left foot in the present sheet (as well as the foot in a study for the Capponi Chapel, Uffizi 6576Fr).  These sheets demonstrate that Pontormo sometimes used ink both in inventing and going over his sketched ideas in black chalk and it is perhaps no more than an accident of fate that so few such drawings remain. That Pontormo continuously used pen and ink to draw is revealed by a surviving portion of his diary from 1554-7, which is written and illustrated with miniscule sketches of figures, entirely in pen and ink.[10]

Double-sided debate

Two sides of the present drawing: recto (left) and verso (right)
Fig. 2 Jacopo da Pontormo, Standing male nude with arms raised, 40.3 x 21.6 cm. Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz KdZ 465r © bpk / Kupferstichkabinett, SMB / Volker-H. Schneider

The fact that the figure on the verso was not traced through or transferred from another sheet furthermore suggests that the artist has tried out one solution then done it a second time, developing it to a higher degree of finish on the recto. Close examination reveals that the relationship of the man’s chin to his shoulder as well as the direction of his gaze is different on recto and verso, additional evidence for the sheet as an exploratory exercise rather than simply copying.

It has been correctly noted that this figure study strongly resembles one in Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett 465r; fig. 2).[11] While the attribution of the recto is currently to Naldini, that is called into question by the fact that the drawing on the verso (fig. 3) is unequivocally by Pontormo and is a study for a putto below the circular window in Pontormo’s splendid fresco on the end wall of the great hall in the Medici villa of Poggio a Caino.[12] Again it was Edmund Pillsbury who questioned the frequent dividing of rectos from versos in Cox-Rearick’s conception of Pontormo as a draftsman.[13] We therefore might consider accepting both recto and verso of the Berlin sheet as Pontormo drawings.

Fig. 3 Jacopo da Pontormo, Study for a Putto, 40.3 x 21.6 cm. Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz KdZ 465v © Kupferstichkabinett, SMB /Andreas Heese

Investigating the details

Fig. 4 Detail of the lower left corner for the present drawing (recto)

The miniscule doodle in the lower left of the present sheet provides valuable evidence both for the attribution of the sheet to Pontormo and the dating and purpose of the drawing (fig. 4). The little figure drawn with spontaneous dashes and jots of ink is a hallmark of Pontormo’s process. He frequently drew such tiny figures on the periphery of sheets containing large-scale figures. In every case these little sketches are versions of the main figure adjacent to them or are for the same project or commission. A list of such sheets is: Hamburg Kunsthalle 21173; Harvard University Art Museum 1932.342 (fig. 5); Uffizi 458Fr, 6691F, 6506Fr, 526Ev, 6515Fv, 6615Fr, 6684Fr, and 6568F. The Harvard drawing is also for the fresco at Poggio a Caiano and in her entry on it Cox-Rearick noted that the tiny sketch was typical of Pontormo and often showed changes the artist made as his design evolved.[14] In the present drawing, the figure raises his proper right hand to shield his eyes. He sits with his left knee pulled up to his chest and apparently crossed over his right thigh while his right leg presumably dangled over the ledge on which this figure sits in the fresco. In devising this figure, which in the fresco is an old man seated at the far left, Pontormo played with the position of his legs and the idea of having him cover his eyes. In a series of extant sketches apparently drawn from a young male studio model in various poses, we see the following variations: both legs drawn up and crossed, the right hand over his eyes, his proper right leg drawn up with his left leg bent and resting flat on the ledge, and the inversion of this last.[15] However, in no variation found in these drawings or the fresco does one leg dangle below the seated figure.  That motif is instead found in the final fresco in three figures in the register above the subject of this little drawing. Thus the sketch in the corner of the present drawing reveals how Pontormo toyed with combining various motifs in multiple ways. The tiny sketch is, as so many of his others and that in the Harvard drawing attest, a remnant of Pontormo’s process, the product of his ever-investigating mind as he searched for the final form.

Fig. 5 Jacopo da Pontormo, Two Studies of a Nude Youth, 43.5 x 28.5 cm. Harvard Art Museums, Boston 1932.342

The great hall at Poggio a Caiano

Lastly, the large study for the man looking upwards is similar not only in medium and style but also in pose to the figure on Berlin Kupferstichkabinett 465r. It should be recalled that on the verso of that drawing is a sketch for one of the putti who is holding up a large festoon that is suspended below the oculus on the end wall Pontormo painted at Poggio a Caiano (fig. 6). While one can only hint at the possibility that the men, who gesture or look upwards, are for the same project, we suspect that they were. In fact, the frescoes that Pontormo was to paint on the opposite wall of the great hall at Poggio a Caiano included a confusing mélange of subjects, one of which was said to be “nudes playing soccer.”[16] Always assumed to be a subject determined later, during the rule of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, it would in fact be more likely that the subjects of both ends of the hall were already determined when Pope Leo X awarded the commission to Pontormo. Although Pontormo only finished one wall he undoubtedly mused in drawing about the subject of the companion wall. The present sheet may preserve his thoughts for both ends of the great hall. ❖

Elizabeth Pilliod

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Fig. 6 Jacopo da Pontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona lunette, 1520-21, fresco, Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano © Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY
Installation view of Grey Matters at Nicholas Hall, 2021
With Study of a Male Nude, Jacopo Pontormo

Inscribed Michel-ange in pencil on the verso

Auguste Desperet, Paris (Lugt 721, as E. Desperet)

His posthumous sale, Paris, Clément, 7-10 June 1865, probably lot 16 (as Baccio Bandinelli, ‘Etude d’un homme nu debout, avec une seconde etude au verso d’apres le meme modele; a la plume’

Jean-Pierre-Victor Maziès, Paris and Auch (Lugt 1919)

Possibly his sale, Paris, S. Mayer, 18 May 1887

with P. & D. Colnaghi, London, in 1993

John Gaines, Lexington, Kentucky

His (anonymous) sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2000, lot 52 (as Naldini)

Private collection, USA

New York, Paris and London, P. & D. Colnaghi, Master Drawings, 1993, no. 4.

Philippe Costamagna, Pontormo, Milan, 1994, p.13, note 24.

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