Riccardo Romolo Riccardi (1558-1612), before 1612, Florence, and thence by descent until at least 1814.
Charles T.D. Crews, London; (+), Christie's, London, 2 July 1915, lot 144, as Bronzino, where acquired by the following.
with Pawsey & Payne, London.
Sir Thomas Merton, Winforton House, Hereford (according to Witt Library Mount).
with F.A. Drey, London.
Lord Burton, England.
with Wildenstein & Co., New York, by 1952, from whom acquired in 1980 by the present owner.
THE AGE OF VASARI
The Age of Vasari is a useful if broad catch phrase for the period in Italian art from c. 1520-1580, when the so called Mannerist style, as developed in Florence and Rome in painting, sculpture, and architecture, was diffused throughout Italy and all Europe. Vasari, born in Arezzo in Tuscany, was himself a leading Mannerist painter, but is best known for his great biographical work, the Lives of the Artists, in which he chronicles the careers of Italian masters past and present in unprecedented depth, anticipating modern art history. According to Vasari, the arts in Italy had evolved to perfection in the work of Michelangelo, and the High Renaissance of the early Cinquecento, dominated by Raphael and Leonardo as well as Michelangelo, still seems from today's perspective to have achieved exemplary harmony in an Italy otherwise beset by political strife and foreign incursions. Indeed Raphael's fresco of The School of Athens in the Vatican (1509-1510; fig. 1), though the philosophers are Greek, evokes in monumental form the stability of a long-vanished Roman imperium that had lasted well over a millennium. But just as the Roman Empire was undermined by internal disruption, so the High Renaissance point of balance was not destined to last. Indeed the seeds of change were already present in one of its greatest achievements, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (fig. 2). Here the energetic and complex body language and the bright aggressive color contrasts adumbrate the more restless style of the next generation where sophisticated artifice and virtuosity were prized over naturalism, and abstruse compositions and subject matter were preferred to narrative clarity.
In Rome, all the arts were dominated by the juggernaut figure of Michelangelo. To imitate him was not condemned as uncreative eclecticism but honored as appropriate homage to an unsurpassable exemplar. In Michelangelo's Last Judgment, completed in 1541, the whole company, both damned and elect, seem weighed down by the gross physicality of the human condition. We live in a world of sin and can only be saved by divine fiat. The helplessness of man in the face of the Almighty is a somewhat Protestant concept from a Roman point of view, so the Last Judgment, also criticized for indecorous nudity, excited unease as well as reverence and awe. In Florence, the other principle fount of the Mannerist style, Michelangelo's unsettling influence was also pervasive and in a masterpiece of the first generation of Florentine Mannerism, Pontormo's Deposition (fig. 3) of 1528, the Christ immediately recalls Michelangelo's canonical sculpture of the Pietà in Saint Peter's. The balletic grace of the figures, the pale surreal colors and the trance-like but very dead Christ with leaden eyelids and lips, conjure up a dreamlike atmosphere from which the anthropo-centric certainties of Renaissance humanism have been banished in favor of something approaching the transcendental Christianity of Byzantium and Hagia Sofia. In the Deposition by Rosso (fig. 4), the other great master of this generation of Mannerism in Florence, there is by contrast something devilish and infernal in the vicious angular poses, the razor-sharp draperies, and the aggressive Michelangelesque colors which evoke the dismal agony of earthly grief rather than the otherworldly promise of redemption in the Pontormo.
In the group of paintings on offer, the influence of Rosso is clearly apparent in the confrontational and angular Madonna and Child by Carlo Portelli and that of Pontormo in the balletic grace of Mirabello Cavalori's Entombment. In the latter, form dominates content in a typical display of Mannerist complexity, and the subject matter is swamped by the graceful drift of the figures. The same sort of effect can be seen in a fresco by Bronzino, Pontormo's pupil, of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (fig. 5) in the eponymous church in Florence where the saint on the grill is overwhelmed by the other figures in a riot of athletic visual gymnastics.
At the height of the age of Vasari, in the mid-16th century, Rome was fully theocratic under a papacy enriched by tribute from all over Europe and the New World. In Florence, the rule of the Medici was less oligarchic than in times past and firmly autocratic under the Grand Duke Cosimo, who came to power in 1537. The Medici had risen to prominence through the wool trade and banking, and gilded the lily by magnificent patronage of the arts. They had their ups and downs, including periods of exile, but by the end of the 16th century, were secure in the European political pantheon, furnishing four popes and two Queens of France. The court of Cosimo was conspicuously splendid but he could never have survived without the backing of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and predominant power in Italy. His glittering court will be forever identified with the cold elegance of Bronzino's portraits, which are raised to greatness by a hint of the tensions burgeoning beneath the polished carapace of 16th-century high life. Bronzino rated as a portrait specialist but his master Pontormo painted portraits on a more occasional basis. His portrait of Cosimo shortly after his accession forms a remarkable contrast with his Getty Halberdier (fig. 6), thought by some to represent an idealized, adolescent Cosimo, rigged out in the smartest para-military gear, romantically defending his native city. The work here on offer shows him in sober civilian guise but with a sense of mastery appropriate to his aristocratic role and the claims of the Medici to primacy. As with Velasquez's early portraits of Spanish royalty, he has no need of showy costume to demonstrate his authority.
Few people would rate Vasari himself on the same level as Pontormo, Rosso, or Bronzino, and he never painted anything so attractive as the luscious tapestry-like fresco decorations by his friend Francesco Salviati. As an architect he is more original, and his Uffizi, designed as government offices, anticipates the 20th-century office block in its dry, modular style. However, as the Pietà in the present group shows, he is often a more expressive artist than his somewhat academic reputation suggests. Vasari was a highly influential artistic impresario and in 1570-1572 he helped design a key Mannerist project, the studiolo of Francesco dei Medici (Cosimo's successor) in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. This cycle of small paintings, inspired by Francesco's collections of minerals and curiosities, is the epitome of Mannerist elitism in its ultra-sophisticated refinement and abstruse pseudo-scientific subject matter. Unfortunately, for the Council of Trent, established in 1545 to reform the church in the face of the Protestant challenge, the studiolo set a bad example. An art of greater clarity was called for, especially in religious paintings, where the message and stories of the scripture could be more accessible to the layman. Inevitably the Tridentine mandate achieved mixed results. Religious art became easier to read but much of it was pedantic and formulaic. The chief culprit here was Federico Zuccaro, the doyen of late Mannerism in Italy. Zuccaro redeemed himself by his brilliance as a draftsman but it remains a mystery why he and his followers failed to translate the incisive virtuosity of their drawings into the more formal medium of painting and fresco.
A more successful response to Tridentine ideals is represented in the present group by Alessandro Allori's Noli me tangere. Allori was Bronzino's adopted nephew but here he has outgrown his Mannerist origins in favor of a much more realistic style, which is easier to read. Typical of this new emphasis is the costume of the Magdalen, which is not generalized like Christ's but based on contemporary fashion. On close inspection, Christ's right arm is unusually long and his hands, like the Magdalen's, exceptionally large. This adroit exaggeration, in an age where rhetoric still mattered, gives gesture a leading role in a way that was soon to be spectacularly exploited by Caravaggio in his Supper at Emmaus in London (fig. 7). In this very fine late work, Allori has embraced the realism of the early Baroque in a foretaste of 17th-century Baroque classicism.
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF BARBARA PIASECKA JOHNSON
PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT THE BARBARA PIASECKA JOHNSON FOUNDATION
MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 258, n. 1.
MS., Archivio di Stato, Florence, Carte Riccardi, fil. 278, c. 15.
B. Berenson, I Pittori italiani del rinascimento, Milan 1948, p. 272, no. 133, reproduced.
H. Keutner, "Zu einigen Bildnissen des frühen Florentiner Manierismus," Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, VIII, 1959, p. 152.
G. Rosenthal, 'Bacchiacca and his friends. Comments on the exhibition', The Baltimore Museum of Art News, XXIV, no. 2, 1961, pp. 14-15, 58, no. 56.
B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Florentine School, London, 1963, I, p. 181.
K.W. Forster, 'Probleme um Pontormos Porträtmalerei (I)', Pantheon, XXII, 1964, p. 380, as by workshop of Bronzino, datable to c. 1540-41.
L. Berti, Pontormo, Florence 1964, p. 101.
R.B. Simon, Bronzino's Portraits of Cosimo I de' Medici, Ph.D., Columbia University, 1982, pp. 181-187, 343, as close to Pontormo.
P. Costamagna and A. Fabre, Les portraits florentins du début du XVI siècle à l'avènement de Cosimo I: catalogue raisonné d'Albertinelli à Pontormo, II, Paris 1986, pp. 384-388, no. 98.
J. Cox-Rearick, 'The Influence of Pontormo's Portrait', in Christie's sale catalogue, New York, 31 May 1989.
L. Berti, 'L' Alabardiere del Pontormo, Critica d'Arte, LVI, 1990, p. 46, as workshop of Bronzino.
P. Costamagna, Pontormo, Milan 1994, pp. 242-244, no. 79.
A. Forlani Tempesti and A. Giovannetti, Pontormo, Florence, 1994, p. 142, no. 48, repeats earlier attributions.
E. Cropper, L'Officina della Maniera, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Uffizi, 1996, p. 380, no. 142.
E. Cropper, Pontormo. Portrait of a Halberdier, Los Angeles 1997, pp. 100-105, no. 52.
A. Pinelli, La bellezza impure: Arte e politica nell'Italia del Rinascimento, Rome 2004, p. 129.
F. Russell, 'A Portrait of a Young Man in Black by Pontormo', The Burlington Magazine, CL, October 2008, p. 676.
Burlington House, 1888.
Houston, Allied Arts Association, Masterpieces of Painting through Six Centuries, 16-27 November 1952.
Baltimore, Museum of Art, Bacchiacca and His Friends: Florentine Paintings and Drawings of the Sixteenth Century, 10 January-19 February, 1961, no. 56.
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Style, Truth, and The Portrait, 1 October-10 November 1963, no. 2.
Florence, Uffizi, L'officina della maniera, 18 September 1996-6 January 1997, no. 380.