Tuesday, March 11, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - The Visitation (Jacopo Pontormo)

This has to be one of my favorite paintings of Florentine Renaissance by one of my favorite painters of that period.  Just looking at this painting puts me in a daze with its mesmerizing quality.  My eye cannot help but go directly to the central background figure that is gazing right back at me.  There is no sense of alarm or excited alertness on her face.  She seems to be looking right past the scene that is unfolding, and in a way inviting the viewer into the scene.  The scene, of course, is the moment in which the Virgin Mary visits Elisabeth, and we're told in Scripture that Elisabeth's unborn child leaps for joy inside the womb as Mary arrives.  There is an intense solidarity between the two cousins as they gaze at each other.  They seem to be feeling a sense of joy and melancholy at the same time as if they are sharing the same overarching thought that, as their pregnant bellies touch, they know that both of their children will live tragically cut-short lives.
Pontormo is one of those sadly obscure artists of the Renaissance, as most of his work as been lost or destroyed over time.  That makes this painting an even more precious and fragile artifact of Renaissance art history.  Pontormo had a way of drawing the viewer in, and I think The Visitation is a perfect example of that quality.  When I look at it, I want to keep looking at it.  I've estimated that the average person in an art museum looks at any given work for about an average of 8 seconds before moving on.  There is no way I could look at the work of Pontormo for that short amount of time.  We are invited into the scene, and so our presence as the viewer makes us active participants in the scene.  If you've ever experienced the sight of a street performer doing something amazing that you can't look away from, whether they're playing an instrument, performing magic, or dancing... That's how much I am drawn into Pontormo's work, particularly this painting.

The Visitation
oil on wood

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