Pucci Altarpiece

Hello everyone! As a Christmas present, I received some cool older art books, and in these books I found really cool paintings! One of these paintings is the Pucci Alterpiece, or the Madonna with Child and Saints / Holy Family with Saints, created by Jacopo Pontormo in 1518.


This work is in the San Michele Visdomini in Florence. Uniquely, here Joseph is holding onto the Christ, while Mary is seated above. Saint John the Evangelist is below Joseph with a book. St. John the Baptist is the second child in the work, on the bottom. St. Francis from Assisi is right behind him praying to Christ. Also, Saint James is behind him. It is also believed that St. James has a similar appearance to the actually artist; therefore, maybe Pontormo is incorporating himself into the piece.

It is said that this work was commissioned by Francesco Pucci, who was someone associated with the Medici Family.  If you look closely, you can see that these figures create a oddly shaped triangle with Mary on the top. At the same time, everyone’s body language, except St. Francis’s and one of the angels, is directed towards the figures’ right (or the left side of the painting, where the light is coming from). Even St. John the Baptists and Mary are pointing towards the light or their right side. This makes me wonder if maybe Pontormo is showing God the Father here to these viewers, the Holy Spirit, or something that grabs the attention of these figures. However, in that case, why wouldn’t all the angels looks (only one if looking), St. Francis, and St. James looking.

I have one theory. Maybe in the church, this painting is located on the side of the church, and the figures, Madonna, Joseph, and James, are looking towards the actual altarpiece in the Catholic church where transubstantiation happens. One of the angels is overexcited or simple doesn’t look at this process. St. Francis is involved in deep prayer to Christ. Lastly, St. James may be looking at the viewer for two reasons: one is to make St. James looks at the viewers to remind them to pay attention to God/Christ being present in the church, and the second being that this is also a portrayal of Pontormo so usually portrait figures look at the viewers. A good example of this is Raphael’s Philosophy, where he has a portrait of himself in the work:



And this theory appears to be correct! I found one photo that shows the placement of the painting on the right side of the church, making the figures look at the altarpiece. Also, just from briefly looking at this one photo, the painting is much more colorful in the church than in the online versions of the work (both these photos come from churchesofflorence.com).



Feature Image from churchesofflorence.com

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