Pontormo and the Capponi chapel I

The Ponte Vecchio       The Corridoio Vasariano

Ponte Vecchio   
photo’s: Ray in Manila and corridoio: Darren andBrad

On our way to Santa Felicita, home to the Capponi Chapel, we walk across the Ponte Vecchio to Piazza Felicità where the church is located. The Vasari Corridor runs through the Ponte Vecchio and the Santa Felicita to the Palazzo Pitti. In this way, the Medici could walk from the Palazzo Vecchio to their Palazzo Pitti.

Santa Felicità facade Florence
photo: Ricardalovesmonuments

Santa Felicita interior       Inner facade and corridioi

Santa Felicita interior   Florence
photos: Steven Zucker

Agnolo Bronzino ‘Portrait of a young man with a book’

The Barbadori family commissioned Brunelleschi around 1419-1423 to build a chapel (click here for the story about the architecture of the Barbadori or Capponi chapel in Santa Felicita). The heirs of Bartolomeo Barbadori sold the chapel in 1487 for two hundred florins to their neighbor: Antonio Paganelli. Antonio’s grandson, Bernardo, sold the chapel in 1525 to Lodovico di Gino Capponi (Wikipedia Italian) for the same amount that the Paganellis had paid to Barbadori. Capponi had a successful career as a banker in Rome. He was friends with the popes, Julius II and Leo X, and Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III. In 1521, Capponi returned to Florence. On May 22, 1525, not only was the contract for the sale signed, but a second agreement was also made. In this, the nuns of Santa Felicita gave Capponi free rein to renovate the chapel as he saw fit. Additionally, he was granted the right to have mass offered in the chapel five times a week after his death. Furthermore, a financial arrangement was made for the maintenance of the chapel.

View of the Capponi Chapel

View of the Capponi Chapel
photo: Steven Zucker

Capponi chapel      Original chapel by Brunelleschi (reconstruction)

View of the Capponi Chapel
photo: Steven Zucker

Three coats of arms made it clear to the churchgoers who held the rights to the facade of Santa Felicita: the Guicciardinis. The current facade with the portico dates back to the eighteenth century. 

Window Capponi chapel       In situ

Lodovico Capponi negotiated with the Guicciardini family to install a window in the facade for more light in his chapel. The negotiations were successful. The coats of arms of the Guicciardinis had to remain intact and, of course, Capponi was not allowed to place his coat of arms on the facade, “especially on the exterior facing the piazza.” (Waldman, L.A., ‘New Light on the Capponi chapel in S. Felicita, The Art Bulletin; an illustrated quarterly, vol.84, 2002, nr. 2 297 and 296-298) However, the window turned out to be narrower than Lodovico had wanted, as can still be seen from the brickwork. The hole that was cut in the facade was wider than the window that was eventually installed. Capponi probably wanted a round window, something that would match nicely with the dome and the four oculi in which the apostles are depicted.

In addition to a window, new terracotta floor tiles, frescoes, an altarpiece, and a paliotto or antependium featuring an image of Mary with her child were added. This paliotto is no longer in its original place but is now in the Palazzo Capponi.

According to Vasari, the following happened after the purchase of the chapel:

Pontormo ‘Descent from the Cross’        Zoom out

So a boarding was put up, which kept the chapel closed for three years, and he set to work. On the vaulted ceiling, he painted a God the Father, surrounded by four very beautiful patriarchs; and in the four medallions at the corners, he depicted the four evangelists, that is to say, he did three himself, and one was done by Bronzino alone. Let me not pass over the fact that it was Pontormo’s habit almost never to let his pupils help him, or to allow them to start on something he intended to make himself; and when he did involve one of them, it was mainly so that the person would learn something, leaving everything else to himself, as in this case with Bronzino. In the works that Jacopo executed in this chapel up to this point, it almost seemed as if he had returned to his earlier style; but he did not continue this with the painting of the altarpiece, because, wanting to do something new, he executed it without shadows and with such a bright and smooth color palette that it is barely possible to distinguish the light tones from the half-tones, and the half-tones from the dark tones. In this altarpiece, one sees a dead Christ taken down from the cross being carried to his grave; and there is a fainting Virgin Mary, together with the other Marys, painted in a manner so different from his previous styles that it is clear how Pontormo’s mind was always engaged in exploring new ideas and strange methods, for he was never satisfied and adhered to no single style. Cited and translated from: Giorgio Vasari, ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1990 deel II blz. 146-147 (oorspronkelijke uitgave 1568). Continuation of the text see below

Pontormo ‘Descent from the Cross’  detail: Christ
photos: Steven Zucker
Pontormo ‘Portrait of Francesca Capponi as Mary Magdalene’ detail

Pontormo ‘Portrait of Francesca Capponi as Mary Magdalene’

In short, the composition of this altarpiece is completely different from the figures on the vault, also in terms of coloring; and the four evangelists in the medallions on the pendentives of the vault are in another style and much better. On the wall with the window, there are two fresco figures: on one side the Virgin and on the other the angel announcing to her, both depicted with such distortions that it demonstrates what I have said before, namely how his bizarre, peculiar mind was never satisfied with anything. And to execute this work as he wanted, and so that no one would pester him, he did not allow anyone to see it while he was working on it, not even the patron; this resulted in, after he had executed the work according to his own insights without any of his friends being able to comment, all of Florence being astonished when it was finally unveiled. For the same Lodovico, he made a painting of Our Lady in the same style, for his room,  and in the head of a Mary Magdalene, he gave the portrait of one of Lodovico’s daughters [Francesca], a beautiful girl.” Cited and translated from: Giorgio Vasari, ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1990 deel II blz. 146-147 (oorspronkelijke uitgave 1568).

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the chapel underwent significant modifications. The original chapel has disappeared behind a Baroque layer. The marble reliquary near the facade wall also dates from this period. “The vaulted ceiling with God the Father, surrounded by the four beautiful patriarchs,” which Vasari writes about, has disappeared. The dome has been replaced by a lower one. This was presumably done due to the construction of the corridor that runs directly above the chapel through Santa Felicità.

The Barbadoris had dedicated the chapel to the Annunciation of Mary. Lodovico Capponi wanted, as he said, “to convert temporal goods, through a favorable exchange, into eternal ones.” He dedicated the chapel to the Pietà. Thus, a private chapel was dedicated not to a patron saint, as was customary in Italy, but to Christ.

Altar with tombstone

Capponi chapel: Altar with tombstone
photos: Steven Zucker

About seven years before his death, Capponi had a tombstone with an inscription placed in the chapel with the following text:

Lodovico di Capponi, still in the human realm / living among people and not at all forgetting the death that is to come, has placed this for himself and his descendants.

When Lodovico di Gino Capponi died in 1534 at the age of 52, he was buried under the steps near the altar.

The story about Pontormo’s work in the Barbadori Chapel or Capponi Chapel in the Santa Felicita is based on the following literature:
Krystof, D., ‘Pontormo Masters of Italian Art’, Könemann, Köln, 1998 92-103
Salvatore S.N., (Edited) ‘Pontormo: Drawings’, Harry N. Abrams, INC Publishers, New York 1992
Shearman J., ‘Pontormo’s altarpiece in S. Felicita’, Charlton Lectures on Art delivered in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne 1971
Steinberg, L., ‘Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel’, The Art Bulletin; an illustrated quarterly; vol. 56, 1974, afl. 3 (sep) downloadable PDF here, 385 -398
Stumpel, J., ‘Rosso en Pontormo’, Kunstschrift, jg. 38,1994, nr. 3, 12-27
Vasari, G., ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, ‘Contact, Amsterdam, 1990 deel II 130-158
Waldman, L.A., ‘New Light on the Capponi chapel in S. Felicita, ‘The Art Bulletin; an illustrated quarterly, vol.84, 2002, nr. 2 293-314,
Wassermann, J., ‘Jacopo Pontormo paintings in the Capponi Chapel Santa Felicita, Florence, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institut in Florenz, 2009 Vol. 53 downloadable PDF here, 35-72

Continuation Florence day 6: Pontormo and the Capponi chapel II