Pontormo and the Capponi Chapel III

4. The Paintings in the Pendentives, the Dome, and the Interior Wall

The Capponi chapel in the Santa Felicita

Caponi chapel in the Santa Felicita
photo: Steven Zucker

The four evangelists have been preserved, in contrast to the frescoes in the dome, although the evangelists, painted on wood, are no longer in their original places in the tondi. The current positions of the evangelists are arbitrary.

Bronzino 'Mark'  Capponi Chapel
photo in situ: Steven Zucker

Bronzino ‘Mark’      In situ

Mark and Luke are illuminated from the left in the painting. Given the natural light fall in the chapel, this means that both evangelists must have been positioned in the pendentives above the entrance. The light in the paintings of John and Matthew comes from the right. They must have originally been positioned in the pendentives to the right and left above the altarpiece. At least one of the evangelists, Mark, was painted by a student of Pontormo: Bronzino.

Matthew the Evangelist       Intense Expression

The intense expressions of the evangelists are striking. Matthew with the angel and Luke with the ox have the usual attributes, but John and Mark do not. However, they all hold a quill in their right hand. This clearly identifies them as the authors of the Gospels. Matthew does not have the usual full gray beard. Considering the appearance given to his evangelists, Pontormo probably intended to represent the four different stages of human life. Thus, John, believed to have lived to an old age, is depicted as the oldest, and Matthew as the youngest. The apostles are depicted in a view from below. Matthew and Mark look straight ahead, with Mark’s gaze appearing more inward-focused. Luke and John look up towards the figures in the dome.

Pontormo Matthew the Evangelist  Capponi chapel

Vasari describes the frescoes in the dome as: “a God the Father, surrounded by four very beautiful patriarchs.” Unfortunately, nothing remains of the original dome with the frescoes.

Pontormo Study Patriarch Capponi chapel

However, some drawings have survived. In 1956, art historian Janet Cox-Rearick discovered studies for the dome of the Capponi Chapel. These are three drawings of God the Father. In 1964, she published a catalog in which she identified six more drawings as sketches of the patriarchs in the dome. Based on Vasari’s description and the drawings, Cox-Rearick created a reconstruction of the frescoes in the dome.

Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni 6513 Fr.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni 6632 Fr.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni 6613 Fr.

Reconstruction: Leo Steinberg, “Pontormo’s Capponi Chapel”, The Art Bulletin, vol. LVI, 1974, 3, pp. 385 – 99.

Pontormo  Study Patriarch Capponi chapel

This reconstruction has been used by later art historians, including Shearman and Steinberg, to explain the deeper meaning of the frescoes and the altarpiece in the chapel. In 2009, art historian Wasserman critically examined and partially rejected this attribution and reconstruction. The drawings for the dome are crucial for interpreting Pontormo’s work in the chapel, but more on that later. Besides the window, the altarpiece, and the paintings in the pendentives and the dome, there is also a fresco painted on the interior of the wall.

The interior facade of the west wall

Pontormo ‘Annunciation’       Zoom out

Pontormo 'Annunciation'  Capponi chapel
photos: Steven Zucker and zoom: Sailko

In 1527 or 1528, Pontormo painted the Annunciation on the west wall as the final piece. The original owners of the chapel, the Barbadoris, had dedicated the chapel to the Annunciation of Mary. In 1525, Ludovico Capponi dedicated the chapel to Christ.

Annunciations on the interior wall of a church have a long tradition in Florence.

Santissima Annunziata Annunciation      Annunciation chapel

The Annunciation in the Santissima Annunziata is famous (Wikipedia). Each side chapel of this church has a passageway on either side, enabling the churchgoer to walk towards the crossing along the axis on which the chapels are located. In this regard, the side chapels actually serve as a traditional side aisle. By no means a luxury, considering the large number of visitors who come to light candles and pray at the panel of the Annunciation. This painting was not only miraculously completed by an angel, but is thought to still perform miracles today. Unique to this Florentine tradition is the placement of a window between the angel Gabriel and Mary.

Santissima Annunziata   Annunciation chapel
photos: Sailko

Probably Pontormo was influenced in this regard by the chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in the San Miniato al Monte. In this chapel, there is an Annunciation of Baldovinetti with a round window above the angel Gabriel and Mary. In the antependium in front of the altar, we see that the words of the angel: ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus’ (Luke 1:31-32) have now been fulfilled: Mary is depicted here with her child. The vase with white lilies, a symbol of Mary’s purity, disappeared in the seventeenth century and was replaced by a Baroque marble reliquary dedicated to Saint Carlo Borromeo.

Pontormo ‘Annunciation’ (west wall)

Pontormo 'Annunciation' (west wall)
photo: Sailko
Pontormo 'Gabriel'  Cappella Capponi
photos: Sailko

Pontormo ‘Gabriel’       In Situ

“On the wall with the window, there are two figures in fresco: on one side the Virgin and on the other side the angel announcing the message to her, but both are depicted with such distortions that it demonstrates what I have said before, namely how his bizarre, eccentric mind was never satisfied with anything.” Cited and translated from: Giorgio Vasari ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1990 deel II 147

Pontormo ‘Mary’

The nearly dancing movements of the figures in the altarpiece return with the angel Gabriel and Mary. The angel with his billowing garment seems just to have landed. Mary, who is climbing the stairs, turns around and looks at Gabriel. Apparently, Mary seems astonished as she hears the angel’s words; there is almost a sense of disbelief.

Pontormo 'Mary'  Cappella Capponi
photos: Sailko
Pontormo Study Angel Gabriel  

The angel Gabriel       Mary

Completed study version of the Angel Gabriel and Mary

Gabriel “a flaming wave of veils” Cited from: Luisa Becherucci Disegni del Pontormo, Bergamo, 1943 p. 9

Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni 6653 F
Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto dei Disegni 441 Fr.

Pontormo did not paint the rays in the Annunciation as Baldovinetti had done in the chapel of the Portuguese cardinal. Pontormo was the first to paint an Annunciation with a real window without rays. The rays of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by a dove, represent the incarnation (Latin: incarnare: to come into the flesh). This is the moment ‘when the Virgin Mary is impregnated, i.e., the moment of Christ’s incarnation through the Holy Spirit descending from God.’ (Click here on Wikipedia for more information about the incarnation of Christ).

Window Capponi chapel       In situ

The light itself falling through the colored glass in the chapel symbolizes the incarnation. No longer paint and gold as rays, but light as a metaphor for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Marcillat depicted a descent from the cross and a burial in the window between the angel Gabriel and Mary. This represents the entire history of the redemption of mankind. The question remains: what did Pontormo want to convey with his frescoes and his altarpiece?

Window Capponi chapel

Continuation Florence day 6: Pontormo and the Capponi chapel IV