Seeing Through the Turn of Sight: Jacopo Pontormo’s San Lorenzo Frescoes, the Roman Liturgy, and a Visionary Style

Lynette M. F. Bosch


For two hundred years, the frescoes Jacopo Pontormo (1494–1557) painted in the Florentine Church of San Lorenzo choir seemed to be among art history’s survivors. They survived the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the dictates on art issued by the Council of Trent, which seemed to condemn them specifically. Long after art turned to earth hues, dimmed colours, dramatic chiaroscuro, and uncompromising realism, their glowing colours must have gleamed, almost reproachfully and certainly tauntingly at worshippers in the small church, promising a heavenly vision, conveyed through luxurious colours, that only the most devout could understand as the profoundly spiritual statement Pontormo intended. Still, they eventually fell before too pedestrian a view of spirituality. At San Lorenzo, in a moment of visionary inspiration, Pontormo sought to show the world what the mystics feel when they come into the presence of God. Guided by the texts of the Church, which mark its seasons and cycles into a liturgy of repetitive ritual knowledge and informed by the arguments of his time, Pontormo reached for the understanding that the Church gave to its true seers and mystics, who like Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Avila and St. Ignatius Loyola perceived without sight and knew without words what it was to be in the presence of divinity.

Parole chiave

Bronzino; Pontormo; Choir of San Lorenzo; Certosa di Galluzo; Carthusian iconography; Roman Liturgy

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