(b. 1494, Pontormo, d. 1557, Firenze)


c. 1528
Oil on wood, 313 x 192 cm
Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicità, Florence

The Deposition can perhaps justly be described as the artist's masterpiece. The compositional idea is extravagant and totally unprecedented: an inextricable knot of figures and drapes that pivots around the bewildered youth in the foreground and culminates above in the two lightly hovering figures emerging from vague background. This complicated bunch of forms arranged in the shape of an upturned pyramid defies any attempt at a rational exploration or identification of planes.

The compositional complexity is accompanied by a significant and probably deliberate ambiguity in the representation of the subject, which may be interpreted as halfway between the theme of the Deposition and that of the Pietà or Lamentation over the Dead Christ. The painting appears to represent the moment in which the body of Christ, having been taken down from the cross, has just been removed from the mother's lap. The Virgin, visibly distraught, and perhaps on the point of fainting, still glazes longingly towards her Son, and gestures with her right arm in the same direction. In the centre of the painting, the moment of the separation is underlined by the subtle contact of Mary's legs with those of Christ, now freed from his Mother's last pathetic embrace. The twisted body of Christ is reminiscent of Michelangelo's Vatican Pietà (1498).

An intense spiritual participation in the grief of the event profoundly affects the expressions and attitudes of all the figures present, even that of the woman turned away from the onlooker, probably Mary Magdalene, who communicates her anguished psychological condition by reaching out sympathetically towards the swooning body of the Virgin. Some scholars have interpreted the two young figures holding up the deceased's body as angels in the act of drawing Christ away from the main group and leading him finally into the arms of his Father. The general direction of the movement is, in fact, a rising one, and is created by the ethereal quality of the weightless figures, and their slow, almost dance-like rhythm. The two presumed angelic presences, moreover, seem to be unaffected by the weight of the lifeless body, and the figure in the foreground appears to be in the act of raising himself up by lightly pressing down on the front part of his foot.

The intricately connected group of figures, involved in a highly dramatic atmosphere, takes on the appearance of a rich frieze in the harmony of highly refined colour tones of pinks, blues and greens. The transparent shadows do not annul the colours, but actually become them, in the flesh tones invested with subtle shades of pink and green.

The cloaked man wearing a strange hat, almost imperceptible against the background of the painting behind the arm of the Virgin, may possibly be the artist himself. Staring at something beyond the confines of the painting and looking as though he were about to leave the pictorial space, he presents us with this complex and refined decoration of colours, forms.