When Jacopo Carucci, known as Jacopo Pontormo, was given the commission to paint a “Visitation”, based upon the Biblical story of Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth, he brought to the work his always stunning use of color and revolutionary technique of Mannerist style.
During an exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence I noticed something in the Visitation that I did not expect: a mask.
These commissions took months, sometimes years, to complete and the master’s cartoon, the master’s intent in the creation of the fresco, were jealously and passionately guarded.
Why, I thought, was I seeing a mask? Was it only the interpretation of a creative mind or the over zealous passion I hold for Pontormo’s work?
Atop the head of the central figure in the fresco, Mary, is a folded head scarf. If you study the folds atop Mary’s head, perhaps you, too, will notice it: the flattened face of a man, a mask: subtle, prescient, curious.
I’ve gone one step further and circled the image that I see in the fresco.
Those art experts who may read this post will, I am certain, have some perspective that will help clarify and explain the ‘face’.
After decades of studying art and traveling across Italy, Florence in particular, it just doesn’t seem plausible that this face is only an illusion or a careless part of the work overlooked by a master. I’ve imagined that perhaps Jacopo intended the face to impart a sense of Mary’s saintly life, protected by a presence she can not see or does not sense, yet is there.
In some interpretations of this visit it is said that Mary, pregnant with Jesus, brought divine grace to Elizabeth: she was also carrying a child, one who would become John the Baptist. While the face I see may appear to carry a more sinister intent, perhaps Pontormo’s vision was to portray the attendance of divine grace.
He was a master of the unexpected: body position, balance, freedom of movement, a lack of gravity in Pontormo’s Deposition (Santa Felicita Florence), for example, all reinforce the strength and courage of this master’s work, of his vision for what viewers would encounter when the viewed his work.
It just seems impossible to believe that the subtle presence of this mask was something Pontormo could have possibly given any less attention to than the entire scope of this masterpiece.
Are there more ‘masks’ in Pontormos’ work? We’ll see.