Carlo Orsi’s latest discovery: a masterpiece by Pontormo

Re-emergence of work, first attributed by Roberto Longhi, leaves no doubt as to its authorship

Carlo Orsi and his rediscovered Pontormo

MILAN. A long-standing, art-world rumour that gallerist Carlo Orsi had rediscovered a Pontormo masterpiece has been confirmed. The painting, Portrait of a Gentleman, around 1541-1544, went on show in June at Orsi’s gallery in Milan (until 9 July).

The work was first identified by renowned art historian Roberto Longhi (in Paragone, 1952), who ascribed it to Pontormo, and declared it to be one of his finest works of portraiture. But after Longhi saw it, no-one else was granted access. Based on Longhi’s judgement, the painting was subsequently assessed by a number of other experts, however they were extremely cautious in attributing it to Pontormo as they were unable to see it for themselves.

Now that it has reappeared and can be viewed by anyone, all doubts as to its paternity have been dispelled, and there are no dissenting voices against Longhi’s attribution. There is also unanimity as to its dating—between 1541 and 1544—which puts it close to the Monsignor Della Casa in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. This makes it one of Pontormo’s rare later works, executed at a time when the artist was consumed by the project for the frescoes for San Lorenzo, which were subsequently lost.

Pontormo was admired by Michelangelo but disliked by Vasari, who found both the man and his painting to be too eccentric for his tastes. However, it is this very eccentricity that has made his work so popular in the 20th century.

While there has been little doubt that the subject’s face, with his intense, fiery eyes, was executed by Pontormo himself, some had previously speculated that the jacket was the work of an assistant. Now, however, the painting has been acknowledged as the sole work of the master, for, in the words of Philippe Costamagna (Pontormo scholar and curator of the Musee Fesch, Ajaccio, Corsica) its “soft, rapid execution”, something of a rarity in Florence, but an unmistakable characteristic of the painting of this strange, saturnine genius.

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