Nearly Neon: Pontormo’s “Deposition”

Wanna see some colorful art? Bam!

Pontormo's Deposition from the Cross

What is up with the pink dude and the wannabe Christmas elf in bright green and red? Here is the power of color: I barely even notice the dead man the painting is presumably about. Why? Because I get stuck on the shocking colors.

Referred to as “Deposition from the Cross” and painted by a 16th century Italian best known as Pontormo (his real name was Jacopo Carucci), this oil painting towers more than ten feet tall. It caught me off guard to find a palette so akin to neon while looking at old religious paintings online. Reds, blues, emerald green, and mustard yellow I expect, along with a generous helping of gold foil, but some of the yellows and greens Pontormo chose seem downright acidic, almost psychedelic. The bits of turquoise, lavender, yellow and pink confuse me because the color prevents the image from feeling somber or weighty. I expect art of people mourning Jesus’ death to be darker or heavier. Pontormo’s “Deposition” feels shocking, instead. I suppose maybe the other figures in the painting are shocked that Jesus is really dead. I wonder if the people of Florence in 1528 were also shocked.

Here is the image in greyscale, for comparison:

Pontormo's Deposition from the Cross, greyscale

In grayscale I notice how everyone is twisted or contorted, turning this way and that—almost writhing in their emotional pain. Without all that distracting color, I see more sorrow in their faces. But if I had only ever seen it in grayscale, I don’t think I would have found the painting nearly as interesting. The neon hues add to the emotional impact, giving an odd tug of “something is not quite right here” that makes the piece “work” for me in a way the black and white doesn’t.

Pontormo's "Deposition from the Cross" in both color and grayscale

How does the color affect the way you see this painting? Do you get annoyed like I do when art books don’t spring for full color images? Know of any other 15th century art splattered with Pepto pink? Please share in the comments below!

If you want to see what the painting looks like in the church where it hangs and learn a bit about how Pontormo’s work broke with Renaissance tradition, click on over to SmartHistory and watch this 5 minute video.

Next week: Damien Hirst’s End Game.

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