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Reclining Male Nude

Jacopo Pontormo
Reclining Male Nude, c. 1530-40
Black chalk on ivory laid paper
Purchased 2004

Catalogued in the celebrated exhibition of one hundred Michelangelo drawings from the Thomas Lawrence collection as a study for the sleeping Adam in the Sistine Chapel fresco Creation of Eve, this work passed as a Michelangelo original for at least two centuries. Rather than Michelangelo, however, this double-sided drawing is by a younger Tuscan artist deeply inspired by him - Jacopo Pontormo, one of the giants of Italian Mannerism. The drawing features a sleeping male nude, his face supported by his left arm resting on a large cylindrical object, his right arm pulled behind his back. In this mature work, the rather soft, exploratory handling of the black chalk and the elongated, almost segmented treatment of the human form evoke Pontormo's final drawings for the choir project at the church of San Lorenzo, left incomplete at his death, which are among the most extraordinary sketches ever produced by an Italian artist. The general balance and restraint of the drawing, as well as its sculptural clarity and cooler emotional tenor, relate it to the figure studies, mostly surviving in the Uffizi, for Pontormo's fresco projects of the 1530s for the Medici villas at Poggio a Caiano, Careggi, and Castello. This tender, rather melancholic figure, perhaps a prisoner of war, may also have been intended for one of those secular frescoes.

Pontormo was at his closest to Michelangelo in the 1530s, and with this knowledge the former attribution of the drawing to the older master seems more understandable. On two occasions during this period, Pontormo produced monumental finished paintings from Michelangelo's designs. Prototypes for the pose of this figure with accentuated musculature, as well as for the accurate, yet almost feathery, handling of the black chalk can be found in Michelangelo's work at the time. Like his mentor, Pontormo was a dedicated cartographer of the male body and few better examples exist than this newly discovered sheet that seems to speak directly to the rapport between the two artists. Pontormo was not above distorting anatomical accuracy for decorative effect, and by this stage in the creation of the drawing the artist was no longer working directly from a life model. Yet although the treatment of the figure is deliberately exaggerated beyond what is conceivable in nature, certain details - like the left foot placed underneath the knee - betray a direct observation of life.