In a flutter of brilliantly coloured drapery, two women move together in an embrace. Eyes locked, their intense gaze shows both joy and deep understanding; they are exchanging the happy news that they are both pregnant
This is the Visitation, a masterpiece of Renaissance art by the enigmatic painter Pontormo. The meeting between cousins Mary and Elisabeth, and of their unborn children Jesus and John, are represented in a way that even now, five hundred years later, is innovative and captivatingly beautiful.
This painting resides in a small parish church in Carmignano, a town in Tuscany, about half an hour’s drive from Florence. Long a site of “pilgrimage” for art lovers, Pontormo’s Visitation has embarked on her first American tour with the exhibition “Miraculous Encounters: Pontormo from Drawing to Painting” (Florence - New York - Los Angeles). The purpose of the #VisitingVisitation, as we are calling the voyage of this gift to humanity, is to raise funds for the much-needed restoration of this church.
The church and monastic complex of San Michele Arcangelo that is home to Pontormo’s Visitation, one of the most important artworks of its time, is literally falling down. Emergency interventions have taken place to fix holes in the roof of the church when rainwater was entering close to the painting, but this is just the most visible and alarming sign of widespread structural damage to the large complex, which includes a cloister, oratory and additional internal spaces.
Carmignano from above, with the Complex at its center
The Visitation is the symbol of Carmignano, a charming town inserted in a wide landscape that is the perfect image of Tuscany, with its rolling hills, cypress trees and well tended vines. The town’s residents are strongly devoted to the Visitation. When the painting was in Florence for restoration for a prolonged period post-war, the priest and parishioners suffered greatly and demanded her return. Letting her go now, for one whole year, is a huge sacrifice for the community. But the complex is in a state of emergency. Already the annexed Oratory of San Luca, a little Baroque jewel, has been closed for years for safety reasons. Parts of the cloister and priest’s house are held up by temporary supports. If the church were deemed unsafe, for humans or for art, it would be closed and the painting removed to a museum, unlikely to ever return.
The Visitation speaks a universal language of emotion, motherhood, hope and salvation. Her message at this time is to save her home.
We have a plan - described in detail below - to restore the heart of the complex - the house of the Visitation; preserve the painting for future generations of Carmignanesi; and give life to the Museum of the Visitation so that art-loving visitors from around the world can come admire this work for years to come.
We are asking you to become a part of this project. Please contribute by donating any amount, either freely or by selecting one of the rewards at the right hand side of this page.
The loan of Pontormo’s Visitation in order to be the starring masterpiece of the exhibition “Miraculous Encounters: Pontormo from Drawing to Painting” has permitted further study of the painting and deepened our understanding both of the artist, and of how this work came to be in our church in Carmignano.
Bruce Edelstein, curator of the exhibit and Coordinator for Graduate Programs and Advanced Research at New York University Florence, presents a new hypothesis about the patronage and dating of the work. In short, the work was likely commissioned by Bonaccorso Pinadori and executed in the period 1528-30, in which Florence was under siege and the city was governed by a short-lived Republic before it was once again taken over by the Medici family, who would then consolidate their rule, becoming Dukes and then Grand Dukes of Tuscany for the following 200 years.
The painting was not made for the church in Carmignano, but, Edelstein suggests, was commissioned for a Franciscan church outside of the city walls which was destroyed during the siege. Thus, the owner, who was a Medici enemy, took it to the family villa in Carmignano, where they had a private chapel. It is documented here in 1677, and then next mentioned in our church in 1720. It may have been transferred there when, that same year, the Pinadori family sold the villa. It was made to fit an altar frame that was designed for another painting, perhaps once promised by the now financially unfortunate Pinadori family.
While Pontormo’s panel was not made for the church in Carmignano, it certainly found an ideal location in this Franciscan setting and became particularly important to this community. For more than two hundred years, it never left the church; afterwards, it has only traveled to Florence, for restoration and a handful of exhibitions. Travel has only ever been authorized for the good of the painting, in terms of scientific study, restoration, and now fundraising.
The Church of San Michele is said to have been founded on land donated to Saint Francis himself in 1211. An oratory and friary were built, and expanded with the current church in the first half of the fourteenth century. Another expansion took place in the eighteenth century.
The graceful loggia that protects the entrance to the church
In the modern period, lack of funds has led to the progressive degradation of the building, in particular in structural terms. The vertical pilasters that support the building require consolidation since they risk collapse, while the wooden structure of the roof has been attacked by parasites and affected by water damage. Continued rainwater exposure to all the parts of the complex, due to the inadequate roof, has affected structural aspects as well as damaged architectural and painted decoration. Temporary measures have been taken from 1994 until now to patch holes in the roof and to hold up walls and floors, rendering numerous areas inaccessible.
We remember times when the beautiful cloister held joyous celebrations of marriages and baptisms; when the complex provided a useful and free meeting space for youth groups and community activities. We want to get back to that, to once again have wedding parties in this space, and to welcome new visitors and types of festivities through a new museum.
This cloister has a lot of potential
It wouldn't take much to restore the plaster and meet legal guidelines for electricity to render this space usable by the community and visitors
Our hope is to be able to finance a full restoration of the complex, but we’ve structured our plan bit by bit, over the long term. The church will always be the fulcrum of community events, and it will also take on a new role as the Museum of the Visitation.
The first goal will be to secure the church and make sure that the painting, when it returns home from its American voyage, will be safe and dry.
Second, we’re renovating an area on the ground floor adjacent to the church, to become an exhibition space, event space, and visitor welcome center.
An intervention on the Oratory of San Luca will permit it to be reopened to the public. With time, regular prayer services will be moved to this more intimate space, permitting tourist visits in the main church to not disturb prayer.
The Oratory of San Luca is currently closed to the public due to its lack of restoration
Detail of damage to the frescoes of the oratory
The following diagrams and renders give an idea of what the future museum will look like once the restoration is complete.
To restore the entire complex is a long term project requiring substantial funding. We are concentrating on the section that we wish to open up to the public in the short term, the area indicated on the floor plans above and that make up the future Museo della Visitazione. The amount required to do this work is €965,000.
The amount we hope to raise through crowdfunding is a minimal amount that will permit us to start work right away, before other promised funding arrives. The Diocese of Pistoia is setting aside a large portion of the funds required for this restoration, but these will not arrive before the end of 2019. In the meantime, we need to consolidate the structure so that the already-bad situation does not worsen. Having these funds immediately will allow us to start work right away: the church and complex cannot wait another two years until promised funds are freed up.
Current state of part of the roof!
We have a large and qualified team able to carry out the projected works and museum, including:
Tommaso Londi, Architect: for the past decade, Dr. Londi has been monitoring and intervening on the complex where necessity and funds permitted. He has developed the full plans for the restoration and identified a qualified construction team to undertake it as soon as funds are available.
Fabrizio Buricchi (Responsabile dei Beni Culturali, Chiesa di San Michele) and Lawyer Barbara Londi, Fundraising: working as a team and as part of the commision of parishioners actively seeking to save the church, Barbara and Fabrizio have secured funds from private and public sources.
Bruce Edelstein, curator and scholar: Curator of the traveling exhibit, Bruce’s scientific research is an invaluable contribution to the diffusion of information about our painting and the church complex, which will be also used in the future museum design and contents.
Flod, crowdfunding consultation: this Florence-based communications agency has previously raised funds for the restoration of important artworks.
A team of local volunteers: numerous residents of Carmignano and beyond have answered a call to contribute to this campaign in various ways. Videographers, storytellers, event organizers and simply people who can pass on the news are all playing their part.
Thanks to the traveling exhibition "Miraculous Encounters: Pontormo from Drawing to Painting," word about the need for a good home for Pontormo's masterpiece is getting out. Please mark your calendar to see the show in one of these locations, or pick a special guided tour as your reward on this platform for a truly special experience that will also help support us.
- [Florence, Italy: Palazzo Pitti, Sala delle Nicchie, May 8 to July 29, 2018]
- New York (NY), USA: The Morgan Library & Museum, September 7 2018 to January 6, 2019
- Los Angeles (CA), USA: The J. Paul Getty Museum, February 5 to April 28, 2019
- Carmignano (PO), Italy: The painting will return (without the rest of the exhibition) to the Church of San Michele, after May 2019
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For more information about the parish church, activities, or to sign up for our newsletter, please see the home page of the website pontormo.it.
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