PONTORMO, THE CARMIGNANO VISITATION RESTORED

On inspecting the Carmignano Visitation, I immediately noticed damage to the lower part of the panel consisting in splitting in the wood which could just be made out behind the glass, some old and now badly ageing renovation jobs and a considerable number of knocks taken when the painting was being moved or hidden in some safe hideout. A yellowing varnish covered all of the figures and had been applied particularly thickly to St. Elisabeth's billowing cloak, turning it from green to brown. Once in my workshop, the painting was analysed and investigated in depth with the care due to such an important patient, ahead of restoration. The Visitation's wooden support comprised five well-sawn poplar-wood planks glued together, probably with caseine-based glue as was the practice at the time, and two deal-wood cross-pieces. Infrared reflectography revealed the underlying pencil drawing and regular chequering. The painting is a faithful reproduction of the preparatory drawing chequered by Pontormo himself and now in the Uffizi's Drawings and Prints Cabinet. The inspection also showed us that the artist had "second thoughts" regarding the handmaiden's feet and hair, the Virgin's veil and St. Elisabeth's left hand. Pontormo made a few changes to them, yet without interrupting his painting. Further investigation revealed that Pontormo had used the same palette that he used for the Descent from the Cross in Santa Felicita. In the Visitation he mixed white lead with azurite, yellow ochre with brown and madder lacquer. The Virgin's mantle was painted in a single sitting with thick brushtrokes of blue and oil, the folds bunching up, the handle of the paintbrush occasionally scratching the colour and softening the fabric. He painted the faces, particularly that of the old lady, with fine, short brushstrokes, using cinnabar red to soften their noses and mouths as though they were reflecting light from below.

He added the blonde, almost golden, curls at the end, after completing the sky. We discovered a bright blue sky beneath a black overpainting that had made it almost overcast, and Pontormo's clouds are white and ragged. The fa├žades of the buildings were grey and cold, but beneath the dirt we found them to be bathed by the light of Florence, with mottled plaster. A woman is leaning out of a window and a white cloth is falling from a window ledge. A small donkey's head peeks out from behind the corner of a bulding, while two passers-by converse on a bench like "masked mannequins". The tower looming over St. Elisabeth has been shortened and there is sky above it, while a wooden beam sticks out of the wall. We diversified our cleaning methods to remove the heavy repainting of past centuries, calibrating our timing and processes with the help of emulsions, solvents, paint brushes and a scalpel. The original colours, muted by old restoration, re-emerged, while the blue of the Virgin's mantle kept its greenish hue on account of the varnishes incorporated into it. The cloudlike effect of the orangey-yellow mantle has recovered its mix of lead-tin and ochre and the female figures' ringed eyes now have delicate greenish glazing on the pupils. After consolidating the colour in a handful of places, we filled 1,673 woodworm holes with putty and retouched the painting with tempera colours. After applying a protective layer of revitalisng Retoucher Resin varnish, we blended the final finishing touches to breathe new life into the Visitation's figures: four large female figures, two small male figures, a tiny female figure leaning out of a window and a smiling donkey. Daniele Rossi