Portrait of a conversation

DOUBLE Portrait of Two Friends'' is one of the unusual paintings by Pontormo, a talented artist of the Italian Renaissance. It becomes evident the two young men in the picture are not only close friends of each other but also of the artist. Instead of looking at us, the spectators, they seem to be appealing to Pontormo, pulling him into a dialogue interrupted by his arrival. One of them points to the manuscript he holds, a portion of Cicero's essay ``On Friendship.''

The light that illuminates the two serious faces strikes the hands and the quotation, forming three pivots on which the picture balances. The colors are severe, black and gray accented by white against a neutral background, but what intensity of feeling!

Jacopo Carrucci was born in the Tuscan village of Pontormo in 1494; much of his life was spent in nearby Florence, capital of the province. He is almost invariably called Pontormo.

There were no art academies then; artists learned from other artists. The 12-year-old Pontormo studied briefly with Leonardo da Vinci and later with Andrea del Sarto. Praise and assistance from his friends Raffaello and Michelangelo encouraged him. An awe-struck admiration for the latter two influenced some works, the German D"urer others.

A restless experimentalist with an inquiring mind, Pontormo had an elusive style, or better styles, and it is difficult to pinpoint him. He was one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, but at times he can also be classified as Mannerist or even early Baroque. Numerous frescoes and panel paintings are prized masterpieces, recognizably his, although differing greatly from each other.

Pontormo was a moody person. Sometimes he thought so long and earnestly about just how to picture the subject that the end of the day would come without his having touched a brush. To avoid being watched, he closed off access to the places he was painting. At home, the studio was reached only by a ladder which the artist pulled up after he entered. Even Bronzino, his pupil and best friend, was often excluded.

Pontormo's constant desire to show the inner qualities as well as the exterior nature of a person made him a gifted portraitist. No matter how large a group he painted, each character is an individual.

The ``Double Portrait of Two Friends'' is among the fabulous works of art to be seen in the Cini Collection at the new museum in Venice.

The museum is in the palace on the bank of the Grand Canal, just a short distance below the Academy Bridge, where Count Vittorio Cini lived until his passing in 1977. He was surrounded by his continually growing accumulation of important sculptures, paintings, precious books, ivories, tapestries, porcelains, and furniture. Many objects of art, 27 paintings from Tuscany, and part of the palace to house them were bequeathed by Count Cini and his heirs to the Giorgio Cini Foundation, a cultural organization the count founded in 1951. Since October of 1984, the Cini Palace has been open to the public.

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