Vertumnus and Pomona (Pontormo)
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The fresco decoration of Vertumnus and Pomona in the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caiano (near Montalbano) is a fresco painting by Jacopo Pontormo. The villa is set among orchards and gardens, and served in summer as an outdoor respite to the heat in Florence.
The fresco surrounds a lunette, high in a barrel-vaulted central hall. The allegorical figures over the doors and the facing fresco depicting Julius Caesar, begun by Pontormo’s mentor, Andrea del Sarto, were completed decades later by Alessandro Allori. Pontormo initially received the commission from Ottaviano de' Medici and Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, the future Clement VII, and Giovanni de’ Medici (later pope as Leo X).
The painting depicts peasants, including a naked youth, picking fruit or lounging beneath trees in a walled framework. Putti garland the window. The stated theme is the classical myth of Vertumnus and Pomona taken from a story in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The myth is that of Pomona, a beautiful but haughty wood-nymph, with the sickle at right lower corner, sheltered herself inside her orchard, dedicating herself to its cultivation while spurning all suitors. Vertumnus, either a demigod of seasons or a satyr, is taken with the nymph's beauty, but she ignores and rebuffs all his advances to enter her realm. The mutable Vertumnus gains access to the orchard disguised or transformed into an old woman (here, an old man with basket). Once inside the disguised Vertumnus convinces the maiden, by means of allusive stories, to "carpe diem" and choose the handsome youth Vertumnus, who finally reveals his true form.
One reading of this fresco is that the allegory delicately counterposes the turns in the story in a mirror fashion in each hemi-lunette. The elder-faced Vertumnus with the rapt Pomona, the youth with basket and the turning maiden, and finally aloft on the fence, the naked man picking fruit from the same tree for which from a distance the maiden, clothed in an aroused red dress, tenders a branch. It is an elaborately seductive interpretation for this fresco made for a then Papal family.
It is an apt arrangement for this rural farm. It lacks the usual melancholy of Pontormo's religious canvases, and thus is unique among his works. In some ways, this painting is aberrant in the prevailing current of Florentine painting of its time. Florentine painting, if not portraiture, was often intellectual and academic, and focused on allegory, mythology or religious themes. Genre topics and still lifes were rare for the high-minded Florentines. In addition, nearly all Italian painting until that time occurred indoors or in urban landscapes, and if not, landscape was unmemorable sfumato dissipating in the distance. The Summer or Spring evoked by the reposing figures is powerful as well as soothing. The theme of the relaxed near-genre scene gently harkens for fertility.