Studies of nudes (two men, seated, looking in a mirror, and a seated boy)

ca. 1515 / 20

Black and white chalk on blue paper
Inv. No. 4288

42.2 × 27.2 cm

zur  Biographie

Two nude men press their heads together, gazing into a hand-mirror. Their muscular bodies are modelled with a chalk technique that puts more emphasis on energy, expression, and suggestion than on precision and elegance. The chalk-strokes possess a radical, almost ferocious quality which appears again in the characterization of the men’s faces beneath their tousled hair. One of them has taken the other by the shoulder, while the latter in turn props himself up on the knee of the first. Their entangled limbs and outer contour lines transform the two – who were probably in fact drawn from one and the same model – into strange Siamese twins. In the left foreground we find a seated boy or putto who has assumed an even more complex pose.


It was at around this time that the »classic« phase of the Italian Renaissance had reached its zenith in the work of Raphael. Now, in a highly individual way, the Florentine painter Jacopo Carrucci – called »Pontormo« after his place of birth – adopts the exuberant physicality of Michelangelo’s maniera. The drawing was executed in the early phase of Pontormo’s career: the putto’s pose resembles those of figures appearing in the young artist’s first commissions, wall paintings of the years 1514–1520.


The two entwined men could be interpreted as a design for a depiction of the zodiac sign Gemini. Through the mythical twins Castor and Pollux and their mother Leda, this theme was intimately linked with the Medici family. Having ruled over Florence for a number of years, the Medici had been driven from the city in 1494; upon their return in 1512, they embarked on a policy of glorifying their previous power and position. Within this context, Giuliano de’ Medici (murdered in 1478) and his brother Lorenzo the Magnificent (d. 1492) were frequently represented as the mythical twins, their mother as Leda. In around 1520 Pontormo had embarked on a series of frescos on the Leda theme which, however, were never executed; the drawing in the Städel Museum may be related in some way to that project.

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