Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis




Art History

First Advisor

Carlton Hughes


Jacopo Pontormo's Altarpiece in the Capponi Chapel of Santa Felicita in Florence has been widely acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of Mannerist art. However, nearly five hundred years after its creation art historians cannot even agree on the subject matter of the painting or how it relates to Pontormo's other decorations within the Chapel. The purpose of this thesis is to analyze the iconography of the Capponi Altarpiece, as well as the other artistic elements in the Chapel, without the preconceptions of earlier studies, and to attempt to solve the mystery of the meaning of Pontormo's strikingly inventive composition.

This thesis aims to analyze the Capponi Altarpiece, to the fullest extent possible, through the eyes of its intended audience and in the context of the early sixteenth century Florentine world in which they lived. To that end, considerable attention is paid to the evolution of religious doctrine concerning the Virgin Mary and her reaction to Christ's Passion, the development of popular devotions connected with the Virgin and the history of the representation of those themes in art.

This contextual analysis revealed that Pontormo's carefully designed images communicate with each other and the viewer, and unite in the Altarpiece, weaving a rich, multi-faceted portrait of the grieving Virgin of the Pietà, acknowledging her complex role in God's plan for salvation and her painful transition from the Mother of Christ to the Mother of all mankind. This thesis concludes that the Capponi Altarpiece satisfies none of the iconographical requirements of the various narrative themes long applied to it. The Capponi Altarpiece can most accurately be identified as a non-traditional, iconic Pietà.