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Pontormo (1494) Options
Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 12:00:00 AM
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Pontormo (1494)

Pontormo was a Florentine painter and one of the creators of mannerism, an artistic style characterized by distortion of elements such as scale and perspective. In fact, his altar for the church of San Michele Visdomini, Florence, is considered by many to be the first mannerist work in recorded history. He was also a talented portraitist. Pontormo was a recluse for much of his life and kept a diary in which he chronicled his obsessions. With which famous Florentine painters did he apprentice? More...
JUSTIN Excellence
Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 10:46:12 AM

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Many questions are asked by Daemon today. Which obsessions did he chronicle in his diary?

The following excerpt from folios 75 and 76 of the original diary manuscript covers a period from early January to mid-October of 1554.

On the 7th of January 1554, on Sunday evening, I fell down and struck my shoulder and arm, and was in pain.

And I stayed at Bronzino's house six days; then, went back home. I felt bad until Mardi Gras, which was on the 6th of February 1554.

On the 11th of March 1554, on Sunday morning, I ate lunch with Bronzino—chicken and veal—and felt well (it is true that I was in bed when he came for me at home. It was quite late and upon getting up I felt swollen and full. It was a very beautiful day). In the evening I ate a bit of roasted dry meat which made me thirsty.

Monday evening I ate a cabbage and an omelet.

Tuesday evening I ate one half of the head of a kid and soup.

Wednesday evening I had the other half, fried, and a pretty big helping of zibibbo grapes, and 5 quattrini of bread, and capers in salad.

Thursday morning I felt a dizziness that lasted all day; and even after [it passed] I still felt bad and my head was weak.

Thursday evening, a soup of good mutton and salad of goat's beard.

Friday evening, salad of goat's beard and two eggs in an omelet.

Saturday, fasted. Sunday evening, which was the evening of Palm Sunday, I ate a little boiled mutton and salad, and had to eat three quattrini of bread.

Monday evening after dinner I felt very lively and agreeable. I ate a salad of lettuce, a thin soup of good mutton and 4 quattrini of bread.

Tuesday evening I ate a salad of lettuce and an omelet.

Holy Wednesday: evening, 2 quattrini of almonds, and an omelet and some walnuts. And I did the figure that is above the head [of another figure].

The Duchess came to San Lorenzo; the Duke came, too.

Thursday evening, a salad of lettuce and some caviar, and one egg.

Friday evening an omelet with fava beans, and a bit of caviar and 4 quattrini of bread. Saturday I ate two eggs.

Sunday, which was Easter morning and the Feast of the Annunciation, I went to eat lunch with Bronzino. And I ate dinner there, too.

Monday evening I ate a salad that was of borage and a half-lemon, and 2 eggs in an omelet.

Tuesday evening I was all hoarse and ate a rosemary bread and an omelet and a salad and some dry figs.

Wednesday, fasted.

Thursday evening, a rosemary bread, an omelet of one egg and a salad and 4 quattrini of bread, in all.

Friday evening, salad, pea soup, and an omelet and 5 quattrini of bread.

Saturday, butter, salad, sugar, and an omelet.

On the 1st of April, Sunday, I ate lunch with Bronzino. And in the evening I did not eat dinner.

Monday evening I ate boiled bread with butter and an omelet and 2 ounces of torte.




Saturday I went to the tavern: salad and omelet, and cheese, and I felt good.

Sunday I ate lunch and dinner with Bronzino.

Monday, a small boiled kidney of good lamb.

Tuesday 2 fried eggs and a salad.


Thursday evening 4 quattrini of bread, a salad of the boiled lamb that was badly cooked.

On the 13th—Friday evening I ate cooked radicchio, 4 quattrini of bread and an omelet.

Saturday evening.

Sunday evening I ate boiled lamb meat and cooked salad and cheese.

Wednesday, the 23rd of May, I ate some meat.

Thursday, which was Corpus Domini, I ate lunch with Bronzino. I had some Greek wine, meat and fish. And in the evening an ounce of torte with not much meat, and with little appetite.

On the 2nd of June, Saturday evening, I got the chair, which costs 16 lire.

On the 9th of June 1554, Marco Moro began to prepare the walls and fill in the cracks in San Lorenzo.

On the 18th, the evening of the Feast of St. Luke, I began to sleep downstairs with the new mattress.

On the 19th of October I felt ill, that is, with a cold, and I could not clear my throat and with great effort—it took several evenings—that hard thing came out of my throat, like I had had other times. I don't know if this was because the weather had been beautiful for a while and I still ate well.

And on the same day I began to take care of myself a little and 30 ounces of bread lasted me 3 days, that is, 10 ounces at each meal, that is, one time a day; and I drank little. Before this, on the 16th of the same month, I bottled 6 barrels of Radda wine.¬

Translation by Elizabeth Pilliod. With the exception of occasional dashes and the parentheses in the third paragraph, all punctuation has been added by the translator for clarity. Punctuation rules were not consistently applied in handwritten manuscripts in Renaissance Italy. Please note that the translation has remained faithful to the original manuscript in using letters and Arabic numerals interchangeably to indicate numbers.

[Elizabeth Pilliod is an art historian and writer living in Princeton, NJ. She is the author of Pontormo, Bronzino, Allori: A Genealogy of Florentine Art (Yale University Press, 2001) and is finishing a book on Pontormo’s Diary for the University of Chicago Press.]

[image not available]

What can we find in that Diary? It depicts an artist who was obsessed with his diet, body, and emotions, a melancholic who preferred solitude to social interaction. Moreover, the weirdness of Pontormo's last paintings was the product of this psyche...

When we look at art, a fascinating sequence of neurological, perceptual, and cognitive phenomena emerges through which the art piece is seen and understood in less time than it takes to read these words. Neuroscientists have unraveled many of the strands of the neurological pathways and interactions involved in the visual sensation, and cognitive psychologists have discovered some basic laws of perception. As science helps us understand our experience of art, so too does art give us a view of the mind that comprehends it.

Lest we become overwhelmed by the study of neurology, synapses, blood flow, and the evolution of the conscious brain, it is essential that we not forget that art, of all types, is one of life’s most noble expressions. It can lighten the heart, celebrate the familiar, stimulate deep thoughts, as well as arouse all types of emotions. Art for art's sake is sufficient motivation for us to seek it out, enjoy it, and understand it.

Art Meets Science

Art is, after all, physical material that affects a physical eye and conscious brain. The brain interprets what it sees in light of socialized experiences and a long evolutionary history. Whether visual, musical, or other, art still touches us in extraordinary ways. No amount of psychophysical reductionism (at least that I know of ) will explain away the profound and enigmatic effect art has on people. Art may bring us feelings of sublime joy as well as dark depression. Most of all, art is to be experienced, appreciated, felt, and understood.

We have found that many people, even sophisticated art critics, profit by having a type of crib sheet as they try to comprehend art. We should view a painting from the perspective of four main qualities:

• Sensory (perceptual) characteristics: What are the physical attributes of the piece?

• Psychological characteristics: What are the psychological aspects of the art?

• Schema-story relationships: How do I understand this piece through my own point of view?

• “Level 3” comprehension of art: Does this piece touch me in some profound way?

Level 3 comprehension, is one’s highly personal, if not emotional, reaction to art. Also, keep in mind that understanding art is not a unidimensional matter. Any of these characteristics may be primary or secondary in importance in your judgment. Some of the subcategories, such as the many sensory modes, may not apply to every piece. I hope this is a useful way for us to view and understand art.

Nature is the art of God.

While artists have honed their skill over centuries, scientists have investigated the anatomy and functioning of the brain for just over a hundred years. Evolutionary psychology, which deals with the origin of the adaptable brain, has an even shorter history. In spite of the relatively recent emergence of all types of brain sciences, scientific progress has been nothing short of astonishing. So profoundly informative are the latest discoveries in brain sciences that some have considered building a unified theory of the brain that encompasses all of its functions, including the appreciation of art. While the neurosciences were making real progress in understanding the brain, art critics, sociologists, and historians paid little heed to these discoveries. Neuroscientists were likewise uninterested in art, at least as a subject of scientific inquiry.

Art and science were conceptualized so differently that not enough common ground was available for a good debate over their differences and similarities. Art, one might assert, deals with the extended mind and is ethereal, aesthetic, and holistic; any attempt to analyze it would surely destroy it. Conversely, science deals with the real, the tangible, those things that can be measured and experimented with and are divisible. Yet, as we saw ... art and science (specifically the science of the brain) may share a large common ground in the physical world. Inexorably, we are beginning to understand that ideas from each discipline help to explain the other.

[image not available]

The Evolution of the Consciously AWARE Brain

We begin our story of the evolution of the conscious brain so that we might better understand art—a kind of alpha and omega approach in that a sensory-cognitive system is necessary for the detection and understanding of art. Between ‘alpha’ and ‘omega’ consequential neurological events took place. From the origin of life to the first single-celled animals, to the first brachiopods, trilobites, corals, and ray-finned bony fishes, to the first amphibians, dinosaurs, primates, to modern man, neurological changes unfolded in fits and starts. For a scientist, the many bioecological wanderings to follow during the evolution of a brain are difficult to fathom. Even more astonishing is the fact that such an instrument, with its biological fragilities, costly maintenance, and incomprehensible complexity, evolved at all.

Previously we traced the evolution of the sensory system, especially the eye, in our search for a basis for understanding the psychology of art. Here we will look at the evolution of the brain with a similar purpose...

Something like the first brain evolved half a billion years ago. It took another 250 million years for it to evolve beyond simple reactive processes. The first humanlike brain appeared only about 4 or 5 million years ago, and modern brains emerged between 200,000 and 60,000 years ago (and likely continue to change). It was not until about 60,000 to 30,000 years ago that consciousness reached the state that continues today. Life is not contingent on a neurological system, let alone a brain. Even rarer is a computational brain capable of thought and artistic appreciation. It is on these last 5 million years that we will concentrate our discussion.

A nagging question is again raised by the observation that the modern brain arrived so late on the planetary scene. Life arrived early; complex life forms developed over 500 million years ago; and even more intricate systems tens of millions of years ago. Why did it take so long to develop a conscious brain? And for what purpose did such a brain evolve in the first place? Does such an observation suggest that “intelligent” life on this planet is rare, and might we generalize to other planetary systems? The study of the evolution of the conscious brain spins cosmic questions that may be only partly answerable. But finding the questions is an important step.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. . . . And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.
Genesis 1:2–4

     

The human brain (and body) changed as an adaptive response to climatic changes on a very long timescale. In many ways art history is also a response to environmental changes both physical and social. At each significant environmental change, adapting creatures responded with neurological and physical changes.

Among the most apparent of these global changes was an event that happened 8 million years ago, when the rich forests in eastern Africa were replaced by more sparsely tree-covered and grassy regions as a consequence of a massive tectonic shift. Organisms of this region that did not adapt to the new conditions would have died off. In particular, the new environment demanded that apes spend more time moving between food sources and between trees, which required a more upright stance. Presumably, natural selection favored those among the more able primates who could move swiftly and see farther over those who continued to lope along scraping their knuckles along the tall grasses.

Serendipitously, a more perpendicular stance also meant that body temperature was reduced. As we shall see shortly, big brains require super-cooling machinery to function. Without the quirky, geotectonic cataclysm that affected the earth’s crust and climate, we might have been content to lounge about in humid rain forests munching on nuts and berries, collecting rainwater, and basking in a rare sunny day rather than sampling Brie and sipping Chardonnay while looking at an exhibition of the latest avant-garde paintings. As fate decreed, our hairy ancestors who survived beyond the Great Rift Valley in the dry eastern African plains did so partly because they had big brains.

Once there, there are several reasons why the brain and body evolved further by mutations and natural selection:

-- Cognition. To adapt to the environment required mental adaptation. Brute strength and simple responses were insufficient to ward off predators and find food. The diets now available, rich in sucrose, in turn enabled the brain to grow. The newly created environment required primates to forage for fruits, not simply gobble grass or vegetation within easy access.

Searching for fruits is a complicated activity, as not all trees bear fruit and not all fruit is edible. In addition, as we saw in a previous chapter, fine visual discriminations were necessary to choose between nutritious and nonnutritious, or even poisonous, foods. This biological necessity, caused by an environmental shift, required an AWARE brain capable of color vision and discrimination, spatial skills, hand-eye coordination, memory, learning foraging skills from parents and others, navigation, and, later, tool making. In addition, success in these matters frequently required social interaction and cooperation. All of this required greater cognitive skills, larger, more complex brains, and an increased AWAREness.

-- Cerebral growth and brain cooling. A different physiology helped the brain to be cooled more effectively, thus facilitating greater cerebral growth. This hypothesis, sometimes called the "radiator hypothesis," was suggested by Falk (1990), a neuropsychologist inspired by his auto mechanic, who told him that in order to have a bigger engine one needs a larger radiator.

The brain is a hot organ requiring massive cooling. Our brain makes up less than 2 percent of the entire body, yet it burns up to 25 percent of the body’s oxygen and 70 percent of its glucose. Without the means to cool the brain by increased blood supply, rapid cerebral evolution would not have been possible. This is but one of numerous physiological changes that were necessary for brain growth. Cerebral physiology and adaptive cognition coevolved symbiotically, leading to more complex, conscious AWAREness. These early, critical stages of cerebral evolution emphasize two characteristics of the human brain important for students of the psychology of art:(1) the brain evolved cognitive mechanisms of prodigious complexity to survive in a changing environment, and (2) the allocation of cerebral space was so pivotal to survival that many other physiological functions were necessarily altered to accommodate the growth of the brain—for example, the development of an intricate vascular system for cooling the brain.

Both the cognitive and the physiological functions changed the way humans conceptualized the world. We could now think beyond simple stimulus-response reactions to the environment. In addition, change in our physique aided further adaptation. By standing more upright, we could use our hands for tool making. These major changes in the protohuman brain and body determined the creature we became: it gave us Sunday afternoons at the Art Institute, the means to paint Mona Lisa and fabricate The Thinker, and (most of all) the vision to see beyond the rainbow.

Three Questionable Assumptions

Before we tackle the problem of how cerebral size and well-connected neurons made us the way we are, there are some widely accepted assumptions about the evolution of the computational brain that need to be clarified. First is the idea that evolution has inexorably produced a “better,” more adaptive entity when it constructed an AWARE human being; second, that human brains were engineered in perfect synchrony with the environment; third, that guiding these developments is some grand purpose.

1) A superior brain leads to better adaptation. Humans have more and better-wired neurons than any other animal on earth. But this has not necessarily made us more adaptive, if adaptation is defined narrowly in terms of survival. Cockroaches have lived for 320 million years, some insects many times longer, and even the hulking Neanderthal lived about 200,000 years—over five times longer than our great ancestors who mixed animal fat and minerals to decorate caves. Conscious AWAREness has contributed to the survival of our species. Yet this quirky intellectual mechanism is terribly fragile, and its efficacy has yet to be proven over the long haul.

A computational brain may be useful when it comes to imagining and making needles, baskets, and warm clothing but counterproductive when it comes to neurosis, psychosis, and autism, not to mention when it is used to create weapons or microbes designed to eradicate life. We came dangerously close to blowing ourselves off the planet in the twentieth century, and some doomsayers predict that with self-imposed environmental hazards—both ecological and cultural—we will not see the end of this century. Our invention of malevolent devices without antidotes is a serious concern in today’s world.

2) The brain and body are perfectly attuned to the world. The notion that our brain and body work in perfect synchrony with the world is so foolish that refuting it is like preaching to the converted. Evolution is not engineering but the consequence of a chance reaction to a changing planet. It isn’t that the rules of cause and effect go haywire in evolution; it is that the evolution of species is capriciously tied to inexplicable events. The dinosaurs got wiped out by an errant meteor, and mankind changed forever as a result of massive shifts in the tectonic plates. To think that such cataclysmic events evolved perfect beings is either the height of absurdity or of egocentricity. The evolution of any life form on this planet is a curious if not quixotic incident. One could imagine our planet mindlessly spinning in its orbit content with stable rocks that need neither food, specialized air, clean water, nor love, affection, sex, and rock ’n’ roll. After all, every planetary system that we know of is of that genre.

If life itself is something of an accident of nature, and a very feeble one at that, then intelligent life is even more of an enigma, in the sense that survival systems based on situational problem-solving ability may have the seeds of total selfdestruction built into them. Cognition, once thought by the psychological evolutionists to be the supreme means of coping, may actually be the ultimate doomsday device that will kill off our species and perhaps all others like us (except the invincible, ugly, and only marginally AWARE cockroach). In the event that other planetary systems did evolve life and monkeyed around with intelligence as a survival mechanism, the intrinsic seeds of destruction may have killed it off before it was sufficiently mature to e-mail us. Zil may ultimately return the cosmos to darkness.

3) Because of the improbability of conscious development, the whole thing was planned. The suggestion that behind all of life is some benevolent, divine, teleologically motivated creator is fraught with paradoxes, ambiguities, and reliance on faith and religious beliefs rather than logic and data. Yet with the highly improbable (and seemingly accidental) evolution of conscious AWAREness, it is tempting to think that some force must have overseen its development.

Furthermore, the evolution of life, and especially intelligent life, is such a weird happenstance that it may not be replicated anywhere in the universe, despite the “theory of large numbers” which posits that anything can happen if you have enough chances. Even under optimal evolutionary conditions afforded by our hospitable world, intelligent life did not evolve until very late. Of course, a null hypothesis is always difficult to prove, and I remain hopeful that we will see life from both sides someday. But this alternate view needs to be verified. Intelligent life is precious, and it may be more precious than generally thought.

These issues deepen the mystery of life, art, and possibly our singular position in the universe. While it is easy, as well as tempting, to fall down on the side that proclaims that some universal force planned it all, the empirical evidence suggests that the eccentric forces of nature shaped our destiny. We have wandered off the main course of the psychology of art to present these assumptions, which are often taken as facts. In considering a comprehensive theory of the psychology of art and the evolution of the conscious brain, these assumptions had to be addressed. Now we can return to the matter of brain size and those well-connected neurons.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
—Robert Burns

The Cognitive Big Bang and the Emergence of Art

It is possible to reconstruct the cerebral and social events that may have contributed to the “cognitive big bang” using a type of reverse engineering. By examining fossil, behavioral, and artifactual evidence, we can come to some well-reasoned conclusions without resorting to too much intellectual horse-pucky.


Brain size is correlated with intellectual performance (see previous posts!). Such observations hold for humanoids as well as other species. In bats and dolphins there is a relatively large inferior colliculus used for the echolocation of food and obstacles. In many fish the optic lobes are disproportionately large and are used for visual identification of prey and predators. And in humans, parts of the cerebral cortex involved in language processing are relatively outsized to support speaking and communication. Many distinguished anthropologists, including Charles Darwin (1871), argued that the differences between humans and other “higher” animals was a matter of degree rather than kind. Of course, Darwin did not have the vantage point gained from over a century of human neurological research.

Size matters, but it is far from the only neurological factor that separates humans from other forms of life.

Well-Connected Neurons

While big brains may have assisted in the successful adaptation to the world, that alone could not have bestowed on humankind art, astronomy, agriculture, and the potential to see ourselves as others see us. It is suggested that those powers were made possible through well-connected neurons that coalesced into cognitive modules. These cerebral circuits increased the capacity for abstract, symbolic, and artistic thought.

To paraphrase Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet, O would some power give us the gift to see what neurological connections have made us. Our exploration of the brain, thus far, has not yielded definitive answers as to what neuroconnections set us apart from all other earthly creatures. We do, however, have both neurological and behavioral evidence that points to plausible answers to this central question. A critical mass of cortical neurons of various types is essential to understanding terrestrial intelligence.

The human brain evolved over millions of years for adaptive purposes. One important component of adaptation was the facility to image and respond to things not present. One did not need, for example, to feel the sting of an angry snake in order to avoid angry snakes or need to have one’s head knocked off by a flying rock to see the connection between a flying rock and losing one’s pate. This capacity for anticipating actions and imaging things not immediately sensed was made possible through the formation of various types of specialized cognitive modules and the circuitry necessary for connecting these modules.

In addition, the well-connected brain allows for ideas and thoughts to be considered at different sites simultaneously because of massive parallel processing. It is suspected that parallel processing appeared early in humanoid evolution but that only in recent times—say about 120,000 years ago—did this form of mental operation take place on a massive level. Being able to process two or more things at the same time added tremendous richness to the cognitive life of human beings. Thoughts became multidimensional. The subtle meaning of everyday events—the hunt, the cooking, the gathering of berries—was understood with greater complexity. Perhaps even humor and double entendres appeared.

Recent studies of the priming effect show convincingly that a simple stimulus (e.g., a red square) sets off profuse unconscious associations. Our appreciation of art is largely set in motion by these aroused associations. (See the later discussions) The exact means by which the brain carries out these functions is not clearly understood by neurobiologists, but it is possible to know where to look. Higher order mental functions of the type mentioned above are likely to be mediated by distributed systems throughout the cortex, extending to other regions. This is accomplished by our modern brain, and the brain of our not too distant relatives, by three actions:

~ The internal organization of synaptic circuits.

~ The external organization of connections to other regions, which may include cortical and subcortical regions. (This is analogous to commerce that might take place within a state and between states.)

~ Extensive parallel processing, which enables multiple processing of information.

The likely site for such multifarious cerebral actions is in the pre- and postsynaptic structures of neurons. Cortical synapses deal with connections among neurons. An increased capacity in the number of neurons that might be activated presumably increases the range of modules implicated. The activation and integration of more specialized processing tools may lead to higher-order processing of information and thoughts about things present and, more importantly, about things that may be imaged. Ultimately, this makes it possible to think abstractly, linguistically, and artistically.

Change in Diet

In order for the brain to organize new and more versatile neural networks of the kind just described, it had to be sustained by nutrients that would increase cerebral blood flow or otherwise provide physiological support for brain development. A diet rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and meat supports cellular brain development by increasing vascular blood flow. Also, as has been documented, fish and crustacean foods are rich in Omega3, which contains DHA. The fossil records indicate that early man lived near streams and oceans where he had ready access to fish and aquatic arthropods. It is therefore reasonable to surmise that these nutrients, important building blocks for brains, were abundantly ingested by the people who were about to become more fully consciously AWARE.

Greater imaginative capacity brought about by dietary changes resulted in developing better shelter, clothes, foods, and the like. Clever people could image and create these things. Enhanced living circumstances, in turn, would lead to a more healthy body and brain, a more comfortable social environment, and more time for leisure—more time for daydreaming and abstract expressions. It is not coincidental that the first vestiges of wall drawings, amulets, and stone decorations appear about this time.


With a more efficient brain, learning, memory, and cognition of a higher order were possible. Early people were finding that it was possible to recall important information and solve problems.

With migratory campaigns being organized, partly as a reaction to climatic changes, people began to coalesce into groups in which they found strength through cooperative actions. Living in a larger group provided ample opportunity to express opinions, make new tools, dwellings, and clothes, and in general exchange ideas. New innovations, expanded language, symbolic representations, body decorations, religious practices, and even incipient government and justice spread in such a milieu. The revolutionary changes that took place during the late Pleistocene were not caused by any single event (and those who dogmatically promote a single-cause argument are ignorant of the complexity of cause-and-effect relationship in science and society) but, as with most significant changes in the evolution of the species, by a chance meeting of several different forces, some of which are unknowable.


Solso, R. L. (2002). Art and cognitive science. In Encyclopedia of cognitive science. London: Macmillan.

Tong, F., Nakayama, K., Moscovitch, M., Weinrib, O., and Kanwisher, N. (2000). Response properties of the human fusiform face area. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 17, 257–279.

Ramachandran, V. S. (1988). Perceiving shape from shading. Scientific American, 259, 76–83.

Regan, B. C., Simmens, B., Vienot, F., Charles-Dominique, P., and Mollon, J. D. (2000) Fruits, foliage and the evolution of primate colour vision. Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society, 356, 229–283.

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 12:14:35 PM
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once, in everybody life should go visit florence
Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 1:31:58 PM

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A misanthrope, obsessed with health, hygiene and sexual abstinence called Pontormo

(self portrait?)- 1522-1525; sanguine on paper 281 X 198 mm.
The British Museum
Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 1:32:29 PM

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Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2015 2:40:40 PM

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Never heard of this artist.
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