Issue 18 Fictional States Summer 2005
Ingestion / Pontormo's Diary
“Ingestion” is a column that explores food within a framework informed by aesthetics, history, and philosophy.
Pontormo's Diary is an intimate autograph manuscript of twenty-three pages, in which the artist records aspects of his daily existence from January 1554 to October 1556, just a few months before his death. Discovered at the beginning of the last century in the National Library at Florence, the diary likely survived due to the diminutive drawings in its margins. After listing what he ate, occasionally Pontormo would add, "and I began the figure that looks like this," drawing a line from the text to a tiny sketch of a contorted human figure. These sketches provide valuable information about Pontormo's final commission, the frescoes in the choir of San Lorenzo. The paintings, visionary and disturbing, were destroyed during an eighteenth-century remodeling of the church. It is against this backdrop that Pontormo's Diary was first interpreted.
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's1 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].2
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.
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.
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.
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© 2005 Cabinet Magazine