Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Pontormo, the Monochrome and the End of the World: Painting and Lacan’s das Ding

Daniel Mafe.

The famous Entombment of Christ by Florentine Mannerist painter, Jacopo Pontormo, depicts a phantasmagorical swirl of figures orchestrated around an enigmatic black hole, hovering before a stark empty surface. Centuries later, this “empty” surface is echoed in the unrelentingly blanked and silent surfaces of that icon of modernist painting, the monochrome. Initially a gesture of iconoclasm heralding the “end of painting”, the monochrome, that rectangle of a single more or less unmodulated colour, has intriguingly or monotonously depending on your viewpoint, been repeated throughout the twentieth century. Both the monochrome and the work of Pontormo demonstrate that fundamental dialectic in painting of figure and ground, that is of presence and absence, of form and formlessness. I propose to explore this tension psychoanalytically using Lacan to focus on Pontormo’s and the monochrome’s complex and ambiguous relation to das Ding – ‘the impossible nonobject of desire” (Silverman). Both Pontormo and the body of paintings defined as monochrome, struggle or point to a struggle with the “end of the world”, that is with a rupture within the symbolic order and a glimpse of the fact that “the Other does not exist” (Lacan). Grounded in an environmental nihilism of either 16th Century Mannerist Florence or 20th Century Modernist West, they visually document a weakening of the cultural barriers separating the real from reality and as such demonstrate the pictorial struggle to redefine that barrier.


Daniel Mafe  (Australia)
Lecturer in Visual Art
Visual Arts Creative Industries
Queensland University of Technology

Daniel Mafe completed postgraduate studies in Painting at the Royal Academy, London in 1983-6 and in 1986 was the winner of the Europe Prize for Painting in Ostende, Belgium. He has continued to exhibit regularly since his return to Australia and is represented in public collections including the Museum of Fine Art, Ostende, Belgium, the Queensland Art Gallery, and Artbank. Daniel is also employed as a visual arts lecturer in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, where he currently co-ordinates the visual arts Honours program.

  • Lacan and "das Ding"
  • Mannerism
  • Modernism
  • Painting
  • Monochrome
Person as Subject
  • Pontormo, Jacopo Lacan, Jacques

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)