Self portrait of first half of 16th century. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was a leading painter and draughtsman during the Florentine High Renaissance and Mannerist periods. Regarded as the most brilliant of the cinquecento artists of Florence he was termed by his contemporaries ‘senza errori’ or Andrea the ‘faultless artist’ (Borenius, 1946). Even though he was one of the most popular 16th century artists he was overshadowed by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael before they left Florence for Rome in 1508-1509. Influenced by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Fra Bartolommeo he “… elaborated and perfected the classical style of the High Renaissance.” (Padovani, 1996), and is regarded alongside Fra Bartolommeo as the “…supreme exponent of the Florentine early High Renaissance and the counterpart of Michelangelo in Rome.” (White, 1995).
The High Renaissance, which after 1500 showed a brief flowering of all the arts in Italy, corresponded: 1001e pontificates of Julius II (1502-1513) and Leo X (1513-1521) up until the Sack of Rome in 1527 (Murray, 1995). The High Renaissance style, therefore, endured for only a short historical period, approximately 1495 to 1520. The artistic events which determined the subsequent history of 16th century painting occurred in the century’s first two decades in Florence and Rome (Freedberg, 1986). This High Renaissance style was created by a few artists of genius including Leonardo, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. This period 1500 to 1520 accounts, according to Mifflin (1952), for the change from 15th to 16th century art during which time the classical style compelled contemporary artists to reshape their art (Freedberg, 1986).
By 1500 Florence had ceded her dominant position in Italian art to Rome. As the birthplace of the High Renaissance Florence had an important influence on artistic developments in the early 16th century because from the second decade of that century she provided the “…valuable impetus to the development of Mannerism,” (Wundrum, 1988). Bramante died in 1554, Leonardo in 1519, Raphael in 1520, and with their passing the Renaissance also passed into history. Within this watershed which divides Giovanni Bellini, Piero della Francesca, even Giorgione, from Michelangelo and Tintoretto (Murray, 1995) we will find Andrea del Sarto. The art of the High Renaissance’s brief ‘Golden Age’ (Wundrum, 1988) sought a general, unified effect in pictorial representation, in architectural composition, a gathering of the energies of a work of art to increase dramatic force, the seeking of controlled equilibrium. High Renaissance classical style strove after idealisation, perfectionism and monumentality, which indicates the underlying influence of Neoplatonism. The essential feature of High Renaissance art was its unity, its salient characteristics those of harmony and symmetry, but above all the “…understanding and recapture of classical antiquity in the service of new ideals.” (Murray, 1995). Florentine High Renaissance painting was represented initially by Fra Bartolommeo and then the “…younger aspirant to the place of Florentine caposcuola, Sarto” (Freedberg, 1986).
In order to explore the concept of Andrea del Sarto as the ‘faultless painter’ of the Florentine High Renaissance classical style – his life and work has been divided into three periods (2.0) Life and work up to 1510; (3.0) Life and work from 1511 to 1518; (4.0) Life and work after 1519 until his death. Consideration will then be given to (5.0) Style and techniques which will consider in more detail the Birth of the Virgin (1513-14), the Madonna of the Harpies (1517), the Madonna and Child with St John (1521), the Young St John the Baptist (1523), and his portraits. This is followed by (5.0) Influence, reception and reputation. A section (6.0) concerned with the Critical evaluation of Andrea del Sarto’s work will also examine in– more detail the seemingly derogatory stance taken by Giorgio Vasari (1550; 1987) towards Andrea and his wife Lucrezia. Finally the Discussion (7.0) will attempt to show – that Andrea del Sarto deserves a reassessment of his work in the light of too many years of incautious reliance on the anecdotal acrimony of Vasari. For too long opinions concerning Andrea del Sarto’s character and personality have clouded the true nature of his artistic stature and to continue to do so is patently Vasarisque.
2.0 Life and work to 1510
Andrea was born Andrea d’Agnolo on July 16th, 1486 in Florence and the authority cited is the Regis & de’ Battezzati delta citta di Firenze from 1479 to 1489 (Guinness, 1899). For July 17 there reads “Andrea e Domenico d’Agnolo di Francesca, popolo di Santa Maria Novella, naque a di 16, hore 18.” Andrea was the son of a tailor, hence sarto (Padovani, 1996). His father was Agnolo di Francesco and his mother Constanza who were the parents of six children of whom Andrea was the third, indicating he was a “…contadino by birth, an artisan by education…” (Scott, 1881). Some later sources (Cinelli, 1677) gave his name incorrectly as Vannuchi due to an incorrect interpretation of his monogram (Padovani, 1996). Vasari’s date 1478 for Andrea’s birth is erroneous. The name Vannuchi is perpetuated by Biadi (1830) who recounts that Andrea’s father was one Flemish Angelo Wanhuisen who fled Ghent and arrived in Florence, via Venice, to settle as a tailor (Guinness, 1899). An apochryphal account that ltalianises Wanhuisen into Vannuchi. However, Andrea’s name does occur in several versions. Sometimes signed as Andrea d’Agnolo, sometimes Maestro Andrea d’Agnolo, elsewhere Andrea d’Agnolo del Sarto.
Vasari says Andrea was a pupil of Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521) but evidence points to another late quattrocento artist with a very fine technique, Raffaellino di Garbo (died c. 1527) as a most important influence if not formal teacher (Murray, 1998). Vasari also says Andrea was apprenticed aged seven to a goldsmith (Wagner, 1972) then spent three years with the painter Gian Barite and finished training with Piero. Gian Barite was an little known artist neighbour with no special ability (Guinness, 1899) but who took on Andrea because of his outstanding talent for drawing (Padovani, 1996). Andrea was with Raffaellino in 1505 (Freedberg, 1986) from where he passed to Piero di Cosimo with whom he had his first formal training.
Much of his time was spent copying Michelangelo and Leonardo cartoons on the walls of Sta Maria Novella convent, and studying the frescoes of Masaccio, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, in the churches of Carmine, Ogni Santi, San Ambrogio, Sta Maria Novella, and Sta Trinita (Guinness, 1899). For the early Andrea del Sarto “…evidence of style goes to show that the works of Albertinelli and Fra Bartotommeo influenced him more than those of Piero.” (Scott, 1881). The first documentary evidence of Andrea is his matriculation on the 12.12.1508 (Wagner, 1972) in the Arte dei Medici e Spezia, the painters guild in Florence. In 1506 he set up independently with Franciabigio (1482-1525) in the Piazza del Grano (Padovani, 1996). Andrea and Franciabigio, who had been a pupil of Fra Bartolommeo’s assistant Albertinelli (Murray, 1998), moved into their own bottega because Andrea could no longer tolerate the eccentricities of Piero di Cosimo and Albertinelli had gone into the tavern trade. About 1510 Andrea moved to a group of buildings, La Sapienza, between the convents of SS. Annunziata and San Marco where several other artists, including Rustici and Jacopo Sansovino, had their studios (Padovani, 1996).
Andrea del Sarto’s early paintings were influenced by Piero di Cosimo and he also copied cartoons, destroyed between 1504-1506) of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina. The early Piero influence can be seen with his “…sweeping, luminous landscapes, at times summary and barren, at others enlivened by contorted tree trunks, bushes and grassy backgrounds.” (Padovani, 1996). Between 1507 and 1508 Andrea painted the Holy Family with St Peter Martyr, now in the Pinacoteca at Bad, a work which shows what he learned from Rafaellino (Freedburg, 1986).
Holy Family with St Peter Martyr (1507-1508).
The chief inspiration is Raphael, especially his Florentine period of 1504-1508, but Andrea insists on a debt to Leonardo, even though at this time models derived from Fra Bartolommeo seem less relevant. Michelangelo’s influence can be seen in the monumentality of Andrea’s figures but his early Madonna’s “…share Raphael’s interest in the rhythm of figures and in the expression of emotion.” (Padovani, 1996). Examples of this period are the Small Cowper Madonna (Washington, National Gallery), the 1506 Madonna of the Goldfinch (Rome, Galleria Barberini), and the predella Lamentation with Four Saints of 1506-1507 (Rome, Galleria Borghese) reflects Sarto’s interest in the art of Perugino.
A model for Andrea’s art was his partner Franciabigio although a fundamental influence was Fra Bartrolommeo with his soft, luminous palette technique, that would have appealed greatly to Andrea’s sensibility (Padovani, 1996). At this period Andrea’s inclination coincided with Franciabigio’s art, they possessed elements of style in common but Andrea’s “…penetration into the classical sense of his models was deeper.” (Freedberg, 1986) where he attempted a classicizing consistency for his small paintings.
For example, his Madonna (1508) in Rome (Galleria Nazionale). Both artists soon received commissions which included those of the Servi di Maria (to whom the convent SS Annunziata belonged) and the Compagna di S. Giovanni Battista (known also as the Compagnia dello Scalzo). The first large commission for the Compagnia dello Scalzo was for a cycle of 12 monochrome frescoes depicting episodes from the Life of St John the Baptist — a cycle that continued to occupy him throughout his career. The style of the Baptism suggests Andrea started work early in 1507-1508. In 1509-1510 he undertook five frescoe scenes, depicting the Life of S. Filippo Benizzi, for the atrium of SS. Annunziata, commissioned by the Servi di Maria. The series is regarded as containing several direct quotations from the art of Michelangelo (Padovani, 1986). Andrea’s relation to Franciabigio and Sansovino (who greatly influenced his figurative style) can be seen in his masterly grisaille cycle of frescoes of the Life of St John the Baptist in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence.
Scene from the Life Cycle of John the Baptist (1509-10).
At this juncture Andrea’s relation to the new classical style appears equivocal, has an ambiguous connection to quattrocento precedents, including Ghirlandaio (Freedberg, 1986), but this changes in Noll me Tangelo (c. 1510). The picture contains more concentrated material and communicates the essential tone of the classical style. The scene is grave and sophisticated in the manner that it expresses vibrant but constrained emotion, and is now decidedly a cinquecento painting.
Noll me Tangelo (c. 1510).
An altarpiece, now in the Cenacolo di S. Salvi, it was painted for the Augustinian church of S. Gallo, Florence, and stylistically close to the Benizzi series. The figure poses, green-brown harmonies, violets, blues, and saturated reds are similar in both (Padovani, 1996). During this early period Andrea also painted Annunciation in a tabernacle beside the church of Orsanmichele, plus Mary Magdalen Carried to Heaven by Angels on a pilaster of the church itself. Such works represent the culmination of Andrea’s early style where the sharp clarity of le century perspective and drawing have been “… softened to a more harmonious and natural vision.” (Padovani, 1996).
3.0 Life and work from 1511 to 1518
In 1511 Andrea, who now had his pupils Pontormo and Rosso, was joined at La Sapienza by Jacopo Sansovino on his return from Rome (Murray, 1998). By 1511 to 1512 Fra Bartolommeo had become more influential and his style for drapery and appearance had become the “… basis of a thorough remodelling of Andrea’s manner.” (Freedberg, 1986). By now Andrea was an established artist who, according to Vasari (1987), had perfected his art by drawing and painting from wax figures supplied by Sansovino.
In 1511 Andrea received the important commission from the Vallambrosan monks of S. Salvi to fresco the end wall of their refectory. Beneath the large arch that frames the wall he painted the Trinity and the Order’s four protector saints. Andrea probably visited Rome in 1511, perhaps with Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, an event suggested by the “…new maturity, a greater monumentality and a highly individual development from classicism towards aspects of mannerism.” (Padovani, 1996), indicated by the figures and colours of his fresco Procession of the Magi (SS. Annunziata) and paid for in December 1511. The Magi is treated as a worldly and elegant scene that reveals the influence of Raphael with two of its figures portraits of Andrea and Sansovino, and its sfumato technique reminiscent of Leonardo. This fresco represents a new departure in style development with its classical principles seen in its mass, planes, space and use of coloured light, all worked into an eloquent and balanced harmony (Freedberg, 1986). Vasari avers to the journey to Rome though it is not otherwise documented (Wagner, 1972).
During this period Andrea painted impressive works that are “…revolutionary in their originality of composition and colour.” (Padovani, 1996). These include three altarpieces — Archangel Raphael with Tobias and St Leonard (1512,), Annunciation (1512), and the Marriage of St Catherine (1513). The Tobias altarpiece is a panel 178 by 153cm and is more accurately termed the Morelli altarpiece (Lydekker, 1985), after the Florentine silk merchant, Leonardo di Lorenzo Morelli who commissioned it for placement in a family chapel in the church of St Lucia, Settimello, with the donor pictured in the painting. The Marriage of St Catherine is indebted to Raphael’s Madonna del Baldacchino of 1508 (Pith, Florence). Close to Correggio this group of happy figures repose beneath a green draped canopy and exhibits a new subtlety and complex of emotions.
The Marriage of St Catherine (1513).
This phase also produced the Holy Family with St Catherine (1514) in the Hermitage, Leningrad, and the two panels of the Story of St Joseph (1515). Painted for the nuptial chamber of Pierfrancesco Borgherini the project included Francesco Granacci and Pontormo.
Holy Family with St Catherine (1514).
Andrea transformed the Raphaelesque prototype altarpiece into a dramatic composition with the Holy Family (1515). Now in the Louvre it recalls the Madonna Canigiani of Raphael’s school and its crowded composition prefigures Mannerist compositinal motifs. The Madonna and Child with the Young St John the Baptist (1517), Rome, Galleria Borghese) was dramatic and daring, providing the model for Pontomo’s large altarpiece Virgin and Saints (1518), S. Michele Visdomini, Florence).
Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist (1517).
The five scenes (SS. Annunziata) depicting the Life of S. Filippo Benizzi have a completion date of 1511, and include Punishment of the Gamblers (1509-10), Scene from the Life of S. Filippo Benizzi . Also in the SS. Annunziata is his consummate fresco Birth of the Virgin of 1513-14. These early Annunziata frescoes show the influence of both Masaccio and Ghirlandaio as well as interior architecture e.g., S. Salvatore al Monte, Florence. The landscapes still follow quattrocento formulae and architectural perspectives appear to puncture walls whilst the backgrounds are reminiscent of Botticelli and Filippo Lippi.
The frescoes for the Scalzo cloister show the same evolutionary style as his panel paintings. They represent Chatty of 1513, Allegory of Justice where he is striving for monumentality, the Preaching of St John the Baptist, both of 1515 Finally the Baptism of the People and Arrest of St John the Baptist, both of 1517. All show an awareness of the Roman artistic milieu dominated by Michelangelo and Raphael and due to a probable visit to Rome by Andrea del Sarto (Monti, 1981). This series comprise 10 scenes executed in monochrome with two Virtues in grisaille with all using light from a single source to achieve organic unity. Again, the theme was used previously by Ghirlandaio in Santa Maria Novella. In the Preaching of St John and Baptism of the People figures, in compositional terms, are gaining at the expense of landscape. Each fresco appears as an enactment on a stage.
The works of this period culminated with the most famous of Andrea’s altarpieces, the Madonna of the Harpies of 1517, now in the Uffizi and Disputation on the Trinity (1518), now in the Pitti. The Disputation on the Trinity, the Disputa, shows the saints Augustine, Lawrence, Peter the Martyr, Francis, with Mary Magdalen and Sebastian (Padovani, 1996) as protagonists in an impassioned debate. This is not a Quattrocento assmbly of men but a realistic argument with definition of roles executed in a high stage of the painterly style.
The Disputation on the Trinity (1518).
During this period Andrea had greatly admired Lucrezia del Fede from around 1513 and married her in 1517 after she had been widowed in 1516. Andrea used her, and daughter Maria del Berrettaio, as a model for many of his Madonnas and female saints, preferring to use models from within his close family circle which explains “…the deep, pulsing humanity in his sacred figures and in his portraits.” (Padovani, 1996). Lucrezia’s face appears in his Birth of the Virgin (1513-14). Francis I of France was impressed by Andrea’s work obtained through Florentine agents and invited him to become court painter in 1518. One work owned by Francis was Andrea’s now untraced Lamentation — known through Uffizi collection drawings and engraving by Agostino dei Musi (1516). In Paris Andrea completed several paintings of which only Charity or Caritas (1518) survives. The pyramidal composition of Charity is indebted to Michelangelo and
Charity or Caritas (1518).
Leonardo, related to Leonardo’s Virgin, Child, St Anne and a Lamb (1515), seen by Andrea at the French court. The picture exhibits an elegance shown by the later Mannerist style but also where Andrea realises his classical powers of construction that converge “…with his finest exposition of his painterly and psychological sensibilities.” (Freedberg, 1986).
4.0. Life and work from 1519
Upon his return from France in 1519 there were further changes in Andrea’s style. Now he adopted complex and artificial compositions, calculated expressions, using refined and elegant poses. On June 15th 1519 he was commissioned for the S. Salvi Last Supper.
The Last Supper (1519).
The Holy Family tondo (1518-19) in the Louvre, and the Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and two Angels (1518-19) in the Wallace Collection, both express emotion with more immediacy and directness. This period of Andrea’s work “… remains the constant factor in his continuous search for satisfying expressive formulae…” (Padovani, 1996). An intense production of preparatory drawings characterises this period with some work e.g., Lamentation (1520) in Vienna seemingly prefiguring the Baroque. From this time on, and for the next six years Andrea’s works were “…a succession of masterworks of high classical style.” (Freedberg, 1986).
Pope Leo X commissioned a fresco cycle between 1519-21 to decorate the salon of the villa Poggio a Galena (built by the pope’s father Lorenzo de’ Medici) — a project also involving Franciabigio, Feltrini, Pontormo, and Andrea di Cosimo. Created to glorify the medici, using a programme supplied by the humanist Paolo Giovio, portrayed episodes of Roman history in order to parallel Medicean family lives. Leo died in 1521 and the project remained incomplete until the work of Alessandro Allori in 1578-82. Andrea del Sarto painted the Tribute of Animals to Caesar alluding to the exotic animals sent by the Sultan of Egypt to Lorenzo.
Andrea returned to the Scalzo in 1522-23 to paint further frescoes of the life of John the Baptist. The Dance of Salome dates from 1522. The Beheading of St John the Baptist, Herod’s Feast or the Offering of the Head, Hope, Faith, and the Annunciation to Zaccharias , all dated 1523. The cycle was completed in 1524 with the Visitation and in 1526 with the Birth of St John the Baptist. The Visitation is now damaged but still shows, in its monochrome technique, a qualitative cliamx in Andrea’s art. Using a schematic quincunx (resembling the dots on a dice) for his figures he shows “… underneath this naturalness there is an absolutely disciplined design.” (Freedberg, 1986) aided by transient yet vibrant light. These works contained fewer figures but now possessed a new “…Michelangelesque monumentality…” (Padovani, 1996) with Andrea now adopting a heroic compositional scale influenced by Raphael and his Roman followers late style, and Michelangelo’s work in the New Sacristy of S. Lorenzo, Florence.
Previous intimacy, gentleness, and humanity were still retained in Andrea’s art as evidenced by his Madonna della Scala (1522-23) in the Prado, Madrid, painted for Lorenzo Jacopi.
Madonna della Scala (1522-23).
Also the Young St John the Baptist (1523) painted for Giovan Maria Benintendi, as well as Lamentation (1524) for the high altar of S. Piero a Luco in the Florentine Mugello (now in the Pitti).
Lamentation of Christ (1524).
In 1525 Andrea painted his famous fresco Madonna del Sacco for the great cloister of SS. Annunziata [Fig 26]. This fresco was similar in rationale to the Visitation (1524) with its casual approach and structured flexibility. The two assymetrical compositional shapes provide a strong sense of curving rhythm. It is the “… chef d’oevre of the master…” (Wagner, 1972) and its immediate precursor is Raphael’s Jurisprudence of the Stanza della Segnatura, but where Andrea has attempted the combination of Roman form with Venetian colour style.
Andrea painted in 1526, for SS. Lorenzo e Onofrio di Gambassi, the Virgin in Glory with Four Saints, commissioned by Becuccio di ticchieraios (glass tumbler maker). Andrea also produced a portrait (1528) of Becuccio (Edinburgh NG) and his wife (Chicago Arts Institute) in the predella. However, the Assumption of the Virgin, comprising two panels, shows Andrea’s work having reached new high points in his work. The first panel of 1522-24, painted for Bartolommeo Panciatichi, was never completed. The second panel, commissioned by Margherita Passerini, was for S. Antonio at Cortona.
Originally commissioned for the Cenacolo di S. Salvi in 1511 the Last Supper was completed in 1526-27. Andrea resorted to a new iconography and thus distanced himself from local tradition. Indicates the influence of Leonardo’s version (S. Maria delle Grazie, Milan) combined with Raphael’s treatment of the same theme but now lost. Andrea’s composition is spacious and luminous, solemn and well structured, it exudes splendid freshness of colour. Andrea’s most extensive single painting it is dramatic and naturalistic, even though an ironic understatement, where the “… effect of colour intensifies the effect of descriptive naturalism.” It can be seen as standing at the pinnacle of classical achievement and its aesthetic potentialities. The final example of Andrea’s monumentality it is strictly influenced by Marcantonio’s engraving of Leonardo’s version but where Andrea seeks not drama but a fusion of form and colour (Wagner, 1972).
Andrea’s abundant production continued through the last two years of his life despite the siege of Florence by the armies of Charles V. During this period he produced some fine portraits that characterise the broad, quick brush strokes of his late style [see Section 5.0]. One late work, the Vallombrosan altarpiece (1528) or Four Saints is in the Uffizi. A Holy Family (1528) in New York, a Madonna and Child in the Pitti, and the Medici Holy Family, painted for Ottaviano de’Medici during the siege of Florence, date from this period. As well as the Madonna of St Agnese polyptych for Pisa Cathedral, a seated figure and attempt to create the ecstatic, Andrea painted at this time (1529-30) his Virgin in Glory with Four Saints for the Vallombrosan Badia at Poppi. This remained incomplete at his death. The Annunciation (1528) was originally a lunette but now in the Pitti shows bravura of handling but is empty of expression “…despite magical handling of draperies or atmosphere.” This second Annunciation can be compared to his earlier Annunciation of 1512-14 with the two Annunciations representing “…an anthithesis of the beginning and end of his creative significance.” (Wolfflin, 1952). The Annunciation of 1512-1514 shows the influence of Albertinelli and marks the beginning of Andrea’s sculptural period (Wagner, 1972). It is now obvious that Andrea’s later altarpieces are characterised “…by a restlessness, contrasting with the formerly strictly balanced structure, by violently animated figures and flickering colours.” (Wundrum, 1988). For example the Four Standing Saints painted in 1528, now in the Uffizi, shows the continuation and change toward superficiality in Andrea’s style that is still bright in colour and tone but “… patent that it had become easy for him to produce such brilliant effects.” (Wolfflin, 1952). Also with regard to characterisation in the Madonna with Six Saints of 1524 the Madonna is quite trivial now with repetition of the kneeling figures of the Disputa.
The late works of Andrea del Sarto show a tendency towards more abstract and sculptural style. He employs a more subdued palette than shown by earlier works. These later works still show a monumentality, a harmony of colour and form that was to inspire the artists of the late 16th century Counter Reformation in Tuscany (Padovani, 1996). On the 27th of December 1527 Andrea made his will to which he added a codicil on the 28th of September 1530, the day he died. Prior to this he had painted the façade of the Palazzo del Podesta, during the siege of Florence, the macabre subject of the tapitanr. These were those deserters and civilian rebels who had fled, were caught and executed. The payment for this work was made eventually to Andrea’s shop assistant Bernardo di Girolamo.
5.0 Style and technique
In keeping with the traditions of Florentine art Andrea del Sarto made a series of preparatory drawings for each painting and there was a time when he was regarded as the best draughtsman in Florence (Wolfflin, 1952). A large number of his drawings have survived and show a process of working that became a model for 16th century artists (Padovani, 1996). Most surviving drawings are in the Uffizi, the Louvre, and British Museum. Andrea was an accomplished draughtsman “…whose grand manner style conceals nervous tensions.” (Levey, 1994) who nonetheless “…combined his Florentine birthright of good drawing with a gift for painting which has scarcely been equalled in Tuscany.” (Wolfflin, 1952). Andrea started with a rapid sketch of his intitial idea and proceeded to individual figure studies checked against live models, for example his Study for head of St Peter Martyr in the Disputa.
Andrea, in his drawings appears spontaneous and unconventional compared to his paintings (Wagner, H. 1972). An original idea for a figure composition was developed into a sequential study using soft, rapid strokes of red and black chalk (Padovani, 1996). Most of his drawings comprise detail studies of heads, hands, and draperies [Fig 37] such as the Fries Madonna study, crafted with sureness and precision (Wagner, H. 1972) that were developed into a final version for the painting, often deriving inspiration from the work of contemporaries — Rustici, Michelangelo, and Sansovino (Padovani, 1996). The drawings for the tapitani’ frescoes were so life-like that they earned him the nickname of Andrea degnmpiccati — Andrea of the hangdogs (Boase, 1979), and that his basic artistic greatness lay in the integrity of his drawing (Guiness, 1899). Although the frescoes are gone some of the preliminary drawings survive (Edgerton, 1985). The frescoes were so true to life that one Benedetto Varchi stated they were “…so life-like and natural that whoever had seen them, if only on one occasion, instantly recognised them.” (Campbell, 1990). Indeed, Andrea was always affected by the vigour and power of Michelangelo’s drawings as well of striking use of Durer’s engravings (Murray, 1998).
The creative freedom shown by his drawings is equally apparent in his paintings (Padovani, 1996) thus his impeccable drawing, which is full of feeling, is matched by his dazzling and tender technique revealed by both oil and fresco (Murray, 1998), a painter with a “…feeling for tone and colour characteristic of the Venetian rather than the Florentine school.” (Read, 1994), though the Venetian influence appears mostly in his panel paintings (Wagner, 1972). It was Andrea’s sense of harmonious and sophisticated beauty expressed in composition and colouring that “… has genuine power to move us aesthetically even now.” (Borenius, 1946). Under Leonardo’s influence, though “… Fm Bartolommeo taught him the first steps…” (Rosini, 1839), Andrea developed soft modelling and the use of chiarascuro that shows great charm in his gently radiant flesh colours and the atmospheric softness that surrounds his figures. Thus Andrea’s perception of line and colour displays a “…soft, almost sleepy, beauty which makes him appear more modem than any other painter.” (Wolfflin, 1952). Despite the fact that Vasari says Andrea lacked ‘firezza’ the evidence of his artistic style “…suggests a reticent and anti-sensationalist man with exceptional powers of concentration and exacting self-discipline.” (Shearman, 1965), an art considerably more profound than Raphael’s, more completely dedicated than Leonardo’s, and in painting terms better than Michelangelo. It has been said that “No other Florentine achieved such a synthesis of the style of Raphael and Leonardo.” (Wagner, 1972).
In the Birth of the Virgin (1513-14), an SS. Annunziata fresco, Andrea depicts a biblical scene set in contemporary surroundings of a substantial bourgeois household. The room is rich with classical architectural decoration and dominated by a canopied bed. Possibly inspired by Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura frescoes, the whole has a monumental quality imbued with irony and humour that is reinforced by the grace and ambiguity of the women, the two standing figures bind the whole composition, and putti portrayed. This work now trespasses beyond Florentine classical balance which lends it “…an unstable and modem quality that is enhanced by the artist’s use of soft natural colours.” (Padovani, 1996). In this work Andrea has developed his characteristic style of rich and harmonious modulations.” (Wolfflin, 1952). The picture shows a transition from a tectonic, in a structural or constructive sense, and therefore severe style, to his more rhythmic and freer style marked by variations in beautiful light tones, with Florentine disegno now “…applied with as precise control to colour as to form.” (Freedberg, 1986). Andrea achieves his full freedom in his Birth of the Virgin because “No better interpreter of aristocratic nonchalance and indolent luxury has yet been found.” (Wolfflin, 1952). A background of shadowy hues combines magnificently with definitive figures and objects such as sheets, towels and bunched up bed curtains (Murray, 1998), which exposes Andrea’s naturalising disposition. With this work Andrea shows his Durer-like interest in precise characterisation and in so doing solves “… entirely in the manner of the High Renaissance.” (Wagner, 1972) the problem of the relation of figures to space, after which Andrea pursues his concept of bodily beauty with more panache. The earlier loose juxtaposition of figures has been replaced by a more severe compositional form with Andrea now pioneering (Wolfflin, 1952) the feeling for architecture as a means to achieve unity for the whole picture. Andrea has created a fresco “…considered to be the exemplar of the High Renaissance in Florence, a parallel to the Sistine Ceiling and the Stanze in Rome.” (Murray, 1987), casual in nature and subject, that is pure “… reportage, opulent, and remarkable for its effect of actuality.” (Freedberg, 1986).
The Madonna of the Harpies (1517), or Madonna dell Arpie, is somewhat obscure in its complex message. It is Andrea del Sarto’s masterpiece, where Mary appears as a mature woman and he a mature artist (Wolfflin, 1952), that may represent the Virgin triumphant over evil as conveyed by the apocolyptic vision of St John (Natali & Cecchi, 1989). In the picture St John is shown with St Francis the patron saint of the nuns of S. Francesco dei Medici who commissioned the work. Monumental in composition the work initially appears static with the Madonna stood upon a pedestal supported by putti, what Vasari called harpies are in fact sphinxes (Murray, 1987), with all figures turned outwards to the spectator (Wundrum, 1988).
Madonna of the Harpies (1517).
The Madonna’s pose is regal, remote, with the entire group in classical contrarrosto, the winged cherubs embrace her knees and the Child is reminiscent of Corregio (Godfrey, 1965). This Mary is at the same time “… most aristocratic Madonna in Florence…” (Wolfflin, 1952) as she is also a plebeian Goddess. This work can be compared with any of Raphael such as his Sistine Madonna (which is almost contemporary) and is closely linked with the Poetry roundel on the Segnatura ceiling (Murray, 1998). Andrea is showing his extraordinary command of classical disegno in a work that is alive yet subtle with its complexity a “…function of the way in which Andrea perceives colour, light and form…” (Freedberg, 1986). With his Madonna of the Harpies Andrea is the sensuous artist baecause he introduces an enigmatic sensuality into the scene. This Madonna is Romantic, she is remote from experience and such an interpretation makes Andrea a visionary.
The Madonna and Child with St John (1521) is known as the Fries Madonna after a previous owner. The structure of the painting comprises a diagonal composition that is echoed by the cliff in the background. The facial expressions of the individuals within the picture — the Madonna, the young Jesus and young St John — are very naturalistic and human, clearly showing Andrea’s masterful use of light and colour to enhance the modelling of features.
Madonna with Child and St John (1521).
The Madonna herself is reminiscent of, and derived from Michelangelo or perhaps Leonardo. Done on a panel the painting is regarded as mysterious or unusual because of the strange palette used. In contrast to his vibrant and colourful compositions elsewhere this work prefers russets and gentle greys — the yellow on the pink of the Madonna’s sle9ves suggesting more modem techniques. The work may have been experimental, perhaps using remaining pigments from some previous work. The look on the face of the sturdy infant Jesus is quite malevolent compared to the cherubesque St John. Overall Andrea has created an enigmatic Madonna from the face of his wife Lucrezia.
Andrea’s youthful St John the Baptist (1523) is a famous figure, now in the Pitti. Again monumental and static it is of an adolescent, half clothed with rich rounded limbs that emerges seemingly caressed by shadows from a dark background. This emergence is stressed by the foil effect of the rich red loin-cloth. As with the Madonna of the Harpies Andrea is almost Venetian in the soft shaded colours of his rich painterly style which shuns contours and the more traditional linear definitions of Florentine art (Godfrey, 1965). The hands and wrists of the Baptist are portrayed in Andrea’s best manner and the effect of his sfumato is a “… characteristic that he seeks everywhere to break up the silhouette, allowing one side of the body to disappear altogether.” (Wolfflin, 1952). The swelling draperies pre-date the extravagances of the 17th century.
St John the Baptist (1523).
Andrea was an outstanding portraitist and these pictures reveal a serious and sensitive mind. Andrea and certain Florentine contemporaries, notably Franciabigio, lit some of their sitters from above in order to place eyes in deep shadow. This gave the effect of eyes emerging indistinctly from the darkness with the effect that they “…are not well enough defined for their shapes and expressions to be properly registered, they appear romantically enigmatic.” (Campbell, 1990). A technique used by Andrea regularly for many of his Saints and Madonnas. In addition Andrea abandoned the traditional pyramid composition favoured by predecessors in order to “… introduce diamond-shaped schemes of design.” (Shearman, 1965). A masterly example of Andrea’s portraiture is his Portrait of a Young Man (1524) often known as the Portrait of a Sculptor in the National Gallery, London.
Portrait of a Young Man (1524).
The unknown sitter is thought to be Jacopo Sansovino (Wagner, 1972). Mysterious and moody the overall effect is “…a harmony of silvery greys which aredisturbed only by the veiled yet challenging glance with which the sitter confronts us.” (Levey, 1967). The lighted face, the head sporting a three cornered hat, is turned towards us and resembles a large bust emerging from a greyish green background..A work of great distinction it bears the hallmark of Leonardesque sfumato. Painted on canvas, 72 x 57cm (Andrea often painted his oils on panel) it is signed with the artists monogram and thought dated in the late 1510’s (Campbell, 1990). The object held by the sitter is now thought to be a book not a block of stone (Gould, 1975). The sitter swings round in his chair “…a very Hamlet of suspicion and doubt.” (Levey, 1967) with a serious expression, quivering lips and a searching eye, poised but tragically anchored in the three-dimensional space of his softly lit world. Painterly in technique the sleeves are large sculptured folds with a rich Venetian, though subdued, feeling for colour. The effect of the whole is one of mood and shows to perfection Andrea’s depth of sensibility and sensitivity which was not a sign of weakness (as Vasari would have us believe) but one of strength and purpose.
Other later portraits include Becuccio tichieriao’ (1528) in Edinburgh, and the Girl Reading Petrarch (1528) in the Uffizi. Characteristic of his late style the Girl Reading Petrarch is painted with great immediacy using large and quick brushstrokes.
Girl Reading Petrarch (1528).
The portrait of A French Lady (1518-19) is a poplar panel, 82.5 x 62.2cm, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Painted probably during his French sojourn it is attributed on stylistic grounds as the sitter is dressed in the French rather than the Florentine style of the time (Stechow, 1982, Campbell, 1990).
Andrea had a tendency to have his sitters heads and bodies turn in different directions which imbued them with a air of restlessness, and this combined with the diamond shape resting on a point compositional style is a “… much less stable shape than a pyramid, resting on a horizontal base.” (Campbell, 1990). The French portrait can be compared with the Portrait of a Young Noblewoman (1511-14), a work of his early period privately owned in the USA in 1938. The portrait history is traceable to the old aristocratic Florentine family of Marches’ Gerini. As “… one of the earliest representative portraits of the Florentine High Renaissance.” (Richter, 1938) the picture exhibits colours of an extraordinary beauty. Richter (1938) goes on to describe a golden turban interwoven with blue, luminous leaf-green curtain, and blue sleeves that form “… a charming and impressive harmony of colours.” The modelling of the houses in the landscape background remind us of Cezanne’s manner, the colours reminiscent of the Venetian or Giogionesque influence. It is also pointed out (Richter, 1938) that Fra Bartlommeo, an influence on Andrea, visited Venice in 1508, but the “…structural beauty of the composition is entirely due to the genius of Florentine art.” The sitter has a dreamy and placid expression of the noble face and the whole indicates an early attempt by Andrea to envelop his sitter in a magic of chiaroscuro. According to Vasari (1987) Andrea once said to Lucrezia “I want to paint you, so that it may be seen how well preserved you are for your age but yet so that it may be known how you have changed, as this will differ from you first portraits.” Apparently she refused to pose. Nonetheless other portraits of her do exist.
The Portrait of Lucrezia and in the Uffizi, shows her in the usual Andrean pose wearing the expected enigmatic half-smile, whereas in the Portrait of Lucrezia, now in Berlin, she appears more youthful, certainly more bouyant. The Berlin Lucrezia and another Portrait of Lucrezia in the Prado, Madrid, have been attributed to followers of Andrea del Sarto (Fraenkel, 1935), but on stylistic grounds this is challengeable.
Portrait of Lucrezia
Finally his Portrait of a Youth and dated around the mid- to late-1520’s can be considered. On panel measuring 72 x 50cm it is noteworthy for its “… simplicity, grandeur of conception and charm of chiaroscuro.” (Gronau, 1938). The picture was acquired from the estate of Cardinal Gian’ Carlo de’ Medici in 1662 and now resides in a private collection, along with the Portrait of a Young Noblewoman (1511-1514), in the USA. Gronau (1938) points out how the red of the breast and sleeve stands out from beneath the brown cloak, the whole set against a neutral brownish-grey background. Again, the work is regarded as originating during Andrea’s best period because the lighting emphasises the most important parts of the face and the hand. Also, the background has been enlivened with shimmering light which demonstrates the “…conscious mastery…” of Andrea del Sarto as a portrait painter (Gronau, 1938). The picture is assumed to represent a young architect because he holds a set square andpossibly part of the artistic entourage that would have come into contact with the master.
6.0 Influence and critical acclaim
Andrea del Sarto’s art was much admired by his Florentine contemporaries of whom many were influenced by him. A number, except Franciabigio, reflect his style to a greater of lesser degree (Padovani, 1996), and these include Giovanni Antonio Soliani, Domenico Puligo, and Francesco Granacci. Granacci (1477-15430 was a Florentine painter, also influenced by Ghirlandaio, who modified his style towards Michelangelo and Fra Bartolommeo and thus noted for changeability (Read, 1994). A number of Florentine artists trained with him. Andrea left no pupils as such but Vasari informs that Pontormo, Rosso, and of course himself, were members of Andea del Sarto’s atelier, which indicates that he was of importance in the origination of the new style of Mannerism (Wagner, 1972). Some of Andrea’s late compositions, e.g., The Sacrifice of Isaac (1529) seem almost protobaroque rather than experimentally Mannerist as exhibited by Pontormo, Rosso, or Vasari. For example Andrea’s Birth of the Virgin (1513-14) became an inspiration for other Marian scenes in the SS. Annunziata, including Franciabigio’s Marriage of the Virgin (1513), Pontormo’s Visitation (1515), and Rosso Fiorentino’s Assumption of the Virgin (1513-14).
Initially Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556), perhaps the “…strangest and most moving of all the early Mannerist painters.” (White, 1995), and Rosso Fiorentino (1495-1540) who was a key figure in Florentine Mannerism (White, 1995) were his pupils, of whom Andrea had a more equable temperament than these two disciples (Pope-Hennessey, 1964).These artists, including one Andrea di Giovanni di Lorenzo Feltrini, all worked with Andrea between 1511 and his visit to France from 1518-1519. Representing the avante-garde of Florentine art they have been described as the Annunziata School (Berti, 1983) and their style anticipated all the characteristics of Florentine Mannerism (Padovani, 1996). It has been said later pupils included Pier Francesco Foschi (1502-1567), Jacopino del Conte (1510-1598), Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), one Jacone who died in 1553, and Francesco Salviati (Padovani, 1996). Francesco da’ Rossi called Salviati was a Mannerist painter and friend of Vasari who worked in Florence, Rome and Paris, and is known for his Justice, and Story of Psyche (Read, 1994). Other pupils of a minor stature include Andrea Sgnazzalla who accompanied Andrea to France in 1518 and remained there many years. Also Antonio Solosmeo (fl. 1525-1536) who sculpted as well as painted. Solosmeo is known for a signed and dated altarpiece (1527) in the Badia of S. Fidele at Poppi. A number of artists of the succeeding generation copied Andrea’s work especially the group employed in the studiole of Francesco I de’ Medici. Such lesser known painters include Maso da San Friano, Carlo Portelli, Poppi, Giovan Battista Naldini, and Giovanni Balducci.
By the end of the 16th century the appreciation of Andrea del Sarto’s work had reached its height. Some artists of the Counter-Reformation, including Sant di Tito and Jacopo da Empoli (Padovani, 1996), tended to look back to his art more than they did to Raphael’s, Outside Tuscany Andrea influenced the art of Federico Barocci, Franciabigio shared a studio with Andrea for two years and for a while their styles were similar, and though Franciabigio was the channel through which Fra Bartolommeo’s style influenced Andrea, they diverged with Andrea excelling Francibigio by 1514 (Murray, 1998).
Initial acclaim for the art of Andrea del Sarto came from Vasari (1550) followed by exhaltation of the perfection and inspiring fascination with his art (Bocchi, 1567, 1591). Andrea’s renown was aided by the avid collection of his works by the Medici. This took place over several generations, beginning with Cosimo I and Francesco I, continuing through the 17th and 18th centuries with Grand Duke Fernando II and his brothers Cardinal Leopoldo, Cardinal Carlo, Grand Prince Ferdinand°, the son of Cosimo III (Padovani, 1996). The three Grand Dukes of Lorraine, the mid-19th century rulers of Tuscany, emulated the Medici in their enthusiastic collection of Andrea’s works, This seeking out of his work meant that, with the exception of Christ the Redeemer of 1515 (set into the tabernacle door of SS. Annunziata) and the Madonna of S. Agnese (in Pisa Cathedral), most of Andrea del Sarto’s works have been kept in galleries for centuries. Finally it can be said that with Andrea del Sarto “…the influence of no other painter persisted longer at Florence than his; for several generations his art remained a living inspiration.” (Gronau, 1938).
7.0 Critical evaluation of the art of Andrea del Sarto
Much of the evaluation of the art of Andrea del Sarto has been perpetuated by the image created originally by Vasari’s biography. Vasari did in fact convey a picture of an exceptionally gifted artist, speaking of his faultless works, describing an easy and spontaneous talent marred by a timid nature, but dominated by a shrew of a wife whom he adored (Padovani, 1996). Vasari even compared Andrea to Raphael (Wagner, 1972) but modulated his praise by later writing “If Andrea had been somewhat bolder and more ardent in spirit, since he had great talent and profound judgement in this art, he would have had, without question, no equals. But a certain timidity, humility, and simplicity in him never permitted the emergence of that vivacity and ardour which if joined to his other qualities, would have made him a painter truly divine. As it was, he lacked the grandeur and amplitude of manner which are to be seen in other painters.” Indeed, Vasari’s comment “senza errori” — without fault — to describe the art of Andrea del Sarto has had the potent effect in that it has become almost his trademark (Padovani, 1996). A more positive view was expressed by Bocchi (1581) who placed Andrea above Michelangelo and Raphael in terms of achievement thus “Raphael is marvellous in painting, Buonarroto sublime in drawing, Andrea miraculous in imitating nature; Raphael is first in colour, Michelangelo has no equal in drawing, but Andrea is finest in giving relief to his figures and in representing things not otherwise than God has made them.” Praise indeed and not Vasarian in sentiment.
Borghini (1584) followed the assessment in general Vasarian terms as did Baldinucci (1681) when he opined that Andrea del Sarto belongs to that class of person who “… having a certain amount of false humility and being altogether too diffident, much to their own and to the world’s disadvantage, never put themesives to these tests which would infallibly allow them to reach incomparable heights.” Baldinucci (1845) emphasised however the harmony, elegance and natural qualities of Andrea’s painting, which meant that in the 16th and 17th centuries the term “senza errori” still possessed a positive connotation (Padovani, 1996). By another Andrea was not even placed among the great Italian masters (Felibien, 1666, 1725) who regarded him merely as an academician by saying “There is not enough in him of that warmth and fire which painters need to animate their figures, nor is there that pride in strength and nobility which arouses admiration. These things are, in some way, lacking in is works, in which we do not see the richness of composition, the variety of expression, and the loftiness in the realm of ideas which would have made them much more praiseworthy.” Again, Vasarian in sentiment and perhaps imbued with Baroque sentiments.
In the late 18th century it was observed (Lanzi, 1789), despite his sympathy shown towards the artist’s work, that Andrea del Sarto was still distant from the heroic ideal of Michelangelo, saying “Indeed there was lacking in him the elevation of ideas that forms the poets and heroic painters. Andrea was not endowed with this gift, modest, sensitive by nature, he impressed the same character on all his works. Whoever feels the the quality of Tibullus as a port will understand the sensibility of Andrea in painting.” This equates Andrea’s art with mournfulness and elegaicism, comparing his paintings with the songs of lamentation of Albius Tibullus (54?-18 BC), the Roman poet his only two surviving books in verse deal with love and country life. From this time and in the Romantic period (indeed up to the mid-20th century) the term “senza errors” has acquired a sense of academic correctness in negative terms, though it applies to Andrea’s paintings rather than his always acclaimed drawings.
By the 19th century assessment of Andrea’s art had become imbued with the “… romantic fantasies… (Padovani, 1996), derived from Vasari’s biographical legacy, that his life inspired a play (Musset, 1833) and a famous, thoroughly Vasarian, dramatic monologue poem (Browning, 1855), described as “…a sensitive and acceptable picture of a gifted, irresolute and reflective man.” (Read, 1994). This mythopeoic interpretation derived from Vasari still today appears in modem studies of Browning’s poetry. For example, Browning depicts Andrea in terms of “…the loss of soul of a painter representative of the High Renaissance.” and condemns his rapidity of production (Alberti, 1979). Again, Brownings’ poems “Andrea del Sarto” (and “Filippo Lippi”) are designated as rhetorical apologies for Aristotelian orations (Waller, 1991), moreover the “…artist Andrea del Sarto misuses his talent and the world.” (Tubrett, 1989) because he failed to live up to Browning’s ideals of the artist (Tubrett, 1989).
The Vasarian repetition continues in the 19th century vein with Andrea described as “An exceptional spirit, but limited. He was one of the greatest technical innovators in painting, but he lacks all that which we can put under the head of the ‘beautiful soul’. The impulses by which he is governed are purely those of an artisan: he solves problems. Hence his indifference toward the higher beauty of expression.” (Burkhardt, 1860). The Vasarian echo reverberates again with “Andrea has been called superficial and without soul, and it is true: some paintings of his leave one indifferent, and in his later years he slid into routine. Among talents of the first order he is the only one who seems to have had a defect in his spiritual constitution. Still, from the beginning, he is the artistic descendant of Filippino and Leonardo, very selective in his taste, a decorous painter, somewhat soft and passive in his attitude, but a master of the noble gesture.” (Wolfflin, 1899). The firstpublished monograph on Andrea del Sarto (Reumont, 1835) still relied on Vasari, citing also Biadi (1830) and Moreni (1824), but contained a list of 90 works. The author noted a lack of the `ideal’ in his works but as a critic of neoclassical bent had little feeling for Andrea’s colour sensitivity and naturalism (Wagner, 1972). Another work, in common with Reumont (1835) depended again on Vasari but only listed 77 works (Guinness, 1899). Even so, the life and works of Andrea del Sarto were much studied and admired in the 19th century (Read, 1994).
The 20th century began with praise for Andrea’s colour (Knapp, 1907) but noting that in all of his works stylistic problems were to the fore, thus “For him all that was human became increasingly unimportant; in fact, he was so entirely an artist that the expression ‘art for art’s sake’ is most apt. By systematically ignoring all spiritual content he came decidedly to overvalue the artistic and aesthetic side of things.” Freud’s biographer joined the fray with a psychoanalytic study (Jones, 1913, 1951) concerning the influence of Andrea’s wife, described by Shearman (1965) as suitable only for “…an anthology of comic literature on the arts.” Unfortunately this piece of psychoalytic sophistry (Jones, 1913; 1951) purported spuriously that Andrea’s relationship with his wife masked a latent homosexual apparently on the grounds that he had an obsessive interest in food and did his own shopping. Again, a later paper (Gombrich, 1954) sadly failed to consign such negative assumptions to the dustbin of history.
A work basic to the study of Andrea del Sarto (Fraenkel, 1935) places emphasis on the 1520’s Venetian origin of Andrea’s colour whilst rejecting accusations of formalism in the attempt to portray the artist as a pure exponent of classicism (Wagner, 1972). At the same time pointing out that Andrea had no direct contact, quite exceptionally, with evidence from classical antiquity. A sympathetic re-evaluation, especially in relation to the frescoes in the Scalzo (Ragghianti, 1949) saw an “…atmosphere tragic and abstracted, excluding all abandon and all useless narrative and description.” That expressed “… in the whole a triumphal, if suffering, vitality, imperiously present in the self-reliant figures, together with a degree of energy seldom equalled.” Finally the 20th century saw a rational re-establishment of the work of Andrea del Sarto in three monographs (Freedberg, 1963; Monti, 1965; Shearman, 1965). The 500th anniversary of the birth of Andrea del Sarto began with an anthology on the artist’s drawings by Petrioli Tofani in 1985, followed by two exhibitions in 1986, the Hommage a Andrea del Saito (Louvre, Paris) and Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530): Dipintrie e disegni a Firenze (Pitti, Florence). It is therefore difficult, for some, to be just to Andrea del Sado nowadays because he contributed so much to that which “…to us, instinctively, forms part of our whole artistic orientation.” (Borenius, 1946).
In many respects the definitive assessment of the life and work of Andrea del Sarto is represented nowadays by the monographs by Freedberg (1963) and Shearman (1965). Using documents and the art itself Andrea’s work was revised in the light of 1980’s restoration and cleaning which enabled a truer assessment of his gifts as a painter, and showed him to be far removed from the academic pedantry with which he has been accused (Padovani, 1996). Giorgio Vasari studied under Andrea del Sarto, coming to his bottega at the age of thirteen, and then writing the biography in his Lives of 1550. Vasari criticised Andrea for lack of ambition, a certain fecklessness in financial affairs, but seems to have liked him all the same despite an anathema towards his wife (Boase, 1979).
Andrea del Sarto’s wife was Lucrezia del Fedi whom he married shortly after she was widowed in 1516. Vasari’s unflattering account of Lucezia accuses her of ruining Andrea’s career, of abandoning him on his death bed, and embezzling money donated by Francis I of France to buy works of art (Murray, 1998). Vasari’s anecdotal acrimony and his casting Lucrezia in the role of a ‘domestic terrorist’ does suffer scrutiny well. Indeed, can we trust the adolescent tribulations of Vasari which in later years, especially in the first edition of his Lives, appear quite scurrilous, even libellous? Nonetheless, despite a kind analysis of Andrea the artist it has been said “It was at this time, whilst Andrea, the kindly and popular young artist, beloved by all who knew him, was painting pictures of rare excellence, and beautifying and adorning his native city, that a new and dangerous element entered into his life, destined to influence all his future.” (Guiness, 1899). This new lement? This new danger? It was Lucrezia del Fede.
Lucrezia di Bartolommeo del Fede was the widow of Carlo Domenico Barretaio Rossi, 1930) and married Andrea in 1517, it being recorded that Andrea accepted her dowry on 23.5.1518. According to Vasari Andrea had married below his rank whereby he became jealous and poor as a result of her extravagances and marital conduct (Boase, 1979). The facts do not support Vasari’s contention. A rational assessment of Andrea and Lucrezia’s relationship is provided by Shearman (1965). Shock was expressed in the 19th century (Trollope, 1870) who averred ‘But then came the mischief!… Married her! — absolutely married her for better or worse’. Similarly when Giovio advised Vasari on his own wish to take a wife he was told ‘Don’t buy a cat in a sack… Remember Andrea del Sarto…’ (Cited in Boase, 1979). This persistent scandal is “… much based on Vasari’s malicious assessment of Lucrezia’s social status as upon his description of her character…” (Shearman, 1965). Vasari regarded Lucrezia as nagging, the tale stuck “…and Browning’s poem finally immortalized the view of Lucrezia that had first been elaborated in the angry chatter of her husband’s garzoni.” (Boase, 1979). Lucrezia’s father was Bartlommeo del Fede and on her marriage gave her a handsome dowry amounting to 150 fiorini (Shearman, 1965), certainly not povero et ozioso as Vasari suggests. Lucrezia’s father was a dealer in horses and cloth. If, as Vasari suggests, Andrea was reduced in financial circumstances by his wife, how was he content and able to pay Lucrezia’s sister Maria’s expenses at a nunnery? Surely it is rather “…evidence of a decent generosity which he could probably well afford. At all events the del Fede family sounds highly respectable (Shearman, 1965). That he was bled-white by her family is not only false but further evidence of Vasari’s malicious intent? Again there is little evidence that Andrea embezzled Francis I or that Lucrezia was the prime motivator of the action (Shearman, 1965) as Vasari opines. Nonetheless this imaginative figment took hold and held currency in the 19th century (Biadi, 1929; Trollope, 1870), coupled as it was with the myth that Andrea sheltered in SS. Annunziata to avoid the wrath of Francis I. This story is not in fact given by Vasari (1550) or Bocchi (1567).
Andrea del Sarto who remains, despite the vilification of his marital affairs, the central figure in Florentine High Renaissance art, proof that he was a curious instance of the vital power of art “…which, lgke a flower forcing its way to the light through walls or rocks, will find expression in spite of obstacle.” (Scott, 1881). Andrea died of the plague in Florence (introduced by the besieging army) on September 29th, 1530, and was buried in SS. Annunziata by the Compagnia dello Scalzo. In his last will and testament written in Latin, his Testamentum Andreani pictoris, of 1527 Andrea described himself as “… magister Andreas Angeli Francisci pictor Florentinus…” (Reumont, 1835; citing Biadi, 1830, and Moroni, 1824). On his death Andrea’s property was inherited by Lucrezia and Maria (Shearman, 1965). His drawings were inherited by his pupil Domenico Conti who erected a memorial stone in his honour (Padovani, 1996). Vasari (1550) points out that the drawings were eventually stolen. Andrea’s easel eventually went to Jacapo da Empoli (Baldinucci, 1681). The original memorial tablet was removed but in 1605 the Prior of SS Annunziata had a marble bust made by Giovanni Battista Caccini and placed in thr cloister that Andrea had decorated (Padovani, 1996). Lucrezia did not remarry and died in Florence, aged eighty, in 1570. It seems hardly unlikely that she or her family did not protest about Vasari’s published opinions in 1550 — perhaps the reason for the toned down second edition. Maria eventually married, had a son, and was widowed by 1568.
In conclusion Andrea del Sarto can be described as the greatest master of the Florentine High Renaissance, whose work was marked by monumentality, sincerity, sensibility, and disregard for external effect (Pope-Hennessy, 1964), where “… he is not so much the culminating point of this movement as he is the point of departure of Tuscan Mannerism.” (Wagner, 1972). In essence, with Andrea del Sarto “…le style c’est l’homme.” (Guinness, 1899). We can agree therefore that Andrea del Sarto gave us something that Fra Bartolommeo and Raphael did not and that is the “…fine joy in being alive which men felt at the moment when the Renaissance reached its zenith.” (Wolfflin, 1952).
The treatment of light is a consistent feature of the art of Andrea del Sarto (Murray, 1998) with its glancing, moving intermittent effect, that gives mystery with its sensitive composition of fitful gleams that create a picture that is “…a vision, half-glimpsed in half-light…”. His work was robust and grand, conditioned by a perfectionist sense of beauty and elegance, conditioned by Michelangelesque yearning for the monumental and Venetian sense of colour (Godfrey, 1965). He is Leonardesque with his soft and veiled sfumato with patches of light and dark as episodic as passing sunlight (Murray, 1998) giving his pictures a rhythm and movement and yet, unlike Michelangelo and Leonardo he was preoccupied “…with no sterile reasoning, busy with no research after philosophic ideas, never seeking in literature the inspiration for his art, he is above all and before all — painter.” (Guinness, 1899).
Andrea’s achievement is one of accomplished naturalness, that his abiding inspirer, being nature herself “…worthily represents the ‘golden age’ of the cinquecento” (Guinness, 1899). This suggests that Andrea’s sensibility was that of “…a receptive, rather than an original productive mind.” (Scott, 1881). During his mature period Andrea seems to have led, contrary to Vasari’s allegations, a post-marital affluent life, and as Shearman (1965) goes on to relate, Andrea worked for nominal fees, or nothing because he “…was more likely to be…in a position to do so than because he lacked some quality he should have had…”. Andrea in the Browning poem points out that he was the married one, his wife was a Madonna, and seemingly berates Leonardo and Michelangelo for their single status — perhaps the view of an artist who saw in their works the betrayal “…of a hundred subtleties of invention…” whereas he could “…astonish with the sense of difficulties aimed at and overcome.” (Guinness, 1899). Accused of banality and melodrama (Borenius, 1946) perhaps his positive qualities derived from a sincere and frank approach to reality which meant few technical problems for him. For Andrea difficulties of technique did not exist and he knew none of the complexities which tormented Michelangelo and with which Leonardo wrestled. Andrea the ‘faultless’ natural artist felt “… nothing to disturb the mind from the central unity of his compositions — no fictitious effects are aimed at… he renders clearly what he sees sanely.” (Guinness, 1899).
In his monograph Shearman (1965) continues in a sympathetic vein when he points out that Andrea “…was more interested in producing a work of art than in its professional by-products, this is one reason why he and Vasari failed to understand each other.” Vasari was a Mannerist, whereas Andrea confronted by compromise with Mannerism and thus falling back, to Vasari’s chagrin, on formulaic compositions Andrea’s art still posessed “… an inexhaustible resource which, no less than the new style of the Mannerists, depended on a private sensibility.” (Freedberg, 1986). Vasari, we know, had a low opinion of Andrea’s personality and positively loathed Lucrezia and it is “…difficult to estimate how much of his interpretation is plain libel, and how much of it is based on an all too intimate knowledge.” (Murray, 1998). Andrea was a serious and dedicated artist some of whose upper strata patrons were also his friends — e.g., Ottaviano de’Medici. Whatever the adoration Andrea held for Lucrezia independent evidence (Giovio, 1956) suggests she was insatiable and “…needed two husbands rather than one…” (even though she was plump), indicating that her liaison with a cousin in Browning’s poem made have been a cause for the artist’s concern. Vasari’s impressions were those of a fourteen year old who despised his master’s wife and this extreme dislike may have been provoked “… by an arrogant temperament that was truly hers.” (Shearman, 1965).
Nonetheless much of Vasari’s biography is factually untrue Andrea was not reduced to miserable circumstances, did not marry beneath him, did not subsidise his in-laws to the point of penury, and indeed had a considerable bank account (A. S. F., Monte delle Graticole, 1510-11; 1517; 1526-27 cited in Shearman, 1965). It can be fairly construed that Vasari’s scandal-mongering was to “…deprive Sarto of the honour and profit of his post as court-painter to Francis I.” (Shearman, 1965). Was Vasari jealous and besmirched Andrea by castigating Andrea’s strengths as his weaknesses? In order to accept the Vasarian myth we must also accept the “…Romantic fallacy that an artists work is interpretable on the basis of his behaviour and character as a man and the circumstances that surround him.” (Shearman, 1965) where in Vasari is there such acrimonious testament concerning the tortured passions of Michelangelo or the foibles of Leonardo?
In the work of Andrea del Sarto there is a contemplative sensuality and a restrained Romanticism. A style achieved by using classical motifs to create a remote from experience and dreamy voyeuristic response from the spectator. Perhaps Andrea’s character does emerge from his art but then, looking at the enigmatic visage of Lucrezia, so does hers. By seducing the spectators of his art, especially those of his sensuous Madonnas, he is perceiving his viewers as flaneurs — they look not just to admire his Madonnas and female saints they are being persuaded to desire them too. Andrea’s Madonnas are not just Marian figures. They are almost, in a pagan sense, the Goddess as seductress. The Lucrezian smile is more pervasive, more persuasive, more exoteric, than the solitary, esoteric La Giaconda Smile of Leonardo.
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End of course dissertation October 1998. University of Oxford Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art (1996-1998).