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Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531) was an Italianmarker painter from Florencemarker, whose career flourished during the High Renaissance and early-Mannerism. Though highly regarded by his contemporaries as an artist "senza errori" (i.e., faultless), he is overshadowed now by equally talented contemporaries like Raphael.

Early life and training

Andrea was born in Gualfonda, close to Florencemarker, in either 1486 or 1487: he was one of four children to Agnolo, a tailor (sarto). Since 1677 some have attributed the surname Vannucchi with little documentation. By 1494 Andrea was apprenticed to a goldsmith, and then to a skillful woodcarver and inferior painter named Gian Barile, with whom he remained until 1498. According to Vasari, he then apprenticed to Piero di Cosimo, and later with Raffaellino del Garbo (Carli).

Andrea and an elder friend Franciabigio decided to open a joint studio at a lodging together in the Piazza del Grano. Their first partnership may have been the Baptism of Christ for the Florentine Compagnia dello Scalzo, the beginning of a monochrome fresco series. By the time the partnership was dissolved, Sarto's style bore the stamp of individuality. It "is marked throughout his career by an interest, exceptional among Florentines, in effects of colour and atmosphere and by sophisticated informality and natural expression of emotion"[820907].

Frescoes at SS Annunziata in Florence

From 1509 to 1514 the brotherhood of the Servites employed Sarto, Franciabigio, and Andrea Feltrini in a programme of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata di Firenzemarker.[820908] Sarto completed three frescoes in the portico of the Servite convent illustrating the Life of Filippo Benizzi, [820909] a Servite saint who died in 1285. He executed them rapidly, depicting the saint sharing his cloak with a leper, cursing some gamblers, and restoring a girl possessed with a devil. These paintings met with respect, the correctness of the contours being particularly admired, and earned for Sarto the nickname of "Andrea senza errori" (Andrea the perfect). After these, the painter depicted in two frescoes the death of S. Filippo and then children cured by touching his garment; all five works were completed before the close of 1510. The Servites engaged him to do two more frescoes in the forecourt of the Annunziata: a Procession of the Magi (or Adoration, containing a self portrait) finished in 1511. Towards 1512 he painted an Annunciation in the monastery of S. Gallo and a Marriage of Saint Catherine (Dresden).
The so-called Portrait of a Sculptor, long believed to have been Del Sarto's self-portrait.

By 1514 Andrea had finished his last two frescoes, including his masterpiece, the Birth of the Virgin, which fuses the influence of Leonardo, Ghirlandaio and Fra Bartolomeo. By November 1515 he had finished at the Scalzo the Allegory of Justice and the Baptist preaching in the desert, followed in 1517 by John Baptizing, and other subjects.

Visit to France

Before the end of 1516 a Pietà of his composition, and afterwards a Madonna, were sent to the Frenchmarker court. They led to invitation of Sarto to come to the court of François I in 1518. He journeyed to Paris towards June of that year, along with his pupil Andrea Squarzzella, leaving his wife in Florence.

Lucrezia, however, wrote urging his return to Italy. The king assented, but only on the understanding that his absence from Francemarker was to be short; and he entrusted Andrea with a sum of money to be expended in purchasing works of art for his royal patron. Instead, the temptation of having a goodly sum encouraged its expenditure in the building of a house for himself in Florence. This necessarily brought him in conflict with François, who refused to be reingratiated with Andrea. No serious punishment, however, apparently befell the artist.

Later works in Florence

In 1520 he resumed work in Florence, and executed the Faith and Charity in the cloister of the Scalzo. These were succeeded by the Dance of the Daughter of Herodias, the Beheading of the Baptist, the Presentation of his head to Herod, an allegory of Hope, the "Apparition of the Angel to Zacharias" (1523), and the monochrome Visitation.

This last was painted in the autumn of 1524, after Andrea had returned from Luco in Mugellomarker, whence an outbreak of bubonic plague in Florence had driven him and his family. In 1525 he returned to paint in the Annunziata cloister the Madonna del Sacco, a lunette named after a sack against which Joseph is represented propped. In this painting the generous virgin's gown and her gaze indicate his influence on the early style of pupil Pontormo.

His final work at the Scalzo was the Birth of the Baptist (1526). In the following year he completed at S. Salvi, near Florence, a celebrated Last Supper in which all the personages seem to be portraits. It is the last monumental work of importance which Andrea del Sarto lived to execute. He died in 1531 in Florence.

Madonna of the Harpies

Perhaps the best known painting by Andrea del Sarto is the Madonna of the Harpies, a depiction of the Virgin and child on a pedestal, flanked by angels and two saints (Bonaventure or Francis; and John the Evangelist). Originally completed in 1517 for the convent of San Francesco dei Macci, the altarpiece is displayed in a privileged location in the Uffizi. In an Italy swamped with a tsunami of Madonnas, it would be easy to overlook this work; however, this commonly copied scheme also lends itself to comparison of his style with painters of his century. The figures have a Leonardo-like aura, and the stable pyramid of their composition provides a unified structure. In some ways, his rigid adherence is more classical than Leonardo da Vinci's but less so than Fra Bartolomeo's representations of the Holy Family, but there is an elegance that is lacking in the more sculptural paintings of other contemporaries.

Details of personal life

Andrea fell in love with Lucrezia (del Fede), wife of a hatter named Carlo, of Recanatimarker; the hatter dying opportunely, Andrea married her on 26 December 1512. She has come down to us in many a picture of her lover-husband, who constantly painted her as a Madonna and otherwise; even in painting other women he made them resemble Lucrezia. She was less gently handled by Giorgio Vasari, a pupil of Andrea, who describes her as faithless, jealous, and vixenish with the apprentices; her offstage character permeates Robert Browning's poem-monologue "Andrea del Sarto called the 'faultless painter'" (1855) ([820910].

He dwelt in Florence throughout the memorable siege of 1529, which was soon followed by an infectious pestilence. He caught the malady, struggled against it with little or no tending from his wife, who held aloof, and he died, no one knowing much about it at the moment, on 22 January 1531, at the comparatively early age of forty-three. He was buried unceremoniously in the church of the Servites. His wife survived her husband by forty years.

A number of paintings are considered to be self-portraits. One is in the National Gallery, Londonmarker, an admirable half-figure, purchased in 1862. Another is at Alnwick Castlemarker, a young man about twenty years, with his elbow on a table. Another youthful portrait is in the Uffizi Gallerymarker, and the Pitti Palacemarker contains more than one.

A very noticeable incident in the life of Andrea del Sarto relates to the copy, which he produced in 1523, of the portrait group of Pope Leo X by Raphael; now in the Naplesmarker Museum: the original remains at the Pitti. This painting was requested by Federico II Gonzaga, duke of Mantuamarker from Ottaviano de' Medici. Unwilling to part with it, Ottaviano had Andrea to make the copy, and passed it to the duke as the original. So deceptive was the imitation that even Giulio Romano, who had himself manipulated the original to some extent, was completely fooled; and, on showing the supposed Raphael years afterwards to Vasari, who knew the facts, he could only be undeceived when a private mark on the canvas was named to him by Vasari and brought under his eye.

Critical assessment and legacy

It was Michelangelo who had introduced Vasari in 1524 to Andrea's studio. He is said to have thought very highly of Andrea's powers. Of those who initially followed his style in Florence, the most prominent would have been Jacopo Pontormo, but also Francesco Salviati and Jacopino del Conte. Other lesser known assistants and pupils include Bernardo del Buda, Lamberto Lombardi, Nannuccio Fiorentino, and Andrea Squazzella

Vasari, however, was highly critical of his teacher, alleging that, though having all the prerequisites of a great artist, he lacked ambition and that divine fire of inspiration which animated the works of his more famous contemporaries, like Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Partial anthology of works

  • Holy Family with St Peter Martyr (1507-8, Pinacoteca Bari)
  • Madonna and Child with St. John (c.1513, Whitfield Fine Art)
  • Madonna of the Harpies (Virgin and Child, with St Francis, St John the Evangelist, and two angels), (painted S. Francesco, now in Uffizi, Florence)
  • Fathers disputing on the doctrine of the Trinity (Saints Augustine, Dominic, Francis, Lawrence, Sebastian and Mary Magdalene)(1517, altarpiece for the monastery of S. Gallo, now in Ufizzi, Florence)
  • Charity (Louvremarker)
  • Pieta (Belvedere, Viennamarker)
  • Julius Caesar receives tribute (fresco at Poggio a Caianomarker, 1521) completed by Alessandro Allori.
  • Virgin surrounded by Saints (Pitti Palace, Florence) [820911]
  • Pieta (Pitti Palace)
  • Virgin, Child, Joseph, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, and an Archangel (Prado)
  • Holy Family with John the Baptist (Louvre)
  • In Berlinmarker a portrait of his wife.
  • At Panshanger, Berkshire, a fine portrait named "Laura."
  • Annunciation (Pitti Palace)[820912]


See also


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