Andrea del Sarto

(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Andrea del Sarto is considered to be one of the most important Florentine painters of the early sixteenth century and is also a figure of great historical importance. In his own work, he was clearly inspired by the classical ideals of the central Italian High Renaissance, particularly by Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, but his pupils were to become the creators of the anticlassical style later known as mannerism, which dominated Italian art from about 1520 until 1600.

Early Life

Andrea d’Agnolo, the son of Agnolo di Francesco Lanfranchi and Constanza, was born in Florence in 1486, probably one of twins, for the surviving documents indicate that Agnolo di Francesco’s two sons, Andrea and Domenico, were both baptized on July 17, 1486, the day after their birth. Andrea’s great-grandfather had been an agricultural laborer, his grandfather a linen weaver, and his father a tailor (un sarto), and for that reason Andrea was given the nickname of Andrea del Sarto. Andrea left school at the age of seven to work for a goldsmith before beginning his training as a painter, first in the studio of the little-known Andrea di Salvi Barile and later with Piero di Cosimo. It has also been persuasively argued by modern critics that Andrea must have studied with the technically accomplished Raffaellino del Garbo, or at least been strongly influenced by his work.

On December 11, 1508, Andrea was matriculated in the guild of Florentine painters. About two years earlier, he had entered into a partnership with Francesco di Cristoforo Bigi, known as Franciabigio. The two artists shared a studio and were later joined by the young sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, who had come from Rome.

Life’s Work

Two fresco cycles in Florence are the major works of the collaboration of Andrea and Franciabigio. In the forecourt of the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence, they continued the fresco cycle which had been begun in the fifteenth century and which illustrated the life of Saint Filippo Benizzi and scenes from the life of the Virgin. The scenes from the life of Saint Filippo Benizzi, the chief saint of the Servite Order (of which the Santissima Annunziata is the mother church), were Andrea’s first fresco commissions and show him experimenting with a variety of compositions. Two of the scenes are loosely organized and recall the pictorial ideals of the preceding century, but in the Saint Curing the Possessed Woman, The Death of the Saint, and the Miracles Performed by the Relics of the Saint, dated 1510, Andrea introduced rigidly organized, symmetrical compositions which reveal his debt to Leonardo da Vinci, while his handling of color, light, and shade shows how much he admired the work of Raphael. The finest work in this cycle is the last one that Andrea painted, the Birth of the Virgin (1514). In this remarkable work, which marks the beginning of his artistic maturity, the severity of the earlier scenes has given way to a more flexible and subtly harmonious type of composition. One can see in this work how completely Andrea had absorbed the pictorial ideals of the High Renaissance.

The two artists also collaborated in a commission which they received from the Florentine Compagnia dello Scalzo, a secular confraternity. The oratory of the compagnia was located not far from the Church of San Marco, and the frescoes by Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio, which are still extant, are in what was once the cloister. The subjects are scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist and the Cardinal Virtues. These frescoes are executed in girisaille, that is, in varying shades of gray. Although they were probably begun as early as 1511, Andrea continued to work on them from time to time until 1526. Ten of the scenes are by Andrea, who also painted The Cardinal Virtues, while two are by Franciabigio. The Scalzo frescoes are among the finest examples of the High Renaissance style in Florence. Each scene is elegantly composed, but with a naturalism of attitude and gesture that makes it completely plausible, a reality that is convincing but one that has become a realm of grace and beauty.

While he was working on these commissions, Andrea also had a hand in the preparation of the civic decorations in celebration of the return of the Medici family from their exile (February, 1513) and for the ceremonial entrance of the Medici Pope Leo X into Florence in 1515. In 1517, he completed one of his most impressive...

(The entire section is 1858 words.)