Andrea del Sarto (1846-1530)
The Italian painter Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was one of the most important painters of the High Renaissance. His highly expressive use of color is unsurpassed in Florentine painting. Andrea was born in 1486, Florence. He was the son of Agnolo di Francesco, a tailor. According to Vasari, who was taught by Andrea, he was trained with a goldsmith from the age of 7. An earlier source identifies Andrea’s master, quite convincingly, as Rafaellino del Garbo, a highly competent and successful painter of the late 15th century. About the age of 20 Andrea set up his own shop with Franciabigio.
In 1509 Andrea received his first important public commission for five frescoes in the entrance cloister of the Church of Santissima Annunziata, Florence, depicting scenes from the life of St. Filippo Benizzi. Two further frescoes, “the Journey of the Magi” and “the Nativity of the Virgin”, added in 1511 and 1514, illustrate the very rapid development of his style. Of the panel paintings, the beautiful Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine shows his deep understanding of Leonardo’s art, particularly in the expressive use of light and shade. Andrea showed a notably early interest in Northern woodcuts by such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Martin Schongauer, and Lucas van Leyden; and his interest in sculpture was not confined to the antique but extended to the use of actual models by his friend Jacopo Sansovino.
Between 1511 and 1526 Andrea painted the famous monochrome fresco cycle in the cloister of the Scalzo, Florence, which is one of the masterpieces of High Renaissance art. The elaborate, painted architectural setting and the sculptural clarity of the narrative established new standards in monumental fresco painting.
Outstanding among the panel paintings of this period are “the Madonna of the Harpies” and “the Wallace Madonna”. In these works the outward gaze of the saints and the compelling vibrancy of the color demand the devotional involvement of the spectator.
Andrea married Lucrezia del Fede in around 1517, a widow, whose portrait he had included in the Nativity of the Virgin. Despite Vasari’s condemnation, which was so readily accepted and elaborated in the 19th century, there seems to be no real evidence that Andrea suffered either moral or financial ruin as a result of this marriage. Summoned by the French king, Francis I, he traveled to France in 1518, but his stay at Fontainebleau was very short for he was back in Florence by the autumn of 1519. “The Charity” and “the Portrait of a French Lady” are the only surviving paintings that he executed in France.
Comparatively little is known of the later part of Andrea’s life, although his presence is frequently documented in Florence and his paintings offer no real evidence of any extensive travels. In 1520 he purchased a site on the Via della Crocetta and built a house. In 1524 Andrea took his family to the Mugello to avoid the plague. There he painted the “Pietà”, which, though more restrained in its color and emotion than the earlier “Pietà”, forms the point of departure for the deliberately appealing beauty of the late works. The increasing idealization and the sometimes arbitrary but strict expressive color of paintings such as the “Quattro Santi” and “St. Agnes” provided a rich source of inspiration for the young generation of mannerist painters. Yet the powerful devotional feeling in these works is evident from the exaggerated praise that Andrea received from writers of the Counter Reformation.
He died of the plague on Sept. 29, 1530, and was buried by the religious confraternity of the Scalzo in the Church of Santissima Annunziata, Florence.