1902 Encyclopedia > Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto
Italian painter

ANDREA DEL SARTO (1487-1531). This celebrated painter of the Florentine school was born in Gualfonda, Florence, in 1487, or perhaps 1486, his father Agnolo being a tailor (sarto): hence the nickname by which the son is constantly designated. The family, though of no distinction, can be traced back into the 14th century. Vannucchi has constantly been given as the surname,—according to some modern writers, without any authority, but it seems rather difficult to accept this dictum. There were four other children of the marriage. In 1494 Andrea was put to work under a goldsmith. This occupation he disliked. He took to drawing from his master's models, and was soon transferred to a skilful woodcarver and inferior painter named Gian Barile, with whom he remained until 1498. Barile, though a coarse-grained man enough, would not stand in the way of the advancement of his promising pupil, so he recommended him to Piero di Cosimo as draughtsman and colourist. Piero retained Andrea for some years, allowing him to study from the famous cartoons of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Finally Andrea agreed with his friend Francia Bigio, who was somewhat his senior, that they would open a joint shop; at a date not precisely defined they took a lodging together in the Piazza del Grano. Their first work in partnership may probably have been the Baptism of Christ, done for the Florentine Compagnia dello Scalzo, a performance of no great merit, the beginning of a series, all the extant items of which are in monochrome chiaroscuro. Soon afterwards the partnership was dissolved. From 1509 to 1514 the brotherhood of the Servi employed Andrea, as well as Francia Bigio and Andrea Feltrini, the first-named undertaking in the portico of the Annunziata three frescos illustrating the life of the founder of the order, S. Filippo Benizzi. He executed them in a few months, being endowed by nature with remarkable readiness and certainty of hand, and unhesitating firmness in his work, although in the general mould of his mind he was timid and diffident. The subjects are the Saint Sharing his Cloak with a Leper, Cursing some Gamblers, and Restoring a Girl possessed with a Devil. The second and third works excel the first, and are impulsive and able performances. These paintings met with merited applause, and gained for their author the pre-eminent title " Andrea senza errori" (Andrew the unerring),—the correctness of the contours being particularly admired. After these subjects the painter proceeded with two others—the Death of St Philip, and the Children Cured by Touching his Garment,—all the five works being completed before the close of 1510. The youth of twenty-three was already in technique about the best fresco-painter of central Italy, barely rivalled by Raphael, who was the elder by four years. Michelangelo's Sixtine frescos were then only in a preliminary stage. Andrea always worked in the simplest, most typical, and most trying method of fresco—that of painting the thing once and for all, without any subsequent dry-touching. He now received many commissions. The brotherhood of the Servi engaged him to do two more frescos in the Annunziata at a higher price ; he also painted, towards 1512, an Annunciation in the monastery of S. Gallo.

The "Tailor's Andrew" appears to have been an easy-going plebeian, to whom a modest position in life and scanty gains were no grievances. As an artist he must have known his own value ; but he probably rested content in the sense of his superlative powers as an executant, and did not aspire to the rank of a great inventor or leader, for which, indeed, he had no vocation. He led a social sort of life among his compeers of the art, was intimate with the sculptor Rustici, and joined a jolly dining-club at his house named the Company of the Kettle, also a second club named the Trowel. At one time, Francia Bigio being then the chairman of the Kettle-men, Andrea recited, and is by some regarded as having composed, a comic epic, " The Battle of the Mice and Frogs"—a rechauffe, as one may surmise, of the Greek Batrachomyomachia, popularly ascribed to Homer. He fell in love with Lucrezia (del Fede), wife of a hatter named Carlo Recanati ; the hatter dying opportunely, the tailor's son married her on 26th December 1512. She was a very handsome woman, and has come down to us treated with great suavity in many a picture of her lover-husband, who constantly painted her as a Madonna and otherwise; and even in painting other women he made them resemble Lucrezia in general type. She has been much less gently handled by Vasari and other biographers. Vasari, who was at one time a pupil of Andrea, describes her as faithless, jealous, overbearing, and vixenish with the apprentices. She lived to a great age, surviving her second husband 40 years.

By 1514 Andrea had finished his last two frescos in the court of the Servi, than which none of his works was more admired—the Nativity of the Virgin, which shows the influence of Leonardo, Domenico Ghirlanclajo, and Fra Bartolommeo, in effective fusion, and the Procession of the Magi, intended as an amplification of a work by Baldovinetti ; in this fresco is a portrait of Andrea himself. He also executed at some date a much-praised Head of Christ over the high altar. 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. Before the end of 1516 a Pietà of his composition, and afterwards a Madonna, were sent to the French Court. These were received with applause ; and the art-loving monarch Francis I. suggested in 1518 that Andrea should come to Paris. He journeyed thither towards June of that year, along with his pupil Andrea Sguazzella, leaving his wife in Florence, and was very cordially received, and for the first and only time in his life was handsomely remunerated. Lucrezia, however, wrote urging his return to Italy. The king assented, but only on the understanding that his absence from France 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. The temptation of having a goodly amount of pelf in hand proved too much for Andrea's virtue. He spent the king's money and some of his own in building a house for himself in Fiorenee. This necessarily brought him into bad odour with Francis, who refused to be appeased by some endeavours which the painter afterwards made to reingratiate himself. No serious punishment, however, and apparently no grave loss of professional reputation befell the defaulter.

In 1520 he resumed work in Florence, and executed the Faith and Charity in the cloister of Lo 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 of the Visitation. This last was painted in the autumn of 1524, after Andrea had returned from Luco in Mugello,—to which place an outbreak of plague in Florence had driven him, his wife, his step-daughter, and other relatives. In 1525 he painted the very famous fresco named the Madonna del Sacco, a lunette in the cloisters of the Servi ; this picture (named after a sack against which Joseph is represented propped) is generally accounted his master-piece. His final work at Lo Scalzo, 1526, was the Birth of the Baptist, executed with some enhanced elevation of style after Andrea had been diligently studying Michelangelo's figures in the sacristy of S. Lorenzo. In the following year he completed at S. Salvi, near Florence, a celebrated Last Supper, in which all the personages seem to be portraits. This also is a very fine example of his style, though the conception of the subject is not exalted. It is the last monumental work of importance which Andrea del Sarto lived to execute. He dwelt in Florence throughout the memorable siege, 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 died, no one knowing much about it at the moment, on 22d January 1531, at the comparatively early age of forty-three. He was buried unceremoniously in the church of the Servi.

Various portraits painted by Andrea are regarded as likenesses of himself, but this is not free from some doubt. One is in the London National Gallery, an admirable half-figure, purchased in 1862. Another is at Alnwick Castle, a young man about twenty years of age, with his elbow on a table. Another at Panshanger may perhaps represent in reality his pupil Domenico Conti. Another youthful portrait is in the Uffizi Gallery, and the Pitti Gallery contains more than one. Among his more renowned works not already specified are the following. The Virgin and Child, with St Francis and St John the Evangelist and two Angels, now in the Uffizi, painted for the church of S. Francesco in Florence ; this is termed the Madonna di S. Francesco, or Madonna delle Arpie, from certain figures of harpies which are decoratively introduced, and is rated as Andrea's masterpiece in oil-painting. The altar-piece in the Uffizi, painted for the monastery of S. Gallo, the Fathers Disputing on the Doctrine of the Trinity—Sts Augustine, Dominie, Francis, Lawrence, Sebastian, and Mary Magdalene— a very energetic work. Both these pictures are comparatively early—towards 1517. The Charity now in the Louvre (perhaps the only painting which Andrea executed while in France). The Pietà, in the Belvedere of Vienna ; this work, as well as the Charity, shows a strong Michelangelesque influence. At Poggio a C'aiano a celebrated fresco (1521) representing Julius Cffisar receiving tribute, various figures bringing animals from foreign lands—a striking perspective arrangement; it was left unfinished by Andrea, and was completed by Alessandro Allori. Two very remarkable paintings (1523) containing various incidents of the life of the patriarch Joseph, executed for the Borgherini family. In the Pitti Gallery two separate compositions of the Assumption of the Virgin, also a fine Pietà. In the Madrid Museum the Virgin and Child, with Joseph, Elizabeth, the infant Baptist, and an Archangel. In the Louvre the Holy Family, the Baptist pointing upwards. In the Berlin Gallery a portrait of his wife. In Panshanger a fine portrait named Laura. The second picture in the National Gallery ascribed to Andrea, a Holy Family, is by some critics regarded as the work rather of one of his scholars— we hardly know why. 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 Leo X. by Raphael ; it is now in the Naples Museum, the original being in the Pitti Gallery. Ottaviano de' Medici, the owner of the original, was solicited by Duke Frederick II. of Mantua to present it to him. Unwilling to part with so great a pictorial prize, and unwilling also to disoblige the duke, Ottaviano got Andrea to make the copy, which was consigned to the duke as being the original. So deceptive was the imitation that even Giulio Romano, who had himself manipulated the original to some extent, was completely taken in ; 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. 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, saying on one occasion to Raphael, "There is a little fellow in Florence who will bring sweat to your brow if ever he is engaged in great works."

Andrea had true pictorial style, a very high standard of correctness, and an enviable balance of executive endowments. The point of technique in which ho excelled least was perhaps that of discriminating the varying textures of different objects and surfaces. There is not much elevation or ideality in his works—much more of reality. His chiaroscuro is not carried out according to strict rule, but is adjusted to his liking for harmony of colour and fused tone and transparence ; in fresco more especially his predilection for varied tints appears excessive. It may be broadly said that his taste in colouring was derived mainly from Fra Bartolommeo, and in form from Michelangelo ; and his style partakes of the Venetian and Lombard, as well as the Florentine and Roman—some of his figures are even adapted from Albert Durer. In one way or other he continued improving to the last. In drawing from nature, his habit was to sketch very slightly, making only such a memorandum as sufficed to work from. The scholars of Andrea were very numerous ; but, according to Vasari, they were not wont to stay long, being domineered over by his wife ; Pontormo and Domenico Puligo may be mentioned.

In our account of Andrea del Sarto we have followed the main lines of the narrative of Crowe and Cavalcaselle, supplemented by Vasari, Lanzi, and others. There are biographies by Biadi (1S29) and by Von Reumont. (W. M. R.)

The above article was written by: W. M. Rossetti.

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