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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto Self-portrait
When you start your career as an artist with the nickname, "senza errori" (the perfect) there's only one direction you can go from there. Though he no doubt enjoyed the appellation at the time, perhaps Andrea del Sarto should have insisted on a more modest "realmente abbastanza buono" (really quite good). I know, it doesn't have quite the same "ring" to it but... Andrea del Sarto was not his real name. His birth name was Andrea d'Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore. Del Sarto means simply "tailor's son," and for a little boy learning to first write his name, del Sarto was probably a welcome relief. Andrea really was a little boy, only eight years old, when he was first apprenticed to a Florentine goldsmith and later to a woodcarver and painter (Gian Barile) with whom he remained until the age of twelve.

The Birth of the Virgin, 1514,
Andrea del Sarto
By the age of nineteen, Andrea and an older friend, known as Franciabigio (likewise not his real name), opened a studio together in Florence and worked on a monochrome fresco series which included a baptism of Christ. Later they worked with Andrea Feltrini on frescoes inside a minor Florentine basilica church. He worked quickly and well, his drawing and painting technique were seen as faultless. It was during this time he earned the reputation for perfection that was to elevate him above the hundreds of other artist working during the height of the Renaissance in Florence, yet was to daunt him the rest of his life. His 1514 fresco, The Birth of the Virgin (right, in pitifully poor condition) was his breakthrough masterpiece of the time.
Madonna of the Harpies, 1517,
Andrea del Sarto


Del Sarto had a problem. Her name was Lucrezia. She was his wife and apparently quite beautiful. He painted her numerous times in various roles. She may well be the model for his 1517 Madonna of the Harpies (left), considered one of his best efforts, comparable to the work of Leonardo and Fra Bartolomeo. However, one of del Sarto's former students, none other than the famous art historian, Giorgio Vasari (whom Michelangelo had introduced to del Sarto), painted her as something of a flirt among her husband's apprentices (he ought to know, having been one) and even as being unfaithful. Whatever the case, she was apparently what we would call today, "high maintenance," spending all her husband could earn as fast, or faster, than he could earn it. Del Sarto's work is often criticized as "lacking soul," perhaps as a result of his prodigious output in feeling the need to keep his attractive wife in the manner to which she'd become accustomed.
Young St. John the Baptist,
1520-30, Andrea del Sarto
Around this time, del Sarto's work, a Madonna, (bottom)and a pieta, came to the notice of Francis I, the King of France. Francis collected art (and even artists) the way some people collect pounds (he started the Louvre's collection). Perhaps, seeking relief from his wife, del Sarto readily accepted the royal invitation and, leaving her behind, hustled off to Paris to paint for the king. It wasn't long, however, before Lucrezia wrote demanding her husband return. The king relented, excusing him from his work for a brief trip home He even entrusted him with a sizable sum with which to buy up some more Florentine items for his burgeoning collection. According to Vasari, del Sarto returned to Florence, and, perhaps at his wife's insistence, used the money instead to buy a house. Needless to say, he never returned to France.

Del Sarto did, however, create some of his best work in the following years, including his 1520-30 Young St. John the Baptist (above, right). Around 1531, Andrea del Sarto succumbed to an outbreak of Bubonic Plague. He died, unattended by his unappreciative wife. Of course, given the extremely contagious nature of the plague, maybe she was simply being cautious. If so, it was a wise move; she survived her unfortunate, workaholic husband by forty years.
Madonna of the Angels, 1516, Andrea del Sarto, his ticket to Paris.


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