Andrea del Sarto: ‘a faultless painter’ eclipsed by his contemporaries

Andrea del Sarto

On the 16th of July 1486, Andrea del Sarto was born in Florence.  Sarto’s family name was likely to be Lanfranchi, and his father seems to have been a tailor.  Little is known about his childhood perhaps because they were quite uneventful.   With two short exceptions, he lived in Florence.

Andrea del Sarto

The Portrait of a Sculptor, perhaps Andrea del Sarto’s self-portrait.

Del Sarto was a pupil of Piero di Cosimo.  In his lifetime, he was considered a very important Italian painter, and his artistic career flourished during the eras of High Renaissance and early Mannerism. Nowadays he is often forgotten by art lovers and even by art historians because after his death, his works were eclipsed by the talents of other illustrious Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, and some others.

During his lifetime, Del Sarto was viewed as ‘a faultless painter’.   His art was rooted in traditional 15-th century painting and techniques associated with it, but he also masterfully combined them with Leonardo da Vinci’s sfumato (this painting technique means blending the edge between colors in the way that creates soft transitions between light and dark tones), and with Raphael’s compositional harmony in a style which was typical in classical Renaissance paintings.  Del Sarto commenced producing independent work about 1506, but most of his wonderful works were created later.  In the early years of his career, Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo da Pontormo were his pupils.  His awesome works are ‘Portrait of a Sculptor’ (possibly Del Sarto’s self-portrait), ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ dated 1530, and his masterpiece ‘The Last Supper in San Salvi’ produced between 1511-1527.  But his most fabulous masterpiece is the grisaille series of frescoes on the life of St. John the Baptist in the Chiostro dello Scalzo in Florence, which were painted in gray monochrome between 1513 and 1526.

Andrea del Sarto, frescoes in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence

Frescoes by Andrea del Sarto in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence

Andrea del Sarto could also be involved in the development of the French Renaissance, if not for his personal life.  In 1518, the art-loving King François I of France invited the painter to Fontainebleau.  However, the artist’s wife, Lucrezia del Fede, who was left in Florence, sent to him many letters, in which she expressed how much she missed her beloved, begging him to come back.  For her love, Del Sarto sacrificed the popularity he could accomplish in France and returned to Florence just to be reunited with his spouse.  It is interesting that the painter’s wife had posed as a model for his works during the several years preceding their marriage in 1517.

Del Sarto died of bubonic plague in Florence at age of 43 in 1530.   He left a legacy to be treasured and admired, despite the fact that later, he was eclipsed by some of his talented contemporaries.  Nevertheless, the most significant Florentine painters of the first half of the 16th century such as Giorgio Vasari, Jacopo Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino (he worked at François I’s court!), and Francesco Salviati were highly influenced by del Sarto’s style.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2019 Olivia Longueville