Thursday 14 March 2013

Andrea del Sarto.

Andrea del Sarto, Miraculous Cure by Relics of Filippo Benizzi, 1510, Fresco, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

View of the Atrium, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.
According to Vasari, Andrea trained with Piero di Cosimo and the much less well-known artist, Raffaellino del Garbo (Cardi). Though he was aware of Raphael’s art, Andrea used that master’s ideas sparingly and dug deeper into his own resources to produce a sober classical style with a hint of restrained emotion under the rational design. This is evident in his first main commission- the lunette of Filippo Benizzi- where Andrea arranges his figures almost architecturally as a human counterpart to the buildings themselves- a series of geometrical forms is encountered until we reach the final triangle of the priest and mothers. One of Andrea’s co-workers, Francesco Franciabiagio tried to emulate the language of this fresco in his Betrothal of the Virgin, but he was clearly out of his depth. 

Andrea del Sarto, Birth of the Virgin, 1514, Fresco, 413 x 345 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of Mary, 1486-90, Fresco, width 450 cm, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.
 Although such paintings as the Hermitage Madonna and St Catherine imply awareness of Leonardo’s ideas, in the Birth of the Virgin, the model is Ghirlandaio though modified by Andrea’s distilled classicism and elimination of Ghirlandaio’s stylistic idiosyncrasies. Freedberg calls this fresco “mundane” and this seems an accurate description; the figures may seem stately, but they have none of the aristocratic deportment of Ghirlandaio’s figures; a sense of the informal ripples through the scene.  Something of this naturalized classicism is caught in a cartoon of the Baptism of the People; knowledge of the classical canon is tempered by the ease with which the antique is used. And a drawing of the Baptist shows how thoroughly Andrea worked out anatomy, expression which he used to vivify his classical sources. 

Andrea del Sarto, Baptism of the People, 1515-17, Fresco, Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence.

Andrea del Sarto, Study for the Baptism of the People, c. 1515, Red chalk, 314 x 186 mm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Andrea del Sarto, Madonna del Sacco (Madonna with the Sack), 1525, Fresco, 191 x 403 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.

Nicolas Poussin, Holy Family on the Steps, 1648, oil on canvas, 73 x 106 cm, Cleveland Museum of Art.
 It might be said that Andrea del Sarto represents the last gasp of classicism in Florence; his later work after 1520 struggles to hold the standard of antiquity aloft amidst a rising army of mannerist artists like Rosso, Pontormo and Bronzino who sought to trample it underfoot. Perhaps Andrea’s last great statement uniting Florentine naturalism and lucid rational design is his Madonna del Sacco of 1525. Over two centuries later another devotee of naturalised antiquity would turn to a 16th century copy of this painting for inspiration. Poussin’s Holy Family on the Steps in Cleveland is conceived in the spirit of Andrea’s classicism and Raphael’s Holy Families, but it raises theology and painting to the sublime.[1] 

[1] For a discussion of similarities between Poussin and Andrea del Sarto, see Carolyn C. Wilson, St Joseph in Italian Renaissance Society and Art (Philadelphia, 2001), 63-4.

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