One of the Florentine artists that ushered in the naturalistic reformation into the High Renaissance was Andrea Del Sarto. And this reformation in the way Italian artists have been painting during the said period gave birth to a new style called Mannerism. Sarto was well regarded by his unique and individual style of unconventional interpretation of his chosen subjects. As a result, his paintings affect a more striking human emotion combined with a sophisticated ambiance.
However successful Sarto’s career went, he was still overshadowed by Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci mainly because he was less ambitious in his goals. Good thing he was able to establish his own painting style that separated him among the others. Sarto was the acclaimed painter of Madonna of the Harpies, Julius Caesar, Pieta and Holy Family with St. Peter Martyr.
Born with a given name Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on July 16, 1486 in Florence, Sarto was a son of a tailor. He adopted the surname Sarto because of the profession of his father but it was also reported that he once used Vannucchi as his surname.
At a young age, he entered the goldsmith studio of Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522) and Rafaellino del Garbo (1466-1524) as a wood carver and assistant. He then joined the company of his good friend, Franciabigio (1482-1525), to complete a series of frescoes for the Compagnia dello Scalzo entitled Baptism of Christ. This particular project allowed him to demonstrate his individualistic style that would soon emerge as his significant contribution to the development of Mannerism in Florence.
Sarto’s collaboration with Franciabigio was soon followed on, but this time, they had been accompanied by Andrea Feltrini. Altogether, they did paintings for the Santissima Annunziata di Firenze in the city of Florence. Sarto was mainly responsible for doing three frescoes that illustrated the life of Filippo Benizzi, who was a martyr and saint that died in 1285. He painted this fresco in the portico of the monastery.
This Filippo Benizzi frescoes were well-received by their Church patrons, particularly the Brotherhood of the Servites Order. The Servites Order then claimed Sarto as the perfect one or senza errori. The painter was re-hired by his previous patron to continue another series of frescoes about the death of S. Filippo this time. The said Saint was celebrated for his miraculous works like when he treated sick children by touching his clothing. This fresco series consisted of 5 parts that Sarto complete in 1510.
After completing the abovementioned frescoes, he was engaged yet again to paint a couple of wall paintings for the center hall of the Annunziata and it depicted a Procession of the Magi which he finished in 1511. This was followed by his painting of an Annunciation for the monastery of S. Gallo and another painting entitled Marriage of Saint Catherine in Dresden.
Master-painters Giorlandaio and Fra Bartolomeo also influenced Sarto in painting a Birth of the Virgin fresco. This became one of his masterpieces in 1514 that gave fame to his name. In fact, in 1515, he had been one of the most in demand fresco painters in Florence with successful stints he completed at Scalzo, for which he painted the Allegory of Justice, Baptist Preaching in the Desert and the 1517 painting John Baptizing.
In 1517, he crafted what had been one of the greatest Madonna-inspired visual art creations of his time – the Madonna of the Harpies. This Madonna painting was executed for the Convent of San Francesco dei Macci as an altarpiece, which today can be found in the Uffizi Gallery. Sarto draw an image of the Madonna with child standing on a pedestal, bordered by John the Evangelist and Francis and two angels are at her feet clinging on to her. The pedestal on which the Madonna was standing upon is adorned with feminine figures called as harpies.
Madonna of the Harpies is reminiscent to Leonardo’s female figures and the overall ambiance of the painting. It is possible that Sarto is strictly classical in executing his style because of the painting’s obvious sophistication, depth and austereness that was not common at the time because painters have outgrown the classics and instead evoke some grace, charm and sweetness in their own Madonnas.
Similar to Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto also had an international client in King Francois I. He was summoned by Francois I in 1518 to do some paintings for him in Paris. The said King took notice of Sarto’s creations after seeing his Pieta (1516) and a Madonna painting that was shipped to the King’s court.
However, although Sarto obliged to the request of the king, he must have longed for his family back home that he wanted to move back to Italy immediately. Francois granted Sarto’s request to go back to Italy and take a leave for a short while so the king had given him a lump sum of money to purchase some art works for the French court. However, Sarto made a decision on his own to take all the money to buy a house in Florence and inevitably this tarnished his reputation and banned him in France.
Sarto resumed to his usual business in Florence in 1520. There, he once again painted religious subjects like the Faith and Charity in Baptist and the Apparition of the Angel to Zacharias. In 1523, he created a prototype of Raphael’s portraits of Pope Leo X, which is now being kept by Naples Museum. This work was commissioned by Ottaviano de Medici because he was reluctant in giving the original portraits to the Duke of Mantua. Thus, he employed Sarto to paint copies which will be sent to the Duke as the original ones.
Sarto made an elaborate painting of the portraits yet remained faithful to the original copy. He had done an excellent prototyping job that even Master Giulio Romano was deceived by its sheer brilliance. Vasari, who knew of the history of the portraits, explained it to Romano by pointing out a mark on the material that isn’t present on the original copy.
On December 26, 1512, Andrea del Sarto had begun his marital life with Lucrezia del Fede. His wife became his inspirations on several of his paintings, particularly as a Madonna. And then the inevitable happened in around 1530-1531 when Sarto fell ill due to the Bubonic Plague that raged in Florence. His remains were buried in the Brotherhood of the Servites Order monastery at the same year.
During the times when Sarto had been suffering from the plague, his wife paid little care and attention to his condition according to Giorgio Vasari. It could be the fact that the plague was contagious that prompted Lucrezia to get in physical contact with her husband. Apparently, this seemed to be case as she lived 40 years longer after Andrea del Sarto died.