This celebrated painter of the Florentine school was born in 1487 (or perhaps 1486), by Agnolo, a tailor (sarto), hence the surname. There were four other children. The family, though of no distinction, can be traced back into the 14th century.
Since 1677 he has been constantly attributed the surname Vannucchi -according to some modern writers without any authority. The true name was the long one above recalled, following one of the Florentine naming conventions.
In 1494 Andrea was put to work under a goldsmith, an 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 Franciabigio, 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," 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 Servites employed Andrea, as well as Franciabigio and Andrea Feltrini, the first- named undertaking in the portico of the Annunziata three frescoes illustrating the life of the Servite saint Filippo Benizzi (d. 1285).
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 aa 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 S. Filippo and the children cured by touching his garment, - all the five works being completed before the close of 1510.
Michelangelo's Sixtine Chapel frescoes 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 Servites engaged him to do two more frescoes in the Annunziata at a higher price; he also painted, towards 1512, an Annunciation in the monastery of S. Gallo.
Andrea 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 he had little vocation.
He led a social 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, Franciabigio 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 Frogs and Mice" - 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 of Recanati; the hatter dying opportunely, Andrea married her on the 26th of 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.
Giorgio 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 husband forty years.
By 1514 Andrea had finished his last two frescoes in the court of the Servites, than which none of his works was more admired - the "Nativity of the Virgin," which shows the influence of Leonardo, Domenico Ghirlandajo and Fra Bartolommeo, in effective fusion, and the "Procession of the Magi," intended as an amplification of a work by Alessio 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 Florence. 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 the 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 bubonic 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 Servites; this picture (named after a sack against which Joseph is represented propped) is generally accounted his masterpiece.
His final work at the Scalzo was the "Birth of the Baptist" (1526), 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 he died, no one knowing much about it at the moment, on the 22nd of January 1531, at the comparatively early age of forty-three.
He was buried unceremoniously in the church of the Servites.
Various portraits painted by Andrea are regarded as likenesses of himself, but this is not free from some doubt. One is in London, in the 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 ( how can this be? Panshanger was demolished in the i950's!! So where is the painting? ) 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:
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 Pope 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 Frederick II Gonzaga, duke 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 he 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 Albrecht Dürer. 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; Jacopo Carrucci (better known as Pontormo) and Domenico Puligo may be mentioned.
In this account of Andrea del Sarto the main lines of the narrative of Crowe and Cavalcaselle, supplemented by Vasari, Lanzi and others were followed. There are biographies by Biadi (1829), by von Reumont (1831), by Baumann (1878), and by Guinness (1899).