“The greatest forgotten artist of the Renaissance,” according to J. Paul Getty Museum curator Julian Brooks, Andrea del Sarto was once well-known like Michelangelo and Raphael, and collected by the Medici family and European royalty. Over the years, the Florence-based artist lost favor and fame, but a new exhibit at the Getty aims to resuscitate Del Sarto’s renown and reputation.
Opening June 23, the exhibit, Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action, features 48 drawings and paintings from key art collections and museums worldwide. It includes 18 on loan from the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence, Italy, which owns half of the 180 surviving works by the artist.
Scholars, artists, and collectors have long celebrated Del Sarto’s body of work but not that well known by the general public. The Getty exhibit, which will later move to the Frick Collection in New York City, is hoping to change that and boost his acclaim. That in itself would be interesting, but it is the structure of the exhibit makes it a must see for anyone interested in drawing, painting or design. The exhibit illustrates how the artist achieved his realistic paintings by deconstructing some of his works and showing sketches used to develop them.
Andrea del Sarto, born in 1486 and died in1530 from the plague, once led one of the most successful High Renaissance-period art workshops in Florence, Italy. His works were popular with the Medici family and European rulers. However, del Sarto fell from grace and his fame was eclipsed by his peers from the period, Michelangelo and Raphael (although there is a Robert Browning poem about him).
The artist’s distinctive style emphasizes naturalism. The looks, features and emotions of the characters on his paintings were consistently lauded for being so realistic.
Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum, noted that the exhibit is partly about understanding the roles drawings played in his work and how it played out in his paintings. Del Sarto created rustic looking sketches to develop his work using red chalk for both outlines and shading. The exhibit shows many of those chalk sketches along with the works they helped shape. For example, there is a wall of drawings that relate to a painting in the Prado Museum and show how his plans for the features depicted evolved. There is a sketch of his wife, Lucrezia, whose visage was used in several of his other works disguised as a Madonna (such as in his famous Madonna of the Harpies) or other female figures. There are several studies of babies to figure out how the angels should look on an altar piece he painted.
He drew some nudes to figure out their body positions before putting clothes on them. In a couple of instances, he sketched his peers works to get a feel for how to draw a life-like limb on one of his. The clothes on del Sarto’s works are also remarkable for their realistic draping, which may reflect growing up as a tailor’s son.
The Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action exhibit deconstructs two of his greatest paintings, The Sacrifice of Isaac and the Medici Holy Family, to show how they were made. Using infrared reflectograms, visitors can see beneath the layers of paint to the under-drawings outlining figures that were planned, their positioning that was changed and other aspects that evolved as he painted.
For a Last Supper fresco he painted in a church outside Florence, del Sarto sketched the seated figures behind the table initially without the table to make sure their posture and feet under the table were realistic. This effort to put the humanity in his paintings blurred the distinction between religious works and non-religious works.
The Getty exhibit is the first major one that aims to resuscitate del Sarto’s reputation and place in art history. It will be at the Getty Center in Los Angeles until Sept. 13, 2015, and then at the Frick in N.Y. from Oct 7, 2015, to Jan. 10, 2016.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Exhibition visit June 22, 2015
The Getty Center: Andrea del Sarto, The Renaissance Workshop in Action
Encyclopedia Britannica: Andrea del Sarto
Photos courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum: top photo from the National Gallery in London, and sketch from Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence