Thursday, October 8, 2015


This autumn, The Frick Collection celebrates the Italian master with Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action, the first major U.S. monographic exhibition devoted to his art, centering on his creative process October 7, 2015, through January 10, 2016.

This exhibition was organized with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, where it has run as a summer show.

Andrea d’Agnolo (1486–1530), called Andrea del Sarto after his father’s profession as a tailor (sarto), transformed sixteenth-century Florence through his art and influence. Through his large and prolific workshop, one of the most significant of the age, he enriched his native city with portraits, altarpieces, and fresco paintings. Drawings were at the core of his working process. Produced primarily in red and black chalks, his vibrant figure studies, energetic compositional drawings, and masterful head studies display the range of his talents as a draftsman and the complex roles that drawing played in developing his paintings. 

The exhibition will feature forty-five drawings and three paintings from international collections and will offer an unprecedented look inside the creative production of one of the most influential figures in Italian Renaissance art. 

Running almost concurrently with the Frick’s exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a three-painting focused exhibition, Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Holy Family, on view October 14, 2015, through January 10, 2016 (see below). 


Andrea spent the majority of his career in Florence, where he was born in 1486 and died of the plague forty-four years later. According to Giorgio Vasari, his former pupil and the author of the Lives of the Artists, he trained first under a goldsmith,then with artist Andrea di Salvi Barile before moving on to the studio of Piero di Cosimo, who was well known for his imaginative and eccentric style. 

By 1510, Andrea was practicing as an independent master, executing fresco paintings at major public sites. His workshop became the most highly esteemed in Florence, attracting talented young artists including Jacopo Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, and Vasari. 

The artist was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo, and a number of sixteenth-century texts name him among the defining artists of the Renaissance. In subsequent centuries, however, his status and the popularity of his art waned. This decline may be attributed in part to the somewhat derisive biography written by Vasari. While praising Andrea’s work as “senza errori (without errors),” Vasari also criticizes him as weak, lacking boldness in his person and art. He even suggests that Andrea would have surpassed Raphael in his accomplishments had it not been for Andrea’s excessive love for his wife, which, Vasari claims, led to missed opportunities and caused him to use her features repeatedly in his art (a practice Vasari frowned on). Although recent documentary investigation of Andrea and his family has proven Vasari’s characterization inaccurate, it persisted for centuries.  


Almost two hundred drawings by Andrea are known today. While it is notoriously difficult to reconstruct the inner workings of a Renaissance studio—the delegation of labor, specifics of training, and involvement of the master—it is certain that, in Andrea’s as in others, assistants relied on the master’s designs when executing painting projects. Drawings were therefore the heart of the workshop. The forty-five autograph drawings included in the Frick’s exhibition span the entirety of Andrea’s career. 

Compositional sheets, figural studies, and detailed drawings of heads, hands, and other body parts trace the creative process of the artist as he moved from paper to canvas or panel and back again. It was also not uncommon for him to reuse drawings for more than one project. Andrea’s drawings reveal his analytic and imaginative strengths and show his experimental approach to chalk as a medium, exploiting the effects of wetting the tip before applying it to paper, going over a broad area of chalk with a wet brush, stumping (rubbing with an instrument), and combining black and red chalks on the same sheet.

Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, ca. 1520 Red chalk 8 7/16 x 7 1/4 inches The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, partial and promised gift of Mr. and Mrs. David M. Tobey ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

The exquisite Study for the Head of Julius Caesar is an example of his most refined application of chalk. Combining hatching and rubbing, possibly using the wetted tip of a sharpened piece of chalk, the artist marshals the medium to create nuances of light and shade and expressive contours, establishing the virility and strength of the figure through an elegant classical profile. 

The drawing prepares the head of Julius Caesar in Andrea’s monumental fresco  

Tribute to Caesar  

 at the Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano, and its highly finished state attests to the enormous amount of preparation that Andrea invested in the painting, which includes more than two dozen figures. Several additional preparatory sheets for this project survive (two others are in the exhibition) and show the range of drawings, from rough to highly finished, which he employed to achieve his final production. 


In comparison to figural studies, relatively few of Andrea’s compositional sheets survive. These drawings, which map the placement of figures in space, document him thinking through the challenges of pictorial storytelling. 

The Composition Study for the Birth of Saint John the Baptist prepares a fresco in Florence’s Chiostro dello Scalzo, which takes its name from the ritualistic barefoot (“scalzo”) processions of the resident brotherhood of St.John the Baptist. Considered one of the major narrative fresco cycles of the Renaissance in Florence, the decorative program and twelve scenes for this commission illustrating the life of the saint engaged Andrea off and on for about fifteen years, probably between 1510 and 1526. This sheet, the only compositional study related to the cycle known to survive, depicts the episode described in Luke 1:59–64, in which the newborn’s father, Zacharias (shown at far right), who had been struck mute for his disbelief, names his son. Unable to speak, he writes on a tablet “His name is John,” the name decreed to him by the angel Gabriel, and immediately regains his voice. Exploring the possibilities of achieving narrative legibility through graceful and varied forms, Andrea altered many aspects of the drawn composition in the painting. Most obviously, in the fresco he has swathed the long, slender bodies in drapery, following the Renaissance convention of depicting figures nude (or partially nude) in preparatory sketches. The figures’ interactions have also been modified in minute but powerful ways: for example, while in the drawing Elizabeth (in bed) faces the nurse in order to receive her son, in the fresco she turns to address the miraculous event of his naming.  


The Birth of the Baptist compositional study was certainly accompanied by now-lost drawings studying individual figures, similar to that of the  

Study of a Kneeling Figure, which was produced in preparation for 

the altarpiece known as the Panciatichi Assumption (Palazzo Pitti, Florence). This vibrant sheet offers a view inside Andrea’s workshop, in which his studio assistants, called garzoni, often served as ready models.

 Like the figures in the Composition Study for the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, this figure (which becomes an apostle in the altarpiece) is drawn unclothed despite its being a study for a heavily draped figure. Careful articulation of musculature reveals Andrea’s power of observation and suggests that he sought to understand the anatomical mechanics of a pose even if the final figure was to be clothed. At the same time, he is selective in his focus: here, he concentrates on the back, buttocks, and right arm and leg, leaving the left hand, feet, and face unarticulated. By capturing live models in this way, he activates his paintings, infusing his sacred and secular dramas with a deeply human character. If the Study of a Kneeling Figure neglects hands and feet, other sheets make them their sole focus. 

With meticulous attention to the folds, bulges, and pull of skin over bone, Studies of Hands with its masterful play of highlight, shadow, and reflected light, evokes Vasari’s praise of Andrea as a pittore senza errori, a faultless painter. Here he depicts what are most likely the hands of a saint, with a book in one hand and an unidentifiable attribute in the other. Although its connection to a painting has not been firmly established (perhaps because the project it prepared was destroyed or abandoned before completion), the drawing must have been valued within the workshop as an exemplary study of human hands, as evidenced by the very fact of its survival. 

Andrea’s most arresting graphic expressions are his head studies, which seem to probe beyond the physical body to its emotional core. Much more than presenting likeness, Andrea’s head studies explore the expressiveness of the human face in sometimes breathtaking complexity. In the  

Study for the Head of Saint John the Baptist

for example, Andrea endows the face of his model with a combination of youthfulness and gravity. One wonders about the identity of this adolescent, whose disheveled hair the artist renders playfully and whose cleft chin was so carefully observed. The boy’s askance look and slightly furrowed brow seem to betray the self-consciousness of one instructed to pose for an artist who visually devours his features. 


The exhibition offers the rare opportunity to see related works together, some for the first time in centuries. One such instance is the reunion, in the Frick’s Oval Room, of the Study for the Head of Saint John the Baptist (above) with 

 Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1523 Oil on panel 37 x 26 3/4 inches Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

the finished work from the Palazzo Pitti. Surrounded by darkness evocative of the desert where he sought solitude, the saint is depicted with a camel skin tied over his shoulders and around his hips. A bright red cloak highlights his luminous flesh. His sensuous torso—which recalls Michelangelo’s David, perhaps Florence’s most famous torso—reminds us that carnal desire was central to the saint’s story and the cause of his martyrdom. King Herod’s wife, Herodias, scorned by the Baptist, schemed with her daughter Salomé to seduce the king and bring about John’s death. When viewing the painting together with its head study, which shares the same scale, the human aspect of the picture emerges; the drawing prompts us to remember that the idealized sacred figure in the painting was based on a body of flesh and blood. 

Andrea modified the face he studied on paper, lifting the saint’s gaze upward, as if John were addressing the divine over the earthly. As Denise Allen suggests in the catalogue to the exhibition, the artist presents the Baptist as he is described at the opening of the Gospel of John: as witness to the light of Christ. 

A suite of drawings that explore a figure looking over his shoulder prepares Andrea’s most famous portrait, the 

 Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Portrait of a Young Man, ca. 1517–18 Oil on canvas 28 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches National Gallery, London © The National Gallery, London

Portrait of a Young Man from the National Gallery in London. Long believed to be a self-portrait, it has evaded definite identification. The sitter holds what appears to be an open book, a common attribute that may refer to his intellect, humanist interests, or profession. In the Study of a Young Man—one of two related drawings in the exhibition—a small but forceful impression of red chalk representing the sitter’s left eye conveys the intensity of his gaze. Energetic strokes of chalk establish his confidence as he turns to confront the viewer’s eye. The kinetic pose echoes Andrea’s swift handling of chalk. In the painting, the sitter’s garments are a tour de force of painterly effects, the blue fabric of his sleeve rippling as he rests his elbow on the arm of a chair and his white camicia(undershirt)bunching up around the neckline of the vest, bringing to mind Andrea’s name, del Sarto,“of the tailor.” His monogram (two As, for Andrea d’Agnolo) appears in the field at left, eye level to the subject. If the sitter’s identity remains elusive, the artist makes his own name known. 


This lavishly illustrated book, by Getty Publications, reveals Andrea del Sarto’s dazzling inventiveness and creative process, presenting fifty core drawings on paper together with a handful of paintings. The first publication to focus on Andrea’s working practice through a close examination of his art from the world’s major collections, this volume analyzes new studies of his panel underdrawings as well. The depth and breadth of its research make this book an important contribution to the study of Andrea and Florentine Renaissance workshop practice. Authors are Julian Brooks, curator in the Department of Drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum; Denise Allen, former curator of Renaissance paintings and sculpture at The Frick Collection, New York (now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art); and Xavier F. Salomon, the Frick’sPeter Jay Sharp Chief Curator. The book (ISBN 978-1-60606-438-2, hardcover, 9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches, 264 pages, 123 color and 9 black and white illustrations.

Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Holy Family

Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Holy Family, a focused exhibition that will present new findings on the Metropolitan Museum’s 

Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist

one of the Museum’s greatest works of the Italian Renaissance, will open on October 14. The Metropolitan’s painting will be shown alongside  

Charity (before 1530), 

a closely related panel that will be on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Both paintings were probably generated from the same cartoon and the exhibition will allow visitors to follow the artist’s approach as he moved from drawings on paper to the preparatory underdrawing on the panel, and then to the final painting, emphasizing the crucial role of drawings and cartoons in his workshop. The exhibition will complement Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action, a more extensive survey of the artist’s work that will be on view at The Frick Collection at the same time.

Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was one of the most influential artist’s active in Florence in the first decades of the 16th century. He painted the grand Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist around 1528 for Giovanni Borgherini, who was prominent during the city’s tumultuous, brief-lived Republic, before the Medici family re-established their rule. The imagery of Christ sharing the orb with his cousin Saint John the Baptist, Florence’s patron saint, was symbolic for the Republican government. Recent technical examination and conservation of the painting has revealed the masterful underdrawing of the figures and the brilliant, sumptuous color that led Sarto to be known as “the painter without defects.” The exhibition will examine Sarto’s decision to use this composition as the basis of a painting, probably meant as a gift to the French king, whose subject matter was later changed to Charity. 

More images from the Frick Exhibition:

   Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Drapery Study, ca. 1517 Red chalk 11 × 6 inches The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study of the Head of an Old Man in Profile, ca. 1520 Red chalk 9 7⁄16 × 10 7⁄8 inches Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin Photo credit: bpk, Berlin / Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany / Photo: Volker-H. Schneider / Art Resource, NY

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study of the Head of a Woman, ca. 1525 Black chalk 5 3⁄16 × 4 5⁄16 inches Musée du Louvre, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo: Stephane Marechalle

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Head of Leonardo di Lorenzo Morelli, 1512 Black chalk 12 3/8 x 9 5/8 inches Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) The Madonna and Child with Saint John, ca. 1516–17 Red chalk 12 3/8 x 9 3/16 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study of a Woman, ca. 1517–25 Red chalk 9 1/2 x 7 15/16 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands, and Drapery, ca. 1522 Red and black chalks 10 3/16 x 7 15/16 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Studies of Children, and of a Left Hand, 1522–26 Red chalk 7 13/16 x 9 3/4 inches The British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study for the Head of Saint Joseph, ca. 1526–27 Red and black chalks 14 11/16 x 8 11/16 inches Private collection

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study of a Bearded Man in Profile, ca. 1526–27 Black chalk, possibly with gray wash 8 9/16 x 7 1/8 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Studies of Figures Seated and Standing Behind a Table, ca. 1526–27 Red chalk 10 1/16 x 14 5/16 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Studies of the Head of an Infant, ca. 1522 Red chalk 9 3/4 x 7 1/4 inches Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence By permission of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Head of a Man Looking Up, ca. 1527 Black chalk, with later red-chalk additions 9 3/4 × 6 15/16 inches Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

·         Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) Study of the Head of an Old Woman, ca. 1529 Red chalk 9 13/16 × 7 5/16 inches Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford