ANDREA DEL SARTO (1486-1530)

Charity from Andrea del Sarto's (1486-c.1530) celebrated fresco cycle in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence
pen, brown ink and wash
8 x 4 in. (20.3 x 11 cm.)

Those looking for an art-filled, meditative spot without Florence's summer crowds should visit the Chiostro dello Scalzo, located near the church of San Marco. Within, there are 16 frescoes, 14 of which were created by one of the greatest exponents of the Florentine Mannerist period, Andrea del Sarto (1486-c.1530), known as 'the artist without errors.'

Since the frescoes are almost at to eye-level, visitors can experience the mastery of an artist admired by Michelangelo and emulated by Pontormo. Del Sarto was also teacher to Giorgio Vasari, who later became his biographer, offering both lofty praise and scalding criticism. Though 'faultless', del Sarto lacked the 'fire of Divine Inspiration' that had characterized his Florentine predecessors, Vasari insisted, offering a series of personal vignettes that depict the artist's so-called lack of ambition and constant submission to his 'faithless' and 'vixenish' wife. (Interestingly, del Sarto's wife, Lucrezia del Fede, appeared as his muse in his paintings-often as a Madonna or a female virtue-and her portrait can be found in some of the Chiostro dello Scalzo frescoes.)

Vasari aside, during del Sarto's short lifetime-the artist died at age 43 during an outbreak of the bubonic plague-he produced some of the most noteworthy examples of Florentine Mannerist art, and their elegance is considered matchless. His grey and brown grisaille fresco cycle series in the Chiostro dello Scalzo depicts the virtues Faith, Hope, Justice and Charity and the series depicting the Life of Saint John is truly a hidden gem. Del Sarto started with 'The Baptism of Christ' in 1513 and finished with 'The Birth of the Baptist' in 1526. His technique matured over the course of those years, especially his sculptural clarity, and the architectural setting of his frescoes set a new standard in monumental fresco painting. In general, del Sarto's works were unrivalled at this time owing to his use of colour and his talent for creating atmosphere. These grisaille frescoes, executed in creamy brown-grey shades, are particularly unusual for the modern viewer, recalling sepia-toned photographs.