Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531) was an Italian painter from Florence, whose career flourished during the High Renaissance and early-Mannerism. Though highly regarded by his contemporaries as an artist "senza errori" (i.e., faultless), he is overshadowed now by equally talented contemporaries like Raphael.
Andrea and an elder friend Franciabigio decided to open a joint studio at a lodging together in the Piazza del Grano. Their first partnership may have been the Baptism of Christ for the Florentine Compagnia dello Scalzo, the beginning of a monochrome fresco series. By the time the partnership was dissolved, Sarto's style bore the stamp of individuality. It "is marked throughout his career by an interest, exceptional among Florentines, in effects of colour and atmosphere and by sophisticated informality and natural expression of emotion"
By 1514 Andrea had finished his last two frescoes, including his masterpiece, the Birth of the Virgin, which fuses the influence of Leonardo, Ghirlandaio and Fra Bartolomeo. 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.
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. Instead, the temptation of having a goodly sum encouraged its expenditure in the building of a house for himself in Florence. This necessarily brought him in conflict with François, who refused to be reingratiated with Andrea. No serious punishment, however, apparently befell the artist.
This last was painted in the autumn of 1524, after Andrea had returned from Luco in Mugello, whence an outbreak of bubonic plague in Florence had driven him and his family. In 1525 he returned to paint in the Annunziata cloister the Madonna del Sacco, a lunette named after a sack against which Joseph is represented propped. In this painting the generous virgin's gown and her gaze indicate his influence on the early style of pupil Pontormo.
His final work at the Scalzo was the Birth of the Baptist (1526). In the following year he completed at S. Salvi, near Florence, a celebrated Last Supper in which all the personages seem to be portraits. It is the last monumental work of importance which Andrea del Sarto lived to execute. He died in 1531 in Florence.
Perhaps the best known painting by Andrea del Sarto is the Madonna of the Harpies, a depiction of the Virgin and child on a pedestal, flanked by angels and two saints (Bonaventure or Francis; and John the Evangelist). Originally completed in 1517 for the convent of San Francesco dei Macci, the altarpiece is displayed in a privileged location in the Uffizi. In an Italy swamped with a tsunami of Madonnas, it would be easy to overlook this work; however, this commonly copied scheme also lends itself to comparison of his style with painters of his century. The figures have a Leonardo-like aura, and the stable pyramid of their composition provides a unified structure. In some ways, his rigid adherence is more classical than Leonardo da Vinci's but less so than Fra Bartolomeo's representations of the Holy Family, but there is an elegance that is lacking in the more sculptural paintings of other contemporaries.
He dwelt in Florence throughout the memorable siege of 1529, 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 22 January 1531, at the comparatively early age of forty-three. He was buried unceremoniously in the church of the Servites. His wife survived her husband by forty years. A number of paintings are considered to be self-portraits. One is in the National Gallery, London, an admirable half-figure, purchased in 1862. Another is at Alnwick Castle, a young man about twenty years, with his elbow on a table. Another youthful portrait is in the Uffizi Gallery, and the Pitti Palace contains more than one.
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; now in the Naples Museum: the original remains at the Pitti. This painting was requested by Federico II Gonzaga, duke of Mantua from Ottaviano de' Medici. Unwilling to part with it, Ottaviano had Andrea to make the copy, and passed it to the duke as the original. So deceptive was the imitation that even Giulio Romano, who had himself manipulated the original to some extent, was completely fooled; 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.
Vasari, however, was highly critical of his teacher, alleging that, though having all the prerequisites of a great artist, he lacked ambition and that divine fire of inspiration which animated the works of his more famous contemporaries, like Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.