I have been in London this week with a friend who wanted to see as much as our National Gallery had to offer – which essentially meant that we spent the day there – naturally we saw many famous and wonderful images but the one which really struck me forcefully was the Portrait of a Young Man by Florentine favourite Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore – better known as Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530)- shown below.

Portrait of a Young Man

Andrea del Sarto Portrait of a Young Man NG690 The National Gallery, London

Typical of  this tailor’s son enigmatic work there is an unanswered question – in this case as simple as – who was this beautiful sad faced man?

According to the National Gallery guide he was previously thought to represent a sculptor, as he seems to be holding a block of stone, but the jury is still out on this because given his studious clothing the object in his hands is much more likely to be a book.

The portrait was originally believed to have been a self-portrait, then later believed to be of Giovan Battista Puccini, who is known to have been a patron of Andrea del Sarto on other occasions. However in 1517 when it  was painted this Puccini  (born 1463) would have been 54 – so not so Giovan Puccini was wearing well – or paid well for flattery – as the sitter appears to be a much younger man.

Another recent painting by contemporary artist Massimo Tizzano  suggests that the sitter could have been Paolo da Terrarossa, who was another known patron of Sarto, because his family was involved in the manufacture of bricks (perhaps the object held by this man is a brick but it looks more like marble to me!).

In 1517, when the original was painted, Andrea del Sarto was the leading painter in Florence , with a flourishing studio that included only marginally younger artists Pontorno and Rosso Fiorentino . Their work is currently on display in a marvellous exhibition at the Strozzi Palace – “Divergent ways of The Manner”  ( more of that later this month!). The most well known of his followers would have been Jacopo Pontormo, but also included Francesco Salviati and Jacopino del Conte.

Portraiture had become very much in vogue, valued as an art form in itself – not just pictures cunningly placed in a Nativity scene or Journey of the Magi, people now felt confident to be themselves the subject of the painting  as opposed  to being an ‘extra’ in a religious painting .

Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper shown below covers both bases as he includes himself and wife Lucrezia as servants, on the balcony overlooking the unfolding scene of astonishment as Christ announces than one of the disciples will shortly betray him.

Andrea del Sarto painted many other portraits of his beautiful wife Lucrezia , both within religious paintings, such as his famous Last Supper   and in The Madonna of the Harpies – but he also painted her simply for the pleasure of gazing on her as a beautiful woman,  as shown below

Portrait of the Artist's Wife by Andrea Del Sarto (1486-1530, Italy)

According to Vasari in his Lives of the Artist Lucrezia was the ultimate “Harpie” (scold) and he considered it unforgivable that she did not go to comfort her husband when he was dying of the highly contagious Bubonic plague – Robert Browning took up the same theme about her quarrelsome nature in his poem about the couple – very likely true –    but she was perhaps wise not to visit him as having survived the epidemic she out-lived her husband by 40 years!


Suggested reading :

John Shearman’s classic Andrea del Sarto. 1965

Robert Browning’s Poem  – part of which reproduced here to tempt you to read on…!


BUT do not let us quarrel any more,                              
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I’ll work then for your friend’s friend, never fear,         5
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I’ll content him,—but to-morrow, Love!         10
I often am much wearier than you think,
This evening more than usual, and it seems
As if—forgive now—should you let me sit
Here by the window with your hand in mine
And look a half-hour forth on Fiesole,         15
Both of one mind, as married people use,
Quietly, quietly the evening through,
I might get up to-morrow to my work
Cheerful and fresh as ever. Let us try.
To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!         20
Your soft hand is a woman of itself,
And mine the man’s bared breast she curls inside.
Don’t count the time lost, neither; you must serve
For each of the five pictures we require:
It saves a model. So! keep looking so—         25
My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds!
—How could you ever prick those perfect ears,
Even to put the pearl there! oh, so sweet—
My face, my moon, my everybody’s moon,
Which everybody looks on and calls his,         30
And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn,
While she looks—no one’s: very dear, no less.
You smile? why, there’s my picture ready made,
There’s what we painters call our harmony!
A common grayness silvers everything,—         35
All in a twilight, you and I alike
—You, at the point of your first pride in me
(That’s gone you know),—but I, at every point;
My youth, my hope, my art, being