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.
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
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…!