After the sack of Rome of 1527, the Florentine overthrew to the ruling Medici family and established a short-lived Republic.

By Costanza Beltrami

After the sack of Rome of 1527, the Florentine overthrew to the ruling Medici family and established a short-lived Republic. As the Italian Wars continued, Florence was abandoned by its allies. Besieged by the army of Emperor Charles V, the city surrendered on 10 August 1530. Two days later, on 12 August 1530, a plague epidemic broke out in the city. Among those killed by the sickness was Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto.

Born in Florence between 1486 and 1488, Andrea was the son of a master tailor, sarto in Italian. His talent for drawing was immediately evident, and led him to the workshop of Piero di Cosimo, where he copied artworks by Masaccio, Ghirlandaio, Leonardo da Vinciand Michelangelo. His power of observation and careful technique soon earned him the nickname Senza Errori, ‘without mistakes.’

After finishing his apprenticeship, Andrea set up a workshop with his colleague Franciabigio, a talented portrait painter. Yet Andrea established his reputation with an independent project, a cycle of frescoes depicting The Life of St Philip Benizi in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata (1509). In 1511 he received his first major commission, the decoration of the Cloister of the Scalzi with sixteen frescoes in chiaroscuro, later completed by Franciabigio.

While painting the Cloister, Andrea was summoned to France by King François I, who wished him to become a court painter. Working at the royal court meant a privileged position, high salary, and generous presents; nevertheless, Andrea was initially reluctant to leave Florence as he had recently married a beautiful widow, Lucrezia de Fede. The King eventually persuaded him to move to Paris, but a letter from Lucrezia drew him back after less than one year. Unwillingly, the King let him leave in 1519, entrusting him with a large sum of money to buy artworks in Florence.  

Rather than buying paintings for the royal collections and preparing his return to France, Andrea squandered the king’s money. His situation worsened with the political revolution of 1527, which caused his patrons and protectors to loose power or leave the city. Destitute and tormented by extreme jealousy for his wife, poor Andrea sickened and died alone. Even his pupil Giorgio Vasari was cold in assessing his abilities, writing in the Lives that Andrea could have been ‘truly divine in painting’ had he not lacked the ‘glowing ardor,’ ‘boldness,’ ‘adornments,’ ‘grandeur’ and ‘abundance of manners’ which so many other painters possess.


Reference: SARTO, Andrea del.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/benezit/B00161069.

Self-portrait, oil on wood, 47 x 34 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Birth of the Virgin, 1514, fresco, 413 x 345 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Journey of the Magi, 1511, fresco, 360 x 305 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Punishment of the Gamblers, 1510, fresco, 360 x 300 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence.Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Baptism of the People, 1515-17, fresco, Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Portrait of a Woman with a Basket of Spindles, c. 1517, oil on wood, 76 x 54 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Christ the Redeemer, oil on wood, 47 x 27 cm, Santissima Annunziata, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Charity, 1518, oil on canvas (transferred), 185 x 137 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Head of a Man in Profile Facing Left, before 1517, charcoal on paper, 369 x 242 mm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

Madonna della Scala, 1522-23, oil on panel, 177 x 135 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

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