"[In 1529] When a mob composed partly of peasants and partly of soldiers…had knocked down much of the church and monastery of San Salvi, when they brought their ruinous work to the place where they saw the refectory, in which a Last Supper was painted by Andrea del Sarto, as if they had lost the use of their arms and tongues all of them, on the instant, halted and fell silent, and full of uncharacteristic astonishment refused to go further with the destruction; for which reason we may still see today – admired the more by the most cultured people – one of the most beautiful paintings in the universe."
- Vasari, 1550
Andrea del Sarto, a leading artist in Renaissance Florence, developed a richly coloured, poetic art. His naturalistic, emotionally expressive religious paintings and portraits anticipated Mannerism, and inspired artists of the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Initially apprenticed to a goldsmith Sarto later trained with the great Piero di Cosimo, who influenced del Sarto’s early work. Later models included Michelangelo, Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo and Perugino, as well as prints by Northern artists, especially Albrecht Dürer. Sarto sometimes collaborated with his pupils Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, and his close friend Jacopo Sansovino. His innovative art was collected by Italian and foreign collectors, including King François I of France. Sarto visited Rome c. 1511. Contemporary artists emulated Sarto’s practice of planning his paintings through compositional drawings and figure studies, many of which survive. Restorations of works like his altarpiece The Disputation on the Trinity (c. 1518; Florence, Pitti Palace) have revealed Sarto’s brilliant colours and experimental approach to artmaking.
Andrea del Sarto, named for the trade of his father, a tailor (‘sarto’), registered as a master painter in Florence’s painter’s guild in 1508. He worked for religious orders and private collectors, sharing a studio with the painter Franciabigio. His paintings and frescoes combine glowing colours, humanity and great dignity (Birth of the Virgin, 1513-14; Florence, SS. Annunziata). He liked to use family members as models, including his wife Lucrezia del Fede. In 1518, Sarto was invited by King François I to France, where he produced Charity (1518; Paris, Louvre) before returning to Florence in 1519. Influenced by Michelangelo’s and Leonardo’s frescoes, del Sarto painted larger-scale works from the 1520s, culminating in his monumental, brilliantly coloured Last Supper (1526-27) in the refectory of S. Salvi. He worked on through the siege of Florence (1530), until he died of plague.