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Sunday, October 25, 2015

VANNUCCHIANA -- Andrea d'Agnololo --


“The Holy Family With the Young Saint John the Baptist” by Andrea del Sarto, whose work is being shown in exhibitions at the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The art world hasn’t changed much in 500 years.

In 16th-century FIRENZE, as in 21st-century New York, hard work and gossip went hand in hand.

Giorgio Vasari, a painter of midrange talent and major ambition, put gossip in print in his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects,” a spicy mix of praise and dish.

One of his longest and most equivocating bios was of one of his teachers, Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530).

As an artist, Vasari wrote, he was “free from errors, and absolutely perfect in every respect.” But in life he was a loser, humble to a fault, devoted to a bossy wife and — most damning — a sloppy dresser.
It’s the absolutely perfect artist, with possible hints of an insecure one, that we meet in “Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action” at the Frick Collection.

In this first major solo show of his art in the United States, and in a small concurrent one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, del Sarto comes across as having an angel’s hand, a scientist’s eye and a self-punishing striver’s drive to keep trying, trying, trying to get good at what he does.

In “Charity,” the Virgin Mary in the painting becomes the embodiment of the title, and offers her breast to three infants. Samuel H. Kress Collection

The Frick show, a collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, has 45 drawings and three paintings that together cover del Sarto’s career.

Born Andrea d’Agnolo, he was the son of a tailor – “sarto,” in Italian — and as a teenager he was a favored student of the Renaissance master Piero di Cosimo.

He absorbed his teacher’s smooth but detailed way with religious painting, and paid admiring, imitative attention to other Florentine art, such as Michelangelo’s “David” and Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished Palazzo Vecchio mural.
Like other on-track artists, del Sarto followed these two titans to Rome, but he soon high-tailed it back to Florence.

A sojourn in France in 1518 was similarly tentative. By this time, he had married a wealthy widow, Lucrezia del Fede, whom he seems to have adored; she is almost certainly the model for more than one drawing in the show.

He was a homebody.

Florence was home.

There he opened a high-volume workshop and counted among his assistants, along with Vasari, eccentric and prickly talents like Jacopo Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, who might have had problems elsewhere, but with him did fine.

Del Sarto’s studies of the head of St. John the Baptist.CreditNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Woodner Collection

The earliest entry in the Frick’s show, an ink wash, “Madonna and Child With Four Saints”from around 1509, is the least typical del Sarto. With its foursquare composition and finicky polish, it’s 15th century in style, though he was soon leaping into the 16th, with a loosened-up touch and a preference for chalk, usually red, sometimes black, always fluid, malleable and correctable, as a medium.
Fluidity was crucial. Del Sarto was an experimenter, a reviser, a compulsive self-editor, the equivalent of a writer who keeps changing copy right up to deadline, right up to print, in an effort to, for once, get the writing right, meaning clear of all trace of effort. With del Sarto the process is sometimes invisible.

Installed in the Frick’s first-floor Oval Room, and on loan from the Palazzo Pitti, is the artist’s half-length painting of John the Baptist from around 1523.

Displayed with it is a preparatory drawing for the picture, of just the Baptist’s head, done in black chalk.

The step between the two is short.

The painting has the advantage of brilliant color, with a red cloak framing the saint’s ivory-white torso, but the two depictions of his face are equally finished and sensuous.

“St. John the Baptist.”CreditPalazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina, Florence

Also in the room is one of the artist’s most familiar images, “Portrait of a Young Man,” from the National Gallery in London.

Done around 1517-18, it was once, though no longer, taken for a self-portrait.

Shown with it are two tiny red chalk drawings from the Uffizi collection, thought to be studies for the picture. Each is very different from the other, and two are possibly among dozens of workshop sketches the artist made, maybe on one large sheet of paper, maybe in front of this sitter, before arriving at the unforgettable glance-over-the-shoulder pose in the painting.
The real workshop business, though, is in progress downstairs in the Frick’s two lower galleries, which are filled with drawings.

Here we see complete and elaborate narrative scenes — an “Adoration of the Magi” — dashed off so fast as to have stick figures inserted as placeholders. More often we see fragments, pieces of paintings under development.

Del Sarto’s studies of the head of an infant.J. Paul Getty -- Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence

Del Sarto’s “Madonna of the Steps,” too fragile to travel from the Prado, appears here in the form of sketched details: images of piled drapery, of nude bodies (studio staff was no doubt recruited to pose), of detached feet and hands (including a tarantulalike set of fingers) and of a sweet child’s head, with another half-visible, like a mirage, behind it.

Some or all, further tweaked, then transplanted, will end up in a painting — or paintings — of seamless grace.
The Frick curator, Aimee Ng, has placed these and other compositional studies in one gallery.

She has devoted the other mainly to single-figure studies by an artist who, in depicting faces, basically erased the line between reality and fiction.

You see this first-hand in the red-chalk head of a grave woman (inset right, “Head of a Young Woman,” a study), with downcast eyes and loosened hair from around 1523.

It served as a model for a painted Mary Magdalene, but it also well may be — as the splendid catalog, edited by the show’s Getty curator, Julian Brooks, suggests — a likeness of Lucrezia’s younger sister, Maria del Fede.

“Head of a Young Woman,” a study.Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence

Either way, with its exquisitely weighted lines, it’s a stand-alone, perfect thing.

Owners and viewers over five centuries must have thought so too.

It’s one of the 180 or so drawings known to have survived of hundreds or thousands that this prolific and relentless revisionist must have turned out, worn out with handling, and thrown out in a labor-intensive life.
A sense of that hands-on labor is at the Met in “Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Holy Family,” which focuses on two closely related large paintings.

One, “The Holy Family With the Young Saint John the Baptist,” is in the Met’s collection; the other, “Charity,” is from the National Gallery in Washington.

Both date to 1528 or 1529, the end of the artist’s career. Although they have different themes, their compositions are closely related, more so than the eye can see.

Recent imaging technology has revealed that “Charity” is literally based on “The Holy Family,” a version of which is sketched underneath it. The technology also records, stroke by exploratory stroke, how del Sarto transformed the Virgin into a breast-baring Charity, and Jesus, St. John and St. Joseph into her squirming offspring.

Studies of arms, legs, hands and a cloak by Andrea del Sarto.Galleria degli Uffizi, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, Florence

The curators of the Met’s show, Andrea Bayer and Michael Gallagher, post print-outs of this sub-cutaneous activity, which give a graphic idea of how complex, in action and thought, del Sarto’s easy-looking art is.

They also set his work in an art-world-meets-real-world context.,
Both paintings were done in or around the brief period when Florence had expelled the oppressive Medici regime and declared itself a republic. De Sarto had close Republican ties.

He may have intended “Charity” as a gift to the French court, which, the hope was, would support the city. But when, after a brutal siege, the Medici returned to power, the painting stayed in the artist’s studio. It was there when he died in an outbreak of the plague, at age 44, trying hard to improve “little by little,” as Vasari writes, to the last.
Vasari delivers this patronizing note near the conclusion of his account of del Sarto’s life.

There he also takes final swipes at Lucrezia, puts the artist down yet again for lacking gumption, art-world savvy and personal force; and finally allows that none of that actually prevents del Sarto from being seen as “most rare, or from being held in very great account, and that rightly, since he was one of the best and greatest masters who have lived even to our own day.” So at least he gets that right.

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