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August 23, 2002

Andrea del Sarto


I was first attracted many years ago to Andrea by his red-chalk drawings, which are very rich and sensuous, with lots of crosshatching and vigorously reworked contours. He makes a virtue, at least in his better drawings, of searching for the form. (Okay, so his lesser drawings can be a bit clunky). Compared to the dominant drawing style of 16th century Florence--i.e., extremely precious ink-and-wash presentation drawings--Andrea's studies look refreshingly like some sort of "action painting."

Then, on a whim about six months ago I got a good color artbook on Andrea's paintings and have been looking at it off and on since. I like his work more the longer I look at them. In looking at his few paintings reproduced in standard art-history texts, Andrea had come off like a kind of timid wallflower in comparison to the wild-and-crazy types around him--Michelangelo, Raphael, Rosso Fiorentino, Parmagianino, Pontormo--as though he started out somewhere quite near Fra Bartolomio's rather conservative classicism and never quite made the leap into the gloriously quivering whirlpool of neurotic Mannerism.

And while I have quite a soft spot for Mannerists in my heart, my respect for Andrea's deliberately low-key, classical masterworks continues to grow. Which is not to say he wasn't a man of his time--more leisurely study of his paintings has made it clear how significant a figure he was in Florentine art. For example, he seems to have been the first Florentine, and possibly the first Italian, to really appreciate Durer's work, and to begin the long tradition of stealing Durer compositions (something Van Dyke and Velasquez were still busy at over a hundred years later.)

He also appears (at least as far as I can tell) to have been the first Florentine to substitute straight lines for more naturalistic curves in rendering (check out his draperies, in which every apparently curving contour is a actually series of straight lines.) Pontormo and many subsequent artists are clearly indebted to Andrea for this element of their drawing styles.

More significantly, Andrea was not only a gorgeous colorist, but he managed a to utilize what look like overlapping glazes of color--often alternating warm and cool--to recreate the effect of the multiply-reworked contours of his chalk drawings. One of the issues in art that seems to always attract my attention is how painters reconcile their drawing and painting. Of course, Andrea must have looked quite closely at Leonardo's sfumato techniques, but the final effect is quite different from Leonardo's (whose own tensions between drawing and painting were, in some respects, only resolved by after his death in Raphael's "Transfiguration" ).

But most of all, I appreciate Andrea for what seems to be the simultaneous warmth and humility of his nature. He seemed to genuinely love beauty, and to trust that his love of beauty, however gentle, would make his art live. Perhaps this is a lesson all artists might benefit from.



posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002


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