Sunday, November 15, 2015

Andrea del Sarto

Drawings are an acquired taste.  They rarely hit you over the head and say, “you cannot ignore me”.

Like all areas of art there are nuances: some people relate to rough sketches where there is more outline than substance; others just to finished drawings where you can put just one up on the wall and the viewer will see exactly what the artist was getting at.

If you ride on the New York subway system you will sometimes see someone with their sketch pad out drawing the riders opposite them.  Because of the intimacy of the subway these draughtsman seem more furtive than a painter working with easel in the middle of a park or on a mountainside.  If you think about it drawing is more intimate and personal.  If the draughtsman is good he or she can reach right down to the soul of a sitter much quicker than an oil painting can.

If you want to study one of the great draughtsmen of the Renaissance rush over to The Frick Collection in New York before January 10.  There you will find an exhibition, “Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action” co-organized by The Frick and the J. Paul Getty Museum.  About 50 drawings (close to 1/3 of his known corpus) and 3 paintings borrowed from many collections among them the Getty, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Uffizi as well as the National Gallery are displayed.

Del Sarto, (1486-1530), was born and died in Florence, though he was baptized Andrea d’Agno, he was known as del Sarto after the profession of his father, a tailor.  His fame, however was soon to be eclipsed by his better known contemporaries, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

In the exhibition you can follow step by step the stages of drawing by a master to its ultimate conclusion in a finished painting.  My wife and I do not agree on how to view the exhibition.  It is being shown in the Frick’s lower level exhibition galleries and the grand oval room in the center of the museum.  If you go around as the Frick suggests you will go downstairs first and view the sketches, then work your way upstairs to the finished drawings and paintings that relate to them.  I believe, that at least if you are a novice, it is best to first see the finished products, the paintings,  and then see how they were put together from the drawings.

Without knowing the model it is difficult to see how well the artist has done, but working backwards from the painting to the study one can relate the two images.  One of the best examples is the “Study of the head of an Old Woman” circa 1529 from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford   The drawing surely done from life has so much more gravitas, life experience if you will, than St. Elizabeth has in the finished painting’s figure in “The Medici Holy Family” of the same year from the Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Plantina, Florence.


Another example is the painting of St. John the Baptist from the Palazzo Pitti and the head of the boy from the National Gallery, Woodner Collection in Washington D.C.  While the painting is unquestionably striking the drawing is so much more delicate and beautiful.


As Holland Carter referred to it in the New York Times, “the real workshop business” can be found downstairs.  This is where you find the unfinished drawings on their own.  They seem disconnected until one per chance finds the painting or paintings that they relate to… del Sarto was not above using the same sketch for more than one painting.   More difficult is to match up individual body parts with specific paintings such as the “Studies of Arms, Legs, Hands and Drapery” from the Galleria degl Uffizi in Florence.

Del Sarto is particularly well known for his work in red chalk and the lyrical robe from the J. Paul Getty Museum is a fine example.

Like most other people I am a sucker for children (even though I sometime overdose on Face Book ) and I just cannot resist showing the Metropolitan Museum’s red chalk drawing, “Studies of a Head and Hand” of 1510.

A much smaller exhibition “Andrea del Sarto’s Borgherini Family” is showing at the Metropolitan Museum.  Cooperation between museums in the same town seems to becoming more frequent which is a good thing for a change.

If you will not be able to get to New York before the show closes, second best, take a look at the Frick Collection website,  where you can see the works of art and even how they were grouped.

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