Andrea del Sarto
(Florence 1486–1530)

Portrait of a Man Wearing a Large Hat, With a Box of Colourful Objects

oil on canvas
81 x 64 cm (32 x 25 in.)
mid-1520s

‘His figures […] for all their simplicity and purity, are well conceived, [senza errori] free from errors, and absolutely perfect in every respect. The expressions of his heads, both in children and in women, are gracious and natural, and those of men, both young and old, admirable in their vivacity and animation; his draperies are beautiful to a marvel […] all that he coloured is rare and truly divine.’

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol. 5, transl. Gaston du C. De Vere, 1913, p. 85.

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Born in Florence in 1486, Andrea del Sarto, son of a tailor, hence his last name meaning “of the tailor”, embarked on his artistic journey as an apprentice to a goldsmith around the age of seven. According to the biographer and former pupil of del Sarto, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), del Sarto’s drawing skills were exceptional and when he turned to painting, he was first guided by a relatively unknown painter Gian Barile and later joined the esteemed workshop of Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522).1

Andrea del Sarto joined the painter’s guild in 1508 and emerged as the leading painter in Florence following the departures of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564), and Raphael (1483–1520) from the city. In that same year, del Sarto established his studio and worked alongside fellow painter Franciabigio (1482–1525).2 Though previously labelled the ‘Florentine caposcuola [leader] by default,’3 del Sarto’s talent and impact on the art world cannot be underestimated. His flourishing workshop attracted notable pupils, including Pontormo (1494–1557), Rosso Fiorentino (1495–1540), and Francesco Salviati (1510–1563), who would go on to shape the Florentine mannerist style.4

Del Sarto’s first large commission quickly followed, and he was tasked by the Compagnia dello Scalzo, a disciplined confraternity that practised penance and of which del Sarto became a member by 1517, to paint an ambitious series of twelve frescoes for their Chiostro, which would set the tone for his prolific future.5 In the 1510s, del Sarto’s style matured, and he proved his position as a leading Florentine painter, not by default but by merit. Scholars speculate that during a visit to Rome around 1511, del Sarto would have encountered the later works of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Inspired by the legacy of these giants, del Sarto skilfully fused Leonardo’s sfumato, the compositional harmony of Raphael, and the soft jewel tones of his teacher Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522). Del Sarto’s artistry, coupled with the emotional complexity that permeate his subjects, proved irresistible to religious institutions, collectors, kings, and popes alike. In 1518, del Sarto’s talent caught the attention of King Francis I (1494–1547), who invited him to Fontainebleau as his court painter, where he would stay for a mere year before returning to Florence in 1519. Shortly before accepting King Francis’ invitation, del Sarto had married his muse Lucrezia del Fede, who frequently served as a model for his Madonnas and Saints.6

Upon his return to Florence, del Sarto entered the most productive phase of his career. It was during this period in the mid-1520s, when del Sarto was absorbed by ongoing work on the Scalzo frescos and other commissions,7 that he painted this recently discovered portrait of an unidentified patrician, now in The Klesch Collection. Since del Sarto spent most of his career preoccupied with large-scale commissions, he produced relatively few portraits, making each one a significant addition to his body of work. This portrait exemplifies del Sarto’s rare ability to capture the penetrating likeness of a seemingly demure sitter. Potentially identified as Ottaviano de’ Medici, the sitter exudes serenity and poise, complemented by the luxurious sleeve and colouristic sensibility, and the immediate simplicity of the composition attests to del Sarto’s admiration for Raphael’s latest style. Del Sarto captures the moment when the sitter carefully unboxes what has been suggested to be pigment or dye swatches. The vibrant objects in the box have yet to be identified with certainty, and his pensive gaze invites speculation about their significance for the sitter, who is driven to deep thought over the objects at his fingertips.

The final years of del Sarto’s life were marked by continuous productivity. Many works from this period survive, demonstrating a shift toward a more sculptural treatment and an increasingly subdued palette.8 In September 1530, del Sarto succumbed to the plague, leaving behind a rich artistic legacy. As requested in his will, del Sarto was likely buried in the SS Annunziata, a church adorned with many of his own masterpieces, which serve as a lasting tribute in his final resting place.9

Notes
1. Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol. 5, transl. Gaston du C. De Vere, 1913, p. 86.
2. Serena Padovani, “Sarto, Andrea del [Angolo, Andrea d’],” Grove Art Online, published 2003, last updated 26 May 2010, accessed 10 June 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T076067.
3. Sydney J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy, 1500-1600, 1975, 85.
4. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, “Sarto, Andrea del, real name: Andrea D’Angiolo or D’Agnolo,” published 31 October 2011, accessed 10 June 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/benz/9780199773787.article.B00161069.
5. Alana O’Brien, ‘Andrea del Sarto and the Compagnia dello Scalzo,’ in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Institutes in Florenz, 2004, 48. Bd., H. ½, 258-261.
6. John K. G. Shearman, “Andrea del Sarto,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andrea-del-Sarto.
7. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, “Sarto, Andrea del”.
8. Padovani, “Sarto, Andrea del”.
9. O’Brien, “Andrea del Sarto and the Compagnia dello Scalzo,” 263.

Private collection, Naples;
Brought to New York when the family of the above emigrated from Naples in 1908;
Thence by descent;
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2022, lot 20;
The Klesch Collection.

New discovery, unexhibited.

Unpublished.

If you would like to use this image for educational purposes, please contact us.

Hover to zoom to maximum level or click to enlarge

Andrea del Sarto
(Florence 1486–1530)

Portrait of a Man Wearing a Large Hat, With a Box of Colourful Objects

oil on canvas
81 x 64 cm (32 x 25 in.)
mid-1520s

‘His figures […] for all their simplicity and purity, are well conceived, [senza errori] free from errors, and absolutely perfect in every respect. The expressions of his heads, both in children and in women, are gracious and natural, and those of men, both young and old, admirable in their vivacity and animation; his draperies are beautiful to a marvel […] all that he coloured is rare and truly divine.’

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol. 5, transl. Gaston du C. De Vere, 1913, p. 85.