Showing posts with label 1486. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1486. Show all posts

16 July 2018

Andrea del Sarto – painter

The brief career of an artist ‘senza errori’


Andrea del Sarto, captured here in a self- portrait. lived in Florence all his life
Andrea del Sarto, captured here in a self-
portrait. lived in Florence all his life
Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto was born Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on this day in 1486 in Florence.

He had a brilliant career but died at the age of 43 during an outbreak of plague and afterwards his achievements were eclipsed by the talents of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Andrea’s father, Agnolo, was a tailor and therefore the child became known as del Sarto, meaning son of the tailor.

As a young boy del Sarto was apprenticed to a goldsmith and then a woodcarver before being sent to learn to be an artist.

He decided to open a joint studio with an older friend, Franciabigio, and from 1509 onwards they were employed to paint a series of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Del Sarto also painted a Procession of the Magi, in which he included a self-portrait, and a Nativity of the Virgin for the entrance to the church.

He married Lucrezia del Fede, a widow, in 1512 and often used her as a model for his paintings of the Madonna.

Part of Del Sarto's fresco series at the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, near Florence
Part of Del Sarto's fresco series at the Villa Medici at
Poggio a Caiano, near Florence
After spending a year as court painter to Francis I of France in 1518, del Sarto returned home to his wife and was offered a major commission by the Medici family, to decorate the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano near Florence. The work was offered to him by Pope Leo X but the project ended when the Pope died in 1521.

Del Sarto’s fresco at the villa, Tribute to Caesar, is a fragment now incorporated into a much later decorative scheme.

His most important work is considered to be a series of frescoes on the life of St John the Baptist in the Chiostro dello Scalzo in Florence. He started the series in 1511 and it was not completed until 1526, so the work spans a large part of his career and most of the paintings are by his own hand.

Del Sarto's Nativity of the Virgin at the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
Del Sarto's Nativity of the Virgin at the Basilica
della Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
His artistic style reflected his interest in colour and atmosphere and showed natural expressions of emotion. Del Sarto had a reputation for integrity and professionalism and was regarded by his peers as an artist ‘senza errori’ - faultless.

Del Sarto had a house built for himself in Florence, which was modified by other painters who lived there later. He died at his home after plague swept the city in 1530. The exact date of his death is unknown but he was buried in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata on September 29, 1530.

A play, Andrea del Sarto, by Alfred de Musset, was premiered in Paris in 1848. The 1968 opera Andrea del Sarto by the French composer Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur was based on de Musset’s play.


The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence
The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence
Travel tip:

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where Andrea del Sarto is buried, is in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata in the San Marco district of Florence. The church was founded by the Servite order in 1250 and later rebuilt by Michelozzo between 1444 and 1481. Del Sarto’s frescoes can be seen in the atrium of the church. Newly wed couples traditionally visit the church to present a bouquet of flowers to a painting of the Virgin by a 13th century monk, where they pray for a long and fruitful marriage.

The Chiostro dello Scalzo in Via Cavour
The Chiostro dello Scalzo in Via Cavour
Travel tip:

The Chiostro dello Scalzo, where del Sarto painted his fresco cycle featuring the life of St John the Baptist, is in Via Cavour in the San Marco area near the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata. The cloister used to be the entrance to the chapel of the Confraternity of St John the Baptist, which was founded in 1376 and lasted until 1786. Thankfully the frescoes were preserved and can be viewed free of charge in the cloister every Monday and Thursday and on some Saturdays and Sundays each month.

More reading:

The precocious genius of Raphael

Michelangelo 'the greatest of all time'

The multiple talents of Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:

1194: The birth of Saint Clare of Assisi

1852: The birth of Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito

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3 August 2017

Imperia Cognati - courtesan

Prostitute who became a celebrity


Raphael's Galatea in his frescoes at the Villa Farnesina in Rome is thought to be Imperia
Raphael's Galatea in his frescoes at the Villa
Farnesina in Rome is thought to be Imperia
Imperia Cognati, who acquired celebrity status in Rome in the early 16th century as a courtesan to a number of rich and powerful figures, was born on this day in 1486.

Courtesans were originally the female companions of courtiers of the papal court, whose duties required them to be educated and familiar with etiquette, so that they could participate in the formalities of court life and take part in polite conversation.

In time, however, in some cases their companionship became of a more intimate nature and they became the mistresses of their courtiers, who in the papal court were clerics nor permitted to marry.

It was common, too, for courtesans to be the companions of several clients simultaneously.  They were in effect a new class of prostitute, refined and educated enough to hold their own in polite society.

Imperia Cognati acquired her elevated status mainly through being the chosen companion of Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker closely associated with Pope Alexander VI and others and a patron of the Renaissance.  At one time he was thought to be the richest banker in the world.

He lavished Imperia – as she was usually known – to the extent that she could afford to keep both a palace in Rome and a country villa.

The statue named Imperia at Konstanz is said to have been  inspired by Balzac's fictional portrayal of a courtesan
The statue named Imperia at Konstanz is said to have been
 inspired by Balzac's fictional portrayal of a courtesan
Chigi remained her main client but she took others, maintaining her status – and income – by being very selective over the men with whom she would consort.  Her exclusive list included Angelo di Bufalo, who was another banker, Angelo Colocci, a papal secretary under Leo X, Tommaso Inghirami, a papal librarian, and the painter Raphael, of whom Chigi was a sponsor.

Imperia posed as a model for Raphael on a number of occasions.  It is thought that the nymph Galatea in the frescoes Raphael painted for the Villa Farnesina in Rome, built by Chigi, is actually Imperia.

Imperia’s background is not entirely clear. Some sources suggest she hailed from Ferrara but the consensus is that she was born in Rome, the daughter of a prostitute, Diana di Pietro Cognati, and raised in Via Alessandrina in the district of Borgo.

It was speculated that her father was Paris de Grassis, who would later serve as master of ceremonies under Pope Julius II, which may explain how she acquired an education, and why she at times referred to herself as Imperia de Paris.

She gave birth to a daughter, named Lucrezia, at the age of 17, of whom the father was assumed to be Chigi.

The artist Raphael was among Imperia's  lovers at the time she posed for him
The artist Raphael was among Imperia's
lovers at the time she posed for him
Imperia died in 1512, at the age of just 26, apparently from poisoning, thought to be self-administered.

Various theories have been put forward as to what might have prompted her to take her own life. One is that she was distraught that Angelo di Bufalo, supposedly her true love, decided to end their relationship, another is that she felt pushed out when Chigi took a new, younger mistress. 

Whatever the reason, she was given a stately funeral in Rome, fit for a noblewoman rather than a prostitute, paid for by Agostino Chigi.  She was buried at the church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome, although the monument erected in her name has not survived.

Apart from her image being preserved in works by Raphael, Imperia is thought to have been the inspiration for HonorĂ© de Balzac’s 1832 story La Belle ImpĂ©ria, set in the time of the Council of Konstanz, which ended the Western Schism in the Catholic Church, in which a courtesan is given the name Imperia.


The character in Balzac’s novel has been portrayed by the German painter Lovis Corinth in 1925, and also inspired the larger-than-life Imperia statue in the harbour of Konstanz, the town on the lake in Germany of the same name, erected in 1993.

Travel tip:

Via Alessandrina is a street, nowadays closed to vehicles, that runs alongside the Roman ruins of the Italian capital, from the Forum in the direction of the Colosseum, joining up with Via dei Fori Imperiali.

The Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere district in Rome
The Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere district in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Farnesina, built by Baldassare Peruzzi for Agostino Chigi, can be found in the Via della Lungara, in the district of Trastevere in Rome. Owned at different times by the Bourbons of Naples and the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, it is today owned by the Italian State and accommodates the Accademia dei Lincei, a renowned Roman academy of sciences.  The main rooms of the villa, including the Loggia, are open to visitors.