Masters of the High Renaissance
Separated by 2,000 kilometres and nearly 250 years, but united by a common birthday (today – 16 July) and a passion for a particular style of painting, today’s blog looks at artists Andrea del Sarto and Joshua Reynolds.
Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was a figure in the High Renaissance art movement. He was around at the right place (Italy) at the right time (1490-1527) alongside the right people (Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael). What High Renaissance means seems to be the subject of debate, some say its style is conservative while others talk about explosions of creative genius. New interpretations of beauty and preoccupations with meaning, elongated proportions and exaggerated poses also all feature, and lead into the next phase of art known as ‘Mannerism’, of which del Sarto was a part.
This image is from a series of frescoes del Sarto painted for the Chiostro dello Scalzo (Cloister of the Scalzo) in Florence. This was the work into which del Sarto poured the most time – over 13 years. It depicts the life of St John the Baptist and in the work, you can see the development of the artist’s style.
I find this painting, ‘The Lament of Christ’ by Del Sarto, very striking. It has a sense of exaggeration in Christ’s pose, but the two angels beside him are calm, modest and patient while the nurse prays earnestly.
Two centuries later, artists began to try to replicate the work of the High Renaissance artists in a movement known as the ‘Grand Manner’. It was Joshua Reynolds’ (1723 – 1792) talk of the ‘Grand Style’ that led to the coining of this term, which was typified by the inclusion of visual metaphors to represent noble qualities, as opposed to painting subjects accurately or modestly.
For example, as the National Gallery of Ireland explains, in this elaborate portrait of the Temple family by Reynolds, ‘the inclusion of the Medici Vase behind the family group is a reminder of the Italianate gardens at Stowe, while the boy is a skilful reworking of a young Christ Child presented to a supplicant donor, the type of borrowing found in Reynolds’s noblest portraits.’
Reynolds was a celebrated portrait painter. At the height of the social season, he was receiving five or six sitters per day – that’s a lot of portraits. But he didn’t complete them all by himself. The clothing in his portraits was often painted by his students , his assistant or a specialist in painting material.