Female Head, Andrea del Sarto, Sphere of, post 1522

Female Head
Tempera on wood


Tempera on wood depicting a half-length female figure; she wears a red dress over a light-colored tunic, while a green drape rests on her right shoulder. The red hair is tied up with a central parting and is partly covered by a white headdress; the full face has an absorbed expression: a thoughtful gaze, arched eyebrows and slightly furrowed lips.

Presented in a frame made with parts of an ancient larger frame.

Dimensions: 47,5 x 36,5 cm —  104 x 83,5 cm (with frame)
18,7 x 14,4 in — 40,9 x 32,8 in (with frame)


Historical-critical analysis:

Our table in question is one of the numerous derivations from a lost fresco by Andrea del Sarto, made in 1522 for a tabernacle located near Porta Pinti in Florence.

Although it has not reached us, the work is known thanks to the main documentary sources, first of all Vasari. The artist and biographer recalls the fresco as a Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, Jesus in the arms of his mother and the smiling little saint. An interesting detail is how the Aretino, a frequent visitor to the tailor’s shop, specifies that for the face of the Madonna he took as a model that of his wife, Lucrezia di Baccio del Fede.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the work was already in a precarious condition (it is mentioned by Bottari and Baldinucci), but at least until 1880 it was still in existence (see Milanesi).
The fortune he enjoyed was certainly a lot, as evidenced by the numerous derivations. John Shearman indicates the various copies, characterized by faithfully reproducing the figures, while greater license was provided for the background, which is almost always varied.

The table in question is part of this production, proposing only the face of Mary. The physiognomic features, the attitude and the absorbed expression are fully reflected in the other known works. Even the acid palette used is clearly an expression of the sixteenth-century Mannerist taste of which Sarto promoted and which was then adopted by the numerous artists of his circle.

Comparison Bibliography:

– Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori et scultori italiani, da Cimabue, insino a’ tempi nostri, Firenze 1550, edizioni Torino 1986, vol. II, pag. 713;

– R. Borghini, Il Riposo, prefazione e note di G. S. Bottari, Firenze 1730, pag. 344, nota 1; 

– Filippo Baldinucci, Notizie de’ Professori del Disegno da Cimabue in qua, Firenze 1728, vol. III, pag. 205;

– G. Milanesi in Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti archtetti, pitori et scultori italiani, da Cimabue, insino a’ tempi nostri, Firenze 1568, a cura di G. Milanesi, Firenze 1880, p. 344, nota 1.

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