Study for the Sarzana Altarpiece, formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin
Oil on poplar panel: 107 x 83 cm
Our painting, attributed to Andrea del Sarto, is a study for an altarpiece which, according to Vasari, was commissioned by Giuliano Scala (Florence 1480-1554), an influential figure in Florence and several times a consul, to be "sent to Sarzana", more precisely to a chapel in the church of San Domenico in Sarzana.
However, recent research disputes the very existence of this church in Sarzana.
This altarpiece, which was destroyed along with other works in the fire at the Flakturm in Berlin in May 1945, represented (see photo no. 3) the Virgin and Child surrounded by St. Benedict, St. Onuphro, St. Peter, St. Mark, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Catherine of Alexandria and, in the foreground, St. Julia and St. Celsus.
Our study differs in many respects from the original. Its dimensions are proportionally larger than the altarpiece. The Virgin's face is longer and has a clearly visible ear. Her right hand is completely reconstructed, as is the right foot of Jesus. The child, whose body and limbs are longer, gives us a more playful expression. The shape of the draperies is also different, the pink tunic of the Virgin contrasts with her blue cloak.
The blue background is made up of rapidly brushed glazed touches that give a glimpse of the underlying white preparation. The presence of marks around the Virgin's face supports the notion of a preliminary study.
However, it is difficult to affirm that this composition was painted by the master, since in many respects the style and manner differ. The more elongated faces and bodies are reminiscent of the Mannerist works of Pontormo, a renowned Florentine painter who joined Sarto's studio in 1511.