ANDREA DEL SARTO
(b. 1486, Firenze, d. 1530, Firenze)
Madonna of the Harpies1517
Oil on wood, 208 x 178 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Giorgio Vasari, who frequented Andrea del Sarto's studio as a young man, defined him as "the flawless painter". His style, shaped by his studies of the works of Michelangelo and Raphael, and characterised by an exquisitely balanced composition and high level of formal control, strongly influenced 16th Florentine painting, to such an extent that it was considered a precursor of Mannerism.
Andrea del Sarto was commissioned to execute the Virgin and Child between Sts Francis of Assisi and John the Evangelist (called the Madonna of the Harpies) for the nuns of the convent of St Francis de'Macci. Within its solid and meticulous compositional structure, the artist almost seamlessly combines the typical pyramidal shape of the Virgins painted by Raphael with the statuesque feel of the figures created by Michelangelo, mellowing them with the delicate, shaded colours of Leonardo da Vinci.
The traditional title of the painting was coined based on Vasari's identification of the monsters depicted on the Virgin's pedestal as harpies. However, based on an iconographic interpretation of the work, which assigns an eschatological symbolism to the subject, today critics mostly agree that they depict the locusts described in St John the Evangelist's Apocalypse.