An artist who became one of the greatest painters of the High Renaissance was commissioned to execute three paintings for the Augustinian convento at San Gallo. This convento existed for about forty years just outside the city walls of Florence in Italy between 1487 and 1529. This was before his paintings had gained their full appreciation, both artistically and financially He was Andrea del Sarto, original name Andrea d’Agnolo (born July 16, 1486, Florence [Italy]—died before Sept. 29, 1530, Florence), Italian painter and draftsman whose works of exquisite composition and craftsmanship were instrumental in the development of Florentine Mannerism.
These paintings were executed during eight years between 1510 and 1517, which were the early years in the career of Andrea del Sarto (1486 - 1530) as an independent artist. Andrea del Sarto has suffered from being the contemporary of such giants as Michelangelo and Raphael, but he undoubtedly ranks as one of the greatest masters of his time. The three paintings he executed for the Augustinian convento were Noli me Tangere, The Annunciation and the Disputa di S. Agostino (Dispute of Saint Augustine). Their accepted dates of production are 1510, 1512-1513 and 1517 respectively. Of the three paintings, the first one was executed before del Sarto had developed the skill that seven years later made the third of these paintings a masterpiece. The first painting is Noli me Tangere (See below). These are Latin words for "Do not touch me" – the words of Christ to Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection). It is a panel painting. Its dimensions are 176 x 155 cm. It can be seen in the Museo del Cenacolo di San Salvi, Florence.
The second of the paintings he produced for the Augustinian Convento at San Gallo was "The Annunciation." It is an oil painting on wood, measuring 183 by 184 centremetres. It was painted in 1512-1513 when Jacopo Pontormo (1494 - circa 1556) was in the workshop of del Sarto as a student during his late adolescence. Pontromo was later an apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci.
In The Annunciation (see above), the interaction of the Virgin Mary with three angels is given a theatrical backdrop of another biblical incident. The interaction happening in the background is usually interpreted as being Susanna and the Elders. Like the Virgin Mary, Susanna symbolises purity and innocence. In this painting, Susanna is seen seated on the steps in the background at the centre of the picture. The three Elders are painted lightly in a few brushstrokes. They are pointing at Susanna from a high loggia (balcony) worthy of Jacopo Pontormo (mentioned above). The two figures of the Madonna and the Angel are in the foreground, accompanied by two other angels. During the seventeenth century this painting of The Annunciation by del Sarto passed from the Order of Saint Augustine into the possession of the de’Medici family, who had both the desire and the financial resources to retain in Florence the art heritage of the city. In 1626 Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena bought it and transferred it to the chapel then being built in the Palazzo Pitti (Pitto Palace). The painting is now on display in the Galleria Palatina of the Pitti Palace in Florence.The third painting (see below) by Andrea del Sarto was acquired by the Augustinians about the year 1517 (the beginning of the Protestant Reformation). This is the Disputa di S. Agostino. Augustine is discussing the Trinity. ("Dispute" in this context means a philosophical disputation,or debate i.e., an intellectual discussion, and not an emotonal argument.) There are six figures in the painting. The four of them who are standing are participating in the discussion. The two who are kneeling are listening to the discussion.
The four disputing saints standing in a row. From left to right they are Saint Augustine, Saint Stephen (with a grille on his shoulder), Saint Dominic in the black and white habit of the Order of Preachers that he founded, and Saint Francis of Assisi in the brown habit of his Franciscan Order. The two listeners are kneeling. They are Saint Sebastian and Mary Magdalen. Saint Augustine, with fierce vehemence, expounds the mystery of the Trinity. Saint Stephen turns to ask a question of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Dominic stands silent, awaiting his turn to speak. Mary Magdalen is the principal point of colour in the painting. The image of her there is a charming portrait of Lucrezia della Fede, whom del Sarto included in a number of his paintings. Andrea del Sarto first painted her two years before she married a hatter who lived in the Via San Gallo. When her husband died after a short illness not long afterwards, Andrea del Sarto married her. In spite of her alleged fickle and selfish nature, Lucrezia retained his love for the rest of their lives.
The painting was damaged when in 1557 floodwaters entered the church of San Jacopo tra Fossi – its subsequent Augustinian location after the Convento San Gallo was demolished in 1529. Later the painting was moved to the Hall of Saturn in the Pitti Palace, where it still remains. One of the earliest and most famous guide books in the world mentions these three paintings at the Augustinian Convento at San Gallo. Francesco Bocchi published in 1591 his book, Le Bellezze della città di Fiorenza ("The Beauties of the City of Florence"). Read the admiration aroused by these paintings that is conveyed in the enthusiastic words of Bocchi: "In this church there are three wonderful pictures by Andrea del Sarto: but the one on the right, with saints disputing about the Trinity, is of all pictures in all places the most wonderful. In this picture we see what a lively colouring, a drawing of rare quality, a unique mastery, can do. Who ever saw clothing so lifelike, or the reliefs of surfaces so marked, the features of persons so vivid, and liveliness so conforming with the truth?. . . It does not seem as if these figures were made of paint, but of flesh; not clothed by artifice, but by nature. But if for a moment we put aside the colours, and the artifice, we enter into the spirit of that which is true beyond any doubt; and it seems that the persons are thinking, and adopting bodily attitudes, and talking, and are anything other than painted."
Andrea del Sarto. Originally named Andrea d’Agnolo - born 16 July 1486 in Florence and died there before 29 September 1530. An Italian painter and draftsman whose works displayed of exquisite composition and craftsmanship. Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Andrea-del-Sarto