L.2 Part of the Predella of Andrea del Sarto’s San Gallo Annunciation

c. 1512

Vasari, 1568, III, 475 (Vasari-Milanesi, VI, 247), in the “Life” of Pontormo: “Hora havendo Andrea di que’giorni finita una tavola d’una Nunziata, per la chiesa de frati di San Gallo hoggi rovinata, come si è detto nella sua vita, egli diede à fare la predella di quella tavola a olio a Jacopo il quale vi fece un Christo morto con due Angioletti, che gli fanno lume con due torce, e lo piagono; e dalle bande in due tondi, due profeti, i quali furono cosi praticamente lavorati, che non paiono fatti da giovinetto, ma da un pratico maestro. Ma puo ancho essere come dice il Bronzino ricordarsi havere udito da esso Jacopo Pontormo, che in questa predella lavorasse ancho il Rosso.”  In the “Life” of Sarto, Vasari, 1550, 742, says the predella was by Pontormo, without, however, giving a description of the work, and in Vasari, 1568, 254 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 17), the same attribution appears, with Pontormo identified as “allora discepolo d’Andrea.”  Nevertheless, Bronzino’s recollection recorded in Pontormo’s “Life” has to be taken into account even if Vasari did not choose to add it to the “Life” of Sarto of the second edition of the Vite, or to the “Life” of Rosso of 1568.

Sarto’s Annunciation has generally been dated in or around 1512 (Freedberg, 1963, II, 32-34; Shearman, 1965, II, 209; S. Padovani, in Sarto, 1986, 94-96, no. IV), and this date would have to serve for the lost predella as well, even if it was executed after the main panel was completed, as Vasari’s wording might indicate.  Recently, Franklin, 1994, 4-6, on the basis of the recently documented dating of the Tobias in 1512, thought the Annunciation should date in 1513, and hence Rosso’s work on the predella would have just preceded his initial work at the Annunziata.  Vasari mentions three subjects of the predella: a dead Christ with two angels holding torches, and two prophets in roundels, which are rather few scenes for the predella of an altarpiece which is 176 cm. wide, unless they were widely spaced.  It is, of course, possible that there were other scenes, or more prophets or other single figures in roundels (or the two angels flanking the dead Christ could have been separate panels, which is possible though unusual).  It might seem unlikely that both artists worked on any single small part of the predella.  Furthermore, although Pontormo may have just arrived in Sarto’s shop (see Cox-Rearick, 1964, I, 23), he was certainly there as Sarto’s pupil, as Rosso seems not to have been.  Vasari assigned the whole of the predella to Jacopo, reporting only Bronzino’s having heard from Pontormo that Rosso also worked on it.  By 1512 the predella itself was a rare detail of an altarpiece and very simple in its design if used at all.

Shearman (see above) points out that the predella is not mentioned in any of the literature after the second edition of Vasari’s Vite and that it may have been destroyed in the Arno flood of 1557 when the altarpiece was in San Jacopo tra’Fossi, or in the flood of 1589 as also suggested by Padovani (see above; see also Natali, in Natali and Cecchi, 1989, 6, 13-14, 42, under no. 12; Serena Padovani, in Sarto, 1986, 94, no. IV; and Franklin, 1994, 4-5).  Still, if such was the case, one might wonder why Vasari did not mention its destruction in the Vite of 1568.  A copy of the altarpiece was made when it was removed in 1627, which Paatz (II, 1955, 418) believed could possibly survive along with a copy of the predella in the Uffizi deposits, but only the copy of the Annunciation is known (see Meloni Trkulja, in Sarto, 1986, 70 and Fig. 3).  If the predella was destroyed in 1557 or 1589, it could not, of course, have been copied in the seventeenth century.

On the identification of this predella with the small panels in the National Gallery, Dublin, and in Warwick Castle, the attribution of some of them to Rosso, and on the correct refutation of these assumptions, see Marcucci, 1955, 252; Berti, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 13-15, nos. 16-22, Pl. VIII-XI; Sanminiatelli, 1956, 242; Barocchi, 1958, 235; S.J. Freedberg and J. Cox-Rearick, “Pontormo’s Predella for the S. Michele Visdomini Altar,” BM, 103, 1961, 7-8; Freedberg, 1963, II, 34, n. 3; Cox-Rearick, 1964, I, 137-145, II, Figs. 63-65; Shearman, 1965, II, 209, under no. 23, 284, under no. 98; Berti, 1973, 93; and Ciardi, 1994, 58, 95, n. 125.

Venturi, IX, 5, 1932, 193, as around 1512.  Shearman, 1965, I, 28, 166, stated that it is probable that Rosso collaborated with Pontormo on this predella about 1512.  Shearman, 1966, 151, commenting on the Boston Dead Christ and the same subject included in the lost predella, notes that while the light in the latter scene came from two torches, in the Boston painting the source of illumination is not physically explicable.  He then states that “the earlier idea having once been in Rosso’s mind, it seems that the change here must be deliberate.”

Unfortunately, as the predella is lost the actual nature of the light of its central scene cannot really be known in spite of what Vasari says.  He might have written quite the same description of the Boston painting although its candles actually give almost no light to the illumination of the scene.  Berti, 1983, 54, 55, Fig. 13, illustrated a painting of unknown location that he thinks may be the “Christo morto” of the San Gallo Annunciation predella, but the style of this picture gives no evidence of any relation to Pontormo’s or Rosso’s.

Padovani (see above) thought the predella was painted by Pontormo and only perhaps with the intervention of Rosso, and Antonio Natali (Sarto, 1986, 99, under nos. VI-VIII) also stated that we cannot know if Rosso worked on it, although in Natali, Paragone, 1989, 27-28, he mentioned that Rosso did.  Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 10, mentioned the predella as a collaboration of Sarto with Pontormo and Rosso.  Costamagna, 1994, 20, 102, Cat. 2, 103, under Cat. 3, as by Pontormo with Rosso’s participation.1


1 Natali, in Natali and Cecchi, 1989, 13-15, 42, under no. 12, saw the “stravaganze” of Rosso in the two figures leaning on the balustrade in the background of Sarto’s Annunciation.  Rosso’s participation along with Pontormo’s on the figures in the background is also mentioned by R. C. Prato Pisani, in Pontormo a Empoli, 1994, 37, as probably in 1512 “a ridosso del viaggio romano compiuto con il maestro.”  The figures on the balcony and the figure seated on the step were given to Pontormo by Marchetti Letta, 1994, 8.  These attributions, which go back to Fraenckel in the 1930s and Marcucci, 1955, 250-252, are rightly dismissed by Freedberg, 1963, II, 33, and by Shearman, 1965, II, 209.