The Gallerie degli Uffizi is devoting an exhibition to Giuliano Giamberti, better known as Giuliano da Sangallo (active from the 1460s until his death in 1516), a key figure and a leading player in the Italian Renaissance, and indeed the first such figure for whom we have a collection of architectural drawings, safeguarded and cared for by his heirs.
The drawings selected for the exhibition shed light not only on the development of Sangallo’s specific technical and graphic methods but, in broader terms, on the more widespread and commonly shared methods of the period stretching from the last few decades of the 15th century to the end of the High Renaissance.
The architect of Lorenzo the Magnificent and of Popes Julius II della Rovere and Leo X de’ Medici, Sangallo was unquestionably one of the most important architectural draughtsmen of his age. This contention is borne out not only by the valuable antiquarian codices in Siena and in the Vatican Apostolic Library – the Taccuino Senese and Libro dei Disegni respectively, both of which can be consulted in digital form in the exhibition – but also by the exceptional body of drawings owned by the Uffizi. The first Sangallo’s multifaceted activity has left its mark in the numerous drawings traditionally attributed to him in the collection, which are displayed in the exhibition alongside other work from his extended family workshop and by artists that were his contemporaries.
As the various sections of the exhibition illustrate in comprehensive fashion, these drawings testify to his work as a military architect and as a major innovator in the field of civic and religious architecture; to his extremely close intellectual ties with his patrons; to his untiring study of the Classical world and its impact on the formation of all his assistants and on the continuity of his teaching as ensured by his direct heirs; to the experiments which he conducted during his time in Rome when he pitted his wits against those of Bramante, particularly in the crucial construction site that was St. Peter’s Basilica; to the interaction between composition and figurative invention which culminated in the final episode of the competition for the façade of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence; and finally, to his output as a drawer of figures and to his varied approach to the other artists of his age, especially Botticelli, as borne out by a painting by that artist’s workshop from the National Gallery in London which may well be an example of Giuliano da Sangallo’s own private tastes as a collector.
The Uffizi drawings are joined by a unique testimony to design technique at the turn of the 15th century in the shape of the wooden model which Sangallo made of Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.
Giuliano da Sangallo’s graphic elegance in the exhibits on display offers us a captivating image of Renaissance architecture – erudite, sophisticated and eminently "designed" – in a personal take on the return to the antique which also shines through in his built work.
The catalogue accompanying the exhibition – a monograph divided into thematic sections or sections relating to Sangallo’s artistic biography – provides a substantial revision of the corpus traditionally attributed to the artist.
What emerges quite clearly from this is the importance of his workshop’s role, and in particular of the work of his brother Antonio the Elder, to whom numerous drawings have been returned, and at the same time it confirms the new attribution to Giuliano da Sangallo of a drawing recently rediscovered in the course of research conducted by the exhibition’s curators. With regard to the drawings of certain attribution, the essays make a huge interpretative effort to reconstruct a detailed image of the architecture depicted in them in relation to Sangallo’s built work.
In addition, the catalogue, and thus the exhibition itself, rediscover the very close relationship between the production of architectural and figurative drawing in Florence at the turn of the 15th century, not only by underscoring the role of the extensive sculptural decor which Giuliano da Sangallo devised for his architectural designs but also, and in parallel, by reconsidering the corpus of his figurative work, with a new proposal for subject identification that succeeds in recreating the unity of a group of drawings currently split between the Uffizi and the Albertina in Vienna. This latter aspect has been somewhat neglected by scholars focusing on his architectural drawing, but in actual fact it is closely linked to the study of Giuliano da Sangallo as an architect and as a draughtstman for and of architecture. In this connection, Eike D. Schmidt, the Director of the Gallerie degli Uffizi, wrote that "Giuliano da Sangallo’s draughtsmanship never loses sight of a strong linear and graphic approach, just as his painterly inclination (and echoes of ancient chiaroscuro) in his figurative drawings was subsequently to dialogue with his surface architecture and with his particular taste for the repertoire of polychrome decoration".
We should add that an important pointer to Giuliano da Sangallo’s figurative and collecting interests comes from the display of a painting depicting the Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Angel from the National Gallery in London formerly attributed to him. In all likelihood it originally formed part of his private collection, and indeed his name is written on an old inscription on the back of the painting.
On a more general level, it is worth pointing out that the rediscovery of the history of one of the most significant and celebrated corpuses in the Uffizi’s entire collection of architectural drawings allows us to grasp that collection’s outstanding importance in the panorama of European and North American collections of graphic art, while also underscoring its crucial role in forging historiographical method and the very image of Renaissance architecture itself.
The exhibition is curated, and the catalogue published by Giunti is edited, by Dario Donetti, Marzia Faietti and Sabine Frommel, and promoted by the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo in conjunction with the Gallerie degli Uffizi and Firenze Musei.