This fresco cycle by Andrea del Sarto was completed over the course of about a decade (thanks to many long pauses) for a church in Florence which no longer exists. The cycle still stands because it's such a famous and integral part of both his reputation and of Florentine high Renaissance and Mannerist art; so this tiny courtyard, which once lead to a church, has been kept intact. But it's only open for a handful of hours each week and there's nothing to see except the work.
It's painted in a monochrome fresco technique because it was cheaper for his patrons. The work spans 8 years and clearly shows a maturation in his style and compositions.
Andrea died tragically of plague when he was just 43 years old so an 8 year fresco cycle represents a large portion of his career. It took him so long to fresco the courtyard for two reasons. One, he left midway through for France with no intention of coming back to Florence (although, obviously, he did return). And the other reason was the monks who commissioned the work never had money to pay him. They were always crying broke, and trying to get him to work for free.
Andrea del Sarto has recently been getting a lot of press for his "first ever solo show" in America, at The Frick in NYC and The Getty in LA. It's nice to see him getting his due! This guy has been on my radar for YEARS for his draftsmanship. He could draw in red chalk about as well as anyone ever has. He belongs in the pantheon of great-great draftsman... alongside Leonardo and Michelangelo, his Florentine contemporaries.
His later paintings and works on paper are virtuoso. Seeing his abilities mature in one single fresco cycle, as you just turn and look around the courtyard, is surreal. But also heartening for those of us whose artistic skill, vision, and maturity take time to cement.
He used to be revered; he's the namesake and subject of a poem by Browning with the famous line, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" -but the past few generations have been slackers when it comes to carrying the banners and torches of culture and he's one of the Masters whose reputation has fallen by the wayside. So again: it's nice to see him getting the attention he deserves!
I've got a list of guys whose work is so great I'll never understand why they're not household names and it's nice to cross his name off it.