Andrea Sansovino and the Question of Modernism in Sixteenth-Century Italian Art

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Langer, Lara R.
Gill, Meredith J
This dissertation examines major artworks by the Tuscan artist Andrea Sansovino (c.1467/70-1529), and his role in the development of sculpture at the turn of the sixteenth century. Sansovino worked from the 1490s until his death in 1529, specializing in large tombs and altars. Amid a growing population of wealthy ecclesiastics, some chose to promote their legacies with grand funerary chapels and memorials. Displays of wealth and power went hand in hand with ritual, performance, and spectacle. The goal of this study is to establish how intersections among sculpture, funerary design, and cultural developments during the papacy of Julius II (r.1503-13) brought forth innovations in the art of Sansovino, which influenced his contemporaries and later artists. Establishing Sansovino as a pioneering artist will challenge previous scholarship classifying him as a typical promoter of fifteenth-century Florentine artistic traditions. To investigate the aesthetic of Sansovino, this discussion avoids the strict categorizations “classical” or “modern,” which may limit our understanding of his exceptionality. Under the methodological framework of social art history, considering artistic practice, collaboration, patronage, and ritual, this study gives special attention to Sansovino’s masterpieces, the twin tombs at Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Sansovino’s approach to tomb design and sculpted altarpieces is apparent in his rethinking of wall monuments, the importance of the body in his designs, and his reinvention of classical ornamentation. Analysis of Sansovino’s works offers a nuanced comparison of his art with the works of his colleagues. Chapter One introduces Sansovino and the historical context within which he lived and worked. Chapter Two explores Sansovino’s attributed altarpieces and early influences. Chapter Three focuses on the Popolo tombs as the embodiments of Sansovino’s interest in large-scale complex monuments and their role in the celebration of art and ceremony. Chapter Four highlights Sansovino’s participation in the massive marble screen of the Santa Casa at Loreto Cathedral, and argues that Sansovino devised the barrier as a more integrated part of the church and the congregant’s acts of devotion. Chapter Five reflects on those artists who followed Sansovino’s ambitious formal experiments in tomb and altar production.