Art & Archives, Behind the Scenes, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Prints and Drawings, Voices

Researching the Renaissance

The tailor’s son and the power of a chalk–a curator’s journal from Florence

Julian Brooks in Florence with reproductions of Andrea del Sarto's Renaissance drawings

Florence, del Sarto, and I.

Forty-nine days gone, forty to go. That’s how much time I have left in the “city of disegno,” and time really flies. But I should back up and tell you how I have come to be in Florence…

I’m an associate curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. My passion is master drawings, the sketches on paper that artists make when planning a painting or as works of art in their own right, and we have a fine collection here at the Getty. We put them on display in our galleries in a constant series of rotating exhibitions so that there are always drawings on view, and we try to add to the collection when possible.

One of the most exciting aspects of my job is when we initiate a major loan show that includes not only works from our own collection, but also those from other museums, in order to fully investigate a particular topic. The Florentine Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto (Italian, 1486–1530; “del Sarto” since he was the son of a tailor, sarto in Italian) has always been one of the most intriguing artists for me: absolutely core and transformational in the art of his own time, worshipped by artists later in the 16th century, and hugely influential for 19th-century figures such as Degas. A brilliant draftsman, (apparently) effortlessly creative, and master of bravura effects and intense realism. And yet surprisingly little known.

Now I am in the middle of research for an exhibition of his work, The Renaissance Workshop in Action: Andrea del Sarto, that will be at the Getty in summer 2015, and at the Frick Collection, New York, in fall 2015. Yes, indeed: 2015, and I’ve already been working on it (among other things) for the past few years, probably since 2010. I always feel that exhibitions are like planes coming into LAX: you’re dealing with an exhibition that’s already in the galleries, one six months out, one twelve months out, etc., etc. The main points of this exhibition are to study Andrea del Sarto’s transformation of drawing and to bring into focus his inventiveness, creative process, and workshop practice.

At this stage of the process I’ve talked to most of the curators and institutions that we would like to borrow artworks from, and we will send formal loan requests shortly. (We rely hugely on their generosity; the Getty is always a generous lender too.) The key thing now for me is to focus on research for the exhibition and the scholarly catalogue that will accompany it.

For all of my professional life I have dreamed of getting a fellowship at the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies, just outside Florence. Now I have been awarded one to work on this project and am in Florence for three precious months. It’s amazing to be immersed in Andrea del Sarto’s home city, his drawings, paintings, frescoes, and his life, normally all so far away when I’m in L.A.

I can look first-hand at the most important collection of his drawings, study detailed local documentation and conservation reports, and meet many of the people who have written about del Sarto over the last 30 years.

My days are normally spent in one or two of four principal places:

1. The Villa I Tatti library, with its excellent selection of art books and Bernard Berenson’s fototeca (photo library). As part of my fellowship I have a study here, which provides a quiet place to read and write.

The Villa I Tatti library in Florence

The Villa I Tatti’s Berenson Library

2. The “Kunst” (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, one of the Max Planck Institutes), probably the best all-round study library for Florentine art, with every relevant book, lots of obscure periodicals, and an excellent fototeca, all easily accessible.

Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz

Inside the library of the Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florence

3. The Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, which has about 90 Andrea del Sarto drawings, the biggest and most important collection in the world.

Study room of the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi

Inside the study room of the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi (the department of prints and drawings of the Uffizi Gallery). Photo: Roberto Palermo, GDSU

4. I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi, which has fine cappuccini, an excellent selection of pastries, and the best chocolate brioches.

I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi in Florence

I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi, refueling stop

Over the coming week, as part of Getty Voices, I’ll tell you more about Andrea del Sarto, the exhibition project, and life in Florence. At the end of my week, on Saturday the 26th, I’ll share what I think is The Greatest Work of Art That Nobody Goes to See in Florence.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here for this time, and just wish the days would slow down a little. I look forward to sharing them with you this week.

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  1. kay bourlier
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    This is absolutely fascinating. I saw the Early Renaissance exhibition in Toronto recently and it’s so interesting to learn about how these wonderful exhibitions are curated and how long it takes to research, make contacts and bring it all together. I shall look forward to learning more as the week progresses.
    All this makes me even more determined to get to Florence one day. I shall be noting the address of the pasticceria too.
    Enjoy the rest of your stay!

    • Julian
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment, Kay! Hope you make it to Florence soon! – Julian

  2. Richard Reed
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Complimenti egregio professore :-) Great to see your progress in Firenze, especially at Patrizio Cosi!

    • Julian
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Richard! It seems that no matter where one is going, Patrizio Cosi is on the way … – Julian

  3. Jackie Ibragimov
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    You hooked me with the cappuccini, the pastries, and CHOCOLATE! But I’m also interested in the art….

    • Julian
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks Jackie! – Julian

  4. Anne Flueckiger
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Sounds wonderful, Julian!

  5. Lynn O'Leary
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Julian, I am a new docent at the Getty so I have read all this with great pleasure. I am so looking forward to your Exhibition. I am hoping to visit Florence in October. My first time. Thanks for the wonderful insights.

    • Julian
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Welcome, Lynn (If I can say that from such a distance) and thank you! Take time to see the Galleria Palatina, the Pontormo in Santa Felicita, and Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper at San Salvi … you will surely have a great time! – Julian

  6. Martha Bergman
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Where are you posts on Facebook?

One Trackback

  • By Conceptual Fine Arts on July 30, 2013 at 5:51 am

    […] curator Julian Brooks is in Florence now researching del Sarto for an exhibition in 2015. Tag:Andrea del Sarto, Florence, Julian […]

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