Jacopo Sansovino


Tintoretto, Portrait of Jacopo Sansovino, 16th C., Uffizi

Tintoretto, Portrait of Jacopo Sansovino, 16th C., Uffizi



        Jacopo Sansovino as we know him today, was born Jacopo Tatti in Florence in 1486.  Living until 1570 he was both a prolific sculptor and architect.  Born to a family of mattress and cabinet makers, he set out on a different course.  In 1502 he began to apprentice with Andrea Sansovino.  Andrea was a prominent sculptor in Florence and enabled Jacopo to fully benefit from the ascendance of the High Renaissance.  Travelling with Andrea to Rome to work on the tombs of Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Girolamo Basso della Rovere gave Jacopo an even broader survey the period’s art.  He studied Classical sculpture and architecture and even made a notable copy of the famed Laokoon.  Jacopo returned to Florence in 1510 and produced the well known works of Bacchus and Saint James the Greater over several years.  In 1515 he executed his first known piece of architecture, a temporary facade for the Florence Cathedral.  

        Career concerns led the now mature Sansovino to return to Rome.  There he was hired to build two churches: San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and San Marcello and one palace, the Palazzo Gaddi.  Despite these projects, Sansovino also executed several sculptures putting him in the orbit of Michelangelo.

        Sansovino’s Roman career was decisively ended by the Sack of Rome in 1527.  Mutinous troops from the Holy Roman Empire devastated the city and ended much of its dominance.  Fearful and jobless many Roman artists dispersed across Europe.  Sansovino left for Venice where he would spend the second half of his life.  Already forty-one years old, Sansovino entered Venice an experienced architect and sculptor.  Despite his relatively old age he launched another career in the city and markedly transformed its center.

        First hired to repair the domes of the Basilica of San Marco, he quickly ascended the city’s strata.  In only 1529 he was appointed the proto or chief architect of the Procurators of San Marco.  With this title and access he led much of the city’s artistic life alongside his friends Titian and Pietro Aretino.  Taking commissions from the city, procurators, churches, and individuals Sansovino imparted a classical style to many areas of the city.  However, with his job as proto his most potent contributions can be seen around the piazzetta.  Significant buildings there included: La Zecca, a new mint; the Marciana Library, to house the manuscript collection of Basilios Bessarion; and the Loggetta at the base of the campanile.  All three buildings were conceived between 1535 and 1537 as Venice embarked on an ambitious building scheme following its recovery from the League of Cambrai.  

        Although he primarily worked in architecture while he was in Venice he also produced large amounts of work in sculpture.  Two prominent examples can be seen at the top of the Scala dei Giganti in the Ducal Palace.  By also training young sculptors like Cattaneo and Vittoria he maintained a strong influence on the medium even as he produced less.  Sansovino remained active throughout much of his life but waned in the decade preceding his death.  As the bearer of the ‘Roman’ Renaissance to Venice, he was gradually replaced and eclipsed by the famed Andrea Palladio.  Dying in Venice in 1570, Sansovino’s life displayed an aptitude in multiple media and a resilient versatility.  Each of his projects demonstrated a firm handling of the patron, function, and audience his work would hold.


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