The five hundredth anniversary of Giuliano da Sangallo's death in 1516 has provided the impetus for a flood of new works on the otherwise understudied Florentine architect. Sabine Frommel's 2014 monograph on Giuliano's built work was joined in 2016 by a study day devoted to Giuliano at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, and 2017 saw the publication of the proceedings from a conference on Giuliano held in June 2012 at the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza.1 Also in 2017, the Uffizi presented the exhibition Giuliano da Sangallo: Disegni degli Uffizi. New research related to these venues explored aspects of Giuliano's oeuvre in need of further investigation, in particular his work as a sculptor and military architect, and studies by emerging and established scholars have already done much to overturn the outdated notion of Giuliano as a misfit architect caught between the Florentine fifteenth century and the Roman High Renaissance.

The Uffizi exhibition, curated by Dario Donetti, Marzia Faietti, and Sabine Frommel, was conceived as part of the reframing of Giuliano. The curators presented a near-monographic study in drawings, an ambitious goal made possible by the extensive architectural holdings of the Uffizi's Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, from which the exhibition was chiefly drawn. The works on paper were supplemented by a slide show of evocative black-and-white photographs by Václav Šedý of Giuliano's built works not represented in the Uffizi holdings. Rounding out the exhibition materials were the wooden model of the Palazzo Strozzi, newly restored for the exhibition, and a tondo of the Virgin and Child with Saint John and an Angel from the National Gallery in London. Now attributed to the Botticelli workshop, the painting was exhibited in Florence in a double-sided vitrine to show the putative signature of Giuliano on the back.

The unexpected inclusion of the Virgin and Child tondo arose from one of the exhibition's most welcome curatorial decisions: the unified presentation of Giuliano's figural and architectural production. Until recently the tradition has been to study each medium independently: “Raffaello architetto,” “Bramante pittore.” While specialization presents practical advantages for scholars, in the early modern period separations between media were hardly so clear-cut. In light of the recent restoration of the polychrome crucifix attributed to Giuliano and his brother Antonio in the church of Santissima Annunziata, a holistic treatment of Giuliano's varied artistic production was particularly timely. Among the figural drawings were also small surprises: two sheets from the Albertina were shown with a pair of Uffizi drawings, and the juxtaposition compellingly illustrated the common subject of Judith and Holofernes proposed by Marzia Faietti in the exhibition catalogue.

Alongside the figural drawings were a series of sheets connected with the 1515–16 competition for the façade of San Lorenzo in Florence, many of which came from Giorgio Vasari's collection. This arrangement highlighted the imaginative three-dimensionality of Giuliano's architectural drawing. In one design for a basilical church (Uffizi 278 A), painting, sculpture, and architecture all rose in a vibrant, almost sculptural relief. Graphic vivacity was observable even in plans, such as a project for a Medici villa in Via Laura (Uffizi 282 A) in which the variegated wash of gardens, stables, and lodgings outshone the adjoining city fabric like rich inlay against dull stone. Some of the most impressive drawings in this regard were not part of the main mise-en-scène, as for practical reasons the largest drawings were relegated to a small side gallery (Figure 1). This limitation of the historic space was turned to the exhibition's advantage, with the space functioning as a graphic table of contents: visible from either entrance to the small gallery was the most visually arresting of the San Lorenzo drawings (Uffizi 281 A). Beside it was Giuliano's plan of Pisa, a huge drawing composed of twenty-four smaller sheets that blended precise survey with idealized antiquarian reconstruction and projected work, representing present, past, and future as an indivisible whole. A large residential plan for another planned Medici villa, in Rome's Piazza Navona, rounded out the triad of sacred, military, and residential architecture.

Figure 1

Installation view of Giuliano da Sangallo: Disegni degli Uffizi, Uffizi, Florence, 2017 (photo by Dario Donetti).

Figure 1

Installation view of Giuliano da Sangallo: Disegni degli Uffizi, Uffizi, Florence, 2017 (photo by Dario Donetti).

The exhibition also included the familiar drawings for Saint Peter's Basilica. Bramante's filigree half-plan, the well-known Uffizi 1 A, was effectively placed opposite the main entrance to the exhibition. Flanking it, in a double-sided mounting, was the solid, square plan with which Giuliano responded to the implausibly thin piers of Bramante's proposal, with Bramante's reply quickly sketched in red chalk on the verso (Uffizi 8 A). These drawings are an astonishing survival that testifies to two architects’ debate over the most important architectural commission of the Italian Renaissance. Considering that Giuliano has sometimes been cast as a second-rate foil to the genius of Bramante, the curators’ decision to let the drawings stand on their own was understandable, but nonspecialists were unlikely to grasp the vivid narrative without an explanatory text. The excellent catalogue describes the historical context in detail, but unfortunately no consultation copies of that publication were available in digital or paper form to bridge the gap. Virtual materials were used successfully elsewhere; a partial digital facsimile helped make up for the absence of the Barberini Codex, which rarely leaves the Vatican.

The diversity of the drawings on display in Giuliano da Sangallo: Disegni degli Uffizi reflected the growing trend in the study of early modern architecture away from neat categories and straightforward narratives. Giuliano himself, never easily classified but undoubtedly original, is perhaps the ideal architect to represent this shift.

Related Publication

Related Publication
Dario Donetti, Marzia Faietti, and Sabine Frommel, eds.,
Giuliano da Sangallo: Disegni degli Uffizi
pp., 115 color and 15 b/w illus. €35, ISBN 9788809856981


Sabine Frommel, Giuliano da Sangallo (Florence: Edifir, 2014); “Giuliano da Sangallo 1516–2016,” study day, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence, 17–18 Nov. 2016; Amedeo Belluzzi, Caroline Elam, and Francesco Paolo Fiore, eds., Giuliano da Sangallo (Milan: Officina Libraria, 2017).