Andrea del Sarto, Study for the Head of Mary Magdalene, circa 1520–1524. Graphite on paper, location unknown.
Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) was an acclaimed artist of the High Renaissance in Florence. Sarto’s use of light, shade, and form resulted in works prized for their emotion and naturalism. This drawing of Mary Magdalene was made as a study for a famous painting by Sarto: Pietà with Saints, at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Sarto and his wife fled Florence during the bubonic plague of 1523, seeking refuge at the Camaldolese convent east of Florence. It was here that he completed this study and its associated pietà—a subject in Christian art depicting the virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus. Sarto’s wife, Lucrezia, often modeled for him and it is likely hers is the visage of Mary Magdalene seen here. Sarto would die during another outbreak of the plague in 1530.