A recent rediscovery and a handsome addition to the œuvre of one of the most influential of Northern Mannerists, this small work appears to date from the years when Spranger first reached his stylistic maturity, as argued in Gert Jan van der Sman’s 2018 article on the picture (op. cit.). Having arrived in Rome in 1566 as a young, inexperienced artist from Antwerp, Bartholomeus Spranger in a matter of years fashioned his art under the influence of some of the most innovative Italian painters, while at the same time gaining the trust of several major patrons, most prominently Pius V, in whose service he worked until the pope’s death in 1572. The major commissions Spranger received from these patrons did not stop him from also producing ‘a large number of smaller works [menichte van cleen stucxkens], which were sold nearly as soon as he finished them’, as his later friend Karel van Mander reported in his Schilder-boeck of 1604 (fol. 271r).
The present picture may well have been such a work destined for the art market, made in the first half of the 1570s, before Spranger moved to Vienna and eventually to Prague, where he ended his career working for Emperor Rudolf II. As van der Sman notes, the monumentality and voluminous drapery with which Spranger depicts Saint Andrew recalls Taddeo Zuccari, many of whose works would have been easily accessible to the Fleming, not in the last place at the Villa Caprarola, where Spranger also painted. But the saint’s solid body and the painting’s vivid colour scheme also appear to reflect the influence of Michelangelo. The angular folds of the drapery, the turn of the saint’s body, his strong arms, overly elegant right hand, and melancholy, small face, and the dramatic sky behind are all characteristic for Spranger’s manner, and can be compared to paintings like his fresco of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist in San Giovanni a Laterano of 1574, or a slightly later, small devotional picture in a private collection representing the Man of Sorrows (see S. Metzler, Bartholomeus Spranger. Splendor and Eroticism in imperial Prague. The Complete Works, New York, 2014, nos. 14, 17, ill.). Spranger’s compositions and iconography would grow increasingly complex over the course of his further career, but he would stay true to the figure style he developed in his later Roman years.
As shown in numerous works by him, Spranger had a predilection for painting on copper, and he was among the first artists to regularly use the support for his smaller paintings (see Van der Sman, op. cit, p. 107). It is particularly well adapted to jewel-like details Spranger favoured, such as the golden buckle on the chest or Andrew’s halo, made up of two fine lines and identical to those in a small Deposition dated circa 1575 (Private collection; see Metzler, op. cit., no. 15, ill.). Typical is also the way in which the cloak’s contours are highlighted in gold, as seen in works as late as Spranger’s Allegory on the death of the sculptor Hans Mont, dated 1607 (Prague Castle Picture Gallery; see ibid., no. 84, ill.). This sophistication of finish can be related to Spranger’s personal relationship and artistic collaboration with Giulio Clovio, the celebrated miniaturist of Croatian origin.
Probably within a few decades after Spranger made his painting, the reverse of the copper was reused for a copy after a painting by Bartolomeo Schedoni dated 1606-1607, now at the Galleria Estense, Modena, of which several other versions exist (F. Dallasta and C. Cecchinelli, Bartolomeo Schedoni. Pittore emiliano, Modena 1578-Parma 1615, Colorno, 1999, no. 17A, ill.). Now badly damaged, this work of lesser quality must have helped preserve the Saint Andrew until the general revaluation of later Mannerism in modern times, and the rediscovery of this subtle example of the art of one of its international protagonists.
We are grateful to Sally Metzler for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph.