Sano di Pietro is one of the most easily recognizable Sienese fifteenth century artists. In recent years he has been identified with the so-called Master of the Osservanza, an artist influenced by Sassetta (ca. 1392–1450), but this view has been disputed. Paintings attributed to the Osservanza master seem closer to Sasseta and more incisively observed than the works of Sano. However, since the identification of the Osservanza Master with Sano is supported by a leading scholar Miklós Boskovits and backed by some documentary evidence, it cannot be discounted. If works such as the St. Anthony series at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. are indeed by Sano, he becomes a highly original and major Sienese quattrocento painter, almost on a level with Sassetta himself.
Based on his better-known devotional works, however, Sano could be described as a charming and conservative artist, who did not explore new avenues but was content to produce predictable religious images for private contemplation, as well altarpieces. This made him extremely popular and required a large studio to cope with demand. However, autograph works by him show a very high level of craftsmanship, probably reinforced by his work as a miniaturist for major institutions like the Opera Metropolitana di Siena, and the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Sano has been called the Fra Angelico (ca. 1395–1455) of Siena. This is understandable in view of his beguiling spiritual charm, but Fra Angelico is a more progressive artist than he first appears, especially in his frescoes in the monks’ cells at the monastery of San Marco in Florence. Sano was content to remain within a well-defined conservative ambiance, which at least secured his popularity if not his later critical reputation. Some have associated his work with Sienese quattrocento mysticism, with the Franciscan observance movement promoted by San Bernardino of Siena and the Sienese order of the Gesuati. Indeed, his Gesuati Triptych of 1444, today in the Siena museum, is his earliest dated work. As a prolific artist, paintings by Sano are more likely than other early Sienese painters to appear on the art market. Short of that, when seen in situ in Tuscan churches, their usually good condition and clarity of detail and composition make them well worth looking at.
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Books on Sano di Pietro
Timothy Hyman, Sienese Paintings: The Art of a City-Republic, 1278-1477, London, 2003.
Keith Christiansen, Laurence B. Kanter, and Carl Brandon Strehlke, Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420-1500, exh. cat., New York, 1988.
Miklós Boskovits, “Il Gotico Senese Rivisitato: Proposte e Commenti su una Mostra,” in Arte Cristiana, Milan, v. 71 no. 267, 1983.
Émile Gaillard, Un Peintre Siennois au XVe Siècle: Sano di Pietro 1406-1481, Chambéry, 1923.
Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artist, 1550, trans. Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella, New York, 2009.