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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on January 4, 2024
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Andrea Solari is a famous painter from the Italian Renaissance, starring during both the 15th and 16th centuries. He was a product of the Milan School, and was native to this city.

Early Life

As a young student he would draw in a variety of influences into his style and fuse these together into his own, signature approach. The resultant oeuvre was successful and has helped keep his reputation prominent within any talk of the Renaissance over the past few centuries. He was a keen follower of Leonardo da Vinci, though was actually born just a few years later. He took elements of Da Vinci's paintings into his own, enough to be considered a genuine follower.


He also came under the influence of Antonello da Messina during a spell in Venice, a city he visited in 1490 in order to continue his development and to try to look beyond the boundaries that he had previously lived within. At this stage, the major Italian art schools and studios each had a unique style that would have interested any budding artist seeking as much knowledge and inspiration as possible in their early years.

Travelling around Italy

After several years in Venice he would return to Milan for a number of years. He would later travel to France and quite probably the Flemish regions of Europe too. He would have learnt much technical detail whilst in these two nations, both of which had advanced the arts themselves at that time, but in different ways. He is known to have changed his style somewhat once he then returned to Milan, with the experiences of his travels most likely to have been the main reason for that. Some artists were fortunate enough to travel abroad during their careers in the Renaissance, but not many, making this a genuine honour for Solari which was aided by a letter of invitation that he was given in order to legitimise his initial trip to France. He would spent around eight years in total in Western Europe before returning to his native Milan.

Specialised in Portraiture and Religious Art

The two genres in which Solari was most involved were portraits and religious paintings. Most of his portraits are actually not named after the model themselves, suggesting them to be of just a local model who he felt would suit the work. His religious works were based on standard themes that most members of the Renaissance will have undertaken during their careers, such as Christ on the Cross, Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Salome Receives the Head of St John the Baptist. Of the portraits that were of notable patrons, you will find the likes of Charles d'Amboise and Giovanni Cristoforo Longoni. There have also been some drawings uncovered from his career that predominantly were study works for later portraits, or elements of more complex paintings. Most used different coloured chalks.

When we discuss the influence of Da Vinci on Andrea Solari, we can immediately spot similarities in portraits produced by the two. A charming, unidentified portrait from Solari in 1505/1507, titled only as Female Portrait, gives us a reminder of some of Da Vinci's classic portrait paintings such as Lady with an Ermine and La Belle Ferronniere. He had an extraordinary talent for capturing the beauty of women within modest settings and using a subtle touch of the brush. Within Solari's female portrait, there are regions of bright tones placed on a darker background which set the overall piece of beautifully. There are no distractions within these portraits, even though in his religious artworks there would be an adundance of activity. Whilst Da Vinci inevitably counted many followers after his career, there can be few as famous in their own right, or as skilled, as Solari.

Artistic Technique

Cristoforo Solari, Andrea's brother, first introduced him to the early techniques of art. Cristoforo himself was a sculptor and architect. Whilst Andrea would draw in elements of Messina and Da Vinci, as well as foreign influences during his travels abroad, it would be wrong to suggest that he didn't have his own ideas too. He was much more than a mere copyist, certainly. Madonna with the Green Cushion, one of his most famous paintings, offers a good example of what one might consider the true style of Solari. The picture itself remains in the Louvre in Paris, which is perhaps part of the reason for why it is amongst his best known pieces. Madonna with the Green Cushion is a title which was actually appended by those who discovered the piece in a convent in France. It is likely, therefore, to have been produced during the artist's time living in France which lasted a total of eight years.

Examining that particular artwork, we find a beautiful softness of skin with both figures and also a skilled landsape scene as the backdrop - unusual for the Renaissance at this time. There is suggestion that the influence of French art can be found in the roundness of elements of here, and the overall atmosphere is charming and delightful. It is considered by many to be amongst his masterpieces and was purchased soon after its discovery. All these years later, one can almost reach out and feel the velvet cushion whilst viewing the artwork in the Louvre. The cushion naturally symbolises the care and love with which the Madonna is treating Baby Jesus and the rest of the style and composition perfectly fits this theme of tenderness, making it a more personal and accessible depiction than many religious artworks from this period, which tended to be more moralistic in tone.

Talents as a Draughtsman

Andrea Solari was also a highly skilled draughtsman, which was a prerequisite for any Italian Renaissance artist seeking academic acceptance. The nearest drawings that we have to his portrait of the Madonna would be a composition where the baby is asleep beside a sheep, whilst she looks on attentively. Many of his drawings were particularly detailed, full artworks in their own right and much more than simple experimentations of individual elements of a figure, such as a posed shoulder or bent arm. His relative position within the Renaissance meant that his drawings were not documented or preserved as well as the great masters, but we do still have some left today. Most of these are kept in various collections around Italy, whilst his paintings are slightly more widely dispersed, with several in Spain, UK and the US.