Jacopo de’ Tatti was born in Florence in 1486 and, as recounted by Vasari (1511−1574) in his Lives (1568), was interested in artistic creation from an early age. Little is known about these early years, except that he started out as an apprentice in the workshop of the sculptor Andrea Sansovino (1460−1529), whose surname he adopted in place of Tatti.
In 1506 he travelled to Rome at the invitation of Giuliano da Sangallo (about 1443−1516), architect to Pope Julius II (1443−1513). During his time in the city he was able to study Classical art through the Belvedere sculptures and the archaeological finds discovered there, among them the Laocoön.
Following his Roman period Sansovino returned to Florence, where he worked from 1512 to 1518, chiefly as a sculptor. His most important works include a Saint James the Elder (about 1511−1518) for the Duomo and a Bacchus (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence).
Back in Rome in 1518 he was involved in various architectural projects for Pope Leo X, such as the construction of the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and the rebuilding of the church of San Marcello.
The Sack of Rome took place in 1527 and Sansovino fled to Venice. Doge Andrea Gritti (1455−1538) commissioned him to restore the cupolas of St Mark’s basilica (1527−29), then in poor condition owing to the passage of time and the building’s weak foundations. The restoration was successful and he was appointed proto or official architect of the Republic in 1529. His innovative architecture brought about a change in Venetian construction criteria and established a new way of building that left a mark on the city’s personality. His first major commission was the Library of St Mark’s, begun in 1537 opposite the Doge’s Palace. He completed the layout of St Mark’s Square with a project that included finishing the Procuratie Vecchie, the design of the Zecca (mint), the Logetta at the base of the Campanile, and the church of San Gimignano. During this time he also designed many private palazzos. The first was the Corner della Ca’ Granda (1533), and the result was so beautiful that commissions soon followed from other nobles eager to live in such modern buildings. Prominent among his sculptures are the marble statues of Neptune and Mars (1554−56) – symbols of the power of the Republic at sea and on land – which decorated the staircase leading to the Doge’s Palace.
Sansovino, who was friends with Titian (1485/1490−1576) and Pietro Aretino (1492−1556), left many pupils and followers. He soon became the foremost Venetian sculptor and architect of the sixteenth century.