Italian Paintings – Andrea Del Sarto

No one can go to Florence without becoming a lover of Andrea del Sarto, and it is only at Florence one can see him at his best. He was the son of a tailor (Sartore) . Andrea del Sarto means the tailor’s Andrea. He was the pupil of Piero di Cosimo Piero, whose quaint humor and eccentric habits make one of the most amusing chapters in Vasari.

George Eliot introduces Piero to us early in Romola, and he goes with us to the end of the book. He is the same Piero who, stepping into Nello’s barber shop that April day in 1492, fixed his keen eyes on Tito and said, “Young man, I am painting a picture of Sinon deceiving old Priam, and I would be glad of your face for my Sinon, if you’d give me a sitting.” The same Piero who painted the portraits of Romola and Tito as the crowned Ariadne sitting by the side of young Bacchus; the same Piero whom we see for the last time as he comes up the Borgo Pinti, bringing flowers for Romola to dress the altar on the morrow for Fra Girolamo’s Festa. Andrea was rightly called the faultless painter. In drawing, color, everything pertaining to the technique of art, he was above criticism.

He fell in love with a beautiful, heartless woman. His life with her killed all that was best in him. Nothing was left him but his faultless hand and her faultless face. In Browning’s poem, “Andrea del Sarto,” the whole tragedy is distilled into the right words, the whole man raised up and reclothed with flesh. Look at the portrait of Andrea and Lucrezia, painted by himself. His face tells the story more than any written words. The glory and vision are all gone. He grew morose and jealous ; he abandoned his own father and mother, and was completely changed under her baneful influence. He lived a disappointed and embittered man, yet he clung to his wife through everything, bearing all the torment she brought, for the great love he bore her.

Poor Andrea ! How near Browning brings us to him that summer night as he sits by Lucrezia’s side looking out on Fiesole, speaking half to himself, half to her.

“But, do not let us quarrel any more, No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once: I often am much wearier than you think. This evening more than usual, and it seems As if forgive now should you let me sit Here by the window, with your hand in mine, And look a half hour forth on Fiesole, I might get up tomorrow to my work Cheerful and fresh as ever.

I am grown peaceful as old age tonight. I regret little, I would change still less. Since there my past life lies, why alter it?

Love, we are in God’s hand.

How strange now looks the life he makes us lead; So free we seem, so fettered fast we are! I feel he laid the fetter: let it lie.”

Poor Andrea ! How well he understood that the something which made the pictures of many of the other artists divine was wanting in his, and which he voices in these words :

And that cartoon, the second from the door- It is the thing, Love ! so such things should be – Behold Madonna !—I am bold to say I can do with my pencil what I know, What I see, do easily, too when I say, perfectly, I do not boast, perhaps : you yourself are judge, Who listened to the Legate’s talk last week. At any rate ’tis easy, all of it ! No sketches first, no studies, that’s long past : I do what many dream of all their lives, Dream? Strive to do, and agonize to do, And fail in doing, but, There burns a truer light of God in them, In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain, Heart, or what else than goes on to prompt This low pulsed forthright craftsman’s hand of mine. Their works drop groundward, but them-selves, I know, Reach many a time a heaven that’s shut to me, Enter and take their place there, Though they come back and cannot tell the world. My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver gray, Placid, and perfect with my art: the worse! I know both what I want and what might gain, And yet how profitless to know, to sigh “Had I been two, another and myself, Our head would have o’er looked the world!” No doubt. Yonder’s a work now, of that famous youth, The Urbinate, who died five years ago. (‘Tis copied, Giorgio Vasari sent it me.) Well, I can fancy how he did it all,

Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see, Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, Above and through his art ; That arm is wrongly put and there again A fault to pardon in the drawing’s lines, Its body, so to speak : its soul is right, He means right that, a child may understand. Still, what an arm ! and I could alter it. But all the play, the insight and the stretch Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out? Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul, We might have risen to Raphael, I and you ! Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think More than I merit, yes, by many times. But had you O ! with the same perfect brow, And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth, And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird The fowler’s pipe, and follows to the snare Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind ! Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged “God and the glory! never care for gain. The present by the future, what is that? Live for fame, side by side with Angelo! Raphael is waiting: up to God all three!” I might have done it for you. So it seems; Perhaps not. In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance Four great walls in the New Jerusalem, Meted on each side by the angel’s reed, For Leonardo, Raphael, Angelo and me, to cover.

King Francis I. saw some of Andrea’s pictures and determined to have some of them. Francis was a connoisseur and a greedy collector. France may well be proud of her art. She owes much to Francis I. He sent for Leonardo da Vinci, for Rosso, for Benvenuto Cellini and lastly for Andrea del Sarto. The works of these men form some of the principal attractions of the Louvre today.

Andrea received the invitation of the king with great joy, and at once set out for Paris.

His work gave the greatest satisfaction, and a brilliant future seemed about to open before him, but one day there came a letter from Lucrezia, which made him decide to go home. He made a solemn oath on the gospel, before the king, that he would return in a short time. The king gave him a large sum of money with which to buy pictures and statues. When once under the spell of Lucrezia he forgot every-thing. The money which the king had entrusted to him he spent, he built himself a house with part of it. When the time came to return he had none of it left, but in spite of this, he wanted to go back and make the best amends he could. Lucrezia willed otherwise and he remained with her. Of this too he speaks, as he sits by her side that summer night.

In this world, who can do a thing, will not; And who would do it, cannot, I perceive: Yet the will’s somewhat, somewhat, too, the power- And thus we half-men struggle. At the end, God, I conclude, compensates, punishes, ‘Tis safer for me, if the award be strict, That I am something underrated here, Poor this long while, despised, to speak the truth. I dared not, do you know, leave home all day, For fear of chancing on the Paris lords. The best is when they pass, and look aside ; But they speak sometimes; I must bear it all. Well may they speak! That Francis, that first time And that long festal year at Fontainebleau ! I surely then could sometimes leave the ground, Put on the glory, Raphael’s daily wear, In that humane great monarch’s golden look, One finger in his beard or twisted curl Over his mouth’s good mark that made the smile, One arm about my shoulder, round my neck, The jingle of his gold chain in my ear, I painting proudly with his breath on me, All his court round him, seeing with his eyes, Such frank French eyes, and such a fire of souls, And best of all, this, this, this face beyond, This in the background, waiting on my work To crown the issue with a last reward ! A good time, was it not, my kingly days? And had you not grown restless but I know ‘Tis done and past; ’twas right, my instinct said ; How could it end in any other way? You called me, and I came home to your heart. You beautiful Lucrezia that are mine !

The very wrong to Francis !—it is true I took his coin, was tempted and complied, And built this house and sinned, and all is said. My father and my mother died of want. Well, had I riches of my own? You see How one gets rich ! Let each one bear his lot. See, it is settled dusk now; there’s a star; Morello’s gone, the watch-lights show the wall, The cue-owls speak the name we call them by. Come from the window, Love come in, at last, Inside the melancholy little house We built to be so gay with. God is just. King Francis may forgive me: oft at nights When I look up from painting, eyes tired out, The walls become illumined, brick from brick Distinct, instead of mortar, fierce bright gold, That gold of his, I did cement them with!

After the siege of Florence was over, Andrea hoped he might be re-instated into the favor of King Francis, but this hope was never realized. The soldiers brought the plague with them, and Florence was one vast hospital. Lucrezia, for whom he had thrown away fame and honor, fled from him, leaving him to die alone and uncared for.

The picture of Andrea and Lucrezia is in the Pitti Palace.

Mrs. Anna Benneson McMahan says : “What is known as the ‘New Criticism,’ denies that Andrea painted this picture. They ascribe it to an unknown artist of the Venetian school, and the portraits are considered to be two unknown persons. Whether right or wrong, no critical conclusion can ever destroy the charm of the poem called Andrea del Sarto. By whatever name we call the picture, to what-ever artist we assign it, the story which Browning read between the lines of the two faces looking out from the canvas is no less eloquent than the monologue, no less dramatically expressive of that type of artist who just misses his place among the very greatest by reason of his lack of spiritual power and grace. For years hundreds of persons daily had passed unmoved before this picture in the Pitti gallery; one day the man of supreme dramatic imagination, the poet, paused, and to him the lips seemed to move and the heart to throb with a tale of love, and woe, and resigned despair. Since that time there are none who read the poem who do not wish to see the picture itself, or failing in that, some reproduction of it.”

( Originally Published 1912 )

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