: Dante vivo || White Silence




N. 15934. Galleria Pitti. Ritratto di Andrea del Sarto e di Lucrezia del Fede sua moglie. Andrea del Sarto.

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Edward Dowden in his fine but now forgotten book, The Life of Robert Browning (London. Dent, 1915/1927), in a footnote on page 191, states that

Mrs Andrew Crosse, in her article, 'John Kenyon and his Friends' (Temple Bar Magazine, April 1900), writes: 'When the Brownings were living in Florence, Kenyon had begged them to procure for him a copy of the portrait in the Pitti of Andea del Sarto and his wife. Mr Browning was unable to get the copy made with any promise of satisfaction, and so wrote the exquisite poem of Andrea del Sarto - and sent it to Kenyon!'

Here is the poem:

But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I'll content him, - but to-morrow, Love!
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,
Both of one mind, as married people use,
Quietly, quietly the evening through,
I might get up to-morrow to my work
Cheerful and fresh as ever. Let us try.
To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!
Your soft hand is a woman of itself,
And mine the man's bared breast she curls inside.
Don't count the time lost, neither; you must serve
For each of the five pictures we require:
It saves a model. So! keep looking so -
My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds!
How could you ever prick those perfect ears,
Even to put the pearl there! oh, so sweet -
My face, my moon, my everybody's moon,
Which everybody looks on and calls his,
And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn,
While she looks - no one's: very dear, no less.
You smile? why, there's my picture ready made, 
There's what we painters call our harmony! 
A common greyness silvers everything, -
All in a twilight, you and I alike
- You, at the point of your first pride in me
(That's gone you know), - but I, at every point;
My youth, my hope, my art, being all toned down
To yonder sober pleasant Fiesole.
There's the bell clinking from the chapel-top;
That length of convent-wall across the way
Holds the trees safer, huddled more inside;
The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,
And autumn grows, autumn in everything.
Eh? the whole seems to fall into a shape
As if I saw alike my work and self
And all that I was born to be and do,
A twilight-piece. 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!
This chamber for example - turn your head -
All that's behind us! You don't understand
Nor care to understand about my art,
But you can hear at least when people speak:
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, what at bottom of my heart
I wish for, if I ever wish so deep -
Do easily, too - when I say, perfectly,
I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge,
Who listened to the Legate's talk last week,
And just as much they used to say in France.
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. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive - you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat, -
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) - so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.
There burns a truer light of God in them,
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,
Heart, or whate'er else, than goes on to prompt
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine.
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me,
Enter and take their place there sure enough,
Though they come back and cannot tell the world.
My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.
The sudden blood of these men! at a word -
Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too.
I, painting from myself and to myself,
Know what I do, am unmoved by men's blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello's outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
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'erlooked the world!" No doubt.
Yonder's a work now, of that famous youth
The Urbinate who died five years ago.
('Tis copied, George 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 - for it gives way;
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 Rafael, I and you!
Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think -
More than I merit, yes, by many times.
But had you - oh, 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 Agnolo!
"Rafael is waiting: up to God, all three!"
I might have done it for you. So it seems:
Perhaps not. All is as God over-rules.
Beside, incentives come from the soul's self;
The rest avail not. Why do I need you?
What wife had Rafael, or has Agnolo?
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, Rafael'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
Profuse, my hand kept plying by those hearts, -
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:
Too live the life grew, golden and not grey,
And I'm the weak-eyed bat no sun should tempt
Out of the grange whose four walls make his world.
How could it end in any other way?
You called me, and I came home to your heart.
The triumph was - to reach and stay there; since
I reached it ere the triumph, what is lost?
Let my hands frame your face in your hair's gold,
You beautiful Lucrezia that are mine!
"Rafael did this, Andrea painted that;
"The Roman's is the better when you pray,
"But still the other's Virgin was his wife - "
Men will excuse me. I am glad to judge
Both pictures in your presence; clearer grows
My better fortune, I resolve to think.
For, do you know, Lucrezia, as God lives,
Said one day Agnolo, his very self,
To Rafael . . . I have known it all these years . . .
(When the young man was flaming out his thoughts
Upon a palace-wall for Rome to see,
Too lifted up in heart because of it)
"Friend, there's a certain sorry little scrub
"Goes up and down our Florence, none cares how,
"Who, were he set to plan and execute
"As you are, pricked on by your popes and kings,
"Would bring the sweat into that brow of yours!"
To Rafael's! - And indeed the arm is wrong. 
I hardly dare . . . yet, only you to see,
Give the chalk here - quick, thus, the line should go!
Ay, but the soul! he's Rafael! rub it out!
Still, all I care for, if he spoke the truth,
(What he? why, who but Michel Agnolo? 
Do you forget already words like those?)
If really there was such a chance, so lost, -
Is, whether you're - not grateful - but more pleased.
Well, let me think so. And you smile indeed!
This hour has been an hour! Another smile?
If you would sit thus by me every night
I should work better, do you comprehend?
I mean that I should earn more, give you more.
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!
Let us but love each other. Must you go?
That Cousin here again? he waits outside?
Must see you - you, and not with me? Those loans?
More gaming debts to pay? you smiled for that?
Well, let smiles buy me! have you more to spend?
While hand and eye and something of a heart
Are left me, work's my ware, and what's it worth?
I'll pay my fancy. Only let me sit
The grey remainder of the evening out,
Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
How I could paint, were I but back in France,
One picture, just one more - the Virgin's face, 
Not yours this time! I want you at my side
To hear them - that is, Michel Agnolo -
Judge all I do and tell you of its worth.
Will you? To-morrow, satisfy your friend.
I take the subjects for his corridor,
Finish the portrait out of hand - there, there,
And throw him in another thing or two
If he demurs; the whole should prove enough
To pay for this same Cousin's freak. Beside,
What's better and what's all I care about,
Get you the thirteen scudi for the ruff!
Love, does that please you? Ah, but what does he,
The Cousin! what does he to please you more?

I am grown peaceful as old age to-night.
I regret little, I would change still less.
Since there my past life lies, why alter it?
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.
They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died:
And I have laboured somewhat in my time
And not been paid profusely. Some good son
Paint my two hundred pictures - let him try!
No doubt, there's something strikes a balance. Yes,
You loved me quite enough, it seems to-night.
This must suffice me here. What would one have?
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 Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo and me
To cover - the three first without a wife,
While I have mine! So - still they overcome
Because there's still Lucrezia, - as I choose.

Again the Cousin's whistle! Go, my Love.

N. 15934. Galleria Pitti. Ritratto di Andrea del Sarto e di Lucrezia del Fede sua moglie. Andrea del Sarto.

For larger image, click here

These two paintings, now much obscured by darkening varnish, are hung separately in the Pitti Gallery in Florence, and are no longer attributed to Andrea del Sarto, but were very much admired in the Victorian period, who were such avid readers of Vasari's account of this and other artists' lives. Photographers joined them up together. In an ancient album of engravings of the Palace Collection, the following truncated account is given of the painting.

        Andrea Del Sarto
        Due ritratti, ambidue di sua mano

Ecco le sembianze, che di s col penello effigava il celebre Andrea del Sarto, nel quale uno mostrarono la natura e l'arte tutto quello che pu far la pittura mediante il disegno, il colorire e l'invenzione, diceva del suo maestro, Giorgio Vasari, che ognuno sa quanta avesse nelle artistiche discipline e sagacia d'occhio e dirittura manifesto nel presente ritratto, che basterebbe a provarlo stupendo lavoro della sua mano: ma a farcene pi certi soccorre il rilievo della figura, che dalla tela distaccasi, in guisa da reputarla faccia d'uom vivo e parlante: illusione mirabile e cara, che nei dipinti di quel famoso deriva dalla maga d'invisibili mezze-tinte; privilegio suo tutto, che lo solleva al primato dell'arte, e il fa dagli emuli singolare: di sorta che basta essere mezzanamente versati nelle cose della pittura, per ravvisare a colpo d'occhio, anche fra mille, un su quadro. Paonazza la vesta, e piacquesi tratteggiarla quasi con sprezzo, o, come suol dirsi, alla presta; non senza per che tanto vi sieno pronunciate le pieghe, quanto richiesto a farla ondeggiare con verit  e con naturalezza. Difficile economia che i sommi artisti caratterizza, e separa dai mediocri: i quali credendo far pompa d'ingegno e di fantasia sbracciansi a raffazzonare le oopere loro con un subisso di mendicati ornamenti. Maggiormente spicca e si anima la carnagione del volto sotto il nero berretto che impose al capo, e che lasciando gi dalla fronte, mezzo scoperta, scappar fuori dietro le orecchie divisi in due list lunghissime folte e crespe i capegli, gl'impronta nella fisonomia la mansuetudine e la shiettezza del cuore. N a questa sua effigie conento, la ricopiava per assicurarsi forse ch'una almeno durasse ai posteri, testimonio di ci che era nella fattezze, e nel tempo stess di ci che poteva nell'arte: e tuttedue le possiede e conserva la patria sua nella Gallaeria Palatina e nella Galleria delle Statue.

Passiamo ora e considerarlo nell'altro quadro ov'egli di nuovo di rappresenta le sue sembianze, e quelle della sua donna.

'Non ti sia grave, o Lucrezia, di leggere codesto foglio e vedrai come parla a nome di un re: il quale mi stato, e da capo vuol essermi liberale di beneficj. Per far pago il desiderio tuo, guarda se tu mi sei caramente diletta, ne abbandonai la splendid corte, dove d'ogni sorta ricevetti amorevoli cortesie e segnalati compensi, e dove se avessi fermata la mira dimora, sarei, non v'ha dubbio, salito, lasciam star le ricchezze, a onoratissimo grado. Ma nel congedarmi da lui, che, soprammodo incresioso a vedermi partire studiava rimovermi con gentili violenze dal mio proposto, di tornarvi in tua compagnia, dopo alcni mesi trascorsi, obbligai con giuramento la fede. Il mettere pi tempo in mezzo me tornerebbe a grave discapito e a grave torto. Osserva di grazia come degna exxitarmi con amichevoli richiami, e con generosa modestia a mantener la promessa? Or d: come scioglermi di tanto debito? come tradire tante speranze? a s turpe e a s mostruosa ingratitudine quale, non dico perdono, ma scusa? come d'infamia sar  notato il mio nome! Risolviti adunque da quella che sei donna savia e prudente; vieni con essomeco e provvedi in uno al nostro decoro e al nostro interesse: viene a Parigi: col si onorano con lodi e con guiderdoni le opere . . .

But we lack the other page or the engraving, these large folios coming from an Antiquarian going into retirement who gave us engravings he had not yet sold.

Giorgio Vasari, Andrea del Sarto's pupil, wrote his life among many others, and gives much information concerning his marriage to the widow Lucrezia del Fede. Interestingly, his account differs in significant ways from Robert Browning's re-telling. Vasari's life begins with an account of his training, of his coming to the Santissima Annunziata of the Servites, and of his paintings for them. Then it adds:

These works brought Andrea into greater notice, and many pictures and works of importance were entrusted to him, and he made for himself so great a name in the city that he was considered one of the first painters, and although he had asked little for his works he found himself in a position to help his relatives. But falling in love with a young woman who was left a widow, he took her for his wife, and had enough to do all the rest of his life, and had to work harder than he had ever done before, for besides the duties and liabilities which belong to such a union, he took upon him many more troubles, being constantly vexed with jealousy and one thing and another. And all who knew his case felt compassion for him, and blamed the simplicity which had reduced him to such a condition. He had been much sought after by his friends before, but now he was avoided. For though his pupils stayed with him, hoping to learn something from him, there was not one, great or small, who did not suffer by her evil words or blows during the time he was there.

Nevertheless, this torment seemed to him the highest pleasure. He never put a woman in any picture which he did not draw from her, for even if another sat to him, through seeing her constantly and having drawn her so often, and, what is more, having her impressed on his mind, it always came about that the head resembled hers.

A certain Florentine, Giovanni Battista Puccini, being extraordinarily pleased with Andrea's work, charged him to paint a picture of our Lady to send to France, but it was so beautiful that he kept it himself and did not send it away. However, trafficking constantly with France, and being employed to send good pictures there, he gave Andrea another picture to paint, a dead Christ supported by angels. When it was done every one was so pleased with it that Andrea was entreated to let it be engraved in Rome by Agostino Veniziano, but as it did not succeed very well he would never let any other of his pictures be engraved. The picture itself gave no less pleasure to France than it had done in Italy, and the king gave orders that Andrea should do another, in consequence of which he resolved at his friend's persuasion to go himself to France. But that year 1515 the Florentines, hearing that Pope Leo X meant to honour his native place with a visit, gave orders that he should be received with great feasting, and such magnificent decorations were prepared, with arches, statues, and other ornaments, as had never been seen before, there being at that time in the city a greater number of men of genius and talent than there had ever been before. And what was most admired was the faade of S. Maria del Fiore, made of wood and painted with pictures by Andrea del Sarto, the architecture being by Jacopo Sansovino, with some bas-reliefs and statues, and the Pope pronounced that it could not have been more beautiful it it had been in marble.

Meanwhile King Francis I, greatly admiring his works, was told that Andrea would easily be persuaded to remove to France and enter into his service; and the thing pleased the king well. So he gave command that money should be paid him for his journey; and Andrea set out joyfully for France, taking with him Andrea Sguarzella his pupil. And having arrived at the court, he was received lovingly by the king, and before the first day was over experienced the liberality of that magnanimous king, receiving gifts of money and rich garments. He soon began to work and won the esteem of the king and the whole court, being caressed by all, so that it seemed to him he had passed from a state of extreme unhappiness to the greatest felicity. among his first works he painted from life the Dauphin, then only a few months old, and therefore in swaddling clothes, and when he brought it to the king he received for it three hundred crowns of gold. And the king, that he might stay with him willingly, ordered that great provision should be made for him, and that he should want for nothing. But one day, while he was working upon a St Jerome for the king's mother, there came to him letters from Lucrezia his wife, whom he had left in Florence, and she wrote that when he was away, although his letters told her he was well, she could not cease from worries and constant weeping, using many sweet words apt to touch the heart of a man who loved her only too well, so that the poor man was nearly beside himself when he read that if he did not return soon her would find her dead. So he prayed the king for leave to go to Florence and put his affairs in order, and bring his wife to France, promising to bring with him on his return pictures and sculptures of price. The king, trusting him, gave him money for this purpose, and Andrea swore on the gospels to return in a few months. He arrived in Florence happily, and enjoyed himself with his beautiful wife and friends. At last, the time having come when he ought to return to the king, he found himself in extremity, for he had spent on building and on his pleasure his own money and the king's also. Nevertheless he would have returned, but the tears and prayers of his wife prevailed against his promise to the king. When he did not return the king was so angered that for a long time he would not look at a Florentine painter, and swore that if ever Andrea fell into his hands, it should be to his hurt, without regard to his talents.

Stopping on my way cycling home from Mass, I photographed these two pictures just beyond and opposite the Santissima Annunziata
. . .

He returned to Florence. Here he was employed by Giacomo, a Servite friar, who, when absolving a woman from a vow, had commanded her to have the figure of our Lady painted over a door in the Nunziata. Finding Andrea, he told him that he had this money to spend, and although it was not much, it would be well done of him to undertake it; and Andrea, being soft-hearted, was prevailed upon by the father's persuasions, and painted in fresco our Lady with the Child in her arms, and St Joseph leaning on a sack. This picture needs none to praise it, for all can see it to be a most rare work.

One day Andrea had been painting the intendent of the monks of Vallombrosa, and when the work was done some of the colour was left over, and Andrea, taking a tile, called Lucretia, his wife, and said, 'Come here, for as this colour is left, I will paint you, that it may be seen how well you are preserved for your age, and yet how you have changed and how different you are from your first portraits'. But the woman, having some fancy or other, would not sit still, and Andrea, as if he guessed that he was near his end, took a mirror and painted himself instead so well that the portrait seems alive. This portrait is still in possession of Lucrezia his wife.

The gorgeous yellow silk is still spun, dyed and woven in Florence.
See Antico Setificio Fiorentino

. . .

After the seige was over, Florence was filled with the soldiers from the camp, and some of the spearmen being ill with the plague caused no little panic in the city, and in a short time the infection spread. Either from the fear excited by it, or from having committed some excess in eating after the privations of the siege, Andrea one day fell ill, and taking to his bed, he died, it is said, almost without any one perceiving it, without medicine and without much care, for his wife kept as far from him as she could for fear of the plague.

N. 15934. Galleria Pitti. Ritratto di Andrea del Sarto e di Lucrezia del Fede sua moglie. Andrea del Sarto.

For larger image, click here

Giorgio Vasari tells the story of his maestro, with loathing for the wife, though he himself was also to marry, and to marry happily. The voice in this account is Vasari's and not Andrea's. Vasari's Andrea foolishly adores his wife. Browning's Andrea deeply resents Lucrezia. I would argue that the voice in the Victorian poem is not only that of Browning's 'Andrea' but is that of Browning himself, of a Browning deeply resenting Elizabeth's greater fame during her lifetime, and that Robert Browning has thus constructed of Andrea Del Sarto's double portrait his own 'Portrait of a Marriage'. Reverberating with these portraits of wives is also that of Browning's 'My Last Duchess'. For which see 'An Old Yellow Book'.

Andrea Del Sarto, John the Baptist, Last Supper, Madonna of the Harpies, Woman with 'Petrarchino',
Holy Family


Michele Gordigiani, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Commissioned by the American Spiritualist Sophia Eckley.
Michele Gordigiani's studio is in Piazzale Donatello, next to the 'English' Cemetery where EBB is buried.

Andrea del Sarto and Lucrezia del Fede, in his Studio beside the Santissima Annunziata, close to Porta a' Pinti

: Dante vivo || White Silence