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ANDREA DEL SARTO (1486-1531)
Painter of Florence
Second Part

Vasari's Lives of the Artists


Andrea then painted for Zanobi Girolami a picture with figures of no great size, wherein was a story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, which was finished by him with unremitting diligence, and therefore held to be a very beautiful painting. Not long after this, he undertook to execute for the men of the Company of S. Maria della Neve, situated behind the Nunnery of S. Ambrogio, a little panel with three figures Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, and S. Ambrogio; which work, when finished, was placed in due time on the altar of that Company.

Meanwhile, thanks to his talent, Andrea had become intimate with Giovanni Gaddi, afterwards appointed Clerk of the Chamber, who, always delighting in the arts of design, was then keeping Jacopo Sansovino continually at work. Being pleased, therefore, with the manner of Andrea, he caused him to paint a picture of Our Lady for himself, which was very beautiful, for Andrea painted various patterns and other ingenious devices round it, so that it was considered to be the most beautiful work that he had executed up to that time. After this he made for Giovanni di Paolo, the mercer, another picture of Our Lady, which, being truly lovely, gave infinite pleasure to all who saw it. And for Andrea Santini he executed another, containing Our Lady, Christ, S. John, and S. Joseph, all wrought with such diligence that the painting has always been esteemed in Florence as worthy of great praise.

All these works acquired such a name for Andrea in his city, that among the many, both young and old, who were painting at that time, he was considered one of the most excellent who were handling brushes and colors. Wherefore he found himself not only honored, but even, although he exacted the most paltry prices for his labors, in a condition to do something to help and support his family, and also to shelter himself from the annoyances and anxieties which afflict those of us who live in poverty. But he became enamoured of a young woman, and a little time afterwards, when she had been left a widow, he took her for his wife; and then he had more than enough to do for the rest of his life, and much more trouble than he had suffered in the past, for the reason that, in addition to the labors and annoyances that such entanglements generally involve, he undertook others into the bargain, such as that of letting himself be harassed now by jealousy, now by one thing, and now by another.

But to return to the works of his hand, which were as rare as they were numerous: after those of which mention has been made above, he painted for a friar of S. Croce, of the Order of Minorites, who was then Governor of the Nunnery of S. Francesco in Via Pentolini, and delighted much in paintings, a panel-picture destined for the Church of those Nuns, of Our Lady standing on high upon an octagonal pedestal, at the corners of which are seated some Harpies, as it were in adoration of the Virgin; and she, using one hand to uphold her Son, who is clasping her most tenderly round the neck with His arms, in a very beautiful attitude, is holding a closed book in the other hand and gazing on two little naked boys, who, while helping her to stand upright, serve as ornaments about her person. This Madonna has on her right a beautifully painted S. Francis, in whose face may be seen the goodness and simplicity that truly belonged to that saintly man; besides which, the feet are marvellous, and so are the draperies, because Andrea always rounded off his figures with a very rich flow of folds and with certain most delicate curves, in such a way as to reveal the nude below. On her left hand she has a S. John the Evangelist, represented as a young man and in the act of writing his Gospel, in a very beautiful manner. In this work, moreover, over the building and the figures, is a film of transparent clouds, which appear to be really moving. This picture, among all Andrea's works, is held at the present day to be one of singular and truly rare beauty. For the joiner Nizza, also, he made a picture of Our Lady, which was considered to be no less beautiful than any of his other works.

After this, the Guild of Merchants determined to have some triumphal chariots made of wood after the manner of those of the ancient Romans, to the end that these might be drawn in procession on the morning of S. John's day, in place of certain altar cloths and wax tapers which the cities and townships carry in token of tribute, passing before the Duke and the chief magistrates; and out of ten that were made at that time, Andrea painted some with scenes in oils and in chiaroscuro, which were much extolled. But although it was proposed that some should be made every year, until such time as every city and district had one of its own, which would have produced a show of extraordinary magnificence, nevertheless this custom was abandoned in the year 1527.

Now, while Andrea was adorning his city with these and other works, and his name was growing greater every day, the men of the Company of the Scalzo resolved that he should finish the work in their cloister, which he had formerly begun by painting the scene of the Baptism of Christ. Having resumed that work, therefore, more willingly, he executed two scenes there, with two very beautiful figures of Charity and Justice to adorn the door that leads into the building of the Company. In one of these scenes he represented S. John preaching to the multitude in a spirited attitude, lean in person, as befitted the life that he was leading, and with an expression of countenance filled with inspiration and thoughtfulness. Marvellous, likewise, are the variety and the vivacity of his hearers, some being shown in admiration, and all in astonishment, at hearing that new message and a doctrine so singular and never heard before. Even more did Andrea exert his genius in painting the same John baptizing with water a vast number of people, some of whom are stripping off their clothes, some receiving the baptism, and others, naked, waiting for him to finish baptizing those who are before them. In all of them Andrea showed a vivid emotion, with a burning desire in the gestures of those who are eager to be purified of their sins; not to mention that all the figures are so well executed in that chiaroscuro, that the whole has the appearance of a real and most lifelike scene in marble.

I will not refrain from saying that while Andrea was employed on these and other pictures, there appeared certain copper engravings by Albrecht Duerer, and Andrea made use of them, taking some of the figures and transforming them into his manner. And this has caused some people, while not saying that it is a bad thing for a man to make adroit use of the good work of others, to believe that Andrea had not much invention.

At that time there came to Baccio Bandinelli, then a draughtsman of great repute, a desire to learn to paint in oils. Whereupon, knowing that no man in Florence knew how to do that better than our Andrea, he commissioned him to paint his portrait, which was a good likeness of him at that age, as may be seen even yet; and thus, by watching him paint that work and others, he saw his method of coloring, although afterwards, either by reason of the difficulty or from lack of inclination, he did not pursue the use of colors, finding more satisfaction in sculpture.

Andrea executed for Alessandro Corsini a picture of a Madonna seated on the ground with a Child in her arms, surrounded by many little boys, which was finished with beautiful art and with very pleasing color; and for a mercer, much his friend, who kept a shop in Rome, he made a most beautiful head. Giovan Battista Puccini of Florence, likewise, taking extraordinary pleasure in the manner of Andrea, commissioned him to paint a picture of Our Lady for sending into France; but it proved to be so fine that he kept it for himself, and would by no means send it. However, having been asked, while transacting the affairs of his business in France, to undertake to send choice paintings to that country, he caused Andrea to paint a picture of a Dead Christ surrounded by some Angels, who were supporting Him and contemplating with gestures of sorrow and compassion their Maker sunk to such a pass through the sins of the world. This work, when finished, gave such universal satisfaction, that Andrea, urged by many entreaties, had it engraved in Rome by the Venetian Agostino; but it did not succeed very well, and he would never again give any of his works to be engraved. But to return to the picture: it gave no less satisfaction in France, whither it was sent, than it had done in Florence, insomuch that the King, kindled with even greater desi; which was the reason that Andrea, encouraged by his friends, resolved to go in a short time to France.

But meanwhile the Florentines, hearing in the year 1515 that Pope Leo X wished to grace his native city with his presence, ordained for his reception extraordinary festivities and a sumptuous and magnificent spectacle, with so many arches, facades, temples, colossal figures, and other statues and ornaments, that there had never been seen up to that time anything richer, more gorgeous, or more beautiful; for there was then flourishing in that city a greater abundance of fine and exalted intellects than had ever been known at any other period. At the entrance of the Porta di S. Piero Gattolini, Jacopo di Sandro, in company with Baccio da Montelupo, made an arch covered with historical scenes. Giuliano del Tasso made another at S. Felice in Piazza, with some statues and the obelisk of Romulus at S. Trinita', and Trajan's Column in the Mercato Nuovo. In the Piazza de' Signori, Antonio, the brother of Giuliano da San Gallo, erected an octagonal temple, and Baccio Bandinelli made a Giant for the Loggia. Between the Badia and the Palace of the Podesta there was an arch erected by Granaccio and Aristotele da San Gallo, and II Rosso made another on the Canto de' Bischeri with a very beautiful design and a variety of figures. But what was admired more than everything else was the facade of S. Maria del Fiore, made of wood, and so well decorated with various scenes in chiaroscuro by our Andrea, that nothing more could have been desired. The architecture of this work was by Jacopo Sansovino, as were some scenes in low-relief and many figures carved in the round; and it was declared by the Pope that this structure which was designed by Lorenzo de' Medici, father of that Pontiff, when he was alive could not have been more beautiful, even if it had been of marble.

The same Jacopo made a horse similar to the one in Rome, which was held to be a miracle of beauty, on the Piazza di S. Maria Novella. An endless number of ornaments, also, were executed for the Sala del Papa in the Via della Scala, and that street was half filled with most beautiful scenes wrought by the hands of many craftsmen, but designed for the most part by Baccio Bandinelli. Wherefore, when Leo entered Florence, on the third day of September in the same year, this spectacle was pronounced to be the grandest that had ever been devised, and the most beautiful.

But to return now to Andrea: being again requested to make another picture for the King of France, in a short time he finished one wherein he painted a very beautiful Madonna, which was sent off immediately, the merchants receiving for it four times as much as they had paid. Now at that very time Pier Francesco Borgherini had caused to be made by Baccio d' Agnolo some panelling, chests, chairs, and a bed, all carved in walnut wood, for the furnishing of an apartment; wherefore, to the end that the paintings therein might be equal in excellence to the rest of the work, he commissioned Andrea to paint part of the scenes on these with figures of no great size, representing the acts of Joseph the son of Jacob, in competition with some of great beauty that had been executed by Granaccio and Jacopo da Pontormo. Andrea, then, devoting an extraordinary amount of time and diligence to the work, strove to bring it about that they should prove to be more perfect than those of the others mentioned above; in which he succeeded to a marvel, for in the variety of events happening in the stories he showed how great was his worth in the art of painting. So excellent were those scenes, that an attempt was made by Giovan Battista della Palla, on account of the siege of Florence, to remove them from the places where they were fixed, in order to send them to the King of France; but, since they were fixed in such a way that it would have meant spoiling the whole work, they were left where they were, together with a picture of Our Lady, which is held to be a very choice work.

After this Andrea executed a head of Christ, now kept by the Servite Friars on the altar of the Nunziata, of such beauty, that I for my part do not know whether any more beautiful image of the head of Christ could be conceived by the intellect of man. For the chapels in the Church of S. Gallo, without the Porta S. Gallo, there had been painted, in addition to the two panel pictures by Andrea, a number of others, which were not equal to his; wherefore, since there was a commission to be given for another, those friars contrived to persuade the owner of the chapel to give it to Andrea; and he, beginning it immediately, made therein four figures standing, engaged in a disputation about the Trinity. One of these is S. Augustine, who, robed as a Bishop and truly African in aspect, is moving impetuously towards S. Peter Martyr, who is holding up an open book in a proud and sublime attitude: and the head and figure of the latter are much extolled. Beside him is a S. Francis holding a book in one hand and pressing the other against his breast; and he appears to be expressing with his lips a glowing ardour that makes him almost melt away in the heat of the discussion. There is also a S. Laurence, who, being young, is listening, and seems to be yielding to the authority of the others.

Below them are two figures kneeling, one a Magdalene with most beautiful draperies, whose countenance is a portrait of Andrea's wife; for in no place did he paint a woman's features without copying them from her, and if perchance it happened at times that he took them from other women, yet, from his being used to see her continually, and from the circumstance that he had drawn her so often, and, what is more, had her impressed on his mind, it came about that almost all the heads of women that he made resembled her. The other kneeling figure is a S. Sebastian, who, being naked, shows his back, which appears to all who see it to be not painted, but of living flesh. And indeed, among so many works in oils, this was held by craftsmen to be the best, for the reason that there may be seen in it signs of careful consideration in the proportions of the figures, and much order in the method, with a sense of fitness in the expressions of the faces, the heads of the young showing sweetness of expression, those of the old hardness, and those of middle age a kind of blend that inclines both to the first and to the second. In a word, this panel is most beautiful in all its parts; and it is now to be found in S. Jacopo tra Fossi on the Canto degli Alberti, together with others by the hand of the same master.

While Andrea was living poorly enough in Florence, engaged in these works, but without bettering himself a whit, the two pictures that he had sent to France had been duly considered in that country by King Francis I; and among many others which had been sent from Rome, from Venice, and from Lombardy, they had been judged to be by far the best. The King therefore praising them mightily, it was remarked to him that it would be an easy matter to persuade Andrea to come to France to serve his Majesty; which news was so agreeable to the King, that he gave orders that all that was necessary should be done, and that money for the journey should be paid to Andrea in Florence. Andrea then set out for France with a glad heart, taking with him his assistant Andrea Sguazzella; and, having arrived at last at the Court, they were received by the King with great kindness and rejoicing. Before the very day of his arrival had passed by, Andrea proved for himself how great were the courtesy and the liberality of that magnanimous King, receiving presents of money and rich and honorable garments. Beginning to work soon afterwards, he became so dear to the King and to all the Court, that he was treated lovingly by everyone, and it appeared to him that his departure from his country had brought him from one extreme of wretchedness to the other extreme of bliss. Among his first works was a portrait from life of the Dauphin, the son of the King, born only a few months before, and still in swaddling clothes; and when he took this to the King, he received a present of three hundred gold crowns.

Then, continuing to work, he painted for the King a figure of Charity, which was considered a very rare work and was held by that Sovereign in the estimation that it deserved. After that, his Majesty granted him a liberal allowance and did all that he could to induce Andrea to stay willingly with him, promising him that he should never want for anything; and this because he liked Andrea's resoluteness in his work, and also the character of the man, who was contented with everything. Moreover, giving great satisfaction to the whole Court, he executed many pictures and various other works; and if he had kept in mind the condition from which he had escaped and the place to which fortune had brought him, there is no doubt that he would have risen to say nothing of riches to a most honorable rank. But one day, when he was at work on a S. Jerome in Penitence for the mother of the King, there came to him some letters from Florence, written by his wife; and he began, whatever may have been the reason, to think of departing. He sought leave, therefore, from the King, saying that he wished to go to Florence, but would return without fail to his Majesty after settling some affairs; and he would bring his wife with him, in order to live more at his ease in France, and would come back laden with pictures and sculptures of value. The King, trusting in him, gave him money for that purpose; and Andrea swore on the Testament to return to him in a few months.

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