Link to Bibliography

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

Vasari's Lives of the Artists


Thus, then, he arrived in Florence, and for several months blissfully took his joy of his fair lady, his friends, and the city. And finally, the time at which he was to return having passed by, he found in the end that what with building, taking his pleasure, and doing no work, he had squandered all his money and likewise that of the King. Even so he wished to return, but he was more influenced by the sighs and prayers of his wife than by his own necessities and the pledge given to the King, so that, in order to please his wife, he did not go back; at which the King fell into such disdain, that for a long time he would never again look with a favorable eye on any painter from Florence, and he swore that if Andrea ever came into his hands he would give him a very different kind of welcome, with no regard whatever for his abilities. And thus Andrea, remaining in Florence, and sinking from the highest rung of the ladder to the very lowest, lived and passed the time as best he could.

After Andrea's departure to France, the men of the Scalzo, thinking that he would never return, had entrusted all the rest of the work in their cloister to Franciabigio, who had already executed two scenes there, when, seeing Andrea back in Florence, they persuaded him to set his hand to the work once more; and he, continuing it, painted four scenes, one beside another. In the first is S. John taken before Herod. In the second are the Feast and the Dance of Herodias, with figures very well grouped and appropriate. In the third is the Beheading of S. John, wherein the minister of justice, a half-nude figure, is beautifully drawn, as are all the others. In the fourth Herodias is presenting the head; and here there are figures expressing their astonishment, which are wrought with most beautiful thought and care. These scenes have been for some time the study and school of many young men who are now excellent in our arts.

In a shrine without the Porta a Pinti, at a corner where the road turns towards the Ingesuati, he painted in fresco a Madonna seated with a Child in her arms, and a little S. John who is smiling, a figure wrought with extraordinary art and with such perfect execution, that it is much extolled for its beauty and vivacity; and the head of the Madonna is a portrait of his wife from nature. This shrine, on account of the incredible beauty of the painting, which is truly marvellous, was left standing in 1530, when, because of the siege of Florence, the aforesaid Convent of the Ingesuati was pulled down, together with many other very beautiful buildings.

About the same time the elder Bartolommeo Panciatichi, who was carrying on a great mercantile business in France, desiring to leave a memorial of himself in Lyons, ordered Baccio d'Agnolo to have a panel painted for him by Andrea, and to send it to him there; saying that he wanted the subject to be the Assumption of Our Lady, with the Apostles about the tomb. This work, then, Andrea carried almost to completion; but since the wood of the panel split apart several times, he would sometimes work at it, and sometimes leave it alone, so that at his death it remained not quite finished. Afterwards it was placed by the younger Bartolommeo Panciatichi in his house, as a work truly worthy of praise on account of the beautiful figures of the Apostles; not to speak of the Madonna, who is surrounded by a choir of little boys standing, while certain others are supporting her and bearing her upwards with extraordinary grace. And in the foreground of the panel, among the Apostles, is a portrait of Andrea, so natural that it seems to be alive. It is now at the villa of the Baroncelli, a little distance from Florence, in a small church built by Piero Salviati near his villa to do honor to the picture.

At the head of the garden of the Servi, in two angles, Andrea painted two scenes of Christ's Vineyard, one showing the planting, staking, and binding of the vines, and then the husbandman summoning to the labor those who were standing idle, among whom is one who, being asked whether he wishes to join the work, sits rubbing his hands and pondering whether he will go among the other laborers, exactly as those idle fellows do who have but little mind to work. Even more beautiful is the other scene, wherein the same husbandman is causing them to be paid, while they murmur and complain, and one among them, who is counting over his money by himself, wholly intent on examining his share, seems absolutely alive, as also does the steward who is paying out the wages. These scenes are in chiaroscuro, and executed with extraordinary mastery in fresco. After them he painted a Pieta, colored in fresco, which is very beautiful, in a niche at the head of a staircase in the noviciate of the same convent. He also painted another Pieta' in a little picture in oils, in addition to a Nativity, for the room in that convent wherein the General, Angelo Aretino, once lived.

The same master painted for Zanobi Bracci, who much desired to have some work by his hand, for one of his apartments, a picture of Our Lady, in which she is on her knees, leaning against a rock, and contemplating Christ, who lies on a heap of drapery and looks up at her, smiling; while a S. John, who stands there, is making a sign to the Madonna, as if to say that her Child is the true Son of God. Behind these figures is a S. Joseph with his head resting on his hands, which are lying on a rock; and he appears to be filled with joy at seeing the human race become divine through that Birth.

Cardinal Giulio de' Medici having been commissioned by Pope Leo to see to the adorning with stucco and paintings of the ceiling in the Great Hall of Poggio a Caiano, a palatial villa of the Medici family, situated between Pistoia and Florence, the charge of arranging for that work and of paying out the money was given to the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, as to a person who, not falling short of the standard of his ancestors, was well informed in such matters and a loving friend to all the masters of our arts, and delighted more than any other man to have his dwellings adorned with the works of the most excellent. Ottaviano ordained, therefore, although the commission for the whole work had already been given to Franciabigio, that he should have only a third, Andrea another, and Jacopo da Pontormo the last. But it was found impossible, for all the efforts that the Magnificent Ottaviano made to urge them on, and for all the money that he offered and even paid to them, to get the work brought to completion; and Andrea alone finished with great diligence a scene on one wall, representing Caesar being presented with tribute of all kinds of animals.

The drawing for this work is in our book, with many others by his hand; it is in chiaroscuro, and is the most finished that he ever made. In this picture Andrea, in order to surpass Franciabigio and Jacopo, subjected himself to unexampled labor, drawing in it a magnificent perspective view and a very masterly flight of steps, which formed the ascent to the throne of Caesar. And these steps he adorned with very well-designed statues, not being content with having proved the beauty of his genius in the variety of figures that are carrying on their backs all those different animals, such as the figure of an Indian who is wearing a yellow coat, and carrying on his shoulders a cage drawn in perspective with some parrots both within it and without, the whole being rarely beautiful; and such, also, as some who are leading Indian goats, lions, giraffes, panthers, lynxes, and apes, with Moors and other lovely things of fancy, all grouped in a beautiful manner and executed divinely well in fresco. On these steps, also, he made a dwarf seated and holding a box containing a chameleon, which is so well executed in all the deformity of its fantastic shape, that it is impossible to imagine more beautiful proportions than those that he gave it. But, as has been said, this work remained unfinished, on account of the death of Pope Leo; and although Duke Alessandro de' Medici had a great desire that Jacopo da Pontormo should finish it, he was not able to prevail on him to put his hand to it. And in truth it suffered a very grievous wrong in the failure to complete it, seeing that the hall, for one in a villa, is the most beautiful in the world.

After returning to Florence, Andrea painted a picture with a nude half-length figure of S. John the Baptist, a very beautiful thing, which he executed at the commission of Giovan Maria Benintendi, who presented it afterwards to the Lord Duke Cosimo.

While affairs were proceeding in this manner, Andrea, remembering sometimes his connection with France, sighed from his heart: and if he had hoped to find pardon for the fault he had committed, there is no doubt that he would have gone back. Indeed, to try his fortune, he sought to see whether his talents might be helpful to him in the matter. Thus he painted a picture of a half-naked S. John the Baptist, meaning to send it to the Grand Master of France, to the end that he might occupy himself with restoring the painter to the favor of the King. However, whatever may have been the reason, he never sent it after all, but sold it to the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, who always valued it much as long as he lived, even as he did two pictures of Our Lady executed for him by Andrea in one and the same manner, which are in his house at the present day. Not long afterwards he was commissioned by Zanobi Bracci to paint a picture for Monsignore di San Biause,* [* Jacques de Beaune.] which he executed with all possible diligence, hoping that it might enable him to regain the favor of King Francis, to whose service he desired to return. He also executed for Lorenzo Jacopi a picture of much greater size than was usual, containing a Madonna seated with the Child in her arms, accompanied by two other figures that are seated on some steps; and the whole, both in drawing and in coloring, is similar to his other works. He painted for Giovanni d'Agostino Dini, likewise, a picture of Our Lady, which is now much esteemed for its beauty; and he made so good a portrait from life of Cosimo Lapi, that it seems absolutely alive.

Afterwards, in the year 1523, the plague came to Florence and also to some places in the surrounding country; and Andrea, in order to avoid that pestilence and also to do some work, went at the instance of Antonio Brancacci to the Mugello to paint a panel for the Nuns of S. Piero a Luco, of the Order of Camaldoli, taking with him his wife and a step- daughter, together with his wife's sister and an assistant. Living quietly there, then, he set his hand to the work. And since those venerable ladies showed more and more kindness and courtesy every day to his wife, to himself, and to the whole party, he applied himself with the greatest possible willingness to executing that panel, in which he painted a Dead Christ mourned by Our Lady, S. John the Evangelist, and the Magdalene, figures so lifelike, that they appear truly to have spirit and breath. In S. John may be seen the loving tenderness of that Apostle, with affection in the tears of the Magdalene, and bitter sorrow in the face and whole attitude of the Madonna, whose aspect, as she gazes on Christ, who seems to be truly a real corpse and in relief, is so pitiful, that she fills with helpless awe and bewilderment the minds of S. Peter and S. Paul, who are contemplating the Dead Saviour of the World in the lap of His mother. From these marvellous conceptions it is clear how much Andrea delighted in finish and perfection of art; and to tell the truth, this panel has given more fame to that convent than all the buildings and all the other costly works, however magnificent and extraordinary, that have been executed there.

This picture finished, Andrea, seeing that the danger of the plague was not yet past, stayed some weeks more in the same place, where he was so well received and treated with such kindness. During that time, in order not to be idle, he painted not only a Visitation of Our Lady to S. Elizabeth, which is in the church, on the right hand above the Manger, serving as a crown to a little ancient panel, but also, on a canvas of no great size, a most beautiful head of Christ, somewhat similar to that on the altar of the Nunziata, but not so finished. This head, which may in truth be numbered among the better works that issued from the hands of Andrea, is now in the Monastery of the Monks of the Angeli at Florence, in the possession of that very reverend father, Don Antonio da Pisa, who loves not only the men of excellence in our arts, but every man of talent without exception. From this picture several copies have been taken, for Don Silvano Razzi entrusted it to the painter Zanobi Poggini, to the end that he might make a copy for Bartolommeo Gondi, who had asked him for one, and some others were made, which are held in vast veneration in Florence.

In this manner, then, Andrea passed without danger the time of the plague, and those nuns received from the genius of that great man such a work as can bear comparison with the most excellent pictures that have been painted in our day; wherefore it is no marvel that Ramazzotto, the captain of mercenaries of Scaricalasino, sought to obtain it on several occasions during the siege of Florence, in order to send it to his chapel in S. Michele in Bosco at Bologna.

On his return to Florence, Andrea executed for Beccuccio da Gambassi, the glass-blower, who was very much his friend, a panel picture of Our Lady in the sky with the Child in her arms, and four figures below, S. John the Baptist, S. Mary Magdalene, S. Sebastian, and S. Rocco; and in the predella he made portraits from nature, which are most lifelike, of Beccuccio and his wife. This panel is now at Gambassi, a township in Valdelsa, between Volterra and Florence. For a chapel in the villa of Zanobi Bracci at Rovezzano, he painted a most beautiful picture of Our Lady suckling a Child, with a Joseph, all executed with such diligence that they stand out from the panel, so strong is the relief; and this picture is now in the house of M. Antonio Bracci, the son of that Zanobi. About the same time, also, and in the above-mentioned cloister of the Scalzo, Andrea painted two other scenes, in one of which he depicted Zacharias offering sacrifice and being made dumb by the Angel appearing to him, while in the other is the Visitation of Our Lady, beautiful to a marvel.

Now Federigo II, Duke of Mantua, in passing through Florence on his way to make obeisance to Clement VII, saw over a door in the house of the Medici that portrait of Pope Leo between Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Cardinal de' Rossi, which the most excellent Raffaello da Urbino had formerly painted; and being extraordinarily pleased with it, he resolved, being a man who delighted in pictures of such beauty, to make it his own. And so, when he was in Rome and the moment seemed to him to have come, he asked for it as a present from Pope Clement, who courteously granted his request. Thereupon orders were sent to Florence to Ottaviano de' Medici, under whose care and government were Ippolito and Alessandro, that he should have it packed up and taken to Mantua. This matter was very displeasing to the Magnificent Ottaviano, who would never have consented to deprive Florence of such a picture, and he marvelled that the Pope should have given it up so readily. However, he answered that he would not fail to satisfy the Duke; but that, since the frame was bad, he was having a new one made, and when it had been gilt he would send the picture with every possible precaution to Mantua. This done, Messer Ottaviano, in order to "save both the goat and the cabbage," as the saying goes, sent privately for Andrea and told him how the matter stood, and how there was no way out of it but to make an exact copy of the picture with the greatest care and send it to the Duke, secretly retaining the one by the hand of Raffaello. Andrea, then, having promised to do all in his power and knowledge, caused a panel to be made similar in size and in every respect, and painted it secretly in the house of Messer Ottaviano.

And to such purpose did he labor, that when it was finished even Messer Ottaviano, for all his understanding in matters of art, could not tell the one from the other, nor distinguish the real and true picture from the copy; especially as Andrea had counterfeited even the spots of dirt, exactly as they were in the original. And so, after they had hidden the picture of Raffaello, they sent the one by the hand of Andrea, in a similar frame, to Mantua; at which the Duke was completely satisfied, and above all because the painter Giulio Romano, a disciple of Raffaello, had praised it, failing to detect the trick. This Giulio would always have been of the same opinion, and would have believed it to be by the hand of Raffaello, but for the arrival in Mantua of Giorgio Vasari, who, having been as it were the adoptive child of Messer Ottaviano, and having seen Andrea at work on that picture, revealed the truth. For Giulio making much of Vasari, and showing him, after many antiquities and paintings, that picture of Raffaello's, as the best work that was there, Giorgio said to him, "A beautiful work it is, but in no way by the hand of Raffaello." "What?" answered Giulio. "Should I not know it, when I recognize the very strokes that I made with my own brush?" "You have forgotten them," said Giorgio, "for this picture is by the hand of Andrea del Sarto; and to prove it, there is a sign (to which he pointed) that was made in Florence, because when the two were together they could not be distinguished." Hearing this, Giulio had the picture turned round, and saw the mark; at which he shrugged his shoulders and said these words, "I value it no less than if it were by the hand of Raffaello nay, even more, for it is something out of the course of nature that a man of excellence should imitate the manner of another so well, and should make a copy so like. It is enough that it should be known that Andrea's genius was as valiant in double harness as in single." Thus, then, by the wise judgment of Messer Ottaviano, satisfaction was given to the Duke without depriving Florence of so choice a work, which, having been presented to him afterwards by Duke Alessandro, he kept in his possession for many years; and finally he gave it to Duke Cosimo, who has it in his guardaroba together with many other famous pictures.

While Andrea was making this copy, he also painted for the same Messer Ottaviano a picture with only the head of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, who afterwards became Pope Clement; and this head, which was similar to that by Raffaello, and very beautiful, was presented eventually by Messer Ottaviano to old Bishop de' Marzi.

Not long after, Messer Baldo Magini of Prato desiring to have a most beautiful panel picture painted for the Madonna delle Carcere in his native city, for which he had already caused a very handsome ornament of marble to be made, one of the many painters proposed to him was Andrea. Wherefore Messer Baldo, having more inclination for him than for any of the others, although he had no great understanding in such a matter, had almost given him to believe that he and no other should do the work, when a certain Niccolo Soggi of Sansovino, who had some interest at Prato, was suggested to Messer Baldo for the undertaking, and assisted to such purpose by the assertion that there was not a better master to be found, that the work was given to him. Meanwhile, Andrea's supporters sending for him, he, holding it as settled that the work was to be his, went off to Prato with Domenico Puligo and other painters who were his friends. Arriving there, he found that Niccolo not only had persuaded Messer Baldo to change his mind, but also was bold and shameless enough to say to him in the presence of Messer Baldo that he would compete with Andrea for a bet of any sum of money in painting something, the winner to take the whole. Andrea, who knew what Niccolo was worth, answered, although he was generally a man of little spirit, "Here is my assistant, who has not been long in our art. If you will bet with him, I will put down the money for him; but with me you shall have no bet for any money in the world, seeing that, if I were to beat you, it would do me no honor, and if I were to lose, it would be the greatest possible disgrace." And, saying to Messer Baldo that he should give the work to Niccolo, because he would execute it in such a manner as would please the folk that went to market, he returned to Florence.

There he was commissioned to paint a panel for Pisa, divided into five pictures, which were afterwards placed round the Madonna of S. Agnese, beside the walls of that city, between the old Citadel and the Duomo. Making one figure, then, in each picture, he painted in two of them S. John the Baptist and S. Peter, one on either side of the Madonna that works miracles; and in the others are S. Catharine the Martyr, S. Agnese, and S. Margaret, each a figure by itself, and all so beautiful as to fill with marvel anyone who beholds them, and considered to be the most gracious and lovely women that he ever painted.

Continue to Part Four

Return to Mannerism

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists

This Web Site Owned, Created, and Maintained by Adrienne DeAngelis