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

Vasari's Lives of the Artists


 
 

M. Jacopo, a Servite friar, in releasing and absolving a woman from a vow, had told her that she must have a figure of Our Lady painted over the outer side of that lateral door of the Nunziata which leads into the cloister; and therefore, finding Andrea, he said to him that he had this money to spend, and that although it was not much it seemed to him right, since the other works executed by Andrea in that place had brought him such fame, that he and no other should paint this one as well. Andrea, who was nothing if not an amiable man, moved by the persuasions of the friar and by his own desire for profit and glory, answered that he would do it willingly; and shortly afterwards, putting his hand to the work, he painted in fresco a most beautiful Madonna seated with her Son in her arms, and S. Joseph leaning on a sack, with his eyes fixed upon an open book. And of such a kind was this work, in draughtsmanship, grace, and beauty of colouring, as well as in vivacity and relief, that it proved that he outstripped and surpassed by a great measure all the painters who had worked up to that time. Such, indeed, is this picture, that by its own merit and without praise from any other quarter it makes itself clearly known as amazing and most rare.

There was wanting only one scene in the cloister of the Scalzo for it to be completely finished; wherefore Andrea, who had added grandeur to his manner after having seen the figures that Michelagnolo had begun and partly finished for the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo, set his hand to executing this last scene. In this, giving the final proof of his improvement, he painted the Birth of S. John the Baptist, with figures that were very beautiful and much better and stronger in relief than the others made by him before in the same place. Most beautiful, among others in this work, are a woman who is carrying the new-born babe to the bed on which lies S. Elizabeth, who is likewise a most lovely figure, and Zacharias, who is writing on a paper that he has placed on his knee, holding it with one hand and with the other writing the name of his son, and all with such vivacity, that he lacks nothing save the breath of life. Most beautiful, also, is an old woman who is seated on a stool, smiling with gladness at the delivery of the other aged woman, and revealing in her attitude and expression all that would be seen in a living person after such an event.

Having finished that work, which is certainly well worthy of all praise, he painted for the General of Vallombrosa a panel picture with four very lovely figures, S. John the Baptist, S. Giovanni Gualberto, founder of that Order, S. Michelagnolo, and S. Bernardo, a Cardinal and a monk of the Order, with some little boys in the centre that could not be more vivacious or more beautiful. This panel is at Vallombrosa, on the summit of a rocky height, where certain monks live in some rooms called "the cells," separated from the others, and leading as it were the lives of hermits.

After this he was commissioned by Giuliano Scala to paint a panel- picture, which was to be sent to Serrazzana, of a Madonna seated with the Child in her arms, and two half-length figures from the knees upwards, S. Celso and S. Julia, with S. Onofrio, S. Catharine, S. Benedict, S. Anthony of Padua, S. Peter, and S. Mark; which panel was held to be equal to the other works of Andrea. And in the hands of Giuliano Scala, in place of the balance due to him of a sum of money that he had paid for the owners of that work, there remained a lunette containing an Annunciation, which was to go above the panel, to complete it; and it is now in his chapel in the great tribune round the choir of the Church of the Servi.

The Monks of S. Salvi had let many years pass by without thinking of having a beginning made with their Last Supper, which they had commissioned Andrea to execute at the time when he painted the arch with the four figures; but finally an Abbot, who was a man of judgment and breeding, determined that he should finish that work. Thereupon Andrea, who had already pledged himself to it on a previous occasion, far from making any demur, put his hand to the task, and, working at it one piece at a time when he felt so inclined, finished it in a few months, and that in such a manner, that the work was held to be, as it certainly is, the most spontaneous and the most vivacious in colouring and drawing that he ever made, or that ever could be made. For, among other things, he gave infinite grandeur, majesty, and grace to all the figures, insomuch that I know not what to say of this Last Supper that would not be too little, it being such that whoever sees it is struck with amazement. Wherefore it is no marvel that on account of its excellence it was left standing amid the havoc of the siege of Florence, in the year 1529, at which time the soldiers and destroyers, by command of those in authority, pulled down all the suburbs without the city, and all the monasteries, hospitals, and other buildings. These men, I say, having destroyed the Church and Campanile of S. Salvi, and beginning to throw down part of the convent, had come to the refectory where this Last Supper is, when their leader, seeing so marvellous a painting, of which he may have heard speak, abandoned the undertaking and would not let any more of that place be destroyed, reserving the task until such time as there should be no alternative.

Andrea then painted for the Company of S. Jacopo, called the Nicchio, on a banner for carrying in processions, a S. James fondling a little boy dressed as a Flagellant by stroking him under the chin, with another boy who has a book in his hand, executed with beautiful grace and naturalness. He made a portrait from life of a steward of the Monks of Vallombrosa, who lived almost always in the country on the affairs of his monastery ; and this portrait was placed under a sort of bower, in which he had made pergole and contrivances of his own in various fanciful designs, so that it was buffeted by wind and rain, according to the pleasure of that steward, who was the friend of Andrea. And because, when the work was finished, there were some colours and lime left over, Andrea, taking a tile, called to his wife Lucrezia and said to her: "Come here, for these colors are left over, and I wish to make your portrait, so that all may see how well you have preserved your beauty even at your time of life, and yet may know how your appearance has changed, which will make this one different from your early portraits." But the woman, who may have had something else in her mind, would not stand still; and Andrea, as it were from a feeling that he was near his end, took a mirror and made a portrait of himself on that tile, of such perfection, that it seems alive and as real as nature; and that portrait is in the possession of the same Madonna Lucrezia, who is still living.

He also portrayed a Canon of Pisa, very much his friend; and the portrait, which is lifelike and very beautiful, is still in Pisa. He then began for the Signoria the cartoons for the paintings to be executed on the balustrades of the Ringhiera in the Piazza, with many beautiful things of fancy to represent the quarters of the city, and with the banners of the Consuls of the chief Guilds supported by some little boys, and also ornaments in the form of images of all the virtues, and likewise the most famous mountains and rivers of the dominion of Florence. But this work, thus begun, remained unfinished on account of Andrea's death, as was also the case with a panel although it was all but finished which he painted for the Abbey of the Monks of Vallombrosa at Poppi in the Casentino. In that panel he painted an Assumption of Our Lady, who is surrounded by many little boys, with S. Giovanni Gualberto, S. Bernardo the Cardinal (a monk of their Order, as has been related), S. Catharine, and S. Fedele; and, unfinished as it is, the picture is now in that Abbey of Poppi. The same happened to a panel of no great size, which, when finished, was to have gone to Pisa. But he left completely finished a very beautiful picture which is now in the house of Filippo Salviati, and some others.

About the same time Giovan Battista della Palla, having bought all the sculptures and pictures of note that he could obtain, and causing copies to be made of those that he could not buy, had despoiled Florence of a vast number of choice works, without the least scruple, in order to furnish a suite of rooms for the King of France, which was to be richer in suchlike ornaments than any other in the world. And this man, desiring that Andrea should return to the service and favour of the King, commissioned him to paint two pictures. In one of these Andrea painted Abraham in the act of trying to sacrifice his son; and that with such diligence, that it was judged that up to that time he had never done anything better. Beautifully expressed in the figure of the patriarch was seen that living and steadfast faith which made him ready without a moment of dismay or hesitation to slay his own son. The same Abraham, likewise, could be seen turning his head towards a very beautiful little angel, who appeared to be bidding him stay his hand. I will not describe the attitude, the dress, the footwear, and other details in the painting of that old man, because it is not possible to say enough of them; but this I must say, that the boy Isaac, tender and most beautiful, was to be seen all naked, trembling with the fear of death, and almost dead without having been struck. The same boy had only the neck browned by the heat of the sun, and white as snow those parts that his draperies had covered during the three days' journey. In like manner, the ram among the thorns seemed to be alive, and Isaac's draperies on the ground rather real and natural than painted. And in addition there were some naked servants guarding an ass that was browsing, and a landscape so well represented that the real scene of the event could not have been more beautiful or in any way different. This picture, having been bought by Filippo Strozzi after the death of Andrea and the capture of Battista, was presented by him to Signor Alfonso Davalos, Marchese del Vasto, who had it carried to the island of Ischia, near Naples, and placed in one of his apartments in company with other most noble paintings.

In the other picture Andrea painted a very beautiful Charity, with three little boys; and this was afterwards bought from the wife of Andrea, after his death, by the painter Domenico Conti, who sold it later to Niccolo Antinori, who treasures it as a rare work, as indeed it is.

During this time there came to the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, seeing from that last picture how much Andrea had improved his manner, a desire to have a picture by his hand. Whereupon Andrea, who was eager to serve that lord, to whom he was much indebted, because he had always shown favour to men of lofty intellect, and particularly to painters, executed for him a picture of Our Lady seated on the ground with the Child riding astride on her knees, while He turns His head towards a little S. John supported by an old S. Elizabeth, a figure so natural and so well painted that she appears to be alive, even as every other thing is wrought with incredible diligence, draughtsmanship, and art. Having finished this picture, Andrea carried it to Messer Ottaviano; but since that lord had something else to think about, Florence being then besieged, he told Andrea, while thanking him profoundly and making his excuses, to dispose of it as he thought best. To which Andrea made no reply but this: "The labor was endured for you, and yours the work shall always be." "Sell it," answered Messer Ottaviano, "and use the money, for I know what I am talking about." Andrea then departed and returned to his house, nor would he ever give the picture to anyone, for all the offers that were made to him; but when the siege was raised and the Medici back in Florence, he took it once more to Messer Ottaviano, who accepted it right willingly, thanking him and paying him double. The work is now in the apartment of his wife, Madonna Francesca, sister to the very reverend Salviati, who holds the beautiful pictures left to her by her magnificent consort in no less account than she does the duty of retaining and honouring his friends.

For Giovanni Borgherini Andrea painted another picture almost exactly like the one of Charity mentioned above, containing a Madonna, a little S. John offering to Christ a globe that represents the world, and a very beautiful head of S. Joseph.

There came to Paolo da Terrarossa, a friend to the whole body of painters, who had seen the sketch for the aforesaid Abraham, a wish to have some work by the hand of Andrea. Having therefore asked him for a copy of that Abraham, Andrea willingly obliged him and made a copy of such a kind, that in its minuteness it was by no means inferior to the large original. Wherefore Paolo, well satisfied with it and wishing to pay him, asked him the price, thinking that it would cost him what it was certainly worth; but Andrea asked a mere song, and Paolo, almost ashamed, shrugged his shoulders and gave him all that he claimed. The picture was afterwards sent by him to Naples . . .* [* There is here a gap in the text.] and it is the most beautiful and the most highly honored painting in that place.

During the siege of Florence some captains had fled the city with the paychests; on which account Andrea was asked to paint on the facade of the Palace of the Podesta and in the Piazza not only those captains, but also some citizens who had fled and had been proclaimed outlaws. He said that he would do it; but in order not to acquire, like Andrea dal Castagno, the name of Andrea degl' Impiccati, he gave it out that he was entrusting the work to one of his assistants, called Bernardo del Buda. However, having made a great enclosure, which he himself entered and left by night, he executed those figures in such a manner that they appeared to be the men themselves, real and alive. The soldiers, who were painted on the faade of the old Mercatanzia in the Piazza, near the Condotta, were covered, with whitewash many years ago, that they might be seen no longer; and the citizens, whom he painted entirely with his own hand on the Palace of the Podesta, were destroyed in like manner.

After this, being very intimate in these last years of his life with certain men who governed the Company of S. Sebastiano, which is behind the Servite Convent, Andrea made for them with his own hand a S. Sebastian from the navel upwards, so beautiful that it might well have seemed that these were the last strokes of the brush which he was to make.

The siege being finished, Andrea was waiting for matters to mend, although with little hope that his French project would succeed, since Giovan Battista della Palla had been taken prisoner, when Florence became filled with soldiers and stores from the camp. Among those soldiers were some lansquenets sick of the plague, who brought no little terror into the city and shortly afterwards left it infected. Thereupon, either through this apprehension or through some imprudence in eating after having suffered much privation in the siege, one day Andrea fell grievously ill and took to his bed with death on his brow; and finding no remedy for his illness, and being without much attention for his wife, from fear of the plague, kept as far away from him as she could he died, so it is said, almost without a soul being aware of it; and he was buried by the men of the Scalzo with scant ceremony in the Church of the Servi, near his own house, in the place where the members of that Company are always buried.

The death of Andrea was a very great loss to the city and to art, because up to the age of forty-two, which he attained, he went on always improving from one work to another in such wise that, if he had lived longer, he would have continued to confer benefits on art; for the reason that it is better to go on making progress little by little, advancing with a firm and steady foot through the difficulties of art, than to seek to force one's intellect and nature in a single effort. Nor is there any doubt that if Andrea had stayed in Rome when he went there to see the works of Raffaello and Michelagnolo, and also the statues and ruins of that city, he would have enriched his manner greatly in the composition of scenes, and would one day have given more delicacy and greater force to his figures ; which has never been thoroughly achieved save by one who has been some time in Rome, to study those works in detail and grow familiar with them. Having then from nature a sweet and gracious manner of drawing and great facility and vivacity of colouring, both in fresco work and in oils, it is believed without a doubt that if he had stayed in Rome, he would have surpassed all the craftsmen of his time. But some believe that he was deterred from this by the abundance of works of sculpture and painting, both ancient and modern, that he saw in that city, and by observing the many young men, disciples of Raffaello and of others, resolute in draughtsmanship and working confidently and without effort, whom, like the timid fellow that he was, he did not feel it in him to excel. And so, not trusting himself, he resolved, as the best course for him, to return to Florence ; where, reflecting little by little on what he had seen, he made such proficience that his works have been admired and held in price, and, what is more, imitated more often after his death than during his lifetime. Whoever has some holds them dear, and whoever has consented to sell them has received three times as much as was paid to him, for the reason that he never received anything but small prices for his works, both because he was timid by nature, as has been related, and also because certain master-joiners, who were executing the best works at that time in the houses of citizens, would never allow any commission to be given to Andrea (so as to oblige their friends), save when they knew that he was in great straits, for at such times he would accept any price. But this does not prevent his works from being most rare, or from being held in very great account, and that rightly, since he was one of the best and greatest masters who have lived even to our own day. In our book are many drawings by his hand, all good; but in particular there is one that is altogether beautiful, of the scene that he painted at Poggio, showing the tribute of all the animals from the East being presented to Caesar. This drawing, which is executed in chiaroscuro, is a rare thing, and the most finished that Andrea ever made; for when he drew natural objects for reproduction in his works, he made mere sketches dashed off on the spot, contenting himself with marking the character of the reality; and afterwards, when reproducing them in his works, he brought them to perfection. His drawings, therefore, served him rather as memoranda of what he had seen than as models from which to make exact copies in his pictures.

The disciples of Andrea were innumerable, but they did not all pursue the same course of study under his discipline, for some stayed with him a long time, and some but little; which was the fault, not of Andrea, but of his wife, who, tyrannizing arrogantly over them all, and showing no respect to a single one of them, made all their lives a burden. Among his disciples, then, were Jacopo da Pontormo; Andrea Sguazzella, who adhered to the manner of Andrea and decorated a palace, a work which is much extolled, without the city of Paris in France; Solosmeo; Pier Francesco di Jacopo di Sandro, who has painted three panels that are in S. Spirito; Francesco Salviati; Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo, who was the companion of the aforesaid Salviati, although he did not stay long with Andrea; Jacopo del Conte of Florence; and Nannoccio, who is now in France with Cardinal de Tournon, in the highest credit. In like manner, Jacopo, called Jacone, was a disciple of Andrea and much his friend, and an imitator of his manner. This Jacone, while Andrea was alive, received no little help from him, as is evident in all his works, and particularly in the facade executed for the Chevalier Buondelmonti on the Piazza di S. Trinita.

The heir to Andrea's drawings and other art possessions, after his death, was Domenico Conti, who made little proficience in painting; but one night he was robbed by some men of the same profession, so it is thought of all the drawings, cartoons, and other things that he had from Andrea, nor was it ever discovered who these men were. Now Domenico, as one not ungrateful for the benefits received from his master, and desiring to render to him after his death the honors that he deserved, prevailed upon Raffaello da Montelupo to make for him out of courtesy a very handsome tablet of marble, which was built into a pilaster in the Church of the Servi, with the following epitaph, written for him by the most learned Messer Piero Vettori, then a young man:

 

ANDREW SARTIO 
ADMIRABILIS INGENII PICTORI, AC VETERIBUS ILLIS OMNIUM JUDICIO 

COMPARANDO, 
DOMINICUS CONTES DISCIPULUS, PRO LABORIBUS IN SE INSTITUENDO SUSCEPTIS, 

GRATO ANIMO POSUIT. 
VIXIT ANN. XLII. OB. ANN. MDXXX. 

After no long time, certain citizens, Wardens of Works of that church, rather ignorant than hostile to honored memories, so went to work out of anger that the tablet should have been set up in that place without their leave, that they had it removed; nor has it yet been reerected in any other place. Thus, perchance, Fortune sought to show that the power of the Fates prevails not only during our lives, but also over our memorials after death. In spite of them, however, the works and the name of Andrea are likely to live a long time, as are these my writings, I hope, to preserve their memory for many ages.

We must conclude, then, that if Andrea showed poor spirit in the actions of his life, contenting himself with little, this does not mean that in art he was otherwise than exalted in genius, most resolute, and masterly in every sort of labor; and with his works, in addition to the adornment that they confer on the places where they are, he rendered a most valuable service to his fellow craftsmen with regard to manner, drawing, and coloring, and that with fewer errors than any other painter of Florence, for the reason that, as has been said above, he understood very well the management of light and shade and how to make things recede in the darks, and painted his pictures with a sweetness full of vivacity; not to mention that he showed us the method of working in fresco with perfect unity and without doing much retouching on the dry, which makes his every work appear to have been painted in a single day. Wherefore he should serve in every place as an example to Tuscan craftsmen, and receive supreme praise and a palm of honor among the number of their most celebrated champions.



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