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Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574):

Lives of the Artists: Andrea del Sarto

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ONE of Piero di Cosimo's pupils was Andrea del Sarto, the son of a tailor, who took his name from his father's trade. At the age of seven years he was put with a goldsmith, but Gian Barile, a Florentine painter, seeing his drawings, took him to work with him. After three years' earnest study, Gian Barile perceived that the boy would have extraordinary success if he attended to his studies, and he spoke of him to Piero di Cosimo, who was then considered one of the best painters in Florence, and put him under his care. Andrea, desirous to learn, never rested from his studies, and being a born painter, he managed his colours as if he had worked for fifty years. So Piero loved him much, and was wonderfully pleased to hear that whenever he had time, especially on feastdays, he would spend it in the hall of the Pope, where were the cartoons of Michael Angelo and Lionardo da Vinci, and that he surpassed, though young, all the other artists, natives or strangers, who came constantly to study there. Among these Andrea was most pleased with the conversation of Francia Bigio, and Francia being equally so with Andrea, they became friends; and Andrea told Francia that he could endure no longer the eccentricities of Piero, who was then getting old, and that he must take a room for himself. Francia being forced to do the same, because Mariotto Albertinelli, his master, had given up painting, proposed that they should join together. So they took a room in the Piazza del Grano, and did many works 1n company. Afterwards they took new rooms near the convent of the Nunziata, and it happened that Jacopo Sansovino, then a youth, was working in the same place under Andrea Contucci, and he and Andrea formed so close a friendship that they were never apart day or night; and as all their conversation was about art it is no wonder that they both became excellent masters.

In the convent of the Servites there was a sacristan named Fra Mariano, who constantly hearing Andrea praised and spoken of as one making marvellous progress, thought to get something out of him at little expense. So to try Andrea, who was soft and pliable where honour was concerned, he began to express a wish to help him in a matter which would bring him honour and profit. Now some years before, Cosimo Rosselli had begun in the first cloister a picture of S. Filippo, the founder of the order, taking the habit of monk, but the picture was not finished when he died. The friar, therefore, wishing the rest to be painted, thought by making Andrea and Francia rivals, to get it at less expense. So opening his mind to Andrea, he persuaded him to undertake it, pointing out that it was a public place and much frequented, and he would become known to strangers as well as Florentines; he ought not therefore to consider the price, and if he would not do it there was Francia, who had offered to do it and left the price to him. The first suggestions inclined Andrea to undertake it, but when he heard of Francia he resolved at once, and an agreement was made in writing that no one else might interfere. So the friar having set him to work, he was first to finish the life of S. Filippo, having no more than ten ducats for each picture, which the friar said he gave him out of his own money, more for his good than for the profit of the convent. But when he had painted one side of the cloisters, finding the price too little, and that they made too much of the honour, he determined to give up the rest of the work, at which the friar complained greatly, and held him to his agreement. So Andrea promised to do two more if he would raise the price. Francia Bigio meanwhile was entrusted with the painting in the cloister, and represented there the Marriage of the Virgin. The friars, desiring that Andrea's and Francia's pictures should be uncovered for a certain feast, on the night that Francia had finished his they presumptuously went and uncovered it themselves, not understanding that Francia might retouch it. In the morning the news was brought to Francia that his work and Andrea's had been uncovered, and it grieved him almost to death. But falling into a passion with the friars for their presumption in showing him so little respect, he rushed to his picture, and climbing on to the scaffold, which had not yet been taken down, seized a mason's hammer which was lying there and struck at some of the women's faces, spoiling the Virgin's altogether. The friars and others, running in at the noise, held his hands to prevent his spoiling the whole picture. But although they offered him double payment he would never mend it, and he was so much honoured that no other would ever finish it. So the work remained in this state.

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 todo 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 Dne 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 ke 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 in 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 ISI5 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 greate~ number of men of genius and talent than there had ever been before. And what was most admired was the facade of S. Maria del Fiore, made of wood and painted with pictures by Andrea del Sarto, the architecture being by Jacopo Sansovino, with some basreliefs and statues, and the Pope pronounced that it could not have been more beautiful if 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, takillg with him Andrea Sguazzella 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 S. 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 sorrow 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 he 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 his 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 pleasures 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.

When Frederick II, Duke of Mantua, passed through Florence, going to pay homage to Pope Clement VII., he saw over a door in the Medici Palace that portrait of Pope Leo between Cardinal Giulio de' Medici and Cardinal de' Rossi, which was made by the great Raffaello da Urbino. Being extraordinarily pleased with it, he considered how he could make it his own, and when he was in Rome, choosing his time, he made request for it from Pope Clement, who granted it to him courteously, and orders were sent to Florence to Ottaviano de' Medici to put it into a case and send it to Mantua. But the thing greatly displeased Ottaviano, who would not have Florence deprived of such a picture. He replied therefore that he would not fail to serve the duke, but that the frame of the picture being bad, he would have a new one made, and when it was gilded, he would send the picture securely to Mantua. Then Ottaviano, with the view, as we say, of saving both the goat and its fodder, sent secretly for Andrea and told him how matters stood, and that there was nothing else to be done but to have the picture copied as fast as possible, and to send the copy to the duke, secretly keeping the picture from Raffaello's hand. So Andrea promised to do the best he could, and having had a panel made of the same size, he worked at it secretly in Ottaviano's house, and laboured to such effect that, when it was finished, Ottaviano himself, who understood these things well, did not know one from the other, Andrea having even copied some dirty stains that were on the original. So having hidden Raffaello's picture, they sent Andrea's to Mantua, and the duke was perfectly satisfied. Even Giulio Romano the painter, Raffaello's disciple, did not perceive the thing, and would always have believed it to be from Raffaello's hand if Giorgio Vasari (who, being Ottaviano's favourite, had seen Andrea working at the picture) had not discovered the matter to him. For when Giorgio came to Mantua, Giulio paid him much attention, and showed him the antiquities and pictures, and among them this picture of Raffaello's, as the best thing that was there; and Giorgio answered, "The work is most beautiful, but not from the hand of Raffaello." "No?" said Giulio; "do not I know, when I can recognize the touches that I put upon it ?" "You have forgotten," answered Giorgio, "for this is by Andrea del Sarto, and in proof of it look at this sign (showing it to him), which was put upon it in Florence, because the two being together were mistaken the one for the other." When he heard this Giulio had the picture turned round, and when he saw the countersign, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "I esteem it none the less than if it were from Raffaello's hand, rather the more, for it is a thing beyond nature that a good painter should imitate so well another's manner and make it so like."

Not long after, Baldo Magini of Prato, desiring to have a picture painted for the Madonna della Carcere, among many other painters Andrea was proposed to him, and Baldo, though he did not know much about thc matter, was more inclined to him than any other, and had already intimated to him that he would employ him, when a Niccolo Soggi of Sansovino, having friends in Prato, was recommended so strongly to Baldo that the work was given to him. Nevertheless Andrea's friends sent for him, and he, thinking certainly the work was to be his, went with Domenico Puligo and some other painters his friends to Prato. But when he arrived he found that Niccolo had not only turned Baldo against him, but was himself so daring and insolent as to propose in the presence of Baldo that they should make a wager who could paint the best picture. Andrea, knowing what Niccolo was worth, answered (though he was generally a man of little spirit), " 1 have this pupil of mine with me who has not been studying long; if you like to have a wager with him, I will put down the money for him; but nothing will make me consent to compete with you, for if I were to win, it would be no honour to me, and if I lost, it would be the greatest disgrace." Then telling Baldo that he did right to give the work to Niccolo, for he would do it so that it would please people going to market, 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 softhearted, 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 intendant of the monks of Vallombrosa, and when the work was done some of the colour was left over, and Andrea, taking a tile, called Lucrezia, 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.

During the siege of Florence some of the captains of the city escaped, carrying with them the pay of their soldiers; therefore Andrea was charged to paint them in the Piazza del Podesta, together with some other citizens who had escaped and become rebels. That he might not be nicknamed Andrea of the Hanged Men, as Andrea dal Castagno had been, he gave it out that one of his pupils, Bernardo del Buda, was doing it; but, having enclosed the place with a hoarding, he used to go in and out by night, and carried out the work with his own hand so well that the figures appeared alive. The paintings on the facade of the old Mercatanzia were many years afterwards covered with whitewash that they might not be seen.

After the siege 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.

Source. These texts were at,but vanished from the net, and so they have been restored here.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects, by Giorgio Vasari: newly tr. by Gaston du C. de Vere. With five hundred illustraiions, London, Macmillan and & The Medici society, 1912-15.

Other translations include:

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the painters, sculptors and architects. London, J. M. Dent; New York, Dutton [1949-50]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574.  Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors, and architects. Abridged from the translation by Gaston DuC. DeVere. Edited, with an introd., by Robert N. Linscott. New York, Modern Library [1959].

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists. Selected and translated by E.L. Seeley. Introd. by Alfred Werner. (New York, Noonday Press, [1965, c1957]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists; a selection translated by George Bull. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng. : Penguin Books, 1987.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the artists; translated with an introduction and notes by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. (Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1991.).

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