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- Pictures Every Child Should Know - 3/52 -
Andrea did not like the work, and instead of fashioning ornaments from his master's models he made original drawings which did not do at all in a shop where an apprentice was expected to earn his salt. Certain fashions had to be followed and people did not welcome fantastic or new designs. Because of this, Andrea was early put out of his master's shop and set to learn the only business that he could be got to learn, painting. This meant for him a very different teacher from the goldsmith.
The artist may be said to have been his own master, because, even when he was apprenticed to a painter he was taught less than he already knew.
That first teacher was Barile, a coarse and unpleasing man, as well as an incapable one; but he was fair minded, after a fashion, and put Andrea into the way of finding better help. After a few years under the direction of Piero di Cosimo, Andrea and a friend, Francia Bigio, decided to set up shop for themselves.
The two devoted friends pitched their tent in the Piazza del Grano, and made a meagre beginning out of which great things were to grow. They began a series of pictures which was to lead at least one of them to fame. It was in the little Piazza, del Grano studio that the "Baptism of Christ" was painted, a partnership work that had been planned in the Campagnia dello Scalzo.
"The Baptism" was not much of a picture as great pictures go, but it was a beginning and it was looked at and talked about, which was something at a time when Titian and Leonardo had set the standard of great work. In the Piazza del Grano, Andrea and his friend lived in the stables of the Tuscan Grand Dukes, with a host of other fine artists, and they had gay times together.
Andrea was a shy youth, a little timid, and by no means vain of his own work, but he painted with surprising swiftness and sureness, and had a very brilliant imagination. Its was his main trouble that he had more imagination than true manhood; he sacrificed everything good to his imagination.
After the partnership with his friend, he undertook to paint some frescoes independently, and that work earned for him the name of "Andrea senza Errori"--Andrea the Unerring. Then, as now, each artist had his own way of working, and Andrea's was perhaps the most difficult of all, yet the most genius-like. There were those, Michael Angelo for example, who laid in backgrounds for their paintings; but Andrea painted his subject upon the wet plaster, precisely as he meant it to be when finished.
He was unlike the moody Michael Angelo; unlike the gentle Raphael; unlike the fastidious Van Dyck who came long afterward; he was hail-fellow-well-met among his associates, though often given over to dreaminess. He belonged to a jolly club named the "Kettle Club," literally, the Company of the Kettle; and to another called "The Trowel," both suggesting an all around good time and much good fellowship The members of these clubs were expected to contribute to their wonderful suppers, and Andrea on one occasion made a great temple, in imitation of the Baptistry, of jelly with columns of sausages, white birds and pigeons represented the choir and priests. Besides being "Andrew the Unerring," and a "Merry Andrew," he was also the "Tailor's Andrew," a man in short upon whom a nickname sat comfortably. He helped to make the history of the "Company of the Kettle," for he recited and probably composed a touching ballad called "The Battle of the Mice and the Frogs," which doubtless had its origin in a poem of Homer's. But all at once, in the midst of his gay careless life came his tragedy; he fell in love with a hatter's wife. This was quite bad enough, but worse was to come, for the hatter shortly died, and the widow was free to marry Andrea.
After his marriage Andrea began painting a series of Madonnas, seemingly for no better purpose than to exhibit his wife's beauty over and over again. He lost his ambition and forgot everything but his love for this unworthy woman. She was entirely commonplace, incapable of inspiring true genius or honesty of purpose.
A great art critic, Vasari, who was Andrea's pupil during this time, has written that the wife, Lucretia, was abominable in every way. A vixen, she tormented Andrea from morning till night with her bitter tongue. She did not love him in the least, but only what his money could buy for her, for she was extravagant, and drove the sensitive artist to his grave while she outlived him forty years.
About the time of the artist's marriage he painted one fresco, "The Procession of the Magi," in which he placed a very splendid substitute for his wife, namely himself. Afterward he painted the Dead Christ which found its way to France and it laid the foundation for Andrea's wrongdoing. This picture was greatly admired by the King of France who above all else was a lover of art. Francis I. asked Andrea to go to his court, as he had commissions for him. He made Andrea a money offer and to court he went.
He took a pupil with him, but he left his wife at home. At the court of Francis I. he was received with great honours, and amid those new and gracious surroundings, away from the tantalising charms of his wife and her shrewish tongue, he began to have an honest ambition to do great things. His work for France was undertaken with enthusiasm, but no sooner was he settled and at peace, than the irrepressible wife began to torment him with letters to return. Each letter distracted him more and more, till he told the King in his despair, that he must return home, but that he would come back to France and continue his work, almost at once. Francis I., little suspecting the cause of Andrea's uneasiness, gave him permission to go, and also a large sum of money to spend upon certain fine works of art which he was to bring back to France.
We can well believe that Andrea started back to his home with every good intention; that he meant to appease his wife and also his own longing to see her; to buy the King his pictures with the money entrusted to him, and to return to France and finish his work; but, alas, he no sooner got back to his wife than his virtuous purpose fled. She wanted this; she wanted that--and especially she wanted a fine house which could just about be built for the sum of money which the King of France had entrusted to Andrea.
Andrea is a pitiable figure, but he was also a vagabond, if we are to believe Vasari. He took the King's money, built his wretched wife a mansion, and never again dared return to France, where his dishonesty made him forever despised.
Afterward he was overwhelmed with despair for what he had done, and he tried to make his peace with Francis; but while that monarch did not punish him directly for his knavery; he would have no more to do with him, and this was the worst punishment the artist could have had. However, his genius was so great that other than French people forgot his dishonesty and he began life anew in his native place.
Almost all his pictures were on sacred subjects; and finally, when driven from Florence to Luco by the plague, taking with him his wife and stepdaughter, he began a picture called the "Madonna del Sacco" (the Madonna of the Sack).
This fresco was to adorn the convent of the Servi, and the sketches for it were probably made in Luco. When the plague passed and the artist was able to return to Florence, he began to paint it upon the cloister walls.
Andrea, like Leonardo, painted a famous "Last Supper," although the two pictures cannot be compared. In Andrea's picture it is said that all the faces are portraits.
Just before the plague sent him and his family from Florence a most remarkable incident took place. Raphael had painted a celebrated portrait of Pope Leo X. in a group, and the picture belonged to Ottaviano de Medici. Duke Frederick II., of Mantua, longed to own this picture, and at last requested the Medici to give it to him. The Duke could not well be refused, but Ottaviano wanted to keep so great a work for himself. What was to be done? He was in great trouble over the affair. The situation seemed hopeless. It seemed certain that he must part with his beloved picture to the Duke of Mantua; but one day Andrea del Sarto declared that he could make a copy of it that even Raphael himself could not tell from his original. Ottaviano could scarcely believe this, but he begged Andrea to set about it, hoping that it might be true.
Going at the work in good earnest, Andrea painted a copy so exact that the pupil of Raphael, who had more or less to do with the original picture, could not tell which was which when he was asked to choose. This pupil, Giulio Romano, was so familiar with every stroke of Raphael's that if he were deceived surely any one might be; so the replica was given to the Duke of Mantua, who never found out the difference.
Years afterward Giulio Romano showed the picture to Vasari, believing it to be the original Raphael, neither Andrea nor the Medici having told Romano the truth. But Vasari, who knew the whole story, declared to Romano that what he showed him was but a copy. Romano would not believe it, but Vasari told him that he would find upon the canvas a certain mark, known to be Andrea's. Romano looked, and behold, the original Raphael became a del Sarto! The original picture hangs in the Pitti Palace, while the copy made by Andrea is in the Naples Gallery.
The introduction of Andrea to Vasari was one of the few gracious things, that Michael Angelo ever did. About Andrea he said to Raphael at the time: "There is a little fellow in Florence who will bring sweat to your brows if ever he is engaged in great works." Raphael, would certainly have agreed, with him had he known what was to happen in regard to the Leo X. picture.
Notwithstanding Andrea's unfortunate temperament, which caused him to be guided mostly by circumstances instead of guiding them, he was said to be improving all the time in his art. He had a great many pupils, but none of them could tolerate his wife for long, so they were always changing.
Throughout his life the artist longed for tenderness and encouragement from his wife, and finally, without ever receiving it, he died in a desolate way, untended even by her. After the siege of Florence there came a pestilence, and Andrea was overtaken by it. His wife, afraid that she too would become ill, would have nothing to do with him. She kept away and he died quite alone, few caring that he was dead and no one taking the trouble to follow him to his grave. Thus one of the greatest of Florentine painters lived and died. Years after his death, the artist Jacopo da Empoli, was copying Andrea's "Birth of the Virgin" when an old woman of about eighty years on her way to mass stopped to speak with him. She pointed to the beautiful Virgin's face in the picture and said: "I am that woman." And so she was--the widow of the great Andrea. Though she had treated him so cruelly, she was glad to have it known that she was the widow of the dead genius.
PLATE--THE MADONNA DEL SACCO
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