Fra Bartolommeo
By Leader Scott

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CHAPTER V.
GOING TO FRANCE.
A.D. 1518-1519.

Meanwhile fate was working Andrea del Sarto on to what might have been the culminating point of his fame, had not his weakness rendered it a blot on his honour; i.e. his journey to France. His fame was rising high; a picture of the Dead Christ surrounded by Angels, weeping over the body they support, having been sent to France, [Footnote: It was engraved by the Venetian, Agostino, before it went to France; the engraving is signed 1516. It did not please Andrea, who never allowed any others to be engraved.] the king was so pleased with it that he wished another work by the same artist. Andrea painted a very beautiful Madonna, for which, however, he only obtained a quarter of the price which the king paid to the merchants. The king was so delighted with it that he sent the artist an invitation to come to Paris in his employ, promising to pay all his expenses. In the Pitti Palace there is a portrait of Andrea and his wife, in which he has commemorated the reception of this letter. He is looking very interested over it, while his wife has the blankest expression possible.

In the summer of 1518 he started with his pupil, Andrea Sguazzella, called Nanoccio. Such a journey was in those days considered as little less than a parting for life. It is plain that Lucrezia’s family looked on her as almost a widow, for they made him sign a deed of acknowledgement for the 150 florins of her dote. Some authors have taken this document as a proof of their marriage in that year, but it was merely a precaution against loss by her family; the Italian law being that the husband is obliged to render the portion obtained with his wife to her family if she dies without issue, and in case of his own death, the widow is entitled to it.

He was well received in Paris, and employed immediately on a likeness of the infant Dauphin Henri II., then only a few months old. For this he obtained 300 scudi: and a monthly salary was allowed him. What a mine of gold the French court must have seemed to him after working for years at large frescoes for ten scudi each!

He did no less than fifty works of art while there, most of which have been engraved by the best French artists.[Footnote: See Catalogue of Royal Pictures in France, by M. Lepisciť.] The Caritŗ is signed 1518, and is in Andrea’s best style–perhaps with a leaning towards Michelangelo. The S. Jerome in Penitence, which he painted for the king’s mother, and obtained a large price for, cannot be traced. His life in Paris was a new revelation, and not without its effect on his character, always alive to substantial pleasure.

The king and his courtiers frequented his atelier, and delighted to watch him paint, vieing with each other in the richness of their gifts, among which were splendid brocade dresses and beautiful ornaments and jewels, in which he longed to adorn his wife. While he was engaged in painting the S. Jerome for the queen-mother, a letter from Lucrezia aroused his longings for home to the uttermost; she–the wife who has been branded by the name of faithless–wrote that she was disconsolate in his absence, and that if he did not soon return he would find her dead with grief.

Vasari, quoting this exaggerated letter, says in his first edition that she only wanted money to give her friends, but this also he retracts in the second. Whether it expressed her feelings truly or not, the letter had such an effect on Andrea’s mind that he decided to return home at any cost.

During Andrea’s absence the house in Via S. Sebastiano, behind the Annunziata, was being prepared under her superintendence and with his sanction. His scholars had decorated the walls and ceilings with frescoes, and no doubt Lucrezia was as anxious for him to see the new house as he was to adorn her with Parisian brocades and jewellery.

Being able to satisfy her ambitious soul, Andrea too readily flung away all his brilliant prospects to return, and willingly take again the yoke of the burden of his wife and her family. He made promises that he would bring her back to Paris with him, and the king in all faith allowed him to depart, confiding to him large sums of money for the purchase of works of art to be sent to France.

Sguazzella, wiser than his master, preferred to stay in Paris under the patronage of Cardinal de Tournon. He painted a great many works, much in the style of Andrea, but with less excellence. It is possible that some of M. Lepisciť’s long list are, in fact, the work of the pupil rather than the master. When Benvenuto Cellini went to France in 1537 he lodged in Sguazzella’s house, with his three servants and three horses, at a weekly rate of payment (a tanto la settimana).

But to return to Andrea: this is an episode in his life which we would gladly pass over if it were possible, for it forms the moral blot on a great artistic career.

Returning home he fell once more under the strong will of his wife, but with his principles weakened by the effect of a luxury and prosperity which has always a greater deteriorating effect on a nature such as his than on a finer mind. Bringing grand ideas from the palaces of the French nobles, he not only fell in with Lucrezia’s plans for beautifying the new house, but even surpassed her wildest schemes. The staircase was embellished with rich oaken balustrades, the rooms were all frescoed. Cupids hide in the Raphaelesque scrolls on the arches, classic divinities rest on the ceilings, but in the dining room the homely nature of the man who did his own marketing, creeps out. It is a charming room, the windows opening on a garden courtyard, where a vine trellis leads round to what used to be the side door of his studio which has its entrance in another street.

The roof is vaulted and covered with exquisite decorative frescoes, but in the lunettes of the two largest arches are the domestic scenes of cooking and laying the cloth, spoken of at page 90. Two or three of the up stairs rooms are very fine, especially the one in which Andrea is said to have died. [Footnote: This description is due to the kindness of the present resident in the house, who kindly showed it to the writer, pointing out all the unrestored portions.] It is probable the furniture matched the style of the rooms, and that much money was spent on carved chairs and cassoni. Certain it is that the King of France’s commissions were unfulfilled, and his money misappropriated.

Andrea would have returned to France, but his wife, who had an Italian woman’s dread of leaving her own country, put every obstacle in his way, adding entreaties to tears which the uxorious Andrea could not resist. As usual he tried to please her, and she only cared to please herself.

He fell greatly in the estimation of the King, who was justly angry; albeit the artist salved his own too easy conscience by sending a few of his own paintings to Francis I., one of which, the Sacrifice of Abraham, still remains in France, and another a half length figure of S. John the Baptist. The place of this picture is much disputed; it is said to be at present in the Pitti Palace. Argenville speaks of it among the French pictures as if it had returned subsequently to Florence, while Vasari asserts that it never went there, but was sold to Ottaviano de’ Medici. [Footnote: Life of Andrea, del Sarto, vol. in. p. 212.] As Andrea painted no less than five pictures of this subject, of which Argenville mentions that there were two in France, one of which was sold to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, it is probable that the Pitti one is not that painted for Francis I.

Continue...

Foreword  •  Fra Bartolommeo. - CHAPTER I. - THOUGHTS ON THE RENAISSANCE.  •  CHAPTER II. - THE “BOTTEGA” OF COSIMO ROSELLI. - A.D. 1475-1486.  •  CHAPTER III. - THE GARDEN AND THE CLOISTER. - A.D. 1487-1495.  •  CHAPTER IV. - SAN MARCO. - A.D. 1496-1500.  •  CHAPTER V. - FRA BARTOLOMMEO IN THE CONVENT. - A.D. 1504-1509.  •  CHAPTER VI. - ALBERTINELLI IN THE WORLD. - A.D. 1501-1510.  •  CHAPTER VII. - CONVENT PARTNERSHIP. - A.D. 1510–1513.  •  CHAPTER VIII. - CLOSE OF LIFE. - A.D. 1514–1517.  •  CHAPTER IX. - PART I. - SCHOLARS OF FRA BARTOLOMMEO.  •  PART II.  •  CHAPTER X. - RIDOLFO GHIRLANDAJO. - A.D. 1483–1560.  •  Andrea D’Agnolo, - Called Andrea Del Sarto. - CHAPTER I. - YOUTH AND EARLY WORKS. - A.D. 1487-1511.  •  CHAPTER II. - THE SERVITE CLOISTER. - A.D. 1511-1512.  •  CHAPTER III. - SOCIAL LIFE AND MARRIAGE. - A.D. 1511-1516.  •  CHAPTER IV. - WORKS IN FLORENCE. - A.D. 1511-1515.  •  CHAPTER V. - GOING TO FRANCE. - A.D. 1518-1519.  •  CHAPTER VI. - ANDREA AND OTTAVIANO DE’ MEDICI. - A.D. 1521-1523.  •  CHAPTER VII. - THE PLAGUE AND THE SIEGE. - A.D. 1525-1531.  •  CHAPTER VIII. - SCHOLARS OF ANDREA DEL SARTO.

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