Fra Bartolommeo
By Leader Scott

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CHAPTER VII.
THE PLAGUE AND THE SIEGE.
A.D. 1525-1531.

From 1524 to 1528 the plague desolated Italy, never entirely leaving it. During this time Andrea obtained a commission through Antonio Brancacci, to paint some pictures in the convent of S. Piero at Luco in Mugello, where he retired with his wife and her relations, and his pupil Raffaelo. They spent a very pleasant summer: the nuns made much of his wife and her sisters, and he passed his time in earnest painting. The fruits of his labour are a PietÓ, a Visitation, and a Head of Christ–almost a replica of the one in the SS. Annunziata.

The PietÓ is full of expression and feeling, but more realistic and less dignified than that of Fra Bartolommeo, which now hangs on the same wall of the Hall of Apollo at the Pitti.

In colouring also there is a great contrast between the two, that of Fra Bartolommeo being deep, rich, and mellow, while Andrea’s is more profuse, diffused, and wanting in depth of shadow.

S. John and the Virgin raise the dead Saviour, the Magdalen and S. Catherine weep at his feet; S. Peter and S. Paul at the back express their grief in the manner natural to their characters. S. Peter, in his vehemence, flings up his arms in a madness of sorrow. S. Paul, with more dignity, is half stupefied with the intensity of woe.

If those saints had been left in Fra Bartolommeo’s PietÓ, the two pictures would have had the very same figures, in each: but how different the composition, feeling, and expression! The Frate’s group is a compact triangle; that of Andrea a scattered arrangement. The Magdalen of the Frate is overwhelmed with the very excess of love and grief, all of which is expressed intensely, yet her face is hidden; that of Andrea is a mere woman dressed in flying scarf and flowing garments, but with very little soul in her face.

The characteristics of the two painters can be well studied in these works, so near together, so similar, and yet so different.

For the three works painted at Luco Andrea was paid ninety florins in gold. The PietÓ, was bought in later years by the Grand Duke Leopold, and now adorns the Pitti Palace.

The Visitation was placed in the church of the convent over a presepio. [Footnote: In 1818 it was restored by Luigi Scotti and sold.] Biadi gives the following document:–"Io Andrea d’Angiolo del Sarto, Ó di 11 Ottobre 1528 ho ricevuto fiorini 80 d’ oro di quei larghi [i.e. of two scudi each] della Tavola dell’ Altar grande e di una mezza tavola della Visitazione, da Donna Caterina della Casa Fiorentina, Badessa di Luco.” [Footnote: 2 Vol. in. p, 571, note.]

Andrea was paid ten florins for the Head of the Saviour, through his assistant, Raffaello. This receipt would prove either that he went to Luco later than 1524, or that he returned there to finish the works in the year 1528.

On their return to Florence in the autumn Andrea painted a fine work for his friend, Beccuccio da Gambassi, a glass-worker. It is an apotheosis of the Madonna, with four figures beneath–S. John Baptist, Mary Magdalen, S. Sebastian, and S. Rocco; not S. Onofrio, as Bottari has named it. The predella, now lost, had portraits of the patron and his wife. Crowe and Cavalcaselle speak of six saints in this picture, four standing and two kneeling.

This description seems to point more certainly to the Sarzana Madonna, which is now in the Hall of Apollo, in the Pitti Palace. That for Beccuccio is described, with the four above-mentioned saints only, by all the Italian authors.

The tabernacle, at the corner of the convent, outside the Porta Pinti, Florence, was painted about this time. It is now quite destroyed by age and weather; a good copy by Empoli, exists, however, in the western corridor of the Uffizi. It is a charming Holy Family, with the infant S. John,–a sweet laughing face. The Madonna is a portrait of Lucrezia.

In the siege when the convent of the Ingesuate–at the corner of which it stood–was razed to the ground, this fresco, although loosened from the wall, was spared by the soldiers, who had not courage to injure it. The Grand Duke Cosimo was anxious to have it brought to Florence, and often came with engineers and architects, but they never hazarded its removal. [Footnote: Bocchi, Bellezze di Firenze, p. 482.]

The Duomo of Pisa has five saints painted by Andrea; they originally formed one large picture in five compartments, and were painted for the church of the now suppressed convent of S. Agnes; but in 1618 they were divided into five pictures, and removed to the Duomo, where S. Catherine Martyr, S. Margaret, S. Peter, and S. John the Baptist hang on each side of the altar. S. Agnes, with her lamb by her side, is placed on a pilaster towards the southern door. This and S. Margaret are especially graceful and expressive. There is much of the feeling of Correggio, but with more natural grace and less voluptuousness. The cutting and retouching had injured them greatly, but in 1835 Antonio Garazalli took off the repainting and restored them more delicately.

In 1525 Andrea had a commission to draw cartoons for painting the balustrade of the Ringhiera–a kind of wide terrace in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, from which speeches were made to the populace. His designs were very beautiful and appropriate, the compartments being emblematical of the different quarters of the city; besides which were allegories of mountains, rivers, and virtues. The designs were left unfinished at his death, and the Ringhiera was never painted.

In 1526-7 he worked at the fresco of the Last Supper, at S. Salvi, which was intended to have been done when he began the four saints there, in 1510, had not some misunderstanding between the rulers of the order prevented their continuation. [Footnote: Vasari’s Lives, vol. iii. p. 224.] Even now he worked in a desultory manner, doing it bit by bit, but in the end producing a marvellous work.

The refectory is a long vaulted hall, and the frescoed table, with its life-size figures, fills the whole arch of the wall opposite the door. One’s natural impulse on entering it is to exclaim, “How life-like!" There is a great and living animation in the figures; the characters of the Apostles are written on their expressive faces. Judas is not placed away alone, as in many renderings of the subject, but is next to Christ, the contrast of the two faces being thus emphasized by proximity. S. Peter, though old, has all the vehemence and intensity of his character. Add to the feeling a brilliancy of colour of which Andrea alone had the secret, for without deep shadows, and keeping up the same intensity of tone throughout, he yet obtained great harmony and full relief where others would have produced a clash and flatness. Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcaselle say with justice, “From the contemplation of the Cena, at Milan, we should say that the painter is high bred; looking at that of S. Salvi, that he is accustomed to lowly company.” [Footnote: Hist. of Painting, vol. iii. chap. xvii. p. 574.] But in some subjects a rugged strength is more important than a high refinement, and in the group of humble fishermen who formed the first church this is not out of place. If he could only have spiritualised Christ, nothing would be left to be desired.

Andrea del Sarto was a member of a sacred company called the “FraternitÓ del Nicchio,” for which he painted a standard to be carried in their processions. It is now in the Hall of the Old Masters in the Uffizi, and is a charming group of S. James, with two children dressed in white surplices–the habit of the company. The saint is caressing one, who kneels at his feet; the other has an open book in his hand. The draperies are especially graceful, and the expressions soft and pleasing.

After finishing a portrait of the Intendant of the monks at Vallombrosa, which the said monk afterwards placed in an arbour covered with vines, regardless of the injuries of wind and rain–Andrea, having some colours still left on his palette, took up a tile and called his wife to sit for her portrait, that all might see how well she had kept her good looks from her youth; but Lucrezia not being inclined to sit, he got a mirror and painted his own portrait on the tile instead. It was one of his later works, and Lucrezia kept it till her death. It is now in the room of portraits in the Uffizi, but much blackened by time; probably also from the tile not having been properly prepared. [Footnote: This portrait is given as a frontispiece.]

The next year or two were taken up in producing a number of large altar-pieces, and in painting pictures for the dealer, Giovanni Battista della Palla, who was still intent on supplying the King of France with Italian works of art. For him he painted a Sacrifice of Abraham, which Vasari thinks one of his most excellent works. The face of the patriarch is full of faith, and yet self-sacrifice; the nude figure of Isaac, bronzed in the parts which have been exposed to the sun, most tenderly expresses a trembling dread, mingled with trust in his father; the landscape is also very airy and beautiful, and a characteristic group of a servant and the browsing ass is very effective in the background.

He also painted a lovely picture of Charity with three Children for Della Palla. Both these works were done with great care, for he hoped by their means to regain the lost favour of the King of France. It was too late for this, however; and, as it happened, neither of these works reached its destination. The siege of Florence took place about this time (1529); the dealer, Battista della Palla, had his head cut off in his dungeon at Pisa, and all hope of his mediation with Francis I. was at an end. The Charity was sold to Domenico Conti, the painter, after Andrea’s death, and thence passed into the hands of the Antinori family. The Sacrifice of Abraham has had more vicissitudes. Filippo Strozzi purchased and gave it to the Marchese del Vasto, who had it in his castle at Ischia many years. Later it was sent from Florence to Modena in exchange for a Correggio, and Augustus II. of Saxony becoming its purchaser, placed it in the Dresden Gallery.

This seems to have been a favourite subject with Andrea del Sarto, who repeated it five times.

1. The one done by himself for the King of France.

2. Also in France, having been purchased from the Grand Duke of Tuscany. (See Argenville.)

3. The one mentioned above, done for G. B. della Palla.

4. A smaller one, painted for Paolo da Terra Rossa; a fine painting, for which the artist asked so small a price that the purchaser was ashamed to pay it. Paolo sent it to Naples.

5. An unfinished painting of Abraham holding Isaac by the Hand, now in the possession of the Zonadari family, who obtained it from the Peruzzi.

During the siege, work was found for artists, but of an unpleasant nature. Andrea was commissioned, in 1530, to paint the effigies of some traitors on the palace of the Signoria. He dared not refuse, but remembering that his namesake, Andrea del Castagno, who had been similarly employed, gained the name of “Andrea degli Impiccati,” he was anxious that the same name should not attach to himself. Accordingly he had an enclosed platform made, and giving out that his pupil, Bernardino del Buda, was going to paint the effigies, he worked at them himself secretly, till, on being uncovered, they seemed to be real persons writhing on the gibbet.

No trace of them remains now, but the studies are in the collection of drawings in the Uffizi.

A fine half-length figure of S. Sebastian, for the brotherhood of that name, which had its head-quarters in the street in which Andrea lived, was almost his last work in Florence.

The siege was now over, but the influx of soldiers from the camp brought a return of the plague, which awakened great terror in the city. Andrea’s mode of life and love of good living did not conduce to his safety; he was taken ill suddenly, and gave himself up for lost. Neither Vasari nor Biadi says he was entirely deserted by his wife; they only hint that she came to his room as little as she could, having a great fear of the plague.

It is more than probable that Andrea himself kept her away from him, for his love was always unselfish, and he thought only of her good. However this be, he died, aged forty-two, on the 22nd of January, 1531, and was buried very quietly by the “Brethren of the Scalzo” in the church of the S. Annunziata. His tomb is beneath the pavement of the presbytery, on the left hand. His older biographers seem to think this unostentatious funeral a great slight to his merits, but if there were any doubts as to his illness being the plague, it would only have been a natural precaution to avoid spreading contagion by making his interment quite private.

That Andrea had not wholly neglected his own family is proved by his will, which left his property (after paying back Lucrezia’s dot of 100 scudi, and the money for the improvement of the new house in Via Crocetta for her and her daughter) to his brother Domenico, with the proviso that after his death half the bequest should be given to Domenico’s daughter as dot, the rest to accrue to the hospital of the Innocenti (Foundlings). [Footnote: Ricordanze nel Archivio del E. Spedate degli Innocenti di Firenze. Biadi, Notizie, p. 127.]

Lucrezia lived to a good old age, being nearly ninety when she died; she seems to have lived a very quiet life, and to have kept Andrea’s paintings with great care, except a few only which she sold. The house in Via Crocetta passed many years afterwards into the possession of another painter, Zuccheri, who embellished the studio front with reliefs in stone, representing the paraphernalia of an atelier; but it is Andrea’s name which lives in the house, as his memory does in the hearts of the Florentine people, and his works in the cloisters of the Florentine churches. The people of the city always seem to claim Del Sarto as especially their own. He is always nostro pittore, or nostro maestro-and indeed as a master of fresco he never was surpassed. In colouring he was in his way unique; in modelling, original and graceful; while the transparent clearness of his shadows and brilliant blending of tints in the lights render his handling incomparable. A little more refinement and aesthetic feeling would have placed him on a level with the great leaders of the Renaissance.

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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