Robert Browning’s poem, ‘Andrea del Sarto’ presents the reader with his views on the painter’s life, an artist who has lost faith in the Parnassian ideal of living for art, and now has to use art as a living. The poem looks at the darker side of the painter when he was older, and expresses a lot about Browning as well, and how he thought his work was perceived, and the context of his life and times. The poem covers many ideas and themes, which not only create a powerful poem, but also create commentary from Browning’s prerogative of his own situation. The poem epitomizes Browning’s work, looking at a real figure in history, from Browning’s own perspective, in a real state of affairs. Although ‘Del Sarto’ might have been regarded as ‘The Faultless painter
’ in his time, on the inside he had to repress a struggle. As historian Vasari pointed out, a ‘certain timidity of spirit’ that stopped him from gaining true recognition as one of the greats alongside ‘Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo’. This could be said to express Browning’s view of audience, since his wife was much more successful than him. In this essay I will be looking at the poem, and how it relates to Browning and the time it was written in.
The poem has a very melancholy tone throughout, expressing the feelings of Browning’s ‘Del Sarto’, and to an extent Browning himself. It deals with the artists demise, or recline, that he thinks is slowly starting to destroy his life, and the freedom he once had as an artist. He makes references to the ‘autumn in everything’ that he now sees, and the sin of him being ‘tempted’ by ‘Francis’ coin
’, which he ‘took’. It is clear from the beginning of the poem that ‘Del Sarto’ that he has to live with his resolve, and although he tries to outline his plight, he doesn’t change it, as he says to Lucrezia ‘do not let us quarrel any more’. He is succumbing to what he has to now do. He has to work now for the money he will gain, which destroys the ethos of art. Hi reference to the recipient of the piece as a ‘friends friend’ emphasizes how distant he has got from his art, and his audience. It is not a particular audience, and neither does the picture convey much, as it is just for money.
In context with browning, and the era it was written in, by the Victorian times came the Parnassian ideal of artistic integrity, whether in art or poetry, had been lost. Although it was an enlightened period, paving the way for surrealism, many of the artists of the time used it as trade for a source of income, rather than to portray ideas to the audience. Indeed, Browning’s poems were not very well received in England when he was a young man, yet he still survived. However, when he got older he might of lost sight on his poetry, or would have seen others around him doing so. Elizabeth, his wife, however was a very successful poet in her time, as there was a huge audience for love poetry, something Browning tried to stay away from. Perhaps he thought his wife was losing her artistic integrity. This idea needs to be expanded on, however, before concluding this from the evidence given by the poem.
The poem expresses ‘del Sarto’s’ annoyance with the lack of inspiration in his art. He poses the question ‘Does it bring your heart?’ which not only question his view on what he is drawing, but also asking her whether this I what she wants to do. It is clearly not what he wants to do, as it lacks originality if he keeps doing the same picture over and over. He points out that he has to constantly think of money, for example the reason that he paints his wife is because it ‘saves a models costs’, and it only has to be enough to ‘content’ the receiver. Browning could easily have perceived himself to be doing this since he was living entirely off of his wife’s and her father’s wealth. As the poem continues, there are more ominous expressions from Browning ‘s ‘del Sarto’. It continues with his annoyance that Lucrezia must ‘prick those perfect ears’ as it destroys the authenticity of art by looking at real beauty, instead by appealing to fake aesthetics. In Browning’s time, artists such as Constable strove to find beauty in reality, without appealing to ‘fake’ looks
. Furthermore, the poem shows his possessiveness over Lucrezia, ‘My face, my moon, my everybody’s moon’. However this contrasts to the dangerous and violent nature of the count’s possessiveness in ‘My Last Duchess’, another Browning poem. This is seemingly ironic since he does not object to his wife covertness’ with her cousin, urging her to ‘Go, my love’.
However, it is obvious that he thinks his art expresses a lot more about his wife to his audience, and does not like this being revealed to a ‘friends friend’. This is where the inner conflict is firstly identified; he wants to have artistic integrity, though does not want to paint his wife as he sees her. He actually segregates himself from his audience as referring to himself and other artists a ‘we painters’, and might think his picture of his wife will be looked upon incorrectly. Browning could easily of thought this about how his poetry was received. For example his poem, ‘Meeting at Night’ is an entire poem based on sexual metaphor, and many could just take this as it is; yet when accompanied by ‘Parting at Morning’ it relays a profound idea. This part of the poem suggests a divide and a possible disregard by browning of his audience.
As the poem continues, it starts to outline the foreboding feeling that ‘de Sarto’ has in his life. Browning uses the nouns ‘grayness’ and ‘silvers’ as a verb to highlight this particular idea of gloominess, and dullness. He refers to his life as one that is ‘in twilight’. This imagery creates a dull, lifeless and sparse impression. This idea of loss of colour from his life and art, ‘all being toned down’ are interestingly juxtaposed; as one declines, so does the other. There is a hint of finality her, not in itself, but something that is soon to come, but no idea when. This is previously expressed through lines such as ‘I might get up tomorrow’. This idea of uncertainty could well have been how Browning was feeling when he wrote the poem, since although it is not entirely certain when he wrote it, it is thought nearer the end of his life. He could easily have been feeling depressed about his work, and feel he had lost his ‘youth and art’. This is very ironic however, since one of his greatest poems, ‘Childe Rolande’ was one of his last poems.
Much of Browning’s language creates a very sluggish and ‘pleasant’ image, but not exciting. Browning’s ‘del Sarto’ refers to Fiesole as ‘pleasant’, which expresses Browning’s distaste for his surroundings in Italy, where he lived with Elizabeth. Poems such as ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ articulated a want to move back to England, which was not resolved in his poetry until ‘De gustibus’ ten years later.
As the poem continues, it hints at why ‘del Sarto’ has to work for money. The poem reveals that he wants to ‘give [Lucrezia] more’. It is not entirely clear whether she wants this, or asks for it, the important thing being that he is trying to woo her again as he feels they do not ‘love each other’. This is the reasoning for calling their abode a ‘melancholy little house’. He feels he has to cement the walls with ‘fierce bright gold’, yet this need for money has set his fate. He tries to provide Lucrezia with ‘ a ruff’ and many things beside yet must now ‘bear his lot’. It also brings into the idea of ‘God’s judgment’, and also that of ‘King Francis’. In context with Victorian times, this was a time where people started to question the authenticity of religion, and monarchy. The Victorian era heralded the questioning of religion and the monarchy. It resulted in the abolition of the monarchy in many of the European countries, and the changes in religion, where it was no longer heresy to question the church.
So this is the cause of ‘del Sarto’s’ inner turmoil. Although he wants to continue painting, and have artistic integrity, for example his want to paint the ‘Virgin face’, he wants to give ‘more’ to Lucrezia. He actually blames her satisfying her ‘friend’, and asks ‘does he please you more?’ Nevertheless he says he regrets ‘little, and would change less’. He feels he has been loved ‘quite enough’, and would have been up there in the ‘four great walls of New Jerusalem’ with the greats of ‘Leonard, Rafael and Agnolo’ but they were ‘without a wife’, and he has chosen. This shows how once again the character of ‘del Sarto’ knows his problem, yet does not wish to solve it. As far as this relates to Browning, it would be more conclusive to suggest that this is how he thinks his wife might feel about him.