Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning Summary & Analysis

Andrea del Sarto
Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto Summary


This poem represents yet one more of Browning’s dramatic monologues spoken within the voice of a historical Renaissance painter. Andrea del Sarto, like Fra Lippo Lippi, lived and worked in Florence, albeit a touch later than Lippo, and was later appointed court painter by Francis, the King of France. Under the nagging influence of his wife Lucrezia, to whom he speaks during this poem, he left the French court for Italy but promised to return; he took with him some money that Francis had given him to get Italian artworks for the court, and also the cash advanced to him for his own commissioned paintings.


However, he spent all of the cash on a house for himself and his wife in Italy and never returned to France. This poem finds Andrea within the house he has bought with the stolen money, as he thinks back on his career and laments that his worldly concerns have kept him from fulfilling his promise as an artist. As he and Lucrezia sit at their window, he talks to her of his relative successes and failures: although Michelangelo (here, Michel Agnolo) and Raphael (Rafael) enjoyed the higher inspiration and better patronage—and lacked nagging wives—he is that the better craftsman and he points bent her the issues with the good Masters’ work.


But while Andrea succeeds technically where they are doing not (thus his title “The Faultless Painter”), their work ultimately triumphs for its emotional and spiritual power. Andrea now finds himself within the twilight of his career and his marriage: Lucrezia’s “Cousin”—probably her lover—keeps whistling for her to come; she apparently either owes the person gambling debts or has promised to hide his own. The fond, weary Andrea gives her some money, promises to sell paintings to pay off her debts, and sends her away to her “Cousin,” while he remains to take a seat quietly and dream of painting in Heaven.


Andrea del Sarto Analysis 


“Andrea del Sarto” maybemeandering poem of 267 lines in the poem, broken unevenly into three stanzas of 243, 23, and 1 line(s). The title identifies the topic of the poem, Andrea del Sarto, a distinguished artist of the Florentine School of painting. The poem is written within the person, the speaker being Andrea, not Browning. Andrea, conversing together with his silent wife, Lucrezia, reflects on his life and art, thereby dramatically revealing his moral and aesthetic failure.


The poem begins with Andrea’s placative request to Lucrezia to take a seat with him and not “quarrel any longer .” The failure of the wedding quickly becomes evident as Andrea acknowledges that her physical presence affords no guarantee of intimacy or rapport. His wife’s consent to take a seat is rewarded with a promise that he will accede to her wishes, permitting Lucrezia’s friends to dictate the circumference and price of his art. His most persuasive ploy for the pleasure of her company—even for a couple of evening hours—is his pledge to “shut the money” from his add her hand.


As Andrea muses over the state of his life and his art, detailing his experiences and implying his dreams, he becomes an unconscious study within the complexity of failure: an artist possessing an uncommon aptitude for perfection in execution, but lacking the private character traits to realize success. Andrea views altogether that he has touched—his life, his marriage, and his paintings—a “common greyness.” He gropes desultorily for the explanation for this diminution of his promise.


He first speculates that his failure is due to determinism; an authoritative, controlling god predestines individual accomplishments. Such a rationale, however, is just too simplistic for the sensitive, intelligent artist. He reflects on his potential. Self-confident, he affirms his innate genius: Unlike others, he doesn’t need to struggle for perfection in line and color; for him, the process is facile. Michelangelo has even identified him as a significant Renaissance contender—that is, he would be if he were as motivated and dedicated because the masters are.


Momentarily elated at his recollection and seeking to demonstrate this ability to his wife, Andrea almost presumes to correct a flawed line of a replica of a master painting; belatedly, however, withdrawing his brush from the surface of the painting, he surmises that technique isn’t the critical factor determining greatness. More significant is that the soul of the artist. Andrea ponders over Lucrezia’s influence on his work: If she “had a mind,” if she were spiritual instead of carnal, he may need to have triumphed. He concludes, however, that incentive isn’t an external, but an indoor phenomenon.


Nostalgically, Andrea reflects on his year of prominence, basking within the favor of King Francis I and his royal court. Those times of life had ended abruptly at his decision to return to Italy and Lucrezia (at her request) and his embezzlement of cash entrusted to him by the king for art purchases. Now, alienated from that glory, cuckolded—and conscious of it—he prostitutes his art to please Lucrezia and even to pay the debts of her lover.


The dispassionate Andrea seems resigned to the diminished state of his life and art because the second stanza begins. Experiencing guilt over his neglect of his aged, impoverished parents, and his betrayal of the king, he purports consolation at “having” Lucrezia. His sense of frustration, however, continues; in one last effort at consolation, he speculates on the afterlife. He will compete successfully with Raphael, Leonardo Leonardo, and Michelangelo within the New Jerusalem. His obsession with Lucrezia and his resignation, however, surface once more: Even in heaven—at his choice—his wife will take precedence, negating any change in his performance.


The extent of Andrea’s decadence is further emphasized within the concluding, one-line stanza: The effete husband, with seeming nonchalance, releases his wife to her lover at his…

Andrea del Sarto = Andrea del Sarto = Andrea del Sarto = Andrea del Sarto