ANDREA DEL SARTO
 NOWHERE in Florence could a more honest man or
a better worker be found than Agnolo the tailor.
True, there were once evil tales whispered about him
when he first opened his shop in the little street. It
was said that he was no Italian, but a foreigner who
had been obliged to flee from his own land because
of a quarrel he had had with one of his customers.
People shook their heads and talked mysteriously
of how the tailor's scissors had been used as a deadly
weapon in the fight. But ere long these stories died
away, and the tailor, with his wife Constanza, lived
a happy, busy life, and brought up their six children
carefully and well.
Now out of those six children five were just the
ordinary commonplace little ones such as one would
expect to meet in a tailor's household, but the sixth
was like the ugly duckling in the fairy tale—a little,
strange bird, unlike all the rest, who learned to swim
far away and soon left the old commonplace home
The boy's name was Andrea. He was such a
quick, sharp little boy that he was sent very early
to school, and had learned to read and write before
he was seven years old. As that was considered
quite enough education, his father then took him
 away from school and put him to work with a goldsmith.
It is early days to begin work at seven years old,
but Andrea thought it was quite as good as play.
He was always perfectly happy if he could have a
pencil and paper, and his drawings and designs were
really so wonderfully good that his master grew to
be quite proud of the child and showed the work to
all his customers.
Next door to the goldsmith's shop there lived an
old artist called Barile, who began to take a great
interest in little Andrea. Barile was not a great
painter, but still there was much that he could
teach the boy, and he was anxious to have him as a
pupil. So it was arranged that Andrea should enter
the studio and learn to be an artist instead of a
For three years the boy worked steadily with his
new master, but by that time Barile saw that better
teaching was needed than he could give. So after
much thought the old man went to the great Florentine
artist Piero di Cosimo, and asked him if he
would agree to receive Andrea as his pupil. 'You
will find the boy no trouble,' he urged. 'He has
wonderful talent, and already he has learnt to mix
his colours so marvellously that to my mind there is
no artist in Florence who knows more about colour
than little Andrea' Cosimo shook his head in
unbelief. The boy was but a child, and this praise
seemed absurd. However, the drawings were certainly
extraordinary, and he was glad to receive so
clever a pupil.
 But little by little, as Cosimo watched the boy at
work, his unbelief vanished and his wonder grew,
until he was as fond and proud of his pupil as the
old master had been. 'He handles his colours as if
he had had fifty years of experience,' he would say
proudly, as he showed off the boy's work to some
And truly the knowledge of drawing and colouring
seemed to come to the boy without any effort.
Not that he was idle or trusted to chance. He was
never tired of work, and his greatest joy on holidays
was to go of and study the drawings of the great
Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Often he
would spend the whole day copying these drawings
with the greatest care, never tired of learning more
As Andrea grew older, all Florence began to take
note of the young painter—'Andrea del Sarto,' as he
was called, or 'the tailor's Andrew,' for sarto is the
Italian word for tailor.
What a splendid new star this was rising in the
heaven of Art! Who could tell how bright it
would shine ere long? Perhaps the tailor's son
would yet eclipse the magic name of Raphael. His
colour was perfect, his drawing absolutely correct.
They called him in their admiration 'the faultless
painter.' But had he, indeed, the artist soul? That
was the question. For, perfect as his pictures were,
they still lacked something. Perhaps time would
teach him to supply that want.
Meanwhile there was plenty of work for the young
artist, and when he set up his own studio with
 another young painter, he was at once invited to
fresco the walls of the cloister of the Scalzo, or bare-
This was the happiest time of all Andrea's life.
The two friends worked happily together, and spent
many a merry day with their companions. Every
day Andrea learned to add more softness and delicacy
to his colouring until his pictures seemed verily
to glow with life. Every day he dreamed fresh
dreams of the fame and honour that awaited him.
And when work was over, the two young painters
would go off to meet their friends and make merry
over their supper as they told all the latest jokes
and wittiest stories, and forgot for a while the serious
art of painting pictures.
There were twelve of these young men who met
together, and each of them was bound to bring some
particular dish for the general supper. Every one
tried to think of something especially nice and
uncommon, but no one managed such surprising
delicacies as Andrea. There was one special dish
which no one ever forgot. It was in the shape of
a temple, with its pillars made of sausages. The
pavement was formed of little squares of different
coloured jelly, the tops of the pillars were cheese,
and the roof was of sugar, with a frieze of sweets
running round it. Inside the temple there was a
choir of roast birds with their mouths wide open,
and the priests were two fat pigeons. It was the
most splendid supper-dish that ever was seen.
Every one was fond of the clever young painter.
He was so kind and courteous to all, and so simple-
 hearted that it was impossible for the others to feel
jealous or to grudge him the fame and praise that
was showered upon him more and more as each
fresh picture was finished.
Then just when all gave promise of sunshine and
happiness, a little cloud rose in his blue sky, which
grew and grew until it dimmed all the glory of his life.
In the Via di San Gallo, not very far from the street
where Andrea and his friend lodged, there lived a
very beautiful woman called Lucrezia. She was
not a highborn lady, only the daughter of a working
man, but she was as proud and haughty as she was
beautiful. Nought cared she for things high and
noble, she was only greedy of praise and filled with
a desire to have her own way in everything. Yet
her lovely face seemed as if it must be the mirror
of a lovely soul, and when the young painter
Andrea first saw her his heart went out towards her.
She was his long-dreamed-of ideal of beauty and
grace, the vision of loveliness which he had been
trying to grasp all his life.
'What hath bewitched thee?' asked his friend as
he watched Andrea restlessly pacing up and down
the studio, his brushes thrown aside and his work
left unfinished. 'Thou hast done little work for
'I cannot paint,' answered Andrea, 'for I see
only one face ever before me, and it comes between
me and my work.'
'Thou art ruining all thy chances,' said the friend
sadly, 'and the face thou seest is not worth the
 Andrea turned on his heel with an angry look
and went out. All his friends were against him
now. No one had a good word for the beautiful
Lucrezia. But she was worth all the world to him,
and he had made up his mind to marry her.
It was winter time, and the Christmas bells had
but yesterday rung out the tidings of the Holy
Birthday when Andrea at last obtained his heart's
desire and made Lucrezia his wife. The joyful
Christmastide seemed a fit season in which to set
the seal upon his great happiness, and he thought
himself the most fortunate of men. He had asked
advice of none, and had told no one what he meant
to do, but the news of his marriage was soon noised
'Hast thou heard the news of young Andrea del
Sarto?' asked the people of Florence of one another.
'I fear he has dealt an evil blow at his own chances
One by one his friends left him, and many of his
pupils deserted the studio. Lucrezia's sharp tongue
was unbearable, and she made mischief among them
all. Only Andrea remained blinded by her beauty,
and thought that now, with such a model always near
him, he would paint as he had never painted before.
But little did Lucrezia care to help him with his
work. His pictures meant nothing to her except
so far as they sold well and brought in money for
her to spend. Worst of all, she began to grudge
the help that he gave to his old father and mother,
who now were poor and needed his care.
And yet, although Andrea saw all this, he still
 loved his beautiful wife and cared only how he
might please her. He scarcely painted a picture
that had not her face in it, for she was his ideal
Madonna, Queen of Heaven.
But it was not so easy now to put his whole heart
and soul into his work. True, his hand drew as
correctly as ever, and his colours were even more
beautiful, but often the soul seemed lacking.
'Thou dost work but slowly,' the proud beauty
would say, tired of sitting still as his model. 'Why
canst thou not paint quicker and sell at higher
prices? I have need of more gold, and the money
seems to grow scarcer week by week.'
Andrea sighed. Truly the money vanished like
magic, as Lucrezia's jewels and dresses increased.
'Dear heart, have a little patience,' he said. 'I
can but do my best.'
Then, as he looked at the angry discontented face
of his wife, he laid down his brushes and went to
kneel beside her.
'Lucrezia,' he said, 'there needs something
besides mere drawing and painting to make a picture.
They call me ''the faultless painter,'' and it seemed
once as if I might have reached as high or even
higher than the great Raphael. It needed but the
soul put into my work, and if thou couldst have
helped me to reach my ideal, what would I not
have shown the world!'
'I do not understand thee,' said Lucrezia
petulantly, 'and this is waste of time. Haste thee and
get back to thy brushes and paints, and see that
thou drivest a better bargain with this last picture.'
 No, it was no use; she could never understand!
Andrea knew that he must look for no help from
her, and that he must paint in spite of the hindrances
she placed in his way. Well, his work was still
considered most beautiful, and he must make the
best of it.
Orders for pictures came now from far and near,
and before long some of Andrea's work found its
way into France; and when King Francis saw it he
was so anxious to have the painter at his court, that
he sent a royal invitation, begging Andrea to come
at once to France and enter the king's service.
The invitation came when Andrea was feeling
hopeless and dispirited. Lucrezia gave him no
peace, the money was all spent, and he was weary
of work. The thought of starting afresh in another
country put new courage into him. He made up
his mind to go at once to the French court. He
would leave Lucrezia in some safe place and send
her all the money he could earn.
How good it was to leave all his troubles behind,
and to set off that glad May day when all the world
breathed of new life and new hope. Perhaps the
winter of his life was passed too, and only sunshine
and summer was in store.
Andrea's welcome at the French court was most
flattering. Nothing was thought too good for the
famous Florentine painter, and he was treated like
a prince. The king loaded him with gifts, and gave
him costly clothes and money for all his needs. A
portrait of the infant Dauphin was begun at once, for
which Andrea received three hundred golden pieces.
 Month after month passed happily by. Andrea
painted many pictures, and each one was more
admired than the last. But his dream of happiness
did not last long. He was hard at work one day
when a letter was brought to him, sent by his wife
Lucrezia. She could not live without him, so she
wrote. He must come home at once. If he delayed
much longer he would not find her alive.
There could be, of course, but one answer to all
this. Andrea loved his wife too well to think of
refusing her request, and the days of peace and
plenty must come to an end. Even as he read her
letter he began to long to see her again, and the
thought of showing her all his gay clothes and
costly presents filled him with delight.
But the king was very loth to let the painter
go, and only at last consented when Andrea
promised most faithfully to return a few months
'I cannot spare thee for longer,' said Francis;
'but I will let thee go on condition that thou wilt
buy for me certain works of art in Italy, which I
have long coveted, and bring them back with thee.'
Then he entrusted to Andrea a large sum of
money and bade him buy the best pictures he could
find, and afterwards return without fail.
So Andrea journeyed back to Florence, and when
he was once again with his wife, his joy and delight
in her were so great that he forgot all his promises,
forgot even the king's trust, and allowed Lucrezia
to squander all the money which was to have been
spent on art treasures for King Francis.
 Then returned the evil days of trouble and
quarrelling. Added to that the terrible feeling that
he had betrayed his trust and broken his word, made
Andrea more unhappy than ever. He dared not
return to France, but took up again his work in
Florence, always with the hope that he might make
enough money to repay the debt.
Years went by and dark days fell upon the City
of Flowers. She had made a great struggle for
liberty and had driven out the Medici, but they were
helped by enemies from without, and Florence was for
many months in a state of siege. There was constant
fighting going on and little time for peaceful work.
Yet through all those troubled days Andrea
worked steadily at his painting, and paid but little
heed to the fate of the city. The stir of battle did
not reach his quiet studio. There was enough strife
at home; no need to seek it outside.
It was about this time that he painted a beautiful
picture for the Company of San Jacopo, which was
used as a banner and carried in their processions.
Bad weather, wind, rain, and sunshine have spoiled
some of its beauty, but much of the loveliness still
remains. It is specially a children's picture, for
Andrea painted the great saint bending over a little
child in a white robe who kneels at his feet, while
another little figure kneels close by. The boy has
his hands folded together as if in prayer, and the
kind strong hand of the saint is placed lovingly
beneath the little chin. The other child is holding
a book, and both children press close against the
robe of the protecting saint.
ST. JAMES. BY ANDREA DEL SARTO
 But although Andrea could paint his pictures
undisturbed while war was raging around, there was
one enemy waiting to enter Florence who claimed
attention and could not be ignored. When the
triumphant troops gained an entrance by treachery,
they brought with them that deadly scourge which
was worse than any earthly enemy, the dreadful
illness called the plague.
Perhaps Andrea had suffered for want of good
food during the siege, perhaps he was overworked
and tired; but, whatever was the cause, he was one
of the first to be seized by that terrible disease.
Alone he fought the enemy, and alone he died.
Lucrezia had left him as soon as he fell ill, for she
feared the deadly plague, and Andrea gladly let her
go, for he loved her to the last with the same great
So passed away the faultless painter, and his was
the last great name engraved upon that golden
record of Florentine Art which had made Florence
famous in the eyes of the world. Other artists came
after him, but Art was on the wane in the City of
Flowers, and her glory was slowly departing.
We can trace no other great name upon her pages
and so we close the book, and our eyes turn towards
the shores of the blue Adriatic, where Venice,
Queen of the Sea, was writing, year by year,
another volume filled with the names of her own
Knights of Art.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics