Andrea del Sarto’s Evil Angel


Lucrezia by Andrea del Sarto

She hangs on a wall of the Prado Museum in Madrid, ever bewitching.

Who painted her?

Her husband, Andrea del Sarto, who was crazy about her, to his great bad luck.
He was one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance. Many thought he painted so well he might have rivalled the great Leonardo da Vinci. Everyone loved and respected him.

Then along came Lucrezia and Andrea lost his head.  According to Giorgio Vasari, who knew her, she was no good.    She mistreated Andrea’s friends and even his apprentices, and she brought out a shocking weakness in him.

What did she do that was so bad?  Maybe Vasari just didn’t like her.

For instance:
Andrea’s reputation as a painter was so great that the very King of France invited him to come and work for him. He gave Andrea a place to live and a splendid salary and treated Andrea as a personal friend.
One evil day Andrea got a letter from Lucrezia back in Florence. She said she missed him and was miserable. If he didn’t come right home she would—well, she would die.

Andrea ran to ask the king for permission to return to Florence. “It will only be for a short time,” he said. The king put on a very sour face. He had already had some bad experience with Italian artists.

Andrea had an idea: “Your Majesty loves great paintings, right?  Well, while I’m home in Florence I can buy some good ones for you.”

That worked. The king’s face brightened. He knew he could trust the tastes of one of the world’s greatest artists to spot good paintings, and he gave him plenty of money to buy them. “Hurry back, my friend,” he told him.

Guess what happened.  Andrea hurried home to Florence and was reunited with his beloved Lucrezia.  They celebrated their reunion with magnificent feasts. Lucrezia told Andrea that while he was away she had been dreaming of a beautiful Tuscan villa where they could live with dignity; and she  showed him her plans. He happened to have some cash (the king’s) and so he told Lucrezia her wish was his command. They began to build the beautiful Tuscan villa.

One day they ran out of funds.  Andrea woke up remembering King Francis and his promise to return soon.  “Lucrezia,” he told her after she had woken too. “I must go back to the king.”
“You’re not serious,” she said. “The king has already forgotten about you. And that money to him is nothing. Stay here with your little Lucrezia.”  And she gave him a kiss of the kind that simply paralyzed him.
He never went back and King Francis cursed him and all Italians too.

Lucrezia did one more nasty thing. When the plague was raging through Florence Andrea fell sick. Lucrezia quickly left not only the house but Florence too.  She had great fear of contagion. Andrea  died alone in the house and was found days later and buried just anywhere. Lucrezia, probably because of her foresight, survived that plague and forty more years of flu-s and other common maladies.

Supposed self-portrait of Andrea del Sarto (Wikipedia public domain photo)

See Robert Browning’s famous poem, one of his dramatic monologues, in which Andrea talks to Lucrezia on a beautiful Tuscan evening.

Wikipedia on Andrea del Sarto



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21 Responses to Andrea del Sarto’s Evil Angel

  1. erikatakacs says:

    If Lucrezia was this beautiful as Sarto has depicted her, it’s easy to see why he had fallen for her. He must have loved her very much. Yet there is something unsettling behind her pretty face.
    What I don’t get why the king of France couldn’t afford to bring the painters’ families to the court? How cruel is of him to have them separated from their wives and children for extended periods. Unbelievable.
    I loved this story, Swallows!

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Erika. That’s a good question. I don’t know why the king didn’t invite Andrea’s wife too. This is one of my favorite portraits in the Prado. This reproduction doesn’t do it justice. It should be better known. In other works she doesn’t look so charming, I must say.

  3. ion danu says:

    Probably king Francis heard about her reputation… Women can be a great blessing or a very bad curse in the life of the artist. Usually a curse because they almost always compete with “Art” as if it was a rival… Those who are humble enough and love their man AND his art are very very rare. Xantipe type are a lot more frecvent…

    Cezanne’s wife is another bad example, at least, in the end. Cezanne caught a bad cold (or pnemonia) at Aix and was dying. He just wanted to see once more his son Paul, whom he loved dearly. So, his old and faithful menagere send a telegram to Madame Cezanne (to Paris, she found Aix boring) urgeing her and her son to come as soon as possible to see the dying painter. But she did not show the telegram to her son for a few days since she had some appointments with her taylors for her ball dresses… When they arrive in Aix, a few days later, Cezanne was dead.

  4. You’ve gotten me off on a visual tangent today! I looked up del Sarto’s biography and some of his work, and it’s wonderful. Thanks for introducing me to him.

  5. kimiam says:

    He stole the King’s money and blamed it on someone else? Faultless painter? is this some kind of tongue in cheek thing you have going here? And to require a woman to choose suicide (infection with plague) by the bed of her husband or forever be known as an evil wretch who feared death and disfigurement (like most of us mortals). Who witnessed the conversation the day she left? Is it all speculation? If he loved her, maybe he begged her to leave and spare herself. Would you choose death? Would you ask your wife to die because you are dying? :P~

    The second story of the man who died from a cold is sad.
    I find comfort in that his wife didn’t kill him, but unfortunately didn’t realise how serious the situation was. I hope she wasn’t tormented for her very human mistake on top of being a penniless widow and mourning the loss of her husband.

    I love your stories, swallows. You breathe life into these artworks for me. Always interesting to contemplate. I guess I’m a bit a skeptic since history was penned by men for the most part. Even today in the United States, being a sexist is more acceptable than being a racist. Both should be equally unacceptable.

  6. 100swallows says:

    Danu and Erika: It just occurred to me that King Francis, according to Cellini, was himself wrapped around the little finger of Madame d’Étampes. Maybe, knowing the power of some wives and mistresses, King Francis decided to ask the boys to keep them at home.

  7. 100swallows says:

    Patience, Kimiam. It takes time for the world to change.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Hi Moonbeam! Did you read the poems of Browning when you were in school? The idea of the faultless painter and the genius who was without ambition have stuck with me ever since. Now the poem seems too long…. Glad you went off on that tangent.

  9. wrjones says:

    My kind of woman. I’ve always admired a good schemer.

    There are many paintings that have been rendered beautifully but don’t have much visual/emotional impact.

    Some of the impressionist works (and the work of untold thousands) is rendered very roughly but has great appeal. In general, I believe the design of the painting is the most important ingredient to a successful, widely admired work.

    As some of my now dead friends would say about my opinions, “So, tell someone who cares.”

  10. erikatakacs says:

    That’s an interesting insight, Swallows. It’s possible the Madame made some decisions for the king. I also checked out some of Andrea’s other paintings. He painted some self-portraits (very handsome man himself!), he looks quiet, balanced, contemplative. Not the type that will get into fights easily. Question is was he really like this, or he wanted to be remembered like this. Hard to believe this man would steal…unless controlled by someone else. I couldn’t find any other portraits of his wife. You said some of them weren’t as charming? I’d like to see them. There must have been some truth to her controlling nature, as Vasari says all his students left him because they couldn’t take her for very long.

  11. 100swallows says:

    Erika: Do you really believe you can see a man’s character so well in a portrait? Maybe we saw different ones of Del Sarto but I thought I detected a weak man and one who might well steal the king’s money. Probably (certainly?) I was influenced by the story about him, just as when I see the capricious(?) Lucrezia in the Prado.
    Here are two links to more pictures. How many of these Virgins are Lucrezia? They don’t all look like the same woman.

    I know the Virgin of the Holy Family in the Prado best, but I can’t find a reproduction anywhere.

  12. kimiam says:

    I think all of us have a thief in us, given the right circumstances and hardships. Those who want to beat the thief most violently are those who are most afraid the thief in themselves might surface if they lack adequate determent.

  13. 100swallows says:

    Not everyone’s thief is such a bully though, kimiam–or a monarch.

  14. 100swallows says:

    Bill: There you go again with your “untold thousands”. Excellence is by definition something rare–no? I guess we’d have to talk about the word “design”. I’m not so sure many of those beloved Impressionist paintings are great examples of “design”.

  15. erikatakacs says:

    Thanks for the links, Swallows. I checked out many of his paintings, and I must say I’m truly impressed by his talent. Honestly, I don’t care about his character, I’m so blown away by his work. I think he was born in the wrong century though. He doesn’t seem emotionally involved in the religious standard scenes of the day. But his portraits are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They’re realistically rendered and flawlessly executed indeed. I really don’t understand why is he underrated today. What a pity.

  16. 100swallows says:

    Erika: Do you know Rafael’s portraits? Soon I’ll post some. I wonder if you won’t think they are superior.

  17. erikatakacs says:

    I know only of Raffaello’s most famous works, so I’m looking forward to seeing his portraits.

  18. Mary Mimouna says:

    I really like this painting. I don’t like the real Mona Lisa at all; never have.

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