Sunday, 12 May 2013

Poetry Reads: Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning

Portrait of a Young Man by Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning (May 7, 1812 - December 12, 1889) is based on the now obscure Italian painter, Andrea del Sarto's relationship with his wife, Lucrezia del Fede. A backdrop to Sarto's life: he was from Florence, Italy and lived between 1486 and 1530. He was a Renaissance painter from the High Renaissance and early Mannerism. He was a very gifted painter and had influenced several others including Michelangelo and Giorgio Vasari among many others; it is said that he was referred to as the 'faultless painter'. His relationship with his wife has always been discussed over the decades. It was unrequited; he loved her while she sought greener pastures, had affairs (as hinted in the poem with a cousin of hers). He kowtowed to her desires while his gift for fine arts weathered and he compromised his ethics:

'But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I’ll work then for your friend’s friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly'? 

This poem is a dramatic monologue giving a voice to the thoughts and emotions of del Sarto. He was appointed court painter by the King of France, King Francis. However due to his wife's constant bickering to never-ending materialistic demands, he returned to Florence promising to return with the king's money to purchase artwork. However he never returned to France; instead, he gave in to Lucrezia's demands and bought a house while his parents died in penury and he did not bother about them.

'I am grown peaceful as old age to-night.
I regret little, I would change still less.
Since there my past life lies, why alter it?
The very wrong to Francis!—it is true
I took his coin, was tempted and complied,
And built this house and sinned, and all is said.
My father and my mother died of want.
Well, had I riches of my own? you see
How one gets rich! Let each one bear his lot.
They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died:
And I have laboured somewhat in my time
And not been paid profusely. Some good son
Paint my two hundred pictures—let him try'! 

While del Sarto was content with having his wife around, he had no qualms about her having an affair with her cousin (hint from the poem). The relationship between Lucrezia and her cousin was ambiguous, bordering on an affair. The last line ends with his acquiescence to the goings-on and the affair.

'Again the Cousin’s whistle! Go, my Love'.

It is a beautiful poem that does not hint at any blame game no matter what but rather encapsulates the misery, acceptance and the ruin of del Sarto.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

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