Andrea del Sarto: Precise but Passionless

April 20, 2008 by aaron

Andrea del Sarto, in the poem of the same name by Browning, has all the basic elements of a happy life, but he accepts all the aspects of his life that drain him and leave him passionless; thus, accentuating his lack of an artist’s soul. Some, including Andrea, blame his unhappiness and inability to achieve fame on his wife, Lucrezia, but his unhappiness and lack of fame come from his disconnection from the passionate aspects of the world, something that evidences itself in his method of speaking, his paintings, and his marriage. This passionless existence leaves his tone subdued, his artwork is a “silvery gray” duplication of reality, and his marriage empty and unfulfilling. Although he lacks passion, he could be a great painter, but he resigns himself to his fate and is unable to force himself to move beyond the fetters with which he believes God has burdened him. Therefore, he is never able to gain the fire that the other great painters had.

The most prominent of these supposed fetters is his own wife. He blames her for his own weaknesses and does not realize that he expects too much from her. He desires a wife who will inspire him to overcome his own limitations, while at the same time provide him with a feminine and artistic soul to inspire him and allow him to supplement his technical skill in painting with emotional depth (140, 127-31, 118-9). However, his lack of passion makes him unable to see past the superficial elements of life, so rather than selecting a wife who possesses a mental and spiritual perfection, he chooses Lucrezia for her physical perfection: her “perfect brow / And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth” (121-3). His own blindness and superficial attitude ensure that he rarely is able to see beyond his wife’s physical perfection; thus, he focuses his energies on gaining and regaining her love at the expense of his art (5-7, 231). He believes that he will be inspired if Lucrezia answers his pleas and returns to his side (231, 18-9). However, he briefly realizes that although she is physically perfect, she would inspire him if only she had “brought a mind / [as s]ome women do” (122-7). Lucrezia shares some of the blame for Andrea’s inability to achieve the status of which he dreams, but his own nature is such that he would never, through his own power, attain the level of fame he desires.

He believes that he has the skill to become one of the greatest painters, but his painting is fettered by his abilities because his skill in painting is the greatest flaw of his works they are greatest in structure, but lack the soul shown by the artists to whom he compares himself (197). Even though he has the ability to paint, his ability ensure that he never needs passion to create. His art has achieved a physical perfection, but like his wife, it is never able to move beyond the physical into the metaphysical. He believes that he could be great because for him painting requires no thought; however, in his quest for perfection in his art, he has forgotten that it is the tiny flaws that create true beauty (68, 113-4). He has the skill to improve the strokes of the masters, but he cannot improve upon their expression because even he recognizes that his art is “placid and perfect” (99). Thus, although he has the technical skill, he can never become a great artist because he is unable to reinterpret reality and lacks the emotional fire which creates emotion in the art itself and gives art power.

His difficulty in merging the metaphysical and the physical is evident in his way of speaking. Throughout most of his monologue, he speaks in a quiet and mundane tone, without passion or imagination although, for brief moments, he moves beyond his own limitations. These few small glimpses into his true passions reveal that he could have become a great painter had he both married well and worked to overcome the obstacles in his life, rather than just blindly accepting them. However, he misplaces his energies, and in accepting all obstacles in his life as fate, he becomes burdened by them, and allows his regaining energy to languish and diminish to the point that he accepts everything as inevitable. His thoughts are trapped in the past and he focuses on nothing but the way things could have been. He is uneasily complacent and accepts that his life would be joyless, his marriage loveless, and his art soulless, so he pines over his lost desires and he allowes himself to focus only on the tangible things he lost.

Andrea del Sarto can grasp only at the tangible and never moves beyond the tangible to achieve perfection in anything he does. In his artwork, he portrays things exactly as they are and then glosses over them; in his monologue, he portrays the basic elements of his problems without attempting to determine their causes. He never makes the leap of faith required to move beyond circumstances that trammel life. He accepts all that happened to him and at times blames God rather than trying to overcome it, which restricts his ability to grow beyond his base nature. Similarly, due to his laziness of mind and complicity, his art and marriage are never able to overcome the obstacles that are placed before him. Andrea endures the conduct of his wife and his failure as an artist because he is resigned to his place in life and does not have the inner drive to move beyond the fetters. He is weak-willed, and as such would never be willing to initiate the changes he needs, even if he was assured of all of his desires. This is his greatest flaw and the real reason he could never have gained the status he desired.

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