In his poetry, Browning rejects the tendency of Shelley and the Romantics to project all their desires onto a female object. His dramatic monologue, "Andrea del Sarto," is a variation on this theme of men possessing women as objects. The artist's simple request to hold Lucrezia's hand reveals his desire to assert his male dominance of her female passivity, a wish which is wholly ironic in light of the fact that he has surrendered everything to her. The speaker is troubled by the contrast between the woman's physical perfection and her superficial values. He is ashamed of the fact that he cannot live without her even though he recognizes her complete lack of depth and "soul." He dreams of the great work he could accomplish if only Lucrezia would nurture his spirit and inspire him to create. He yearns for a female figure to make his soul whole and complete, but Lucrezia has failed him in every way except her beauty. Andrea directly accuses her of robbing him of his artistic potential and success:

He means right — that, a child may understand.
Still, what an arm! And I could alter it:
But all the play, the insight and the stretch —
Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out?
Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul,
We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!
Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think —
More than I merit, yes, many times.
But had you — oh with the same perfect brow,
And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth,
And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird
The fowler's pipe, and follows to the snare —
Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind! [ll. 116-126]

For the speaker, success lies in the endless growth and struggle towards perfection and not in its actual attainment. The arm in Rafael's painting is not a defect but a sign that although he was not technically flawless, he had good intentions. How does the artist position himself in the inherent contradiction of having both "soul" and technical perfection? Does he associate perfection with stagnation and spiritual emptiness or does he still consider it something worth striving for?

What techniques does Browning use to convey the speaker's unsettled and fluctuating mental states?

Why does the speaker's sentiment towards Lucrezia suddenly change from one of resentment to one of gratitude? Why does he immediately qualify this contradiction?

How does the repetition of the word perfect (3x) represent the basic contradiction of the poem? Why does the speaker correlate Lucrezia's perfection with the emptiness of his life?

What is the relation of the female figure to the speaker's art? Why does he depend on her and yet blame her for his failures? Is Lucrezia's posing for him as his model a substitute for the full possession which he knows he cannot have?

Related Materials


Victorian Overview R. Browning Leading Questions

Modified 29 September 2003