Throughout Browning's "Andrea del Sarto," del Sarto, the painter, wrestles with his need for the love of his wife, Lucrezia. Even as del Sarto speaks confidently about his art, which is highly acclaimed, he is deeply burdened both by Lucrezia's lack of interest in his artistic creations, as well as by the fact that he is rapidly losing her love. Early on in the poem, the narrator suggests that if he and his wife can sit and rest together, hand in hand, he will be rejuvenated and able to produce work with new vigor the next morning (lines 13-21).

And so they do sit together for the duration of the poem, with del Sarto addressing Lucrezia. While del Sarto seems to be boasting of his artistic skill (lines 69-71 especially), his insecurity also comes through, as it becomes clear that Lucrezia is unimpressed with his virtuosity, even as he tries to draw her attention to the praise he elicits from others. The narrator tries to claim (lines 90-92) that he is indifferent to criticism and praise of his art. Although this statement seems to be a ridiculous fallacy on the one hand, at the same time, del Sarto's greatest struggle appears to be with his desire for Lucrezia to love him and appreciate his art.

You don't understand
Nor care to understand about my art,
But you can hear at least when people speak. [lines 54-56]

When del Sarto suggests for the second time, near the end of the poem, that he believes sitting together as they have been will be beneficial to his art, he feels compelled to tell Lucrezia how that end "his production of better art" will materially benefit her (lines 204-7), illustrating how del Sarto holds himself to a radically different standard in Lucrezia's eyes than in everyone else's. To Lucrezia, he is not a brilliant and talented artist, but merely her husband, and he tries to appeal to her on this level, particularly since he feels that he is slipping in her love. He mentions that their house, which was intended to be "gay", is now quite "melancholy" (lines 212-213). He beseeches her that they might "but love each other"(line 219). Finally, del Sarto makes one more plea that others might convince Lucrezia of his artistic worth, hoping that she will give him another chance.

Only let me sit
The gray remainder of the evening out,
Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
The gray remainder of the evening out,
Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
How I could paint, were I but back in France,
One picture, just one more the Virgin's face,
Not yours this time! I want you at my side
To hear them that is, Michel Agnolo --
Judge all I do and tell you of its worth.
Will you? [lines 226-234]

He then brings up the issue of her lover, whom she favors. Significantly, the poem ends with Lucrezia's lover waiting for her, and del Sarto, forlorn and despairing, telling her to go to him.

Why does del Sarto give Lucrezia up so freely to his rival at the end? Does del Sarto believe the artist needs tragic inspiration in his life — for Del Sarto it is unrequited love — in order to be inspired? Would del Sarto create equally well-acclaimed work if Lucrezia did love him?

Does del Sarto feel guilty that Lucrezia is his muse or inspiration ("Why do I need you? / What wife had Rafael, or has Agnolo?" [lines 135-6])? del Sarto desperately wants to believe that he is truly talented and self-inspired, but he is insecure about his abilities, and he worries that he is dependent onLucrezia in a way that other brilliant artists were not dependent on anyone. Does del Sarto seem to think that he compromises the integrity and genius of his art somehow by loving Lucrezia so much?

There are several ways in which there are two worlds within the poem, that of art and that of reality. Lucrezia moves between the two, by both being his model and his wife. Furthermore, del Sarto appeals to her in both these realms, by begging Lucrezia to admire his art as art, and also by making references to their daily life and concerns. Does the melding of the two worlds humble the artist?

How is del Sarto's ability to stay within the earthly world, even as an artist, to his credit (contrast this with the soul in Tennyson's "The Palace of Art")?

Is del Sarto removing Lucrezia from her pedestal of inspiration when he makes a plea to her to be his wife more importantly than his model ("I want you at my side"(line 231))? Does he think this would be a more meaningful position in her eyes?

Related Materials


Victorian Overview R. Browning Leading Questions

Modified 29 September 2003