After the publication of this poem, it became the fashion for every English lady holidaying in Florence to purchase a copy of Andrea Del Sarto's cartoon-drawing of his wife, a sketch which would reveal a power nearly equal to that of Michelangelo, but somehow softer and more human, although not nearly so inspired.
In "Andrea del Sarto" Browning shows us a failed hero, an artist who has developed a successful technique and has reached his limit, but, in the process, has lost his inspiration. Andrea has sold out his talent to supply his wife's demand for luxuries. He rationalizes his failure, he grasps for explanations. Spiritually, "more is less"--Michelangelo lacks Andrea's finish, but communicates a soul and a power in his works, inferior as they may be in terms of their drawing. Browning emphasizes that art is not merely a display of technical skill. Andrea's work has superficial perfection: he does not choose to delve more deeply into the nature of things. To Browning, Andrea's complacency is devitalizing. Here is a man who has renounced the twin challenges of art and of life: "I am grown peaceful as old age tonight" is an odd thing for a 39-year-old to say, but he has given up striving, and now lives through his wife, even through her amours. It is only through his struggle with his limitations, says Browning, that the artist extends his capacities and maintains his artistic integrity and inspiration.
Last modified 21 February 2004