With the majestic and tragic things of art we began, at the landmarks set by Leonardo and Michael Angelo; and are come now, not quite at random, to the lyric and elegiac loveliness of Andrea del Sarto. To praise him would need sweeter and purer speech than this of ours. His art is to me as the Tuscan April in its temperate days, fresh and tender and clear, but lulled and kindled by such air and light as fills the life of the growing year with fire. At Florence only can one trace and tell how great a painter and how various he was. There only, but surely there, can the influence and pressure of the things of time on his immortal spirit be understood; how much of him was killed or changed, how much of him could not be. There are the first-fruits of his flowering manhood, when the bright and buoyant genius in him had free play and large delight in its handiwork; when the fresh interest of invention was still his, and the dramatic sense, the pleasure in the play of life, the power of motion and variety; before the old strength of sight and of flight had passed from weary wing and clouding eye, the old pride and energy of enjoyment had gone out of hand and heart. How the change fell upon him, and how it wrought, any one may see who compares his later with his earlier works, with the series, for instance, of outlines representing the story of St. John Baptist in the desolate little cloister of Lo Scalzo. In these mural designs there is such exultation and exuberance of young power, of fresh passion and imagination, that only by the innate grace can one recognize the hand of the master whom hitherto we know by the works of his after life, when the gift of grace had survived the gift of invention. This and all other gifts it did survive; all pleasure of life and power of mind, all the conscience of the man, his will, his character, his troubles, his triumphs, his sin and honour, heart-break and shame. All these his charm of touch, his sweetness of execution, his "Elysian beauty, melancholy grace," outlived, and blossomed in their dust. Turn from that cloistral series to those later pictures, painted when he was "faultless" and nothing more; and seeing all the growth and all the gain, all the change and all the loss, one to whom the second was unknown would feel and foreknow his story and his sorrow. In the cloister, what life and fullness of growing and strengthening genius, what joyous sense of its growth and the fair field before it, what dramatic delight in character and action! where St. John preaches in the wilderness and the few first listeners are gathered together at his feet, old people and poor, soul-stricken, silent—women with worn still faces, and a spirit in their tired aged eyes that feeds heartily and hungrily on his words—all the haggard funereal group filled from the fountain of his faith with gradual fire and white-heat of soul; or where Salome dances before Herod, an incarnatefigure of music, grave and graceful, light and glad, the song of a bird made flesh, with perfect poise of her sweet slight body from the maiden face to the melodious feet; no tyrannous or treacherous goddess of deadly beauty, but a simple virgin, with the cold charm of girlhood and the mobile charm of childhood; as indifferent and innocent when she stands before Herodias and when she receives the severed head of John with her slender and steady hands; a pure bright animal, knowing nothing of man, and of life nothing but instinct and motion. In her mother's mature and conscious beauty there is visible the voluptuous will of a harlot and a queen; but, for herself, she has neither malice nor pity; her beauty is a maiden force of nature, capable of bloodshed without bloodguiltiness; the King hangs upon the music of her movement, the rhythm of leaping life in her fair fleet limbs, as one who listens to a tune, subdued by the rapture of sound, absorbed in purity of passion. I know not where the subject has been touched with such fine and keen imagination as here. The time came when another than Salome was to dance before the eyes of the painter; and she required of him the head of no man, but his own soul; and he paid the forfeit into her hands. With the coming of that time upon him came the change upon his heart and hand; "the work of an imperious whorish woman." Those words, set by the prophet as a brand upon the fallen forehead of the chosen bride, come back to mind as one studies in her husband's pictures the full calm lineaments, the large and serene beauty of Lucrezia del Fede; a predominant and placid beauty, placid and implacable, not to be pleaded with or fought against. Voluptuous always and slothful, subtle at times no doubt and sweet beyond measure, full of heavy beauty and warm, slow grace, her features bear no sign of possible love or conscience. Seen side by side with his clear sad face, hers tells more of the story than any written record, even though two poets of our age have taken it up. In the feverish and feeble melodrama of Alfred de Musset there is no touch of tragedy, hardly a shadow of passionate and piteous truth; in Mr. Browning's noblest poem—his noblest it seems to me—the whole tragedy is distilled into the right words, the whole man raised up and reclothed with flesh. One point only is but lightly touched upon—missed it could not be by an eye so sharp and skilful—the effect upon his art of the poisonous solvent of love. How his life was corroded by it and his soul burnt into dead ashes, we are shown in full; but we are not shown in full what as a painter he was before, what as a painter he might have been without it. This is what I think the works of his youth and age, seen near together as at Florence, make manifest to any loving and studious eye. In those later works, the inevitable and fatal figure of the woman recurs with little diversity or change. She has grown into his art, and made it even as herself; rich, monotonous in beauty, calm, complete, without heart or spirit. But his has not been always "the low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand" it was then. He had started on his way towards another goal than that. Nothing now is left him to live for but his faultless hand and her faultless face—still and full, suggestive of no change in the steady deep-lidded eyes and heavy lovely lips without love or pudency or pity. Here among his sketches we find it again and ever the same, crowned and clothed only with the glory and the joy and the majesty of the flesh. When the luxurious and subtle sense which serves the woman for a soul looks forth and speaks plainest from those eyes and lips, she is sovereign and stately still; there is in her beauty nothing common or unclean. We cannot but see her for what she is; but her majestic face makes no appeal for homage or forgiveness.

Essays and Studies (London, 1875).

The Dance of the Daughter of Herodias. Andrea del Sarto.

The Dance of the Daughter of Herodias.
Andrea del Sarto.