Leonardo and Botticelli, like Michelangelo after them, found imitators but not successors. To communicate more material and spiritual significance than Leonardo would have taken an artist with deeper feeling for significance; to get more music out of design than Botticelli would have required a painter with even greater passion for the re-embodiment of the pure essences of touch and movement. There were none such in Florence, and the followers of Botticelli -Leonardo's were all Milanese, and do not here concern us -- could but imitate the patterns of their master: the patterns of the face, the patterns of the composition, and the patterns of the line; dragging them down to their own level, sugaring them down to their own palate, slowing them down to their own insensitiveness for what is life-communicating.
And although their productions, which were nothing but translations of great man's art into average man's art, became popular, as was inevitable, with the average man of their time (who comprehended them better and felt more comfortable in their presence than in that of the originals which he respectfully admired but did not so thoroughly enjoy), nevertheless we need not dwell on these popularizers nor on their popularizations -- not even on Filippino, with his touch of consumptive delicacy, nor Raffaelino del Garbo, with his glints of never-to-be-fulfilled promise.
Before approaching the one man of genius left in Florence after Botticelli and Leonardo, before speaking of Michelangelo, the man in whom all that was most peculiar and much that was greatest in the striving of Florentine art found its fulfilment, let us turn for a moment to a few painters who, just because they were men of manifold talent, might elsewhere almost have become masters. Fra Bartolommeo, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, and Bronzino were perhaps no less gifted as artists than Palma, Bonifazio Veronese, Lotto, and Tintoretto; but their talents, instead of being permitted to flower naturally, were scorched by the passion for showing off dexterity, blighted by academic ideals, and uprooted by the whirlwind force of Michelangelo.
Fra Bartolommeo, who in temperament was delicate, refined, graceful, and as a painter had a miniaturist's feeling for the dainty, was induced to desert his lovely women, his exquisite landscape, and his gentleness of expression for figures constructed mechanically on a colossal scale, or for effects of the round at any cost. And as evil is more obvious than good, Bartolommeo, the painter of that masterpiece of colour and light and shade, of graceful movement and charming feeling, the 'Madonna with the Baptist and St. Stephen' in the Cathedral at Lucca, Bartolommeo, the dainty deviser of the tiny Melchett 'Nativity', Bartolommeo, the artificer of a hundred masterpieces of pen drawing, is almost unknown; and to most people Fra Bartolommeo is a sort of synonym for pomposity. He is known only as the author of physically colossal, spiritually insignificant prophets and apostles, or, perchance, as the painter of pitch-dark altar-pieces: this being the reward of devices to obtain mere relief.
Andrea del Sarto
Andrea del Sarto approached perhaps as closely to a Giorgione or a Titian as could a Florentine, ill at ease in the neighbourhood of Leonardo and Michelangelo. As an artist he was, it is true, not endowed with the profoundest sense for the significant, yet within the sphere of common humanity who has produced anything more genial than his 'Portrait of a Lady' with a Petrarch in her hands? Where out of Venetia can we find portraits so simple, so frank, and yet so interpretive as his 'Sculptor', or as his various portraits of himself -- these, by the way, an autobiography as complete as any in existence, and tragic as few?
Almost Venetian again is his 'St. James' caressing children, a work of the sweetest feeling. Even in colour effect, and technique, how singularly close to the best Venetian painting is his 'Dispute about the Trinity' -- what blacks and whites, what greys and purplish browns! And in addition, tactile values peculiar to Florence -what a back St. Sebastian's! But in a work of scarcely less technical merit, the 'Madonna of the Harpies', we already feel the man not striving to get the utmost out of himself, but panting for the grand and magnificent. Even here he remains almost a great artist, because his natural robustness comes to his rescue; but the 'Madonna' is too obviously statuesque, and, good saints, pray why all these draperies?
The obviously statuesque and draperies were Andrea's devices for keeping his head above water in the rising tide of the Michelangelesque. As you glance in sequence at the Annunziata frescoes, on the whole so full of vivacity, gaiety, and genuine delight in life, you see from one fresco to another the increased attention given to draperies. In the Scalzo series, otherwise masterpieces of tactile values, the draperies do their utmost to smother the figures. Most of these paintings are closed in with ponderous forms which have no other purpose than to serve as a frame, and as clothes-horses for draperies: witness the scene of Zacharias in the temple, wherein none of the bystanders dare move for fear of disturbing their too obviously arranged folds.
Thus by constantly sacrificing first spiritual, and then material significance to pose and draperies, Andrea loses all feeling for the essential in art. What a sad spectacle is his 'Assumption', wherein the Apostles, the Virgin herself, have nothing better to do than to show off draperies! Instead of feeling, as in the presence of Titian's 'Assunta', wrapt to heaven, you gaze at a number of tailor's men, each showing how a stuff you are thinking of trying looks on the back, or in a certain effect of light. But let us not end on this note; let us bear in mind that, despite all his faults, Andrea painted the one 'Last Supper' which can be looked at with pleasure after Leonardo's.
Pontormo, who had it in him to be a decorator and portrait-painter of the highest rank, was led astray by his awe-struck admiration for Michelangelo, and ended as an academic constructor of monstrous nudes. What he could do when expressing himself, we see in the lunette at Poggio a Caiano, as design, as colour, as fancy, the freshest, gayest, most appropriate mural decoration now remaining in Italy; what he could do as a portrait-painter, we see in his wonderfully decorative panel of Cosimo dei Medici at San Marco, or in his portrait of a 'Lady with a Dog' (at Frankfort), perhaps the first portrait ever painted in which the sitter's social position was insisted upon as much as the personal character. What Pontormo sank to, we see in such a riot of meaningless nudes, all caricatures of Michelangelo, as his 'Martyrdom of Forty Saints'.
Bronzino, Pontormo's close follower, had none of his master's talent as a decorator, but happily much of his power as a portrait-painter. Would he had never attempted anything else! The nude without material or spiritual significance, with no beauty of design or colour, the nude simply because it was the nude, was Bronzino's ideal in composition, and the result is his ' Christ in Limbo'. But as a portraitpainter he took up the note struck by his master and continued it, leaving behind him a series of portraits which not only had their effect in determining the character of Court painting all over Europe, but, what is more to the point, a series of portraits most of which are works of art.
As painting, it is true, they are hard, and often timid; but their air of distinction, their interpretive qualities, have not often been surpassed. In his Uffizi portraits of Eleonora da Toledo, of Prince Ferdinand, of the Princess Maria, we seem to see the prototypes of Velazquez's queens, princes, and princesses: and for a fine example of dignified rendering of character, look in the Sala Baroccio of the Uffizi at a bust of a young woman with a missal in her hand.
Renaissance Art, Renaissance Painting, Giorgione, Italian Art, Lotto, Giotto, The School of Leonardo, Raphael, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Velasquez, Longhi, Massacchio, Verocchio, Naturalism, Duccio, Simone Martini, Renaissance Painters, Donatello, Pisanello, Liberale, Boticelli, Melozzo da Forli, Luca Signorelli, Michelangelo, Butinole, Zenalle, Bramante, Bramantino, Correggio, Leoardo da Vinci, Tactile Values, Humanism, The School of Verona, The Umbrian School, The School of Perugia, Domenico Brusasorci, Vincenzo Foppa, Milanese Art, Venetian Art, The School of Piedmont, Florence Art