Andrea del Castagno - "The Last Supper" - The stolen Madonna - Fra Angelico's frescoes - "Little Antony" - The good archbishop - The Buonuomini - Savonarola - The death of Lorenzo the Magnificent - Pope Alexander VI - The Ordeal by Fire - The execution - The S. Marco cells - The cloister frescoes - Ghirlandaio's "Last Supper" - Relics of old Florence - Pico and Politian - Piero di Cosimo - Andrea del Sarto.

From the Accademia it is but a step to S. Marco, across the Piazza, but it is well first to go a little beyond that in order to see a certain painting which both chronologically and as an influence comes before a painting that we shall find in the Museo S. Marco. We therefore cross the Piazza S. Marco to the Via d'Arrazzieri, which leads into the Via 27 Aprile, [7] where at a door on the left, marked A, is an ancient refectory, preserved as a picture gallery: the Cenacolo di S. Apollonia, all that is kept sacred of the monastery of S. Apollonia, now a military establishment. This room is important to students of art in containing so much work of Andrea del Castagno (1390-1457), to whom Vasari gives so black a character. The portrait frescoes are from the Villa Pandolfini (previously Carducci), and among them are Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Dante - who is here rather less ascetic than usual - none of whom the painter could have seen. There is also a very charming little cupid carrying a huge peacock plume. But "The Last Supper" is the glory of the room. This work, which belongs to the middle of the fifteenth century, is interesting as a real effort at psychology. Leonardo makes Judas leave his seat to ask if it is he that is meant - that being the dramatic moment chosen by this prince of painters: Castagno calls attention to Judas as an undesirable member of the little band of disciples by placing him apart, the only one on his side of the table; which was avoiding the real task, since naturally when one of the company was forced into so sinister a position the question would be already answered. Castagno indeed renders Judas so obviously untrustworthy as to make it a surprise that he ever was admitted among the disciples (or wished to be one) at all; while Vasari blandly suggests that he is the very image of the painter himself. Other positions which later artists converted into a convention may also be noted: John, for example, is reclining on the table in an ecstasy of affection and fidelity; while the Florentine loggia as the scene of the meal was often reproduced later.

Andrea del Castagno began life as a farm lad, but was educated as an artist at the cost of one of the less notable Medici. He had a vigorous way with his brush, as we see here and have seen elsewhere. In the Duomo, for example, we saw his equestrian portrait of Niccolo da Tolentino, a companion to Uccello's Hawkwood. When the Albizzi and Peruzzi intrigues which had led to the banishment of Cosimo de' Medici came to their final frustration with the triumphant return of Cosimo, it was Andrea who was commissioned by the Signoria to paint for the outside of the Bargello a picture of the leaders of the insurrection, upside down. Vasari is less to be trusted in his dates and facts in his memoir of Andrea del Castagno than anywhere else; for he states that he commemorated the failure of the Pazzi Conspiracy (which occurred twenty years after his death), and accuses him not only of murdering his fellow-painter Domenico Veneziano but confessing to the crime; the best answer to which allegation is that Domenico survived Andrea by four years.

We may now return to S. Marco. The convent as we now see it was built by Michelozzo, Donatello's friend and partner and the friend also of Cosimo de' Medici, at whose cost he worked here. Antonino, the saintly head of the monastery, having suggested to Cosimo that he should apply some of his wealth, not always too nicely obtained, to the Lord, Cosimo began literally to squander money on S. Marco, dividing his affection between S. Lorenzo, which he completed upon the lines laid down by his father, and this Dominican monastery, where he even had a cell reserved for his own use, with a bedroom in addition, whither he might now and again retire for spiritual refreshment and quiet.

It was at S. Marco that Cosimo kept the MSS. which he was constantly collecting, and which now, after curious vicissitudes, are lodged in Michelangelo's library at S. Lorenzo; and on his death he left them to the monks. Cosimo's librarian was Tommaso Parenticelli, a little busy man, who, to the general astonishment, on the death of Eugenius IV became Pope and took the name of Nicholas V. His energies as Pontiff went rather towards learning and art than anything else: he laid the foundations of the Vatican library, on the model of Cosimo's, and persuaded Fra Angelico to Rome to paint Vatican frescoes.

The magnets which draw every one who visits Florence to S. Marco are first Fra Angelico, and secondly Savonarola, or first Savonarola, and secondly Fra Angelico, according as one is constituted. Fra Angelico, at Cosimo's desire and cost, came from Fiesole to paint here; while Girolamo Savonarola, forced to leave Ferrara during the war, entered these walls in 1482. Fra Angelico in his single crucifixion picture in the first cloisters and in his great scene of the Mount of Olives in the chapter house shows himself less incapable of depicting unhappiness than we have yet seen him; but the most memorable of the ground-floor frescoes is the symbol of hospitality over the door of the wayfarers' room, where Christ is being welcomed by two Dominicans in the way that Dominicans (as contrasted with scoundrelly Franciscans) would of course welcome Him. In this Ospizio are three reliquaries which Fra Angelico painted for S. Maria Novella, now preserved here in a glass case. They represent the Madonna della Stella, the Coronation of the Virgin, and the Adoration of the Magi. All are in Angelico's happiest manner, with plenty of gold; and the predella of the Coronation is the prettiest thing possible, with its blue saints gathered about a blue Mary and Joseph, who bend over the Baby.

The Madonna della Stella is the picture which was stolen in 1911, but quickly recovered. It is part of the strange complexity of this world that it should equally contain artists such as Fra Angelico and thieves such as those who planned and carried out this robbery: nominally custodians of the museum. To repeat one of Vasari's sentences: "Some say that he never took up his brush without first making a prayer"....

The "Peter" with his finger to his lips, over the sacristy, is reminding the monks that that room is vowed to silence. In the chapter house is the large Crucifixion by the same gentle hand, his greatest work in Florence, and very fine and true in character. Beneath it are portraits of seventeen famous Dominicans with S. Dominic in the midst. Note the girl with the scroll in the right - how gay and light the colouring. Upstairs, in the cells, and pre-eminently in the passage, where his best known Annunciation is to be seen, Angelico is at his best. In each cell is a little fresco reminding the brother of the life of Christ - and of those by Angelico it may be said that each is as simple as it can be and as sweet: easy lines, easy colours, with the very spirit of holiness shining out. I think perhaps that the Coronation of the Virgin in the ninth cell, reproduced in this volume, is my favourite, as it is of many persons; but the Annunciation in the third, the two Maries at the Sepulchre in the eighth, and the Child in the Stable in the fifth, are ever memorable too. In the cell set apart for Cosimo de' Medici, No. 38, which the officials point out, is an Adoration of the Magi, painted there at Cosimo's express wish, that he might be reminded of the humility proper to rulers; and here we get one of the infrequent glimpses of this best and wisest of the Medici, for a portrait of him adorns it, with a wrong death-date on it.

Here also is a sensitive terra-cotta bust of S. Antonio, Cosimo's friend and another pride of the monastery: the monk who was also Archbishop of Florence until his death, and whom we saw, in stone, in a niche under the Uffizi. His cell was the thirty-first cell, opposite the entrance. This benign old man, who has one of the kindest faces of his time, which was often introduced into pictures, was appointed to the see at the suggestion of Fra Angelico, to whom Pope Eugenius (who consecrated the new S. Marco in 1442 and occupied Cosimo de' Medici's cell on his visit) had offered it; but the painter declined and put forward Antonio in his stead. Antonio Pierozzi, whose destiny it was to occupy this high post, to be a confidant of Cosimo de' Medici, and ultimately, in 1523, to be enrolled among the saints, was born at Florence in 1389. According to Butler, from the cradle "Antonino" or "Little Antony," as the Florentines affectionately called him, had "no inclination but to piety," and was an enemy even as an infant "both to sloth and to the amusements of children". As a schoolboy his only pleasure was to read the lives of the saints, converse with pious persons or to pray. When not at home or at school he was in church, either kneeling or lying prostrate before a crucifix, "with a perseverance that astonished everybody". S. Dominic himself, preaching at Fiesole, made him a Dominican, his answers to an examination of the whole decree of Gratian being the deciding cause, although Little Antony was then but sixteen. As a priest he was "never seen at the altar but bathed in tears". After being prior of a number of convents and a counsellor of much weight in convocation, he was made Archbishop of Florence: but was so anxious to avoid the honour and responsibility that he hid in the island of Sardinia. On being discovered he wrote a letter praying to be excused and watered it with his tears; but at last he consented and was consecrated in 1446.

As archbishop his life was a model of simplicity and solicitude. He thought only of his duties and the well-being of the poor. His purse was open to all in need, and he "often sold" his single mule in order to relieve some necessitous person. He gave up his garden to the growth of vegetables for the poor, and kept an ungrateful leper whose sores he dressed with his own hands. He died in 1459 and was canonized in 1523. His body was still free from corruption in 1559, when it was translated to the chapel in S. Marco prepared for it by the Salviati.

But perhaps the good Antonino's finest work was the foundation of a philanthropic society of Florentines which still carries on its good work. Antonino's sympathy lay in particular with the reduced families of Florence, and it was to bring help secretly to them - too proud to beg - that he called for volunteers. The society was known in the city as the Buonuomini (good men) of S. Martino, the little church close to Dante's house, behind the Badia: S. Martin being famous among saints for his impulsive yet wise generosity with his cloak.

The other and most famous prior of S. Marco was Savonarola. Girolamo Savonarola was born of noble family at Ferrara in 1452, and after a profound education, in which he concentrated chiefly upon religion and philosophy, he entered the Dominican order at the age of twenty-two. He first came to S. Marco at the age of thirty and preached there in Lent in 1482, but without attracting much notice. When, however, he returned to S. Marco seven years later it was to be instantly hailed both as a powerful preacher and reformer. His eloquent and burning declarations were hurled both at Florence and Rome: at the apathy and greed of the Church as a whole, and at the sinfulness and luxury of this city, while Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was then at the height of his influence, surrounded by accomplished and witty hedonists, and happiest when adding to his collection of pictures, jewels, and sculpture, in particular did the priest rebuke. Savonarola stood for the spiritual ideals and asceticism of the Baptist, Christ, and S. Paul; Lorenzo, in his eyes, made only for sensuality and decadence.

The two men, however, recognized each other's genius, and Lorenzo, with the tolerance which was as much a mark of the first three Medici rulers as its absence was notable in most of the later ones, rather encouraged Savonarola in his crusade than not. He visited him in the monastery and did not resent being kept waiting; and he went to hear him preach. In 1492 Lorenzo died, sending for Savonarola on his death-bed, which was watched by the two closest of his scholarly friends, Pico della Mirandola and Politian. The story of what happened has been variously told. According to the account of Politian, Lorenzo met his end with fortitude, and Savonarola prayed with the dying man and gave him his blessing; according to another account, Lorenzo was called upon by Savonarola to make three undertakings before he died, and, Lorenzo declining, Savonarola left him unabsolved. These promises were (1) to repent of all his sins, and in particular of the sack of Volterra, of the alleged theft of public dowry funds and of the implacable punishment of the Pazzi conspirators; (2) to restore all property of which he had become possessed by unjust means; and (3) to give back to Florence her liberty. But the probabilities are in favour of Politian's account being the true one, and the later story a political invention.

Lorenzo dead and Piero his son so incapable, Savonarola came to his own. He had long foreseen a revolution following on the death of Lorenzo, and in one of his most powerful sermons he had suggested that the "Flagellum Dei" to punish the wicked Florentines might be a foreign invader. When therefore in 1493 the French king Charles VIII arrived in Italy with his army, Savonarola was recognized not only as a teacher but as a prophet; and when the Medici had been again banished and Charles, having asked too much, had retreated from Florence, the Republic was remodelled with Savonarola virtually controlling its Great Council. For a year or two his power was supreme.

This was the period of the Piagnoni, or Weepers. The citizens adopted sober attire; a spirit as of England under the Puritans prevailed; and Savonarola's eloquence so far carried away not only the populace but many persons of genius that a bonfire was lighted in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria in which costly dresses, jewels, false hair and studies from the nude were destroyed.

Savonarola, meanwhile, was not only chastising and reforming Florence, but with fatal audacity was attacking with even less mincing of words the licentiousness of the Pope. As to the character of Lorenzo de' Medici there can be two opinions, and indeed the historians of Florence are widely divided in their estimates; but of Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) there is but one, and Savonarola held it. Savonarola was excommunicated, but refused to obey the edict. Popes, however, although Florence had to a large extent put itself out of reach, have long arms, and gradually - taking advantage of the city's growing discontent with piety and tears and recurring unquiet, there being still a strong pro-Medici party, and building not a little on his knowledge of the Florentine love of change - the Pope gathered together sufficient supporters of his determination to crush this too outspoken critic and humiliate his fellow-citizens.

Events helped the pontiff. A pro-Medici conspiracy excited the populace; a second bonfire of vanities led to rioting, for the Florentines were beginning to tire of virtue; and the preaching of a Franciscan monk against Savonarola (and the gentle Fra Angelico has shown us, in the Accademia, how Franciscans and Dominicans could hate each other) brought matters to a head, for he challenged Savaronola to an ordeal by fire in the Loggia de' Lanzi, to test which of them spoke with the real voice of God. A Dominican volunteered to make the essay with a Franciscan. This ceremony, anticipated with the liveliest eagerness by the Florentines, was at the last moment forbidden, and Savonarola, who had to bear the responsibility of such a bitter disappointment to a pleasure-loving people, became an unpopular figure. Everything just then was against him, for Charles VIII, with whom he had an understanding and of whom the Pope was afraid, chose that moment to die.

The Pope drove home his advantage, and getting more power among individuals on the Council forced them to indict their firebrand. No means were spared, however base; forgery and false witness were as nothing. The summons arrived on April 8th, 1497, when Savonarola was at S. Marco. The monks, who adored him, refused to let him go, and for a whole day the convent was under siege. But might, of course, prevailed, and Savonarola was dragged from the church to the Palazzo Vecchio and prosecuted for the offence of claiming to have supernatural power and fomenting political disturbance. He was imprisoned in a tiny cell in the tower for many days, and under constant torture he no doubt uttered words which would never have passed his lips had he been in control of himself; but we may dismiss, as false, the evidence which makes them into confessions. Evidence there had to be, and evidence naturally was forthcoming; and sentence of death was passed.

In that cell, when not under torture, he managed to write meditations on the thirteenth psalm, "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped," and a little work entitled "A Rule for Living a Christian Life". Before the last day he administered the Sacrament to his two companions, who were to die with him, with perfect composure, and the night preceding they spent together in prayer in the Great Hall which he had once dominated.

The execution was on May 23rd, 1498. A gallows was erected in the Piazza della Signoria on the spot now marked by the bronze tablet. Beneath the gallows was a bonfire. All those members of the Government who could endure the scene were present, either on the platform of the Palazzo Vecchio or in the Loggia de' Lanzi. The crowd filled the Piazza. The three monks went to their death unafraid. When his friar's gown was taken from him, Savonarola said: "Holy gown, thou wert granted to me by God's grace and I have ever kept thee unstained. Now I forsake thee not but am bereft of thee." (This very garment is in the glass case in Savonarola's cell at S. Marco.) The Bishop replied hastily: "I separate thee from the Church militant and triumphant". "Militant," replied Savonarola, "not triumphant, for that rests not with you." The monks were first hanged and then burned.

The larger picture of the execution which hangs in Savonarola's cell, although interesting and up to a point credible, is of course not right. The square must have been crowded: in fact we know it was. The picture has still other claims on the attention, for it shows the Judith and Holofernes as the only statue before the Palazzo Vecchio, standing where David now is; it shows the old ringhiera, the Marzocco (very inaccurately drawn), and the Loggia de' Lanzi empty of statuary. We have in the National Gallery a little portrait of Savonarola - No. 1301 - with another representation of the execution on the back of it.

So far as I can understand Savonarola, his failure was due to two causes: firstly, his fatal blending of religion and politics, and secondly, the conviction which his temporary success with the susceptible Florentines bred in his heated mind that he was destined to carry all before him, totally failing to appreciate the Florentine character with all its swift and deadly changes and love of change. As I see it, Savonarola's special mission at that time was to be a wandering preacher, spreading the light and exciting his listeners to spiritual revival in this city and that, but never to be in a position of political power and never to become rooted. The peculiar tragedy of his career is that he left Florence no better than he found it: indeed, very likely worse; for in a reaction from a spiritual revival a lower depth can be reached than if there had been no revival at all; while the visit of the French army to Italy, for which Savonarola took such credit to himself, merely ended in disaster for Italy, disease for Europe, and the spreading of the very Renaissance spirit which he had toiled to destroy. But, when all is said as to his tragedy, personal and political, there remains this magnificent isolated figure, single-minded, austere and self-sacrificing, in an age of indulgence.

For most people "Romola" is the medium through which Savonarola is visualized; but there he is probably made too theatrical. Yet he must have had something of the theatre in him even to consent to the ordeal by fire. That he was an intense visionary is beyond doubt, but a very real man too we must believe when we read of the devotion of his monks to his person, and of his success for a while with the shrewd, worldly Great Council.

Savonarola had many staunch friends among the artists. We have seen Lorenzo di Credi and Fra Bartolommeo under his influence. After his death Fra Bartolommeo entered S. Marco (his cell was No. 34), and di Credi, who was noted for his clean living, entered S. Maria Nuova. Two of Luca della Robbia's nephews were also monks under Savonarola. We have seen Fra Bartolommeo's portrait of Savonarola in the Accademia, and there is another of him here. Cronaca, who built the Great Council's hall, survived Savonarola only ten years, and during that time all his stories were of him. Michelangelo, who was a young man when he heard him preach, read his sermons to the end of his long life. But upon Botticelli his influence was most powerful, for he turned that master's hand from such pagan allegories as the "Primavera" and the "Birth of Venus" wholly to religious subjects.

Savonarola had three adjoining cells. In the first is a monument to him, his portrait by Fra Bartolommeo and three frescoes by the same hand. In the next room is the glass case containing his robe, his hair shirt, and rosary; and here also are his desk and some books. In the bedroom is a crucifixion by Fra Angelico on linen. No one knowing Savonarola's story can remain here unmoved.

We find Fra Bartolommeo again with a pencil drawing of S. Antonio in that saint's cell. Here also is Antonino's death-mask. The terra-cotta bust of him in Cosimo's cell is the most like life, but there is an excellent and vivacious bronze in the right transept of S. Maria Novella.

Before passing downstairs again the library should be visited, that delightful assemblage of grey pillars and arches. Without its desks and cases it would be one of the most beautiful rooms in Florence. All the books have gone, save the illuminated music.

In the first cloisters, which are more liveable-in than the ordinary Florentine cloisters, having a great shady tree in the midst with a seat round it, and flowers, are the Fra Angelicos I have mentioned. The other painting is rather theatrical and poor. In the refectory is a large scene of the miracle of the Providenza, when S. Dominic and his companions, during a famine, were fed by two angels with bread; while at the back S. Antonio watches the crucified Christ. The artist is Sogliano.

In addition to Fra Angelico's great crucifixion fresco in the chapter house, is a single Christ crucified, with a monk mourning, by Antonio Pollaiuolo, very like the Fra Angelico in the cloisters; but the colour has left it, and what must have been some noble cypresses are now ghosts dimly visible. The frame is superb.

One other painting we must see - the "Last Supper" of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Florence has two "Last Suppers" by this artist - one at the Ognissanti and this. The two works are very similar and have much entertaining interest, but the debt which this owes to Castagno is very obvious: it is indeed Castagno sweetened. Although psychologically this picture is weak, or at any rate not strong, it is full of pleasant touches: the supper really is a supper, as it too often is not, with fruit and dishes and a generous number of flasks; the tablecloth would delight a good housekeeper; a cat sits close to Judas, his only companion; a peacock perches in a niche; there are flowers on the wall, and at the back of the charming loggia where the feast is held are luxuriant trees, and fruits, and flying birds. The monks at food in this small refectory had compensation for their silence in so engaging a scene. This room also contains a beautiful della Robbia "Deposition".

The little refectory, which is at the foot of the stairs leading to the cells, opens on the second cloisters, and these few visitors ever enter. But they are of deep interest to any one with a passion for the Florence of the great days, for it is here that the municipality preserves the most remarkable relics of buildings that have had to be destroyed. It is in fact the museum of the ancient city. Here, for example, is that famous figure of Abundance, in grey stone, which Donatello made for the old market, where the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele now is, in the midst of which she poured forth her fruits from a cornucopia high on a column for all to see. Opposite is a magnificent doorway designed by Donatello for the Pazzi garden. Old windows, chimney-pieces, fragments of cornice, carved pillars, painted beams, coats of arms, are everywhere.

In cell No. 3 is a pretty little coloured relief of the Virgin adoring, which I covet, from a tabernacle in the old Piazza di Brunelleschi. Here too are relics of the guild houses of some of the smaller Arti, while perhaps the most humanly interesting thing of all is the great mournful bell of S. Marco in Savonarola's time, known as La Piagnone.

In the church of S. Marco lie two of the learned men, friends of Lorenzo de' Medici, whose talk at the Medici table was one of the youthful Michelangelo's educative influences, what time he was studying in the Medici garden, close by: Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494), the poet and the tutor of the three Medici boys, and the marvellous Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), the enchanted scholar. Pico was one of the most fascinating and comely figures of his time. He was born in 1463, the son of the Count of Mirandola, and took early to scholarship, spending his time among philosophies as other boys among games or S. Antonio at his devotions, but by no means neglecting polished life too, for we know him to have been handsome, accomplished, and a knight in the court of Venus. In 1486 he challenged the whole world to meet him in Rome and dispute publicly upon nine hundred theses; but so many of them seemed likely to be paradoxes against the true faith, too brilliantly defended, that the Pope forbade the contest. Pico dabbled in the black arts, wrote learnedly (in his room at the Badia of Fiesole) on the Mosaic law, was an amorous poet in Italian as well as a serious poet in Latin, and in everything he did was interesting and curious, steeped in Renaissance culture, and inspired by the wish to reconcile the past and the present and humanize Christ and the Fathers. He found time also to travel much, and he gave most of his fortune to establish a fund to provide penniless girls with marriage portions. He had enough imagination to be the close friend both of Lorenzo de' Medici and Savonarola. Savonarola clothed his dead body in Dominican robes and made him posthumously one of the order which for some time before his death he had desired to join. He died in 1494 at the early age of thirty-one, two years after Lorenzo.

Angelo Poliziano, known as Politian, was also a Renaissance scholar and also a friend of Lorenzo, and his companion, with Pico, at his death-bed; but although in precocity, brilliancy of gifts, and literary charm he may be classed with Pico, the comparison there ends, for he was a gross sensualist of mean exterior and capable of much pettiness. He was tutor to Lorenzo's sons until their mother interfered, holding that his views were far too loose, but while in that capacity he taught also Michelangelo and put him upon the designing of his relief of the battle of the Lapithae and Centaurs. At the time of Lorenzo and Giuliano's famous tournament in the Piazza of S. Croce, Poliziano wrote, as I have said, the descriptive allegorical poem which gave Botticelli ideas for his "Birth of Venus" and "Primavera". He lives chiefly by his Latin poems; but he did much to make the language of Tuscany a literary tongue. His elegy on the death of Lorenzo has real feeling in it and proves him to have esteemed that friend and patron. Like Pico, he survived Lorenzo only two years, and he also was buried in Dominican robes. Perhaps the finest feat of Poliziano's life was his action in slamming the sacristy doors in the face of Lorenzo's pursuers on that fatal day in the Duomo when Giuliano de' Medici was stabbed.

Ghirlandaio's fresco in S. Trinita of the granting of the charter to S. Francis gives portraits both of Poliziano and Lorenzo in the year 1485. Lorenzo stands in a little group of four in the right-hand corner, holding out his hand towards Poliziano, who, with Lorenzo's son Giuliano on his right and followed by two other boys, is advancing up the steps. Poliziano is seen again in a Ghirlandaio fresco at S. Maria Novella.

From S. Marco we are going to SS. Annunziata, but first let us just take a few steps down the Via Cavour, in order to pass the Casino Medici, since it is built on the site of the old Medici garden where Lorenzo de' Medici established Bertoldo, the sculptor, as head of a school of instruction, amid those beautiful antiques which we have seen in the Uffizi, and where the boy Michelangelo was a student.

A few steps farther on the left, towards the Fiesole heights, which we can see rising at the end of the street, we come, at No. 69, to a little doorway which leads to a little courtyard - the Chiostro dello Scalzo - decorated with frescoes by Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio and containing the earliest work of both artists. The frescoes are in monochrome, which is very unusual, but their interest is not impaired thereby: one does not miss other colours. No. 7, the Baptism of Christ, is the first fresco these two associates ever did; and several years elapsed between that and the best that are here, such as the group representing Charity and the figure of Faith, for the work was long interrupted. The boys on the staircase in the fresco which shows S. John leaving his father's house are very much alive. This is by Franciabigio, as is also S. John meeting with Christ, a very charming scene. Andrea's best and latest is the Birth of the Baptist, which has the fine figure of Zacharias writing in it. But what he should be writing at that time and place one cannot imagine: more reasonably might he be called a physician preparing a prescription. On the wall is a terra-cotta bust of S. Antonio, making him much younger than is usual.

Andrea's suave brush we find all over Florence, both in fresco and picture, and this is an excellent place to say something of the man of whom English people have perhaps a more intimate impression than of any other of the old masters, by reason largely of Browning's poem and not a little by that beautiful portrait which for so long was erroneously considered to represent the painter himself, in our National Gallery. Andrea's life was not very happy. No painter had more honour in his own day, and none had a greater number of pupils, but these stopped with him only a short time, owing to the demeanour towards them of Andrea's wife, who developed into a flirt and shrew, dowered with a thousand jealousies. Andrea, the son of a tailor, was born in 1486 and apprenticed to a goldsmith. Showing, however, more drawing than designing ability, he was transferred to a painter named Barile and then passed to that curious man of genius who painted the fascinating picture "The Death of Procris" which hangs near Andrea's portrait in our National Gallery - Piero di Cosimo. Piero carried oddity to strange lengths. He lived alone in indescribable dirt, and lived wholly on hard-boiled eggs, which he cooked, with his glue, by the fifty, and ate as he felt inclined. He forbade all pruning of trees as an act of insubordination to Nature, and delighted in rain but cowered in terror from thunder and lightning. He peered curiously at clouds to find strange shapes in them, and in his pursuit of the grotesque examined the spittle of sick persons on the walls or ground, hoping for suggestions of monsters, combats of horses, or fantastic landscapes. But why this should have been thought madness in Cosimo when Leonardo in his directions to artists explicitly advises them to look hard at spotty walls for inspiration, I cannot say. He was also the first, to my knowledge, to don ear-caps in tedious society - as Herbert Spencer later used to do. He had many pupils, but latterly could not bear them in his presence and was therefore but an indifferent instructor. As a deviser of pageants he was more in demand than as a painter; but his brush was not idle. Both London and Paris have, I think, better examples of his genius than the Uffizi; but he is well represented at S. Spirito.

Piero sent Andrea to the Palazzo Vecchio to study the Leonardo and Michelangelo cartoons, and there he met Franciabigio, with whom he struck up one of his close friendships, and together they took a studio and began to paint for a living. Their first work together was the Baptism of Christ at which we are now looking. The next commission after the Scalzo was to decorate the courtyard of the Convent of the Servi, now known as the Church of the Annunciation; and moving into adjacent lodgings, Andrea met Jacopo Sansovino, the Venetian sculptor, whose portrait by Bassano is in the Uffizi, a capable all-round man who had studied in Rome and was in the way of helping the young Andrea at all points. It was then too that he met the agreeable and convivial Rustici, of whom I have said something in the chapter on the Baptistery, and quickly became something of a blood - for by this time, the second decade of the sixteenth century, the simplicity of the early artists had given place to dashing sophistication and the great period was nearly over. For this change the brilliant complex inquiring mind of Leonardo da Vinci was largely responsible, together with the encouragement and example of Lorenzo de' Medici and such of his cultured sceptical friends as Alberti, Pico della Mirandola, and Poliziano. But that is a subject too large for this book. Enough that a worldly splendour and vivacity had come into artistic life and Andrea was an impressionable young man in the midst of it. It does not seem to have affected the power and dexterity of his hand, but it made him a religious court-painter instead of a religious painter. His sweetness and an underlying note of pathos give his work a peculiar and genuine character; but he is just not of the greatest. Not so great really as Luca Signorelli, for example, whom few visitors to the galleries rush at with gurgling cries of rapture as they rush at Andrea.

When Andrea was twenty-six he married. The lady was the widow of a hatter. Andrea had long loved her, but the hatter clung outrageously to life. In 1513, however, she was free, and, giving her hand to the painter, his freedom passed for ever. Vasari being among Andrea's pupils may be trusted here, and Vasari gives her a bad character, which Browning completes. Andrea painted her often, notably in the fresco of the "Nativity of the Virgin," to which we shall soon come at the Annunziata: a fine statuesque woman by no means unwilling to have the most popular artist in Florence as her slave.

Of the rest of Andrea's life I need say little. He grew steadily in favour and was always busy; he met Michelangelo and admired him, and Michelangelo warned Raphael in Rome of a little fellow in Florence who would "make him sweat". Browning, in his monologue, makes this remark of Michelangelo's, and the comparison between Andrea and Raphael that follows, the kernel of the poem.

Like Leonardo and Rustici, Andrea accepted, in 1518, an invitation from Francis I to visit Paris and once there began to paint for that royal patron. But although his wife did not love him, she wanted him back, and in the midst of his success he returned, taking with him a large sum of money from Francis with which to buy for the king works of art in Italy. That money he misapplied to his own extravagant ends, and although Francis took no punitive steps, the event cannot have improved either Andrea's position or his peace of mind; while it caused Francis to vow that he had done with Florentines. Andrea died in 1531, of fever, nursed by no one, for his wife, fearing it might be the dreaded plague, kept away.