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.