Date of Award

Summer 7-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art History and Visual Culture

First Advisor

Steven J. Cody

Second Advisor

Esperanca Maria Camara

Third Advisor

Geremy Carnes


This paper examines the ways in which all art interpretation is revising and re-presenting the art and artists in question. When Robert Browning wrote Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea del Sarto as part of his collection Men and Women, he drew on the histories provided of them by Giorgio Vasari. Browning used Vasari’s stories as a base from which to personify the artists and use them in a sense as synecdoches representing the ways religious art is received and viewed. Religious art is meant to elevate the soul. That elevation may take place through the artist’s rendering religious figures as accessible, everyday humans to whom the viewers can personally relate. It can also arise from viewing religious figures as mystical and mysterious people we wonder at but to whom we cannot relate. In the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century, critics, theorists and artists questioned the purpose of art, particularly religious art: was art to provide a key to quiet contemplation of the divine or to help humans more closely relate to the religious figures who served as models for action? Through his dramatic monologues, Browning revisits this question by using specific poetic techniques to match in his lyrics his ideas about these artists, and their works, and he also shows how art can manifest the complexities of love and passion. Ultimately, through Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea del Sarto, Browning gives us a paragone in poetry, but one which is not answered or resolved. The readers of the poems, like viewers of paintings, become part of the discussion and debate. Extrinsic meaning is endlessly deferred in favor of awareness of the shifting psychological states of the artists. Browning’s prosody, then, serves as verbal brushstrokes to re-present the works of Lippi and Andrea. By so doing, Browning allows his readers to confront the ways in which we all recreate and appropriate artists and their work.