Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects - Vol. 3 (of 10), Filarete and Simone to Mantegna
by Giorgio Vasari
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VINCENZIO DI ZOPPA (FOPPA) Madonna and Child Settignano: Berenson Collection 6

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and Battista Sforza, his Wife Florence: Uffizi, 1300 18

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA The Baptism in Jordan London: N. G., 665 22

FRA GIOVANNI DA FIESOLE (FRA ANGELICO) The Annunciation Cortona: Gesu Gallery 34

ANTONELLO DA MESSINA Portrait of a Young Man Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 18 62

ANTONELLO DA MESSINA The Crucifixion London: N. G., 1166 64

ALESSO BALDOVINETTI Madonna and Child in a Landscape Paris: Louvre, 1300B 68

FRA FILIPPO LIPPI The Annunciation London: N. G., 666 80

ANDREA DAL CASTAGNO Dante Florence: S. Apollonia 102

GENTILE DA FABRIANO Detail from The Adoration of the Magi: Madonna and Child, with Three Kings Florence: Accademia, 165 110

VITTORE PISANELLO The Vision of S. Eustace London: N. G., 1436 112

FRANCESCO PESELLI (PESELLINO) Madonna Enthroned, with Saints and Angels Empoli: Gallery 118

BENOZZO GOZZOLI Madonna and Child Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 60B 122

FRANCESCO DI GIORGIO S. Dorothy London: N. G., 1682 128

JACOPO BELLINI Madonna and Child Florence: Uffizi, 1562 174

GIOVANNI BELLINI The Doge Leonardo Loredano London: N. G., 189 174

GIOVANNI BELLINI Fortuna Venice: Accademia, 595 178

GIOVANNI BELLINI The Dead Christ Milan: Poldi Pezzoli, 624 178

GENTILE BELLINI S. Dominic London: N. G., 1440 182

DOMENICO GHIRLANDAJO The Vision of S. Fina San Gimignano 224

ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO David Victor Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 73A 240

SANDRO BOTTICELLI Pallas and the Centaur Florence: Pitti Palace 248

SANDRO BOTTICELLI Giovanna Tornabuoni and the Graces Paris: Louvre, 1297 248

SANDRO BOTTICELLI Madonna of the Pomegranate Florence: Uffizi, 1289 252

ANDREA MANTEGNA Madonna of the Rocks Florence: Uffizi, 1025 280


FACING PAGE ANTONIO FILARETE Bronze Doors Rome: S. Peter's 4

SIMONE Tomb of Pope Martin V Rome: S. Giovanni in Laterano 8

BENEDETTO DA MAIANO S. Sebastian Florence: Oratorio della Misericordia 14

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA The Resurrection Borgo S. Sepolcro 20

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA The Vision of Constantine Arezzo: S. Francesco 24

FRA GIOVANNI DA FIESOLE (FRA ANGELICO) The Transfiguration Florence: S. Marco 30

FRA GIOVANNI DA FIESOLE (FRA ANGELICO) S. Stephen Preaching Rome: The Vatican, Chapel of Nicholas V 32

LEON BATISTA ALBERTI Facade of S. Andrea Mantua 46

ALESSO BALDOVINETTI The Annunciation Florence: Uffizi, 56 66

GRAFFIONE The Trinity Florence: S. Spirito 70

VELLANO DA PADOVA Jonah Cast into the Sea Padua: S. Antonio 74

FRA FILIPPO LIPPI The Virgin Adoring Florence: Accademia, 79 82

FRA FILIPPO LIPPI Madonna and Child Florence: Pitti, 343 86

ANDREA DAL CASTAGNO The Last Supper Florence: S. Apollonia 98

DOMENICO VINIZIANO Madonna and Child London: N. G., 1215 104

VITTORE PISANELLO Medals: N. Piccinino and Sigismondo Malatesta London: British Museum 114

BENOZZO GOZZOLI Detail: Procession of the Magi Florence: Palazzo Riccardi 120

BENOZZO GOZZOLI The Death of S. Augustine San Gimignano: S. Agostino 124

LORENZO VECCHIETTO The Risen Christ Siena: S. Maria della Scala 130

COSME (COSIMO TURA) The Madonna Enthroned Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 86 136

ANTONIO ROSSELLINO Tomb of Cardinal Jacopo of Portugal Florence: S. Miniato 142

BERNARDO ROSSELLINO Tomb of Leonardo Bruni Florence: S. Croce 144

DESIDERIO DA SETTIGNANO Tomb of Carlo Marsuppini Florence: S. Croce 148

MINO DA FIESOLE Tomb of Margrave Hugo Florence: La Badia 154

LORENZO COSTA The Coronation of the Virgin Bologna: S. Giovanni in Monte 162

ERCOLE FERRARESE The Israelites Gathering Manna London: N. G., 1217 168

GENTILE BELLINI The Miracle of the True Cross Venice: Accademia, 568 176

GIOVANNI BELLINI Madonna and Saints Venice: S. Francesco della Vigna 180

COSIMO ROSSELLI Detail: Christ Healing the Leper Rome: Sistine Chapel 190

DOMENICO GHIRLANDAJO The Death of S. Francis Florence: S. Trinita 222

DOMENICO GHIRLANDAJO The Birth of S. John the Baptist Florence: S. Maria Novella 226

BASTIANO MAINARDI The Madonna giving the Girdle to S. Thomas Florence: S. Croce 232

PIERO POLLAIUOLO SS. Eustace, James, and Vincent Florence: Uffizi, 1301 238

ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO The Martyrdom of S. Sebastian London: N. G., 292 242

ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO Tomb of Pope Sixtus IV Rome: S. Peter's 242

SANDRO BOTTICELLI The Adoration of the Magi Florence: Uffizi, 1286 250

SANDRO BOTTICELLI The Calumny of Apelles Florence: Uffizi, 1182 254

BENEDETTO DA MAIANO Pulpit Florence: S. Croce 258

ANDREA VERROCCHIO David Florence: Bargello 266

ANDREA VERROCCHIO Detail: Corner and Foot of the Medici Sarcophagus Florence: S. Lorenzo 270

ANDREA VERROCCHIO Statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni Venice: Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo 272

ANDREA MANTEGNA The Martyrdom of S. James Padua: Eremitani 278

ANDREA MANTEGNA Madonna and Angels Milan: Brera, 198 282

ANDREA MANTEGNA Judith with the Head of Holofernes Dublin: N. G. 286




If Pope Eugenius IV, when he resolved to make the bronze door for S. Pietro in Rome, had used diligence in seeking for men of excellence to execute that work (and he would easily have been able to find them at that time, when Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, Donatello, and other rare craftsmen were alive), it would not have been carried out in the deplorable manner which it reveals to us in our own day. But perchance the same thing happened to him that is very often wont to happen to the greater number of Princes, who either have no understanding of such works or take very little delight in them. Now, if they were to consider how important it is to show preference to men of excellence in public works, by reason of the fame that comes from these, it is certain that neither they nor their ministers would be so negligent; for the reason that he who encumbers himself with poor and inept craftsmen ensures but a short life to his works or his fame, not to mention that injury is done to the public interest and to the age in which he was born, for it is firmly believed by all who come after, that, if there had been better masters to be found in that age, the Prince would have availed himself rather of them than of the inept and vulgar.

Now, after being created Pontiff in the year 1431, Pope Eugenius IV, hearing that the Florentines were having the doors of S. Giovanni made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, conceived a wish to try to make one of the doors of S. Pietro in like manner in bronze. But since he had no knowledge of such works, he entrusted the matter to his ministers, with whom Antonio Filarete, then a youth, and Simone, the brother of Donatello, both sculptors of Florence, had so much interest, that the work was allotted to them. Putting their hands to this, therefore, they toiled for twelve years to complete it; and although Pope Eugenius fled from Rome and was much harassed by reason of the Councils, yet those who had charge of S. Pietro contrived to prevent that work from being abandoned. Filarete, then, wrought that door in low-relief, making a simple division, with two upright figures in each part—namely, the Saviour and the Madonna above, and S. Peter and S. Paul below; and at the foot of S. Peter is that Pope on his knees, portrayed from life. Beneath each figure, likewise, there is a little scene from the life of the Saint that is above; below S. Peter, his crucifixion, and below S. Paul, his beheading; and beneath the Saviour and the Madonna, also, some events from their lives. At the foot of the inner side of the said door, to amuse himself, Antonio made a little scene in bronze, wherein he portrayed himself and Simone and their disciples going with an ass laden with good cheer to take their pleasure in a vineyard. But since they were not always at work on the said door during the whole of those twelve years, they also made in S. Pietro some marble tombs for Popes and Cardinals, which were thrown to the ground in the building of the new church.

After these works, Antonio was summoned to Milan by Duke Francesco Sforza, then Gonfalonier of Holy Church (who had seen his works in Rome), to the end that there might be made with his design, as it afterwards was, the Albergo de' poveri di Dio,[1] which is a hospital that serves for sick men and women, and for the innocent children born out of wedlock. The division for the men in this place is in the form of a cross, and extends 160 braccia in all directions; and that of the women is the same. The width is 16 braccia, and within the four square sides that enclose the crosses of each of these two divisions there are four courtyards surrounded by porticoes, loggie, and rooms for the use of the director, the officials, the servants, and the nurses of the hospital, all very commodious and useful. On one side there is a channel with water continually running for the service of the hospital and for grinding corn, with no small benefit and convenience for that place, as all may imagine. Between the two divisions of the hospital there is a cloister, 80 braccia in extent in one direction and 160 in the other, in the middle of which is the church, so contrived as to serve for both divisions. In a word, this place is so well built and designed, that I do not believe that there is its like in Europe. According to the account of Filarete himself, the first stone of this building was laid with a solemn procession of the whole of the clergy of Milan, in the presence of Duke Francesco Sforza, the Lady Bianca Maria, and all their children, with the Marquis of Mantua, the Ambassador of King Alfonso of Arragon, and many other lords. On the first stone which was laid in the foundations, as well as on the medals, were these words:


These scenes were afterwards depicted on the portico by Maestro Vincenzio di Zoppa, a Lombard, since no better master could be found in those parts.

A work by the same Antonio, likewise, was the principal church of Bergamo, which he built with no less diligence and judgment than he had shown in the above-named hospital. And because he also took delight in writing, the while that these works of his were in progress he wrote a book divided into three parts. In the first he treats of the measurements of all edifices, and of all that is necessary for the purpose of building. In the second he speaks of the methods of building, and of the manner wherein a most beautiful and most convenient city might be laid out. In the third he invents new forms of buildings, mingling the ancient with the modern. The whole work is divided into twenty-four books, illustrated throughout by drawings from his own hand; but, although there is something of the good to be found in it, it is nevertheless mostly ridiculous, and perhaps the most stupid book that was ever written. It was dedicated by him in the year 1464 to the Magnificent Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, and it is now in the collection of the most Illustrious Lord Duke Cosimo. And in truth, since he put himself to so great pains, the book might be commended in some sort, if he had at least made some records of the masters of his day and of their works; but as there are few to be found therein, and those few are scattered throughout the book without method and in the least suitable places, he has toiled only to beggar himself, as the saying goes, and to be thought a man of little judgment for meddling with something that he did not understand.

But I have said quite enough about Filarete, and it is now time to turn to Simone, the brother of Donato. This man, after the work of the door, made the bronze tomb of Pope Martin. He likewise made some castings that were sent to France, of many of which the fate is not known. For the Church of the Ermini, in the Canto alla Macine in Florence, he wrought a life-size Crucifix for carrying in processions, and to render it the lighter he made it of cork. In S. Felicita he made a terra-cotta figure of S. Mary Magdalene in Penitence, three braccia and a half in height and beautifully proportioned, and revealing the muscles in such a manner as to show that he had a very good knowledge of anatomy. He also wrought a marble tombstone for the Company of the Nunziata in the Church of the Servi, inlaying it with a figure in grey and white marble in the manner of a painting (which was much extolled), like the work already mentioned as having been done by the Sienese Duccio in the Duomo of Siena. At Prato he made the bronze grille for the Chapel of the Girdle. At Forli, over the door of the Canon's house, he wrought a Madonna with two angels in low-relief; and he adorned the Chapel of the Trinita in S. Francesco with work in half-relief for Messer Giovanni da Riolo. In the Church of S. Francesco at Rimini, for Sigismondo Malatesti, he built the Chapel of S. Sigismondo, wherein there are many elephants, the device of that lord, carved in marble. To Messer Bartolommeo Scamisci, Canon of the Pieve of Arezzo, he sent a Madonna with the Child in her arms, made of terra-cotta, with certain angels in half-relief, very well executed; which Madonna is now in the said Pieve, set up against a column. For the baptismal font of the Vescovado of Arezzo, likewise, he wrought, in some scenes in low-relief, a Christ being baptized by S. John. In the Church of the Nunziata in Florence he made a marble tomb for Messer Orlando de' Medici. Finally, at the age of fifty-five, he rendered up his spirit to God who had given it to him. Nor was it long before Filarete, having returned to Rome, died at the age of sixty-nine, and was buried in the Minerva, where he had caused Giovanni Foccora, a painter of no small repute, to make a portrait of Pope Eugenius, while he was staying in Rome in the service of that Pontiff. The portrait of Antonio, by his own hand, is at the beginning of his book, where he gives instructions for building. His disciples were Varrone and Niccolo, both Florentines, who made the marble statue for Pope Pius II near Pontemolle, at the time when he brought the head of S. Andrew to Rome. By order of the same Pope they restored Tigoli almost from the foundations; and in S. Pietro they made the ornament of marble that is above the columns of the chapel wherein the said head of S. Andrew is preserved. Near that chapel is the tomb of the said Pope Pius, made by Pasquino da Montepulciano, a disciple of Filarete, and Bernardo Ciuffagni. This Bernardo wrought a tomb of marble for Gismondo Malatesti in S. Francesco at Rimini, making his portrait there from nature; and he also executed some works, so it is said, in Lucca and in Mantua.


[1] Literally, Hospice for God's poor.




No small error do those fathers of families make who do not allow the minds of their children to run the natural course in their childhood, and do not suffer them to follow the calling that is most in accordance with their taste; for to try to turn them to something for which they have no inclination is manifestly to prevent them from ever being excellent in anything, because we almost always find that those who labour at something that they do not like make little progress in any occupation whatsoever. On the other hand, those who follow the instinct of nature generally become excellent and famous in the arts that they pursue; as was seen clearly in Giuliano da Maiano. The father of this man, after living a long time on the hill of Fiesole, in the part called Maiano, working at the trade of stone-cutter, finally betook himself to Florence, where he opened a shop for the sale of dressed stone, keeping it furnished with the sort of work that is apt very often to be called for without warning by those who are erecting some building. Living in Florence, then, there was born to him a son, Giuliano, whom his father, growing convinced in the course of time that he had a good intelligence, proposed to make into a notary, for it appeared to him that his own occupation of stone-cutting was too laborious and too unprofitable an exercise. But this did not come to pass, because, although Giuliano went to a grammar-school for a little, his thoughts were never there, and in consequence he made no progress; nay, he played truant very often, and showed that he had his mind wholly set on sculpture, although at first he applied himself to the calling of joiner and also gave attention to drawing.

It is said that in company with Giusto and Minore, masters of tarsia,[2] he wrought the seats of the Sacristy of the Nunziata, and likewise those of the choir that is beside the chapel, and many things in the Badia of Florence and in S. Marco; and that, having acquired a name through these works, he was summoned to Pisa, in the Duomo of which he wrought the seat that is beside the high-altar, in which the priest, the deacon, and the sub-deacon sit when Mass is being sung; making in tarsia on the back of this seat, with tinted and shaded woods, the three prophets that are seen therein. In this work he availed himself of Guido del Servellino and Maestro Domenico di Mariotto, joiners of Pisa, to whom he taught the art so well that they afterwards wrought the greater part of that choir both with carvings and with tarsia-work; which choir has been finished in our own day, with a manner no little better, by Batista del Cervelliera of Pisa, a man truly ingenious and fanciful.

But to return to Giuliano; he made the presses of the Sacristy of S. Maria del Fiore, which were held at that time to be admirable examples of tarsia and inlaid-work. Now, while Giuliano thus continued to devote himself to tarsia, to sculpture, and to architecture, Filippo di Ser Brunellesco died; whereupon, being chosen by the Wardens of Works to succeed him, he made the borders, incrusted with black and white marble, which are round the circular windows below the vault of the cupola; and at the corners he placed the marble pilasters on which Baccio d'Agnolo afterwards laid the architrave, frieze, and cornice, as will be told below. It is true that, as it appears from some designs by his hand that are in our book, he wished to make another arrangement of frieze, cornice, and gallery, with pediments on each of the eight sides of the cupola; but he had not time to put this into execution, for, being carried away by an excess of work from one day to another, he died.

Before this happened, however, he went to Naples and designed the architecture of the magnificent Palace at Poggio Reale for King Alfonso, with the beautiful fountains and conduits that are in the courtyard. In the city, likewise, he made designs for many fountains, some for the houses of noblemen and some for public squares, with beautiful and fanciful inventions; and he had the said Palace of Poggio Reale all wrought with paintings by Piero del Donzello and his brother Polito. Working in sculpture, likewise, for the said King Alfonso, then Duke of Calabria, he wrought scenes in low-relief over a door (both within and without) in the great hall of the Castle of Naples; and he made a marble gate for the castle after the Corinthian Order, with an infinite number of figures, giving to that work the form of a triumphal arch, on which stories from the life of that King and some of his victories are carved in marble. Giuliano also wrought the decorations of the Porta Capovana, making therein many varied and beautiful trophies; wherefore he well deserved that great love should be felt for him by that King, who, rewarding him liberally for his labours, enriched his descendants.

Giuliano had taught to his nephew Benedetto the arts of tarsia and architecture, and something about working in marble; and Benedetto was living in Florence, devoting himself to working at tarsia, because this brought him greater gains than the other arts did. Now Giuliano was summoned to Rome by Messer Antonio Rosello of Arezzo, Secretary to Pope Paul II, to enter the service of that Pontiff. Having gone thither, he designed the loggie of travertine in the first court of the Palace of S. Pietro, with three ranges of columns, of which the first is on the lowest floor, where there are now the Signet Office and other offices; the second is above this, where the Datary and other prelates live; and the third and last is where those rooms are that look out on the court of S. Pietro, which he adorned with gilded ceilings and other ornaments. From his design, likewise, were made the marble loggie from which the Pope gives his benediction—a very great work, as may still be seen to-day. But the most stupendous and marvellous work that he made was the palace that he built for that Pope, together with the Church of S. Marco in Rome, for which there was used an infinite quantity of travertine blocks, said to have been excavated from certain vineyards near the Arch of Constantine, where they served as buttresses for the foundations of that part of the Colosseum which is now in ruins, perchance because of the weakening of that edifice.

Giuliano was sent by the same Pontiff to the Madonna of Loreto, where he rebuilt the foundations and greatly enlarged the body of the church, which had formerly been small and built over piers in rustic-work. He did not go higher than the string-course that was there already; but he summoned his nephew Benedetto to that place, and he, as will be told, afterwards raised the cupola. Being then forced to return to Naples in order to finish the works that he had begun, Giuliano received a commission from King Alfonso for a gate near the castle, which was to include more than eighty figures, which Benedetto had to execute in Florence; but the whole remained unfinished by reason of the death of that King. There are still some relics of these figures in the Misericordia in Florence, and there were others in our own day in the Canto alla Macine; but I do not know where these are now to be found. Before the death of the King, however, Giuliano died in Naples at the age of seventy, and was greatly honoured with rich obsequies; for the King had fifty men clothed in mourning, who accompanied Giuliano to the grave, and then he gave orders that a marble tomb should be made for him.

The continuation of his work was left to Polito, who completed the conduits for the waters of Poggio Reale. Benedetto, devoting himself afterwards to sculpture, surpassed his uncle Giuliano in excellence, as will be told; and in his youth he was the rival of a sculptor named Modanino da Modena, who worked in terra-cotta, and who wrought for the said Alfonso a Pieta with an infinite number of figures in the round, made of terra-cotta and coloured, which were executed with very great vivacity, and were placed by the King in the Church of Monte Oliveto, a very highly honoured monastery in the city of Naples. In this work the said King is portrayed on his knees, and he appears truly more than alive; wherefore Modanino was remunerated by him with very great rewards. But when the King died, as it has been said, Polito and Benedetto returned to Florence; where, no long time after, Polito followed Giuliano into eternity. The sculptures and pictures of these men date about the year of our salvation 1447.


[2] Inlaying with various kinds of coloured wood.





Truly unhappy are those who, labouring at their studies in order to benefit others and to make their own name famous, are hindered by infirmity and sometimes by death from carrying to perfection the works that they have begun. And it happens very often that, leaving them all but finished or in a fair way to completion, they are falsely claimed by the presumption of those who seek to conceal their asses' skin under the honourable spoils of the lion. And although time, who is called the father of truth, sooner or later makes manifest the real state of things, it is none the less true that for a certain space of time the true craftsman is robbed of the honour that is due to his labours; as happened to Piero della Francesca of Borgo a San Sepolcro. He, having been held a rare master of the difficulties of drawing regular bodies, as well as of arithmetic and geometry, was yet not able—being overtaken in his old age by the infirmity of blindness, and finally by the close of his life—to bring to light his noble labours and the many books written by him, which are still preserved in the Borgo, his native place. The very man who should have striven with all his might to increase the glory and fame of Piero, from whom he had learnt all that he knew, was impious and malignant enough to seek to blot out the name of his teacher, and to usurp for himself the honour that was due to the other, publishing under his own name, Fra Luca dal Borgo, all the labours of that good old man, who, besides the sciences named above, was excellent in painting.

Piero was born in Borgo a San Sepolcro, which is now a city, although it was not one then; and he was called Della Francesca after the name of his mother, because she had been left pregnant with him at the death of her husband, his father, and because it was she who had brought him up and assisted him to attain to the rank that his good-fortune held out to him. Piero applied himself in his youth to mathematics, and although it was settled when he was fifteen years of age that he was to be a painter, he never abandoned this study; nay, he made marvellous progress therein, as well as in painting. He was employed by Guidobaldo Feltro the elder, Duke of Urbino, for whom he made many very beautiful pictures with little figures, which have been for the most part ruined on the many occasions when that state has been harassed by wars. Nevertheless, there were preserved there some of his writings on geometry and perspective, in which sciences he was not inferior to any man of his own time, or perchance even to any man of any other time; as is demonstrated by all his works, which are full of perspectives, and particularly by a vase drawn in squares and sides, in such a manner that the base and the mouth can be seen from the front, from behind, and from the sides; which is certainly a marvellous thing, for he drew the smallest details therein with great subtlety, and foreshortened the curves of all the circles with much grace. Having thus acquired credit and fame at that Court, he resolved to make himself known in other places; wherefore he went to Pesaro and Ancona, whence, in the very thick of his work, he was summoned by Duke Borso to Ferrara, where he painted many apartments in his palace, which were afterwards destroyed by Duke Ercole the elder in the renovation of the palace, insomuch that there is nothing by the hand of Piero left in that city, save a chapel wrought in fresco in S. Agostino; and even that has been injured by damp. Afterwards, being summoned to Rome, he painted two scenes for Pope Nicholas V in the upper rooms of his palace, in competition with Bramante da Milano; but these also were thrown to the ground by Pope Julius II—to the end that Raffaello da Urbino might paint there the Imprisonment of S. Peter and the Miracle of the Corporale of Bolsena—together with certain others that had been painted by Bramantino, an excellent painter in his day.

Now, seeing that I cannot write the life of this man, nor particularize his works, because they have been ruined, I will not grudge the labour of making some record of him, for it seems an apt occasion. In the said works that were thrown to the ground, so I have heard tell, he had made some heads from nature, so beautiful and so well executed that speech alone was wanting to give them life. Of these heads not a few have come to light, because Raffaello da Urbino had them copied in order that he might have the likenesses of the subjects, who were all people of importance; for among them were Niccolo Fortebraccio, Charles VII, King of France, Antonio Colonna, Prince of Salerno, Francesco Carmignuola, Giovanni Vitellesco, Cardinal Bessarione, Francesco Spinola, and Battista da Canneto. All these portraits were given to Giovio by Giulio Romano, disciple and heir of Raffaello da Urbino, and they were placed by Giovio in his museum at Como. Over the door of S. Sepolcro in Milan I have seen a Dead Christ wrought in foreshortening by the hand of the same man, in which, although the whole picture is not more than one braccio in height, there is an effect of infinite length, executed with facility and with judgment. By his hand, also, are some apartments and loggie in the house of the Marchesino Ostanesia in the same city, wherein there are many pictures wrought by him that show mastery and very great power in the foreshortening of the figures. And without the Porta Vercellina, near the Castle, in certain stables now ruined and destroyed, he painted some grooms currying horses, among which there was one so lifelike and so well wrought, that another horse, thinking it a real one, lashed out at it repeatedly with its hooves.

But to return to Piero della Francesca; his work in Rome finished, he returned to the Borgo, where his mother had just died; and on the inner side of the central door of the Pieve he painted two saints in fresco, which are held to be very beautiful. In the Convent of the Friars of S. Augustine he painted the panel of the high-altar, which was a thing much extolled; and he wrought in fresco a Madonna della Misericordia for a company, or rather, as they call it, a confraternity; with a Resurrection of Christ in the Palazzo de' Conservadori, which is held the best of all the works that are in the said city, and the best that he ever made. In company with Domenico da Vinezia, he painted the beginning of a work on the vaulting of the Sacristy of S. Maria at Loreto; but they left it unfinished from fear of plague, and it was afterwards completed by Luca da Cortona,[3] a disciple of Piero, as will be told in the proper place.

Going from Loreto to Arezzo, Piero painted for Luigi Bacci, a citizen of Arezzo, the Chapel of the High-altar of S. Francesco, belonging to that family, the vaulting of which had been already begun by Lorenzo di Bicci. In this work there are Stories of the Cross, from that wherein the sons of Adam are burying him and placing under his tongue the seed of the tree from which there came the wood for the said Cross, down to the Exaltation of the Cross itself performed by the Emperor Heraclius, who, walking barefoot and carrying it on his shoulder, is entering with it into Jerusalem. Here there are many beautiful conceptions and attitudes worthy to be extolled; such as, for example, the garments of the women of the Queen of Sheba, executed in a sweet and novel manner; many most lifelike portraits from nature of ancient persons; a row of Corinthian columns, divinely well proportioned; and a peasant who, leaning with his hands on his spade, stands listening to the words of S. Helena—while the three Crosses are being disinterred—with so great attention, that it would not be possible to improve it. Very well wrought, also, is the dead body that is restored to life at the touch of the Cross, together with the joy of S. Helena and the marvelling of the bystanders, who are kneeling in adoration. But above every other consideration, whether of imagination or of art, is his painting of Night, with an angel in foreshortening who is flying with his head downwards, bringing the sign of victory to Constantine, who is sleeping in a pavilion, guarded by a chamberlain and some men-at-arms who are seen dimly through the darkness of the night; and with his own light the angel illuminates the pavilion, the men-at-arms, and all the surroundings. This is done with very great thought, for Piero gives us to know in this darkness how important it is to copy things as they are and to ever take them from the true model; which he did so well that he enabled the moderns to attain, by following him, to that supreme perfection wherein art is seen in our own time. In this same story he represented most successfully in a battle fear, animosity, dexterity, vehemence, and all the other emotions that can be imagined in men who are fighting, and likewise all the incidents of battle, together with an almost incredible carnage, what with the wounded, the fallen, and the dead. In these Piero counterfeited in fresco the glittering of their arms, for which he deserves no less praise than he does for the flight and submersion of Maxentius painted on the other wall, wherein he made a group of horses in foreshortening, so marvellously executed that they can be truly called too beautiful and too excellent for those times. In the same story he made a man, half nude and half clothed in the dress of a Saracen, riding a lean horse, which reveals a very great mastery of anatomy, a science little known in his age. For this work, therefore, he well deserved to be richly rewarded by Luigi Bacci, whom he portrayed there in the scene of the beheading of a King, together with Carlo and others of his brothers and many Aretines who were then distinguished in letters; and to be loved and revered ever afterwards, as he was, in that city, which he had made so illustrious with his works.

In the Vescovado of the same city, also, he made a S. Mary Magdalene in fresco beside the door of the sacristy; and for the Company of the Nunziata he painted the banner that is carried in processions. At the head of a cloister at S. Maria delle Grazie, without that district, he painted S. Donatus in his robes, seated in a chair drawn in perspective, together with certain boys; and in a niche high up on a wall of S. Bernardo, for the Monks of Monte Oliveto, he made a S. Vincent, which is much esteemed by craftsmen. In a chapel at Sargiano, a seat of the Frati Zoccolanti di S. Francesco, without Arezzo, he painted a very beautiful Christ praying by night in the Garden.

In Perugia, also, he wrought many works that are still to be seen in that city; as, for example, a panel in distemper in the Church of the Nuns of S. Anthony of Padua, containing a Madonna with the Child in her lap, S. Francis, S. Elizabeth, S. John the Baptist, and S. Anthony of Padua. Above these is a most beautiful Annunciation, with an Angel that seems truly to have come out of Heaven; and, what is more, a row of columns diminishing in perspective, which is indeed beautiful. In the predella there are scenes with little figures, representing S. Anthony restoring a boy to life; S. Elizabeth saving a child that has fallen into a well; and S. Francis receiving the Stigmata. In S. Ciriaco at Ancona, on the altar of S. Giuseppe, he painted a most beautiful scene of the Marriage of Our Lady.

Piero, as it has been said, was a very zealous student of art, and gave no little attention to perspective; and he had a very good knowledge of Euclid, insomuch that he understood all the best curves drawn in regular bodies better than any other geometrician, and the clearest elucidations of these matters that we have are from his hand. Now Maestro Luca dal Borgo, a friar of S. Francis, who wrote about the regular geometrical bodies, was his pupil; and when Piero, after having written many books, grew old and finally died, the said Maestro Luca, claiming the authorship of these books, had them printed as his own, for they had fallen into his hands after the death of Piero.

Piero was much given to making models in clay, on which he spread wet draperies with an infinity of folds, in order to make use of them for drawing.

A disciple of Piero was Lorentino d'Angelo of Arezzo, who made many pictures in Arezzo, imitating his manner, and completed those that Piero, overtaken by death, left unfinished. Near the S. Donatus that Piero wrought in the Madonna delle Grazie, Lorentino painted in fresco some stories of S. Donatus, with very many works in many other places both in that city and in the district, partly because he would never stay idle, and partly to assist his family, which was then very poor. In the said Church of the Grazie the same man painted a scene wherein Pope Sixtus IV, between the Cardinal of Mantua and Cardinal Piccolomini (who was afterwards Pope Pius III), is granting an indulgence to that place; in which scene Lorentino portrayed from the life, on their knees, Tommaso Marzi, Piero Traditi, Donato Rosselli, and Giuliano Nardi, all citizens of Arezzo and Wardens of Works for that building. In the hall of the Palazzo de' Priori, moreover, he portrayed from the life Cardinal Galeotto da Pietramala, Bishop Guglielmino degli Ubertini, and Messer Angelo Albergotti, Doctor of Laws; and he made many other works, which are scattered throughout that city.

It is said that once, when the Carnival was close at hand, the children of Lorentino kept beseeching him to kill a pig, as it is the custom to do in that district; and that, since he had not the means to buy one, they would say, "What will you do about buying a pig, father, if you have no money?" To which Lorentino would answer, "Some Saint will help us." But when he had said this many times and the season was passing by without any pig appearing, they had lost hope, when at length there arrived a peasant from the Pieve a Quarto, who wished to have a S. Martin painted in fulfilment of a vow, but had no means of paying for the picture save a pig, which was worth five lire. This man, coming to Lorentino, told him that he wished to have the S. Martin painted, but that he had no means of payment save the pig. Whereupon they came to an agreement, and Lorentino painted him the Saint, while the peasant brought him the pig; and so the Saint provided the pig for the poor children of this painter.

Another disciple of Piero was Pietro da Castel della Pieve,[4] who painted an arch above S. Agostino, and a S. Urban for the Nuns of S. Caterina in Arezzo, which has been thrown to the ground in rebuilding the church. His pupil, likewise, was Luca Signorelli of Cortona, who did him more honour than all the others.

Piero Borghese, whose pictures date about the year 1458, became blind through an attack of catarrh at the age of sixty, and lived thus up to the eighty-sixth year of his life. He left very great possessions in the Borgo, with some houses that he had built himself, which were burnt and destroyed in the strife of factions in the year 1536. He was honourably buried by his fellow-citizens in the principal church, which formerly belonged to the Order of Camaldoli, and is now the Vescovado. Piero's books are for the most part in the library of Frederick II, Duke of Urbino, and they are such that they have deservedly acquired for him the name of the best geometrician of his time.


[3] Luca Signorelli.

[4] Pietro Perugino.





Fra Giovanni Angelico da Fiesole, who was known in the world as Guido, was no less excellent as painter and illuminator than he was upright as churchman, and for both one and the other of these reasons he deserves that most honourable record should be made of him. This man, although he could have lived in the world with the greatest comfort, and could have gained whatever he wished, besides what he possessed, by means of those arts, of which he had a very good knowledge even in his youth, yet resolved, for his own peace and satisfaction, being by nature serious and upright, and above all in order to save his soul, to take the vows of the Order of Preaching Friars; for the reason that, although it is possible to serve God in all walks of life, nevertheless it appears to some men that they can gain salvation in monasteries better than in the world. Now in proportion as this plan succeeds happily for good men, so, on the contrary, it has a truly miserable and unhappy issue for a man who takes the vows with some other end in view.

There are some choral books illuminated by the hand of Fra Giovanni in his Convent of S. Marco in Florence, so beautiful that words are not able to describe them; and similar to these are some others that he left in S. Domenico da Fiesole, wrought with incredible diligence. It is true, indeed, that in making these he was assisted by an elder brother, who was likewise an illuminator and well practised in painting.

One of the first works in painting wrought by this good father was a panel in the Certosa of Florence, which was placed in the principal chapel (belonging to Cardinal Acciaiuoli); in which panel is a Madonna with the Child in her arms, and with certain very beautiful angels at her feet, sounding instruments and singing; at the sides are S. Laurence, S. Mary Magdalene, S. Zanobi, and S. Benedict; and in the predella are little stories of these Saints, wrought in little figures with infinite diligence. In the cross of the said chapel are two other panels by the hand of the same man; one containing the Coronation of Our Lady, and the other a Madonna with two saints, wrought with most beautiful ultramarine blues. Afterwards, in the tramezzo[5] of S. Maria Novella, beside the door opposite to the choir, he painted in fresco S. Dominic, S. Catherine of Siena, and S. Peter Martyr; and some little scenes in the Chapel of the Coronation of Our Lady in the said tramezzo. On canvas, fixed to the doors that closed the old organ, he painted an Annunciation, which is now in the convent, opposite to the door of the lower dormitory, between one cloister and the other.

This father was so greatly beloved for his merits by Cosimo de' Medici, that, after completing the construction of the Church and Convent of S. Marco, he caused him to paint the whole Passion of Jesus Christ on a wall in the chapter-house; and on one side all the Saints who have been heads and founders of religious bodies, mourning and weeping at the foot of the Cross, and on the other side S. Mark the Evangelist beside the Mother of the Son of God, who has swooned at the sight of the Saviour of the world Crucified, while round her are the Maries, all grieving and supporting her, with S. Cosimo and S. Damiano. It is said that in the figure of S. Cosimo Fra Giovanni portrayed from the life Nanni d' Antonio di Banco, a sculptor and his friend. Below this work, in a frieze above the panelling, he made a tree with S. Dominic at the foot of it, and, in certain medallions encircled by the branches, all the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Saints, and Masters of Theology whom his Order of Preaching Friars had produced up to that time. In this work he made many portraits from nature, being assisted by the friars, who sent for them to various places; and they were the following: S. Dominic in the middle, grasping the branches of the tree; Pope Innocent V, a Frenchman; the Blessed Ugone, first Cardinal of that Order; the Blessed Paolo, Florentine and Patriarch; S. Antonino, Archbishop of Florence; the Blessed Giordano, a German, and the second General of that Order; the Blessed Niccolo; the Blessed Remigio, a Florentine; and the martyr Boninsegno, a Florentine; all these are on the right hand. On the left are Benedict II[6] of Treviso; Giandomenico, a Florentine Cardinal; Pietro da Palude, Patriarch of Jerusalem; Alberto Magno, a German; the Blessed Raimondo di Catalonia, third General of the Order; the Blessed Chiaro, a Florentine, and Provincial of Rome; S. Vincenzio di Valenza; and the Blessed Bernardo, a Florentine. All these heads are truly gracious and very beautiful. Then, over certain lunettes in the first cloister, he made many very beautiful figures in fresco, and a Crucifix with S. Dominic at the foot, which is much extolled; and in the dormitory, besides many other things throughout the cells and on the surface of the walls, he painted a story from the New Testament, of a beauty beyond the power of words to describe. Particularly beautiful and marvellous is the panel of the high-altar of that church; for, besides the fact that the Madonna rouses all who see her to devotion by her simplicity, and that the Saints that surround her are like her in this, the predella, in which there are stories of the martyrdom of S. Cosimo, S. Damiano, and others, is so well painted, that one cannot imagine it possible ever to see a work executed with greater diligence, or little figures more delicate or better conceived than these are.

In S. Domenico da Fiesole, likewise, he painted the panel of the high-altar, which has been retouched by other masters and injured, perchance because it appeared to be spoiling. But the predella and the Ciborium of the Sacrament have remained in better preservation; and the innumerable little figures that are to be seen there, in a Celestial Glory, are so beautiful, that they appear truly to belong to Paradise, nor can any man who approaches them ever have his fill of gazing on them. In a chapel of the same church is a panel by his hand, containing the Annunciation of Our Lady by the Angel Gabriel, with features in profile, so devout, so delicate, and so well executed, that they appear truly to have been made rather in Paradise than by the hand of man; and in the landscape at the back are Adam and Eve, because of whom the Redeemer was born from the Virgin. In the predella, also, there are some very beautiful little scenes.

But superior to all the other works that Fra Giovanni made, and the one wherein he surpassed himself and gave supreme proof of his talent and of his knowledge of art, was a panel that is beside the door of the same church, on the left hand as one enters, wherein Jesus Christ is crowning Our Lady in the midst of a choir of angels and among an infinite multitude of saints, both male and female, so many in number, so well wrought, and with such variety in the attitudes and in the expressions of the heads, that incredible pleasure and sweetness are felt in gazing at them; nay, one is persuaded that those blessed spirits cannot look otherwise in Heaven, or, to speak more exactly, could not if they had bodies; for not only are all these saints, both male and female, full of life and sweet and delicate in expression, but the whole colouring of that work appears to be by the hand of a saint or an angel like themselves; wherefore it was with very good reason that this excellent monk was ever called Fra Giovanni Angelico. Moreover, the stories of the Madonna and of S. Dominic in the predella are divine in their own kind; and I, for one, can declare with truth that I never see this work without thinking it something new, and that I never leave it sated.

In the Chapel of the Nunziata in Florence which Piero di Cosimo de' Medici caused to be built, he painted the doors of the press (in which the silver is kept) with little figures executed with much diligence. This father painted so many pictures, now to be found in the houses of Florentine citizens, "that I sometimes stand marvelling how one single man could execute so much work to such perfection, even in the space of many years. The Very Reverend Don Vincenzio Borghini, Director of the Hospital of the Innocenti, has a very beautiful little Madonna by the hand of this father; and Bartolommeo Gondi, as devoted a lover of these arts as any gentleman that one could think of, has a large picture, a small one, and a Crucifix, all by the same hand. The pictures that are in the arch over the door of S. Domenico are also by the same man; and in the Sacristy of S. Trinita there is a panel containing a Deposition from the Cross, into which he put so great diligence, that it can be numbered among the best works that he ever made. In S. Francesco, without the Porta a S. Miniato, there is an Annunciation; and in S. Maria Novella, besides the works already named, he painted with little scenes the Paschal candle and some Reliquaries which are placed on the altar in the most solemn ceremonies.

. Florence: S. Marco_)


Over a door of the cloister of the Badia in the same city he painted a S. Benedict, who is making a sign enjoining silence. For the Linen-manufacturers he painted a panel that is in the Office of their Guild; and in Cortona he painted a little arch over the door of the church of his Order, and likewise the panel of the high-altar. At Orvieto, on a part of the vaulting of the Chapel of the Madonna in the Duomo, he began certain prophets, which were finished afterwards by Luca da Cortona. For the Company of the Temple in Florence he painted a Dead Christ on a panel; and in the Church of the Monks of the Angeli he made a Paradise and a Hell with little figures, wherein he showed fine judgment by making the blessed very beautiful and full of jubilation and celestial gladness, and the damned all ready for the pains of Hell, in various most woeful attitudes, and bearing the stamp of their sins and unworthiness on their faces. The blessed are seen entering the gate of Paradise in celestial dance, and the damned are being dragged by demons to the eternal pains of Hell. This work is in the aforesaid church, on the right hand as one goes towards the high-altar, where the priest sits when Mass is sung. For the Nuns of S. Piero Martire—who now live in the Monastery of S. Felice in Piazza, which used to belong to the Order of Camaldoli—he painted a panel with Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, S. Dominic, S. Thomas, and S. Peter Martyr, and a number of little figures. And in the tramezzo[7] of S. Maria Nuova there may also be seen a panel by his hand.

These many labours having made the name of Fra Giovanni illustrious throughout all Italy, Pope Nicholas V sent for him and caused him to adorn that chapel of his Palace in Rome wherein the Pope hears Mass with a Deposition from the Cross and some very beautiful stories of S. Laurence, and also to illuminate some books, which are most beautiful. In the Minerva he painted the panel of the high-altar, and an Annunciation that is now set up against a wall beside the principal chapel. He also painted for the said Pope in the Palace the Chapel of the Sacrament, which was afterwards destroyed by Paul III in the making of a staircase through it. In that work, which was an excellent example of his manner, he had wrought in fresco some scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, and he had made therein many portraits from life of distinguished persons of those times, which would probably now be lost if Giovio had not caused the following among them to be preserved for his museum—namely, Pope Nicholas V; the Emperor Frederick, who came to Italy at that time; Frate Antonino, who was afterwards Archbishop of Florence; Biondo da Forli; and Ferrante of Arragon. Now Fra Giovanni appeared to the Pope to be, as indeed he was, a person of most holy life, peaceful and modest; and, since the Archbishopric of Florence was at that time vacant, the Pope had judged him worthy of that rank; but the said friar, hearing this, implored His Holiness to find another man, for the reason that he did not feel himself fitted for ruling others, whereas his Order contained a brother most learned and well able to govern, a Godfearing man and a friend of the poor, on whom that dignity would be conferred much more fittingly than on himself. The Pope, hearing this and remembering that what he said was true, granted him the favour willingly; and thus the Archbishopric of Florence was given to Frate Antonino of the Order of Preaching Friars, a man truly very famous both for sanctity and for learning, and of such a character, in short, that he was deservedly canonized in our own day by Adrian VI.

Rome: The Vatican, Chapel of Nicholas V_)


Great excellence was that of Fra Giovanni, and a thing truly very rare, to resign a dignity and honour and charge so important, offered to himself by a Supreme Pontiff, in favour of the man whom he, with his singleness of eye and sincerity of heart, judged to be much more worthy of it than himself. Let the churchmen of our own times learn from this holy man not to take upon themselves charges that they cannot worthily carry out, and to yield them to those who are most worthy of them. Would to God, to return to Fra Giovanni (and may this be said without offence to the upright among them), that all churchmen would spend their time as did this truly angelic father, seeing that he spent every minute of his life in the service of God and in benefiting both the world and his neighbour. And what can or ought to be desired more than to gain the kingdom of Heaven by living a life of holiness, and to win eternal fame in the world by labouring virtuously? And in truth a talent so extraordinary and so supreme as that of Fra Giovanni could not and should not descend on any save a man of most holy life, for the reason that those who work at religious and holy subjects should be religious and holy men; for it is seen, when such works are executed by persons of little faith who have little esteem for religion, that they often arouse in men's minds evil appetites and licentious desires; whence there comes blame for the evil in their works, with praise for the art and ability that they show. Now I would not have any man deceive himself by considering the rude and inept as holy, and the beautiful and excellent as licentious; as some do, who, seeing figures of women or of youths adorned with loveliness and beauty beyond the ordinary, straightway censure them and judge them licentious, not perceiving that they are very wrong to condemn the good judgment of the painter, who holds the Saints, both male and female, who are celestial, to be as much more beautiful than mortal man as Heaven is superior to earthly beauty and to the works of human hands; and, what is worse, they reveal the unsoundness and corruption of their own minds by drawing evil and impure desires out of works from which, if they were lovers of purity, as they seek by their misguided zeal to prove themselves to be, they would gain a desire to attain to Heaven and to make themselves acceptable to the Creator of all things, in whom, as most perfect and most beautiful, all perfection and beauty have their source. What would such men do if they found themselves, or rather, what are we to believe that they do when they actually find themselves, in places containing living beauty, accompanied by licentious ways, honey-sweet words, movements full of grace, and eyes that ravish all but the stoutest of hearts, if the very image of beauty, nay, its mere shadow, moves them so profoundly? However, I would not have any believe that I approve of those figures that are painted in churches in a state of almost complete nudity, for in these cases it is seen that the painter has not shown the consideration that was due to the place; because, even although a man has to show how much he knows, he should proceed with due regard for circumstances and pay respect to persons, times, and places.

Fra Giovanni was a man of great simplicity, and most holy in his ways; and his goodness may be perceived from this, that, Pope Nicholas V wishing one morning to entertain him at table, he had scruples of conscience about eating meat without leave from his Prior, forgetting about the authority of the Pontiff. He shunned the affairs of the world; and, living a pure and holy life, he was as much the friend of the poor as I believe his soul to be now the friend of Heaven. He was continually labouring at his painting, and he would never paint anything save Saints. He might have been rich, but to this he gave no thought; nay, he used to say that true riches consist only in being content with little. He might have ruled many, but he would not, saying that it was less fatiguing and less misleading to obey others. He had the option of obtaining dignities both among the friars and in the world, but he despised them, declaring that he sought no other dignity save that of seeking to avoid Hell and draw near to Paradise. And what dignity, in truth, can be compared to that which all churchmen, nay, all men, should seek, and which is to be found only in God and in a life of virtue? He was most kindly and temperate; and he lived chastely and withdrew himself from the snares of the world, being wont very often to say that he who pursued such an art had need of quiet and of a life free from cares, and that he whose work is connected with Christ must ever live with Christ. He was never seen in anger among his fellow-friars, which is a very notable thing, and almost impossible, it seems to me, to believe; and it was his custom to admonish his friends with a simple smile. With incredible sweetness, if any sought for works from him, he would say that they had only to gain the consent of the Prior, and that then he would not fail them. In short, this never to be sufficiently extolled father was most humble and modest in all his works and his discourse, and facile and devout in his pictures; and the Saints that he painted have more the air and likeness of Saints than those of any other man. It was his custom never to retouch or improve any of his pictures, but to leave them ever in the state to which he had first brought them; believing, so he used to say, that this was the will of God. Some say that Fra Giovanni would never have taken his brushes in his hand without first offering a prayer. He never painted a Crucifix without the tears streaming down his cheeks; wherefore in the countenances and attitudes of his figures one can recognize the goodness, nobility, and sincerity of his mind towards the Christian religion.

He died in 1455 at the age of sixty-eight, and left disciples in Benozzo, a Florentine, who ever imitated his manner, and Zanobi Strozzi, who painted pictures and panels throughout all Florence for the houses of citizens, and particularly a panel that is now in the tramezzo[8] of S. Maria Novella, beside that by Fra Giovanni, and one in S. Benedetto, a monastery of the Monks of Camaldoli without the Porta a Pinti, now in ruins. The latter panel is at present in the little Church of S. Michele in the Monastery of the Angeli, before one enters the principal church, set up against the wall on the right as one approaches the altar. There is also a panel in the Chapel of the Nasi in S. Lucia, and another in S. Romeo; and in the guardaroba of the Duke there is the portrait of Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, with that of Bartolommeo Valori, in one and the same picture by the hand of the same man. Another disciple of Fra Giovanni was Gentile da Fabriano, as was also Domenico di Michelino, who painted the panel for the altar of S. Zanobi in S. Apollinare at Florence, and many other pictures.

Fra Giovanni was buried by his fellow-friars in the Minerva in Rome, near the lateral door beside the sacristy, in a round tomb of marble, with himself, portrayed from nature, lying thereon. The following epitaph may be read, carved in the marble:


In S. Maria del Fiore are two very large books illuminated divinely well by the hand of Fra Giovanni, which are held in great veneration and richly adorned, nor are they ever seen save on days of the highest solemnity.

A celebrated and famous illuminator at the same time as Fra Giovanni was one Attavante, a Florentine, of whom I know no other name. This man, among many other works, illuminated a Silius Italicus, which is now in S. Giovanni e Polo in Venice; of which work I will not withhold certain particulars, both because they are worthy of the attention of craftsmen, and because, to my knowledge, no other work by this master is to be found; nor should I know even of this one, had it not been for the affection borne to these noble arts by the Very Reverend Maestro Cosimo Bartoli, a gentleman of Florence, who gave me information about it, to the end that the talent of Attavante might not remain, as it were, buried out of sight.

In the said book, then, the figure of Silius has on the head a helmet with a crest of gold and a chaplet of laurel; he is wearing a blue cuirass picked out with gold in the ancient manner, while he is holding a book in his right hand, and the left he has on a short sword. Over the cuirass he has a red chlamys, fastened in front with a knot, and fringed with gold, which hangs down from his shoulders. The inside of this chlamys is seen to be of changing colours and embroidered with gold. His buskins are yellow, and he is standing on his right foot in a niche. The next figure in this work represents Scipio Africanus. He is wearing a yellow cuirass, and his sword-belt and sleeves, which are blue in colour, are all embroidered with gold. On his head he has a helmet with two little wings and a fish by way of crest. The young man's countenance is fair and very beautiful; and he is raising his right arm proudly, holding in that hand a naked sword, while in the left hand he has the scabbard, which is red and embroidered with gold. The hose are green in colour and plain; and the chlamys, which is blue, has a red lining with a fringe of gold all round, and it is fastened at the throat, leaving the front quite open, and falling behind with beautiful grace. This young man, who stands in a niche of mixed green and grey marble, with blue buskins embroidered with gold, is looking with indescribable fierceness at Hannibal, who faces him on the opposite page of the book. This figure of Hannibal is that of a man about thirty-six years of age; he is frowning, with two furrows in his brow expressive of impatience and anger, and he, too, is looking fixedly at Scipio. On his head he has a yellow helmet, with a green and yellow dragon for crest and a serpent for chaplet. He is standing on his left foot and raising his right arm, with which he holds the shaft of an ancient javelin, or rather, of a little partisan. His cuirass is blue, his sword-belt partly blue and partly yellow, his sleeves of changing blue and red, and his buskins yellow. His chlamys, of changing red and yellow, is fastened on the right shoulder and lined with green; and, holding his left hand on his sword, he is standing in a niche of varicoloured marbles, yellow, white, and changing. On another page is Pope Nicholas V, portrayed from the life, with a mantle of changing purple and red and all embroidered with gold. He is without a beard and in full profile, and he is looking towards the beginning of the book, which is opposite to him; and he is pointing to it with his right hand, as though in a marvel. The niche is green, white, and red. Then in the border there are certain little half-length figures in an ornament composed of ovals and circles, and other things of that kind, together with an infinite number of little birds and children, so well wrought that nothing more could be desired. Close to this, in like manner, are Hanno the Carthaginian, Hasdrubal, Laelius, Massinissa, C. Salinator, Nero, Sempronius, M. Marcellus, Q. Fabius, the other Scipio, and Vibius. At the end of the book there is seen a Mars in an antique chariot drawn by two reddish horses. On his head he has a helmet of red and gold, with two little wings; on his left arm he has an antique shield, which he holds before him, and in his right hand a naked sword. He is standing on his left foot only, holding the other in the air. He has a cuirass in the antique manner, all red and gold, as are his hose and his buskins. His chlamys is blue without, and within all green and embroidered with gold. The chariot is covered with red cloth embroidered with gold, with a border of ermine all round; and it stands in a verdant and flowery champaign country, surrounded by cliffs and rocks; while landscapes and cities are seen in the distance, with a sky of a most marvellous blue. On the opposite page is a young Neptune, whose clothing is in the shape of a long shirt, embroidered all round with the colour formed from terretta verde. The flesh-colour is very pale. In his right hand he is holding a little trident, and with his left he is raising his dress. He is standing with both feet on the chariot, which has a covering of red, embroidered with gold and fringed all round with sable. This chariot has four wheels, like that of Mars, but it is drawn by four dolphins, and accompanied by three sea-nymphs, two boys, and a great number of fishes, all wrought with a water-colour similar to the terretta, and very beautiful in expression. After these is seen Carthage in despair, in the form of a woman standing upright with dishevelled hair. Her upper garment is green, and it is open from the waist downwards, being lined with red cloth embroidered in gold; and through this opening there may be seen another garment, delicate and of changing purple and white colour. The sleeves are red and gold, with certain puffs and floating folds made by the upper garment, and she is stretching out her left hand towards Rome, who is opposite to her, as though saying, "What is thy wish? I have my answer ready;" and in her right hand she holds a naked sword, with an air of frenzy. Her buskins are blue, and she is standing on a rock in the middle of the sea, surrounded by a very beautiful sky. Rome is a maiden as beautiful as it is possible for man to imagine, with dishevelled hair and certain tresses wrought with infinite grace. Her clothing is pure red, with only an embroidered border at the foot; the lining of her robe is yellow, and the garment beneath, which is seen through the opening, is of changing purple and white. Her buskins are green; in her right hand she has a sceptre, in her left a globe; and she, too, is standing on a rock, in the midst of a sky that could not be more beautiful than it is. Now, although I have striven to the best of my power to show with what great art these figures were wrought by Attavante, let no one believe that I have said more than a very small part of what might be said about their beauty, seeing that, considering the time, there are no better examples of illumination to be seen, nor any work wrought with more invention, judgment, and design; and the colours, above all, could not be more beautiful or laid in their places more delicately, so perfect is their grace.


[5] See note on p. 57, Vol. I.

[6] This seems to be a mistake for Benedict XI.

[7] See note on p. 57, Vol. I.

[8] See note on p. 57, Vol. I.




Very great is the advantage bestowed by learning, without exception, on all those craftsmen who take delight in it, but particularly on sculptors, painters, and architects, for it opens up the way to invention in all the works that are made; not to mention that a man cannot have a perfect judgment, be his natural gifts what they may, if he is deprived of the complemental advantage of being assisted by learning. For who does not know that it is necessary, in choosing sites for buildings, to show enlightenment in the avoidance of danger from pestiferous winds, insalubrious air, and the smells and vapours of impure and unwholesome waters? Who is ignorant that a man must be able, in whatever work he is seeking to carry out, to reject or adopt everything for himself after mature consideration, without having to depend on help from another man's theory? For theory, when separated from practice, is generally of very little use; but when the two chance to come together, there is nothing that is more helpful to our life, both because art becomes much richer and more perfect by the aid of science, and because the counsels and the writings of learned craftsmen have in themselves greater efficacy and greater credit than the words or works of those who know nothing but mere practice, whether they do it well or ill. And that all this is true is seen manifestly in Leon Batista Alberti, who, having studied the Latin tongue, and having given attention to architecture, to perspective, and to painting, left behind him books written in such a manner, that, since not one of our modern craftsmen has been able to expound these matters in writing, although very many of them in his own country have excelled him in working, it is generally believed—such is the influence of his writings over the pens and speech of the learned—that he was superior to all those who were actually superior to him in work. Wherefore, with regard to name and fame, it is seen from experience that writings have greater power and longer life than anything else; for books go everywhere with ease, and everywhere they command belief, if only they be truthful and not full of lies. It is no marvel, then, if the famous Leon Batista is known more for his writings than for the work of his hands.

This man, born in Florence of the most noble family of the Alberti, of which we have spoken in another place, devoted himself not only to studying geography and the proportions of antiquities, but also to writing, to which he was much inclined, much more than to working. He was excellent in arithmetic and geometry, and he wrote ten books on architecture in the Latin tongue, which were published by him in 1481, and may now be read in a translation in the Florentine tongue made by the Reverend Maestro Cosimo Bartoli, Provost of S. Giovanni in Florence. He wrote three books on painting, now translated into the Tuscan tongue by Messer Lodovico Domenichi; he composed a treatise on traction and on the rules for measuring heights, as well as the books on the "Vita Civile," and some erotic works in prose and verse; and he was the first who tried to reduce Italian verse to the measure of the Latin, as is seen in the following epistle by his pen:

Questa per estrema miserabile pistola mando A te, che spregi miseramente noi.

Arriving at Rome in the time of Nicholas V, who had turned the whole of Rome upside down with his manner of building, Leon Batista, through the agency of Biondo da Forli, who was much his friend, became intimate with that Pope, who had previously carried out all his building after the advice of Bernardo Rossellino, a sculptor and architect of Florence, as will be told in the Life of his brother Antonio. This man, having put his hand to restoring the Pope's Palace and to certain works in S. Maria Maggiore, thenceforward, according to the will of the Pope, ever sought the advice of Leon Batista. Wherefore, using one of them as adviser and the other as executor, the Pope carried out many useful and praiseworthy works, such as the restoring of the conduit of the Acqua Vergine, which was in ruins; and there was made the fountain on the Piazza de' Trevi, with those marble ornaments that are seen there, on which are the arms of that Pontiff and of the Roman people.

Afterwards, having gone to Signor Sigismondo Malatesti of Rimini, he made for him the model of the Church of S. Francesco, and in particular that of the facade, which was made of marble; and likewise the side facing towards the south, which was built with very great arches and with tombs for the illustrious men of that city. In short, he brought that building to such a form that in point of solidity it is one of the most famous temples in Italy. Within it are six most beautiful chapels, one of which, dedicated to S. Jerome, is very ornate; and in it are preserved many relics brought from Jerusalem. In the same chapel are the tombs of the said Signor Sigismondo and of his wife, constructed very richly of marble in the year 1450; on one there is the portrait of Sigismondo himself, and in another part of the work there is that of Leon Batista.

After this, in the year 1457, when the very useful method of printing books was discovered by Johann Gutenberg the German, Leon Batista, working on similar lines, discovered a way of tracing natural perspectives and of effecting the diminution of figures by means of an instrument, and likewise the method of enlarging small things and reproducing them on a greater scale; all ingenious inventions, useful to art and very beautiful.

In Leon Batista's time Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai wished to build the principal facade of S. Maria Novella entirely of marble at his own expense, and he spoke of this to Leon Batista, who was very much his friend; and having received from him not only counsel, but the actual model, Giovanni resolved to have the work executed at all costs, in order to leave it behind him as a memorial of himself. A beginning having been made, therefore, it was finished in the year 1477, to the great satisfaction of all the city, which was pleased with the whole work, but particularly with the door, from which it is seen that Leon Batista took more than ordinary pains. For Cosimo Rucellai, likewise, he made the design for the palace which that man built in the street which is called La Vigna, and that for the loggia which is opposite to it. In the latter, having turned his arches over columns close together, both in the front and at the ends, since he wished to adhere to this plan and not to make one single arch, he had a certain space left over on each side; wherefore he was forced to make certain projections at the inner corners. And then, when he wished to turn the arch of the inner vaulting, having seen that he could not give it the shape of a half-circle, which would have been flat and awkward, he resolved to turn certain small arches at the corners from one projection to another; and this lack of judgment in design gives us to know clearly that practice is necessary as well as science, for the judgment can never become perfect unless science attains to experience by actual work.

It is said that the same man made the design for the house and garden of these Rucellai in the Via della Scala. This house is built with much judgment and very commodious, for, besides many other conveniences, it has two loggie, one facing south and the other west, both very beautiful, and made without arches on the columns, which is the true and proper method that the ancients used, for the reason that the architraves which are placed on the capitals of the columns lie level, whereas a four-sided thing like a curving arch cannot rest on a round column without the corners jutting out over space. The good method, therefore, demands that architraves should rest on columns, and that, when arches are to be turned, pilasters and not columns should be made.

For the same Rucellai Leon Batista made a chapel in the same manner in S. Pancrazio, which rests on great architraves placed on two columns and two pilasters, piercing the wall of the church below; which is a difficult thing, but safe; wherefore this work is one of the best that this architect ever made. In the middle of this chapel is a tomb of marble, wrought very well in the form of a rather long oval, and similar, as may be read on it, to the Sepulchre of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

About the same time Lodovico Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, wished to build the tribune and the principal chapel in the Nunziata, the Church of the Servi in Florence, after the design and model of Leon Batista; and pulling down a square chapel, old, not very large, and painted in the ancient manner, which stood at the head of the church, he built the said tribune in the bizarre and difficult form of a round temple surrounded by nine chapels, all curving in a round arch, and each within in the shape of a niche. Now, since the arches of the said chapels rest on the pilasters in front, the result is that the stone dressings of the arches, inclining towards the wall, tend to draw ever backwards in order to meet the said wall, which turns in the opposite direction according to the shape of the tribune; wherefore, when the said arches of the chapels are looked at from the side, it appears that they are falling backwards, and that they are clumsy, as indeed they are, although the proportions are correct, and the difficulties of the method must be remembered. Truly it would have been better if Leon Batista had avoided this method, for, although there is some credit for the difficulty of its execution, it is clumsy both in great things and in small, and it cannot have a good result. And that this is true of great things is proved by the great arch in front, which forms the entrance to the said tribune; for, although it is very beautiful on the outer side, on the inner side, where it has to follow the curve of the chapel, which is round, it appears to be falling backwards and to be extremely clumsy. This Leon Batista would perhaps not have done, if, in addition to science and theory, he had possessed practical experience in working; for another man would have avoided this difficulty, and would have rather aimed at grace and greater beauty for the edifice. The whole work is otherwise in itself very beautiful, bizarre, and difficult; and nothing save great courage could have enabled Leon Batista to vault that tribune in those times in the manner that he did. Being then summoned by the same Marquis Lodovico to Mantua, Leon Batista made for him the models of the Church of S. Andrea and of some other works; and on the road leading from Mantua to Padua there may be seen certain temples built after his manner. Many of the designs and models of Leon Batista were carried into execution by Salvestro Fancelli, a passing good architect and sculptor of Florence, who, according to the desire of the said Leon Batista, executed with judgment and extraordinary diligence all the works that he undertook in Florence. For those in Mantua he employed one Luca, a Florentine, who, living ever afterwards in that city and dying there, left his name—so Filarete tells us—to the family of the Luchi, which is still there to-day. It was no small good-fortune for him to have friends who understood him and were able and willing to serve him, because architects cannot be always standing over their work, and it is of the greatest use to them to have a faithful and loving assistant; and if any man ever knew it, I know it very well by long experience.

In painting Leon Batista did not do great or very beautiful works, for the few by his hand that are to be seen do not show much perfection; nor is this to be wondered at, seeing that he devoted himself more to his studies than to draughtsmanship. Yet he could express his conceptions well enough in drawing, as may be seen from some sketches by his hand that are in our book, in which there are drawn the Bridge of S. Angelo and the covering that was made for it with his design in the form of a loggia, for protection from the sun in summer and from the rain and wind in winter. This work he was commissioned to execute by Pope Nicholas V, who had intended to carry out many similar works throughout the whole of Rome; but death intervened to hinder him. There is a work of Leon Batista's in a little Chapel of Our Lady on the abutment of the Ponte alla Carraja in Florence—namely, an altar-predella, containing three little scenes with some perspectives, which he was much more able to describe with the pen than to paint with the brush. In the house of the Palla Rucellai family, also in Florence, there is a portrait of himself made with a mirror; and a panel with rather large figures in chiaroscuro. He also made a picture of Venice in perspective, with S. Marco, but the figures therein were executed by other masters; and this is one of the best examples of his painting that there are to be seen.

Leon Batista was a person of most honest and laudable ways, the friend of men of talent, and very open and courteous to all; and he lived honourably and like a gentleman—which he was—through the whole course of his life. Finally, having reached a mature enough age, he passed content and tranquil to a better life, leaving a most honourable name behind him.




Truly great is the pleasure of those who find one of their ancestors and of their own family to have been distinguished and famous in some profession, whether that of arms, or of letters, or of painting, or any other noble calling whatsoever; and those men who find some honourable mention of one of their forefathers in history, if they gain nothing else thereby, have an incitement to virtue and a bridle to restrain them from doing anything unworthy of a family which has produced illustrious and very famous men. How great is this pleasure, as I said at the beginning, I have experienced for myself in finding that one among my ancestors, Lazzaro Vasari, was famous as a painter in his day not only in his native place, but throughout all Tuscany; and that certainly not without reason, as I could clearly prove, if it were permissible for me to speak as freely of him as I have spoken of others. But, since I was born of his blood, it might be readily believed that I had exceeded all due bounds in praising him; wherefore, leaving on one side the merits of the man himself and of the family, I will simply tell what I cannot and should not under any circumstances withhold, if I would not fall short of the truth, on which all history hangs.

Lazzaro Vasari, then, a painter of Arezzo, was very much the friend of Piero della Francesca of Borgo a San Sepolcro, and ever held intercourse with him while Piero was working, as it has been said, in Arezzo. And, as it often comes to pass, this friendship brought him nothing but advantage, for the reason that, whereas Lazzaro had formerly devoted himself only to making little figures for certain works according to the custom of those times, he was persuaded by Piero della Francesca to set himself to do bigger things. His first work in fresco was a S. Vincent in S. Domenico at Arezzo, in the second chapel on the left as one enters the church; and at his feet he painted himself and his young son Giorgio kneeling, clothed in honourable costumes of those times, and recommending themselves to the Saint, because the boy had inadvertently cut his face with a knife. Although there is no inscription on this work, yet certain memories of old men belonging to our house and the fact that it contains the Vasari arms, enable us to attribute it to him without a doubt. Of this there must certainly have been some record in that convent, but their papers and everything else have been destroyed many times by soldiers, and I do not marvel at the lack of records. The manner of Lazzaro was so similar to that of Piero Borghese, that very little difference could be seen between one and the other. Now it was very much the custom at that time to paint various things, such as the quarterings of arms, on the caparisons of horses, according to the rank of those who bore them; and in this work Lazzaro was an excellent master, and the rather as it was his province to make very graceful little figures, which were very well suited to such caparisons. Lazzaro wrought for Niccolo Piccino and for his soldiers and captains many things full of stories and arms, which were held in great price, with so much profit for himself, that the gains that he drew from this work enabled him to recall to Arezzo many of his brothers, who were living at Cortona and working at the manufacture of earthenware vases. He also brought into his house his nephew, Luca Signorelli of Cortona, his sister's son, whom he placed, by reason of his good intelligence, with Piero Borghese, to the end that he might learn the art of painting; which he contrived to do very well, as will be told in the proper place.

Lazzaro, then, devoting himself continually to the study of art, became every day more excellent, as is shown by some very good drawings by his hand that are in our book. And because he took much pleasure in depicting certain natural effects full of emotions, in which he expressed very well weeping, laughing, crying, fear, trembling, and the like, his pictures are mostly full of such inventions; as may be seen in a little chapel painted in fresco by his hand in S. Gimignano at Arezzo, wherein there is a Crucifix, with the Madonna, S. John, and the Magdalene at the foot of the Cross, in various attitudes, and weeping so naturally, that they acquired credit and fame for him among his fellow-citizens. For the Company of S. Antonio, in the same city, he painted a cloth banner that is borne in processions, on which he wrought Jesus Christ at the Column, naked and bound and so lifelike, that He appears to be trembling, and, with His shoulders all drawn together, to be enduring with incredible humility and patience the blows that two Jews are giving Him. One of these, firmly planted on his feet, is plying his scourge with both his hands, turning his back towards Christ in an attitude full of cruelty. The other is seen in profile, raising himself on tip-toe; and grasping the scourge with his hands, and gnashing his teeth, he is wielding it with so great rage that words are powerless to express it. Both these men Lazzaro painted with their garments torn, the better to reveal the nude, contenting himself with covering after a fashion their private and less honourable parts. This work painted on cloth has lasted all these years—which truly makes me marvel—right up to our own day; and by reason of its beauty and excellence the men of that Company caused a copy to be made of it by the French Prior,[9] as we will relate in the proper place. At Perugia, also, Lazzaro wrought some stories of the Madonna, with a Crucifix, in a chapel beside the Sacristy of the Church of the Servi. In the Pieve of Montepulciano he executed a predella with little figures, and at Castiglione Aretino he painted a panel in distemper in S. Francesco; together with many other works, which, for the sake of brevity, I refrain from describing, more particularly many chests that are in the houses of citizens, which he painted with little figures. In the Palace of the Guelphs in Florence, among the ancient arms, there may be seen some caparisons wrought very well by him. He also painted a banner for the Company of S. Sebastiano, containing the said Saint at the column, with certain angels crowning him; but it is now spoilt and all eaten away by time.

In Lazzaro's time there was one who made glass windows in Arezzo, Fabiano Sassoli, a young Aretine of great excellence in that profession, as is proved by those of his works that are in the Vescovado, the Abbey, the Pieve, and other places in that city; but he knew little of design, and he was very far from reaching the excellence of those that Parri Spinelli made. Wherefore he determined that, even as he knew well how to fire, to put together, and to mount the glass, so he would make some work that should also be passing good with regard to the painting; and he caused Lazzaro to execute for him two cartoons of his own invention, in order to make two windows for the Madonna delle Grazie. Having obtained these from Lazzaro, who was his friend and a courteous craftsman, he made the said windows, which turned out so beautiful and so well wrought that there are not many to which they have to give precedence. In one there is a very beautiful Madonna; and in the other, which is by far the better of the two, there is the Resurrection of Christ, with an armed man in foreshortening in front of the Sepulchre; and it is a marvel, considering the small size of the window and consequently of the picture, how those figures can appear so large in so small a space. Many other things could I tell of Lazzaro, who was a very good draughtsman, as may be seen from certain drawings in our book; but I think it best for me to pass them by.

Lazzaro was a pleasant person and very witty in his speech; and although he was much given to pleasure, nevertheless he never strayed from the path of right living. His life lasted seventy-two years, and he left a son called Giorgio, who occupied himself continually with the ancient Aretine vases of terra-cotta; and at the time when Messer Gentile of Urbino, Bishop of Arezzo, was dwelling in that city, Giorgio rediscovered the method of giving red and black colours to terra-cotta vases, such as those that the ancient Aretines made up to the time of King Porsena. Being a most industrious person, he made large vases with the potter's wheel, one braccio and a half in height, which are still to be seen in his house. Men say that while searching for vases in a place where he thought that the ancients had worked, he found three arches of their ancient furnaces three braccia below the surface in a field of clay near the bridge at Calciarella, a place called by that name; and round these he found some of the mixture for making the vases, and many broken ones, with four that were whole. These last were given by Giorgio, through the mediation of the Bishop, to the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici on his visiting Arezzo; wherefore they were the source and origin of his entering into the service of that most exalted family, in which he remained ever afterwards. Giorgio worked very well in relief, as may be seen from some heads by his hand that are in his house. He had five sons, who all followed the same calling; two of them, Lazzaro and Bernardo, were good craftsmen, of whom the latter died very young in Rome; and in truth, by reason of his intelligence, which is known to have been dexterous and ready, if death had not snatched him so prematurely from his house, he would have brought honour to his native place.

The elder Lazzaro died in 1452, and his son, Giorgio, died in 1484 at the age of sixty-eight; and both were buried in the Pieve of Arezzo at the foot of their own Chapel of S. Giorgio, where the following verses were set up after a time in praise of Lazzaro:


Finally, the last Giorgio Vasari, writer of this history, in gratitude for the benefits for which he has to thank in great measure the excellence of his ancestors, having received the principal chapel of the said Pieve as a gift from his fellow-citizens and from the Wardens of Works and Canons, as was told in the Life of Pietro Laurati, and having brought it to the condition that has been described, has made a new tomb in the middle of the choir, which is behind the altar; and in this he has laid the bones of the said Lazzaro the elder and Giorgio the elder, having removed them from their former resting-place, and likewise those of all the other members of the said family, both male and female; and thus he has made a new burial-place for all the descendants of the house of Vasari. In like manner, the body of his mother (who died in Florence in the year 1557), after having remained for some years in S. Croce, has been deposited by him in the said tomb, according to her own desire, together with Antonio, her husband and his father, who died of plague at the end of the year 1527. In the predella that is below the panel of the said altar there are portraits from nature, made by the said Giorgio, of Lazzaro, of the elder Giorgio, his grandfather, of his father Antonio, and of his mother Monna Maddalena de' Tacci. And let this be the end of the Life of Lazzaro Vasari, painter of Arezzo.


[9] Guglielmo da Marcilla.




When I consider within my own mind the various qualities of the benefits and advantages that have been conferred on the art of painting by many masters who have followed the second manner, I cannot do otherwise than call them, by reason of their efforts, truly industrious and excellent, because they sought above all to bring painting to a better condition, without thinking of discomfort, expense, or any particular interest of their own. They continued, then, to employ no other method of colouring save that of distemper for panels and for canvases, which method had been introduced by Cimabue in the year 1250, when he was working with those Greeks, and had been afterwards followed by Giotto and by the others of whom we have spoken up to the present; and they were still adhering to the same manner of working, although the craftsmen recognized clearly that pictures in distemper were wanting in a certain softness and liveliness, which, if they could be obtained, would be likely to give more grace to their designs, loveliness to their colouring, and greater facility in blending the colours together; for they had ever been wont to hatch their works merely with the point of the brush. But although many had made investigations and sought for something of the sort, yet no one had found any good method, either by the use of liquid varnish or by the mixture of other kinds of colours with the distemper. Among many who made trial of these and other similar expedients, but all in vain, were Alesso Baldovinetti, Pesello, and many others, not one of whom succeeded in giving to his works the beauty and excellence that he had imagined. And even if they had found what they were seeking, they still lacked the method of making their figures on panel adhere as well as those painted on walls, and also that of making them so that they could be washed without destroying the colours, and would endure any shock in handling. These matters a great number of craftsmen had discussed many times in common, but without result.

This same desire was felt by many lofty minds that were devoted to painting beyond the bounds of Italy—namely, by all the painters of France, Spain, Germany, and other countries. Now, while matters stood thus, it came to pass that, while working in Flanders, Johann[10] of Bruges, a painter much esteemed in those parts by reason of the great mastery that he had acquired in his profession, set himself to make trial of various sorts of colours, and, as one who took delight in alchemy, to prepare many kinds of oil for making varnishes and other things dear to men of inventive brain, such as he was. Now, on one occasion, having taken very great pains with the painting of a panel, and having brought it to completion with much diligence, he gave it the varnish and put it to dry in the sun, as is the custom. But, either because the heat was too violent, or perchance because the wood was badly joined together or not seasoned well enough, the said panel opened out at the joinings in a ruinous fashion. Whereupon Johann, seeing the harm that the heat of the sun had done to it, determined to bring it about that the sun should never again do such great damage to his works. And so, being disgusted no less with his varnish than with working in distemper, he began to look for a method of making a varnish that should dry in the shade, without putting his pictures in the sun. Wherefore, after he had made many experiments with substances both pure and mixed together, he found at length that linseed oil and oil of nuts dried more readily than all the others that he had tried. These, then, boiled together with other mixtures of his, gave him the varnish that he—nay, all the painters in the world—had long desired. Afterwards, having made experiments with many other substances, he saw that mixing the colours with those oils gave them a very solid consistency, not only securing the work, when dried, from all danger from water, but also making the colour so brilliant as to give it lustre by itself without varnish; and what appeared most marvellous to him was this, that it could be blended infinitely better than distemper. Rejoicing greatly over such a discovery, as was only reasonable, Johann made a beginning with many works and filled all those parts with them, with incredible pleasure for others and very great profit for himself; and, assisted by experience from day to day, he kept on ever making greater and better works.

No long time passed before the fame of his invention, spreading not only throughout Flanders but through Italy and many other parts of the world, awakened in all craftsmen a very great desire to know by what method he gave so great a perfection to his works. These craftsmen, seeing his works and not knowing what means he employed, were forced to extol him and to give him immortal praise, and at the same time to envy him with a blameless envy, the rather as he refused for some time to allow himself to be seen at work by anyone, or to reveal his secret to any man. At length, however, having grown old, he imparted it to Roger of Bruges, his pupil, who passed it on to his disciple Ausse[11] and to the others whom we have mentioned in speaking of colouring in oil with regard to painting. But with all this, although merchants did a great business in his pictures and sent them all over the world to Princes and other great persons, to their own great profit, yet the knowledge did not spread beyond Flanders; and although these pictures had a very pungent odour, given to them by the mixture of colours and oils, particularly when they were new, so that it seemed possible for the secret to be found out, yet for many years it was not discovered. But certain Florentines, who traded between Flanders and Naples, sent to King Alfonso I of Naples a panel with many figures painted in oil by Johann, which became very dear to that King both for the beauty of the figures and for the novel invention shown in the colouring; and all the painters in that kingdom flocked together to see it, and it was consummately extolled by all.

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