Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects - Volume 1, Cimabue to Agnolo Gaddi
by Giorgio Vasari
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CIMABUE Madonna and Child Florence: Accademia, 102 10

GIOTTO Madonna and Child Florence: Accademia, 103 82

PIETRO LAURATI Madonna and Child, Assisi: Lower Church 118 with SS. Francis and John

AMBROGIO Madonna and Child, Siena: Pinacoteca, 77 156 LORENZETTI with SS. Mary Magdalen and Dorothy

SIMONE SANESE The Knighting of Assisi: Lower Church, S. Martin Chapel of S. Martin 168

LIPPO MEMMI Madonna and Child Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 1081A 172

TADDEO GADDI The Presentation Florence: Accademia, 107 182 in the Temple

ANDREA DI CIONE Christ Enthroned Florence: S. Maria ORCAGNA Novella, Strozzi Chapel 192

GIOTTINO The Descent from Florence: Uffizi, 27 206 the Cross


CIMABUE Madonna, Child, Paris: Louvre, 1260 2 and Angels

ROMAN SCHOOL Isaac's Blessing Assisi: Upper Church 6

ROMAN SCHOOL The Deposition Assisi: Upper Church 6 from the Cross

CIMABUE The Crucifixion Assisi: Upper Church 8

ARNOLFO DI LAPO Reclining Female Florence: (SCHOOL OF) Figure from a Tomb Collection Bardini 18

ARNOLFO DI LAPO Tomb of Adrian V Viterbo: S. Francesco 24 (SCHOOL OF)

NICCOLA PISANO Pulpit Pisa: The Baptistery 30

NICCOLA PISANO Detail: The Pisa: Relief from the Adoration of Pulpit of the Baptistery 32 the Magi

NICCOLA PISANO Detail: The Siena: Relief from Visitation and the Pulpit The Nativity of the Baptistery 34

GIOVANNI PISANO Detail: A Sibyl Siena: Duomo (facade) 38

GIOVANNI PISANO Detail: The Massacre Pistoia: Relief from the of the Innocents Pulpit, S. Andrea 40

GIOVANNI PISANO Madonna and Child Padua: Arena Chapel 42

MARGARITONE The Virgin and Child, London: N.G., 5040 64 with Scenes from the Lives of the Saints

GIOTTO The Death of S. Francis Florence: S. Croce 70

ROMAN SCHOOL S. Francis Preaching Assisi: Upper Church 72 before Pope Honorius III

ROMAN SCHOOL The Body of S. Francis Assisi: Upper Church 74 before the Church of S. Damiano

GIOTTO AND HIS The Raising of Lazarus Assisi: Lower Church 78 PUPILS

GIOTTO The Flight into Egypt Padua: Arena Chapel 88

GIOTTO The Crucifixion Assisi: Lower Church 90 (SCHOOL OF)

UGOLINO SANESE SS. Paul, Peter, Berlin: Kaiser Friedrich and John the Baptist Museum, 1635 112

PIETRO LAURATI The Madonna Enthroned Arezzo: S. Maria della Pieve 116

PIETRO LAURATI The Deposition from the Assisi: Lower Church 120 Cross

ANDREA PISANO Details: Salome and The Florence: Gates of the Beheading of S. John the Baptistery 126 Baptist

ANDREA PISANO The Creation of Man Florence: Relief on the Campanile 128

NINO PISANO Madonna and Child Orvieto: Museo dell'Opera 130

AMBROGIO Madonna and Child Milan: Cagnola Collection 154 LORENZETTI

AMBROGIO Central Panel of Massa Marittima: Municipio LORENZETTI Polyptych: Madonna 158 and Child

PIETRO Detail from The Last Rome: Convent of S. Cecilia CAVALLINI Judgment: Head of an 162 Apostle

PIETRO Detail from The Last Rome: Convent of S. Cecilia CAVALLINI Judgment: Head of the 164 Christ in Glory

SIMONE SANESE Altar-piece: S. Louis Naples: S. Lorenzo 166 crowning King Robert of Naples

SIMONE SANESE The Annunciation Antwerp: Royal Museum, 257-8 170

LIPPO MEMMI Madonna and Child Altenburg: Lindenau Museum, 43 174

TADDEO GADDI The Last Supper Florence: S. Croce, the Refectory 178

BERNARDO DI CIONE Detail from The Florence: S. Maria Novella 190 ORCAGNA Paradise: Christ with the Virgin Enthroned

ANDREA DI CIONE The Death and Assumption Florence: Relief on the ORCAGNA of the Virgin Tabernacle, Or San Michele 194

FRANCESCO TRAINI S. Thomas Aquinas Pisa: S. Caterina 198

GIOVANNI DAL S. Peter Enthroned Florence: Uffizi, 1292 212 PONTE

AGNOLO GADDI The Marriage of S. Philadelphia: J. G. Johnson 218 Catharine Collection

* * * * *

- Transcriber's note: The CORRIGENDA have been corrected in this etext. -


Page 49, lines 1, 27, for "Apollonius" read "Apollonio."

Page 120, line 10, for "which tabernacle is quite round" read "which tabernacle is in the round."

Page 127, lines 11, 12, for "oval spaces" read "mandorle."

Page 196, line 18, for "an oval space" read "a mandorla."


Vasari introduces himself sufficiently in his own prefaces and introduction; a translator need concern himself only with the system by which the Italian text can best be rendered in English. The style of that text is sometimes laboured and pompous; it is often ungrammatical. But the narrative is generally lively, full of neat phrases, and abounding in quaint expressions—many of them still recognizable in the modern Florentine vernacular—while, in such Lives as those of Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelagnolo, Vasari shows how well he can rise to a fine subject. His criticism is generally sound, solid, and direct; and he employs few technical terms, except in connection with architecture, where we find passages full of technicalities, often so loosely used that it is difficult to be sure of their exact meaning. In such cases I have invariably adopted the rendering which seemed most in accordance with Vasari's actual words, so far as these could be explained by professional advice and local knowledge; and I have included brief notes where they appeared to be indispensable.

In Mrs. Foster's familiar English paraphrase—for a paraphrase it is rather than a translation—all Vasari's liveliness evaporates, even where his meaning is not blurred or misunderstood. Perhaps I have gone too far towards the other extreme in relying upon the Anglo-Saxon side of the English language rather than upon the Latin, and in taking no liberties whatever with the text of 1568. My intention, indeed, has been to render my original word for word, and to err, if at all, in favour of literalness. The very structure of Vasari's sentences has usually been retained, though some freedom was necessary in the matter of the punctuation, which is generally bewildering. As Mr. Horne's only too rare translation of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci has proved, it is by some such method that we can best keep Vasari's sense and Vasari's spirit—the one as important to the student of Italian art as is the other to the general reader. Such an attempt, however, places an English translator of the first volume at a conspicuous disadvantage. Throughout the earlier Lives Vasari seems to be feeling his way. He is not sure of himself, and his style is often awkward. The more faithful the attempted rendering, the more plainly must that awkwardness be reproduced.

Vasari's Introduction on Technique has not been included, because it has no immediate connection with the Lives. In any case, there already exists an adequate translation by Miss Maclehose. All Vasari's other prefaces and introductions are given in the order in which they are found in the edition of 1568.

With this much explanation, I may pass to personal matters, and record my thanks to many Florentine friends for help in technical and grammatical questions; to Professor Baldwin Brown for the notes on technical matters printed with Miss Maclehose's translation of "Vasari on Technique"; and to Mr. C. J. Holmes, of the National Portrait Gallery, for encouragement in a task which has proved no less pleasant than difficult.

G. DU C. DE V.

LONDON, March 1912.



Seeing that your Excellency, following in this the footsteps of your most Illustrious ancestors, and incited and urged by your own natural magnanimity, ceases not to favour and to exalt every kind of talent, wheresoever it may be found, and shows particular favour to the arts of design, fondness for their craftsmen,[1] and understanding and delight in their beautiful and rare works; I think that you cannot but take pleasure in this labour which I have undertaken, of writing down the lives, the works, the manners, and the circumstances of all those who, finding the arts already dead, first revived them, then step by step nourished and adorned them, and finally brought them to that height of beauty and majesty whereon they stand at the present day. And because these masters have been almost all Tuscans, and most of these Florentines, of whom many have been incited and aided by your most Illustrious ancestors with every kind of reward and honour to put themselves to work, it may be said that in your state, nay, in your most blessed house the arts were born anew, and that through the generosity of your ancestors the world has recovered these most beautiful arts, through which it has been ennobled and embellished.

Wherefore, through the debt which this age, these arts, and these craftsmen owe to your ancestors, and to you as the heir of their virtue and of their patronage of these professions, and through that debt which I, above all, owe them, seeing that I was taught by them, that I was their subject and their devoted servant, that I was brought up under Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, and under Alessandro, your predecessor, and that, finally, I am infinitely attached to the blessed memory of the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, by whom I was supported, loved and protected while he lived; for all these reasons, I say, and because from the greatness of your worth and of your fortunes there will come much favour for this work, and from your understanding of its subject there will come a better appreciation than from any other for its usefulness and for the labour and the diligence that I have given to its execution, it has seemed to me that to your Excellency alone could it be fittingly dedicated, and it is under your most honoured name that I have wished it to come to the hands of men.

Deign, then, Excellency, to accept it, to favour it, and, if this may be granted to it by your exalted thoughts, sometimes to read it; having regard to the nature of the matter therein dealt with and to my pure intention, which has been, not to gain for myself praise as a writer, but as craftsman to praise the industry and to revive the memory of those who, having given life and adornment to these professions, do not deserve to have their names and their works wholly left, even as they were, the prey of death and of oblivion. Besides, at the same time, through the example of so many able men and through so many observations on so many works that I have gathered together in this book, I have thought to help not a little the masters of these exercises and to please all those who therein have taste and pleasure. This I have striven to do with that accuracy and with that good faith which are essential for the truth of history and of things written. But if my writing, being unpolished and as artless as my speech, be unworthy of your Excellency's ear and of the merits of so many most illustrious intellects; as for them, pardon me that the pen of a draughtsman, such as they too were, has no greater power to give them outline and shadow; and as for yourself, let it suffice me that your Excellency should deign to approve my simple labour, remembering that the necessity of gaining for myself the wherewithal to live has left me no time to exercise myself with any instrument but the brush. Nor even with that have I reached that goal to which I think to be able to attain, now that Fortune promises me so much favour, that, with greater ease and greater credit for myself and with greater satisfaction to others, I may perchance be able, as well with the pen as with the brush, to unfold my ideas to the world, whatsoever they may be. For besides the help and protection for which I must hope from your Excellency, as my liege lord and as the protector of poor followers of the arts, it has pleased the goodness of God to elect as His Vicar on earth the most holy and most blessed Julius III, Supreme Pontiff and a friend and patron of every kind of excellence and of these most excellent and most difficult arts in particular, from whose exalted liberality I expect recompense for many years spent and many labours expended, and up to now without fruit. And not only I, who have dedicated myself to the perpetual service of His Holiness, but all the gifted craftsmen of this age, must expect from him such honour and reward and opportunities for practising the arts so greatly, that already I rejoice to see these arts arriving in his time at the greatest height of their perfection, and Rome adorned by craftsmen so many and so noble that, counting them with those of Florence, whom your Excellency is calling every day into activity, I hope that someone after our time will have to write a fourth part to my book, enriching it with other masters and other masterpieces than those described by me; in which company I am striving with every effort not to be among the last.

Meanwhile, I am content if your Excellency has good hope of me and a better opinion than that which, by no fault of mine, you have perchance conceived of me; beseeching you not to let me be undone in your estimation by the malignant tales of other men, until at last my life and my works shall prove the contrary to what they say.

Now with that intent to which I hold, always to honour and to serve your Excellency, dedicating to you this my rough labour, as I have dedicated to you every other thing of mine and my own self, I implore you not to disdain to grant it your protection, or at least to appreciate the devotion of him who offers it to you; and recommending myself to your gracious goodness, most humbly do I kiss your hand.

Your Excellency's most humble Servant, GIORGIO VASARI, Painter of Arezzo.


[Footnote 1: The word "artist" has become impossible as a translation of "artefice." Such words as "artificer," "art-worker," or "artisan," seem even worse. "Craftsman" loses the alliterative connection with "art," but it comes nearest to expressing Vasari's idea of the "artefice" as a practical workman (cf. his remark about Ambrogio Lorenzetti: "The ways of Ambrogio were rather those of a 'gentiluomo' than of an 'artefice'").]



Behold, seventeen years since I first presented to your most Illustrious Excellency the Lives, sketched so to speak, of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects, they come before you again, not indeed wholly finished, but so much changed from what they were and in such wise adorned and enriched with innumerable works, whereof up to that time I had been able to gain no further knowledge, that from my endeavour and in so far as in me lies nothing more can be looked for in them.

Behold, I say, once again they come before you, most Illustrious and truly most Excellent Lord Duke, with the addition of other noble and right famous craftsmen, who from that time up to our own day have passed from the miseries of this life to a better, and of others who, although they are still living in our midst, have laboured in these professions to such purpose that they are most worthy of eternal memory. And in truth it has been no small good-fortune for many that I, by the goodness of Him in whom all things have their being, have lived so long that I have almost rewritten this book; seeing that, even as I have removed many things which had been included I know not how, in my absence and without my consent, and have changed others, so too I have added many, both useful and necessary, that were lacking. And as for the likenesses and portraits of so many men of worth which I have placed in this work, whereof a great part have been furnished by the help and co-operation of your Excellency, if they are sometimes not very true to life, and if they all have not that character and resemblance which the vivacity of colours is wont to give them, that is not because the drawing and the lineaments have not been taken from the life and are not characteristic and natural; not to mention that a great part of them have been sent me by the friends that I have in various places, and they have not all been drawn by a good hand. Moreover, I have suffered no small inconvenience in this from the distance of those who have engraved these heads, because, if the engravers had been near me, it might perchance have been possible to use in this matter more diligence than has been shown. But however this may be, our lovers of art and our craftsmen, for the convenience and benefit of whom I have put myself to so great pains, must be wholly indebted to your most Illustrious Excellency for whatever they may find in it of the good, the useful, and the helpful, seeing that while engaged in your service I have had the opportunity, through the leisure which it has pleased you to give me and through the management of your many, nay, innumerable treasures, to put together and to give to the world everything which appeared to be necessary for the perfect completion of this work; and would it not be almost impiety, not to say ingratitude, were I to dedicate these Lives to another, or were the craftsmen to attribute to any other than yourself whatever they may find in them to give them help or pleasure? For not only was it with your help and favour that they first came to the light, as now they do again, but you are, in imitation of your ancestors, sole father, sole lord, and sole protector of these our arts. Wherefore it is very right and reasonable that by these there should be made, in your service and to your eternal and perpetual memory, so many most noble pictures and statues and so many marvellous buildings in every manner.

But if we are all, as indeed we are beyond calculation, most deeply obliged to you for these and for other reasons, how much more do I not owe to you, who have always had (would that my brain and my hand had been equal to my desire and right good will) so many valuable opportunities to display my little knowledge, which, whatsoever it may be, fails by a very great measure to counterbalance the greatness and the truly royal magnificence of your mind? But how may I tell? It is in truth better that I should stay as I am than that I should set myself to attempt what would be to the most lofty and noble brain, and much more so to my insignificance, wholly impossible.

Accept then, most Illustrious Excellency, this my book, or rather indeed your book, of the Lives of the craftsmen of design; and like the Almighty God, looking rather at my soul and at my good intentions than at my work, take from me with right good will not what I would wish and ought to give, but what I can.

Your most Illustrious Excellency's most indebted servant, GIORGIO VASARI.

FLORENCE, January 9, 1568.


Motu proprio (et cet.). Cum, sicut accepimus, dilectus filius Philippus Junta, typographus Florentinus, ad communem studiosorum utilitatem, sua impensa, Vitas Illustrium Pictorum et Sculptorum Georgii Vasarii demum auctas et suis imaginibus exornatas, Statuta Equitum Melitensium in Italicam linguam translata, Receptariumque Novum pro Aromatariis, aliaque opera tum Latina, tum Italica, saneque utilia et necessaria, imprimi facere intendat, dubitetque ne hujusmodi opera postmodum ab aliis sine ejus licentia et in ejus grave praejudicium imprimantur; nos propterea, illius indemnitati consulere volentes, motu simili et ex certa scientia, eidem Philippo concedimus et indulgemus ne praedicta opera, dummodo prius ab Inquisitore visa et approbata fuerint, per ipsum imprimenda, infra decennium a quoquo sine ipsius licentia imprimi aut vendi vel in apothecis teneri possint; inhibentes omnibus et singulis Christi fidelibus tam in Italia quam extra Italiam existentibus, sub excommunicationis lata sententia, in terris vero S.R.E. mediate vel immediate subjectis, etiam ducentorum ducatorum auri Camerae Apostolicae applicandorum et amissionis librorum p[oe]nis, totiens ipso facto et absque alia declaratione incurrendis quotiens contraventum fuerit, ne intra decennium praefatum dicta opera sine ejusdem Philippi expressa licentia imprimere, seu ab ipsis aut aliis impressa vendere, vel venalia habere; mandantes universis veneralibus fratribus nostris Archiepiscopis, Episcopis, eorumque Vicariis in spiritualibus generalibus, et in Statu S.R.E. etiam Legatis, Vicelegatis, Praesidibus et Gubernatoribus, ut quoties pro ipsius Philippi parte fuerint requisiti, vel eorum aliquis fuerit requisitus, eidem, efficacis defensionis praesidio assistentes, praemissa contra inobedientes et rebelles, per censuras ecclesiasticas, etiam saepius aggravando, et per alia juris remedia, auctoritate Apostolica exequantur; invocato etiam ad hoc, si opus fuerit, auxilio brachii saecularis. Volumus autem quod praesentis motus proprii nostri sola signatura sufficiat, et ubique fidem faciat in judicio et extra, regula contraria non obstante et officii sanctissimae Inquisitionis Florentinae.

Placet motu proprio M.

Datum Romae apud Sanctum Petrum, quintodecimo Cal. Maij, anno secundo.


It was the wont of the finest spirits in all their actions, through a burning desire for glory, to spare no labour, however grievous, in order to bring their works to that perfection which might render them impressive and marvellous to the whole world; nor could the humble fortunes of many prevent their energies from attaining to the highest rank, whether in order to live in honour or to leave in the ages to come eternal fame for all their rare excellence. And although, for zeal and desire so worthy of praise, they were, while living, highly rewarded by the liberality of Princes and by the splendid ambition of States, and even after death kept alive in the eyes of the world by the testimony of statues, tombs, medals, and other memorials of that kind; none the less, it is clearly seen that the ravening maw of time has not only diminished by a great amount their own works and the honourable testimonies of others, but has also blotted out and destroyed the names of all those who have been kept alive by any other means than by the right vivacious and pious pens of writers.

Pondering over this matter many a time in my own mind, and recognizing, from the example not only of the ancients but of the moderns as well, that the names of very many architects, sculptors, and painters, both old and modern, together with innumerable most beautiful works wrought by them, are going on being forgotten and destroyed little by little, and in such wise, in truth, that nothing can be foretold for them but a certain and wellnigh immediate death; and wishing to defend them as much as in me lies from this second death, and to preserve them as long as may be possible in the memory of the living; and having spent much time in seeking them out and used the greatest diligence in discovering the native city, the origin, and the actions of the craftsmen, and having with great labour drawn them from the tales of old men and from various records and writings, left by their heirs a prey to dust and food for worms; and finally, having received from this both profit and pleasure, I have judged it expedient, nay rather, my duty, to make for them whatsoever memorial my weak talents and my small judgment may be able to make. In honour, then, of those who are already dead, and for the benefit, for the most part, of all the followers of these three most excellent arts, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, I will write the Lives of the craftsmen of each according to the times wherein they lived, step by step from Cimabue down to our own time; not touching on the ancients save in so far as it may concern our subject, seeing that no more can be said of them than those so many writers have said who have come down to our own age. I will treat thoroughly of many things that appertain to the science of one or other of the said arts; but before I come to the secrets of these, or to the history of the craftsmen, it seems to me right to touch a little on a dispute, born and bred between many without reason, as to the sovereignty and nobility, not of architecture, which they have left on one side, but of sculpture and painting; there being advanced, on one side and on the other, many arguments whereof many, if not all, are worthy to be heard and discussed by their craftsmen.

I say, then, that the sculptors, as being endowed, perchance by nature and by the exercise of their art, with a better habit of body, with more blood, and with more energy, and being thereby more hardy and more fiery than the painters, in seeking to give the highest rank to their art, argue and prove the nobility of sculpture primarily from its antiquity, for the reason that God Almighty made man, who was the first statue; and they say that sculpture embraces many more arts as kindred, and has many more of them subordinate to itself than has painting, such as low-relief, working in clay, wax, plaster, wood, and ivory, casting in metals, every kind of chasing, engraving and carving in relief on fine stones and steel, and many others which both in number and in difficulty surpass those of painting. And alleging, further, that those things which stand longest and best against time and can be preserved longest for the use of men, for whose benefit and service they are made, are without doubt more useful and more worthy to be held in love and honour than are the others, they maintain that sculpture is by so much more noble than painting as it is more easy to preserve, both itself and the names of all who are honoured by it both in marble and in bronze, against all the ravages of time and air, than is painting, which, by its very nature, not to say by external accidents, perishes in the most sheltered and most secure places that architects have been able to provide. Nay more, they insist that the small number not merely of their excellent but even of their ordinary craftsmen, in contrast to the infinite number of the painters, proves their greater nobility; saying that sculpture calls for a certain better disposition, both of mind and of body, that are rarely found together, whereas painting contents itself with any feeble temperament, so long as it has a hand, if not bold, at least sure; and that this their contention is proved by the greater prices cited in particular by Pliny, by the loves caused by the marvellous beauty of certain statues, and by the judgment of him who made the statue of sculpture of gold and that of painting of silver, and placed the first on the right and the second on the left. Nor do they even refrain from quoting the difficulties experienced before the materials, such as the marbles and the metals, can be got into subjection, and their value, in contrast to the ease of obtaining the panels, the canvases, and the colours, for the smallest prices and in every place; and further, the extreme and grievous labour of handling the marbles and the bronzes, through their weight, and of working them, through the weight of the tools, in contrast to the lightness of the brushes, of the styles, and of the pens, chalk-holders, and charcoals; besides this, that they exhaust their minds together with all the parts of their bodies, which is something very serious compared with the quiet and light work of the painter, using only his mind and hand. Moreover, they lay very great stress on the fact that things are more noble and more perfect in proportion as they approach more nearly to the truth, and they say that sculpture imitates the true form and shows its works on every side and from every point of view, whereas painting, being laid on flat with most simple strokes of the brush and having but one light, shows but one aspect; and many of them do not scruple to say that sculpture is as much superior to painting as is truth to falsehood. But as their last and strongest argument, they allege that for the sculptor there is necessary a perfection of judgment not only ordinary, as for the painter, but absolute and immediate, in a manner that it may see within the marble the exact whole of that figure which they intend to carve from it, and may be able to make many parts perfect without any other model before it combines and unites them together, as Michelagnolo has done divinely well; although, for lack of this happiness of judgment, they make easily and often some of those blunders which have no remedy, and which, when made, bear witness for ever to the slips of the chisel or to the small judgment of the sculptor. This never happens to painters, for the reason that at every slip of the brush or error of judgment that might befall them they have time, recognizing it themselves or being told by others, to cover and patch it up with the very brush that made it; which brush, in their hands, has this advantage over the sculptor's chisels, that it not only heals, as did the iron of the spear of Achilles, but leaves its wounds without a scar.

To these things the painters, answering not without disdain, say, in the first place, that if the sculptors wish to discuss the matter on the ground of the Scriptures the chief nobility is their own, and that the sculptors deceive themselves very grievously in claiming as their work the statue of our first father, which was made of earth; for the art of this performance, both in its putting on and in its taking off, belongs no less to the painters than to others, and was called "plastice" by the Greeks and "fictoria" by the Latins, and was judged by Praxiteles to be the mother of sculpture, of casting, and of chasing, a fact which makes sculpture, in truth, the niece of painting, seeing that "plastice" and painting are born at one and the same moment from design. And they say that if we consider it apart from the Scriptures, the opinions of the ages are so many and so varied that it is difficult to believe one more than the other; and that finally, considering this nobility as they wish it, in one place they lose and in the other they do not win, as may be seen more clearly in the Preface to the Lives.

After this, in comparison with the arts related and subordinate to sculpture, they say that they have many more than the sculptors, because painting embraces the invention of history, the most difficult art of foreshortening, all the branches of architecture needful for the making of buildings, perspective, colouring in distemper, and the art of working in fresco, an art different and distinct from all the others; likewise working in oils on wood, on stone, and on canvas; illumination, too, an art different from all the others; the staining of glass, mosaics in glass, the art of inlaying and making pictures with coloured woods, which is painting; making sgraffito[2] work on houses with iron tools; niello[3] work and printing from copper, both members of painting; goldsmith's enamelling, and the inlaying of gold for damascening; the painting of glazed figures, and the making on earthenware vessels of scenes and figures to resist the action of water; weaving brocades with figures and flowers, and that most beautiful invention, woven tapestries, that are both convenient and magnificent, being able to carry painting into every place, whether savage or civilized; not to mention that in every department of art that has to be practised, design, which is our design, is used by all; so that the members of painting are more numerous and more useful than those of sculpture. They do not deny the eternity, for so the others call it, of sculpture, but they say that this is no privilege that should make the art more noble than it is by nature, seeing that it comes simply from the material, and that if length of life were to give nobility to souls, the pine, among the plants, and the stag, among the animals, would have a soul more noble beyond compare than that of men; although they could claim a similar immortality and nobility in their mosaics, seeing that there may be seen some as ancient as the most ancient sculptures that are in Rome, and that they used to be made of jewels and fine stones. And as for their small or smaller number, they declare that this is not because the art calls for a better habit of body and greater judgment, but that it depends wholly on the poverty of their resources and on the little favour, or avarice, as we would rather call it, of rich men, who give them no supply of marble and no opportunity to work; in contrast with what may be believed, nay, seen to have happened in ancient times, when sculpture rose to its greatest height. Indeed, it is manifest that he who cannot use and waste a small quantity of marble and hard stone, which are very costly, cannot have that practice in the art that is essential; he who does not practise does not learn it; and he who does not learn it can do no good. Wherefore they should rather excuse with these arguments the imperfection and the small number of their masters, than seek to deduce nobility from them under false colours. As for the higher prices of sculptures, they answer that, although theirs might be much less, they have not to share them, being content with a boy who grinds their colours and hands them their brushes or their cheap stools, whereas the sculptors, besides the great cost of their material, require many aids and spend more time on one single figure than they themselves do on very many; wherefore their prices appear to come from the quality and the durability of the material itself, from the aids that it requires for its completion, and from the time that is taken in working it, rather than from the excellence of the art itself. And although that does not suffice and no greater price is found, as would be easily seen by anyone who were willing to consider it diligently, let them find a greater price than the marvellous, beautiful, and living gift that Alexander the Great made in return for the most splendid and excellent work of Apelles, bestowing on him, not vast treasures or high estate, but his own beloved and most beautiful Campaspe; let them observe, in addition, that Alexander was young, enamoured of her, and naturally subject to the passions of love, and also both a King and a Greek; and then, from this, let them draw what conclusion they please. As for the loves of Pygmalion and of those other rascals no more worthy to be men, cited as proof of the nobility of the art, they know not what to answer, if, from a very great blindness of intellect and from a licentiousness unbridled beyond all natural bounds, there can be made a proof of nobility. As for the man, whosoever he was, alleged by the sculptors to have made sculpture of gold and painting of silver, they are agreed that if he had given as much sign of judgment as of wealth, there would be no disputing it; and finally, they conclude that the ancient Golden Fleece, however celebrated it may be, none the less covered nothing but an unintelligent ram; wherefore neither the testimony of riches nor that of dishonest desires, but those of letters, of practice, of excellence, and of judgment are those to which we must pay attention. Nor do they make any answer to the difficulty of obtaining the marbles and the metals, save this, that it springs from their own poverty and from the little favour of the powerful, as has been said, and not from any degree of greater nobility. To the extreme fatigues of the body and to the dangers peculiar to them and to their works, laughing and without any ado they answer that if greater fatigues and dangers prove greater nobility, the art of quarrying the marbles from the bowels of mountains by means of wedges, levers, and hammers must be more noble than sculpture, that of the blacksmith must surpass the goldsmith's, and that of masonry must be superior to architecture.

They say, next, that the true difficulties lie rather in the mind than in the body, wherefore those things that from their nature call for more study and knowledge are more noble and excellent than those that avail themselves rather of strength of body; and they declare that since the painters rely more on the worth of the mind than the others, this highest honour belongs to painting. For the sculptors the compasses and squares suffice to discover and apply all the proportions and measurements whereof they have need; for the painters there is necessary, besides the knowledge how to make good use of the aforesaid instruments, an accurate understanding of perspective, for the reason that they have to provide a thousand other things beyond landscapes and buildings, not to mention that they must have greater judgment by reason of the quantity of the figures in one scene, wherein more errors can come than in a single statue. For the sculptor it is enough to be acquainted with the true forms and features of solid and tangible bodies, subordinate on every side to the touch, and moreover of those only that have something to support them. For the painter it is necessary to know the forms not only of all the bodies supported and not supported, but also of all those transparent and intangible; and besides this they must know the colours that are suitable for the said bodies, whereof the multitude and the variety, so absolute and admitting of such infinite extension, are demonstrated better by the flowers, the fruits, and the minerals than by anything else; and this knowledge is supremely difficult to acquire and to maintain, by reason of their infinite variety. They say, moreover, that whereas sculpture, through the stubbornness and the imperfection of the material, does not represent the emotions of the soul save with motion, which does not, however, find much scope therein, and with the mere shape of the limbs and not even of all these; the painters demonstrate them with all the forms of motion, which are infinite, with the shape of the limbs, however subtle they may be, and even with breath itself and the spiritual essence of sight; and that, for greater perfection in demonstrating not only the passions and emotions of the soul but also the events of the future, as living men do, they must have, besides long practice in the art, a complete understanding of physiognomy, whereof that part suffices for the sculptor which deals with the quantity and the quality of the members, without troubling about the quality of colours, as to the knowledge of which anyone who judges by the eye knows how useful and necessary it is for the true imitation of nature, whereunto the closer a man approaches the more perfect he is.

After this they add that whereas sculpture, taking away bit by bit, at one and the same time gives depth to and acquires relief for those things that have solidity by their own nature, and makes use of touch and sight, the painters, in two distinct actions, give relief and depth to a flat surface with the help of one single sense; and this, when it has been done by a person intelligent in the art, has caused many great men, not to speak of animals, to stand fast in the most pleasing illusion, which has never been seen to be done by sculpture, for the reason that it does not imitate nature in a manner that may be called as perfect as their own. And finally, in answer to that complete and absolute perfection of judgment which is required for sculpture, by reason of its having no means to add where it takes away; declaring, first, that such mistakes are irreparable, as the others say, and not to be remedied save by patches, which, even as in garments they are signs of poverty of wardrobe, so too both in sculpture and in pictures are signs of poverty of intellect and judgment; and saying, further, that patience, at its own leisure, by means of models, protractors, squares, compasses, and a thousand other devices and instruments for enlarging, not only preserves them from mistakes but enables them to bring their whole work to its perfection; they conclude, then, that this difficulty which they put down as the greater is nothing or little when compared to those which the painters have when working in fresco, and that the said perfection of judgment is in no way more necessary for sculptors than for painters, it being sufficient for the former to execute good models in wax, clay, or something else, even as the latter make their drawings on corresponding materials or on cartoons; and that finally, the quality that little by little transfers their models to the marble is rather patience than aught else.

But let us consider about judgment, as the sculptors wish, and see whether it is not more necessary to one who works in fresco than to one who chisels in marble. For here not only is there no place for patience or for time, which are most mortal enemies to the union of the plaster and the colours, but the eye does not see the true colours until the plaster is well dry, nor can the hand judge of anything but of the soft or the dry, in a manner that anyone who were to call it working in the dark, or with spectacles of colours different from the truth, would not in my belief be very far wrong. Nay, I do not doubt at all that such a name is more suitable for it than for intaglio, for which wax serves as spectacles both true and good. They say, too, that for this work it is necessary to have a resolute judgment, to foresee the end in the fresh plaster and how the work will turn out on the dry; besides that the work cannot be abandoned so long as the plaster is still fresh, and that it is necessary to do resolutely in one day what sculpture does in a month. And if a man has not this judgment and this excellence, there are seen, on the completion of his work or in time, patches, blotches, corrections, and colours superimposed or retouched on the dry, which is something of the vilest, because afterwards mould appears and reveals the insufficiency and the small knowledge of the craftsmen, even as the pieces added in sculpture lead to ugliness; not to mention that when it comes about that the figures in fresco are washed, as is often done after some time to restore them, what has been worked on the fresh plaster remains, and what has been retouched on the dry is carried away by the wet sponge.

They add, moreover, that whereas the sculptors make two figures together, or at the most three, from one block of marble, they make many of them on one single panel, with all those so many and so varied aspects which the sculptors claim for one single statue, compensating with the variety of their postures, foreshortenings, and attitudes, for the fact that the work of the sculptors can be seen from every side; even as Giorgione da Castelfranco did once in one of his pictures, wherein a figure with its back turned, having a mirror on either side, and a pool of water at its feet, shows its back in the painting, its front in the pool, and its sides in the mirrors, which is something that sculpture has never been able to do. In addition to this, they maintain that painting leaves not one of the elements unadorned and not abounding with all the excellent things that nature has bestowed on them, giving its own light and its own darkness to the air, with all its varieties of feeling, and filling it with all the kinds of birds together; to water, its clearness, the fishes, the mosses, the foam, the undulations of the waves, the ships, and all its various moods; and to the earth, the mountains, the plains, the plants, the fruits, the flowers, the animals, and the buildings; with so great a multitude of things and so great a variety of their forms and of their true colours, that nature herself many a time stands in a marvel thereat; and finally, giving to fire so much of its heat and light that it is clearly seen burning things, and, almost quivering with its flames, rendering luminous in part the thickest darkness of the night. Wherefore it appears to them that they can justly conclude and declare that contrasting the difficulties of the sculptors with their own, the labours of the body with those of the mind, the imitation of the mere form with the imitation of the impression, both of quantity and of quality, that strikes the eye, the small number of the subjects wherein sculpture can and does demonstrate its excellence with the infinite number of those which painting presents to us (not to mention the perfect preservation of them for the intellect and the distribution of them in those places wherein nature herself has not done so); and finally, weighing the whole content of the one with that of the other, the nobility of sculpture, as shown by the intellect, the invention, and the judgment of its craftsmen, does not correspond by a great measure to that which painting enjoys and deserves. And this is all that on the one side and on the other has come to my ears that is worthy of consideration.

But because it appears to me that the sculptors have spoken with too much heat and the painters with too much disdain, and seeing that I have long enough studied the works of sculpture and have ever exercised myself in painting, however small, perhaps, may be the fruit that is to be seen of it; none the less, by reason of that which it is worth, and by reason of the undertaking of these writings, judging it my duty to demonstrate the judgment that I have ever made of it in my own mind (and may my authority avail the most that it can), I will declare my opinion surely and briefly over such a dispute, being convinced that I will not incur any charge of presumption or of ignorance, seeing that I will not treat of the arts of others, as many have done before to the end that they might appear to the crowd intelligent in all things by means of letters, and as happened, among others, to Phormio the Peripatetic of Ephesus, who, in order to display his eloquence, lecturing and making disputation about the virtues and parts of the excellent captain, made Hannibal laugh not less at his presumption than at his ignorance.

I say, then, that sculpture and painting are in truth sisters, born from one father, that is, design, at one and the same birth, and have no precedence one over the other, save insomuch as the worth and the strength of those who maintain them make one craftsman surpass another, and not by reason of any difference or degree of nobility that is in truth to be found between them. And although by reason of the diversity of their essence they have many different advantages, these are neither so great nor of such a kind that they do not come exactly into balance together and that we do not perceive the infatuation or the obstinacy, rather than the judgment, of those who wish one to surpass the other. Wherefore it may be said with reason that one and the same soul rules the bodies of both, and by reason of this I conclude that those do evil who strive to disunite and to separate the one from the other. Heaven, wishing to undeceive us in this matter and to show us the kinship and union of these two most noble arts, has raised up in our midst at various times many sculptors who have painted and many painters who have worked in sculpture, as will be seen in the Life of Antonio del Pollaiuolo, of Leonardo da Vinci, and of many others long since passed away. But in our own age the Divine Goodness has created for us Michelagnolo Buonarroti, in whom both these arts shine forth so perfect and appear so similar and so closely united, that the painters marvel at his pictures and the sculptors feel for the sculptures wrought by him supreme admiration and reverence. On him, to the end that he might not perchance need to seek from some other master some convenient resting-place for the figures that he wrought, nature has bestowed so generously the science of architecture, that without having need of others he has strength and power within himself to give to this or the other image made by himself an honourable and suitable resting-place, in a manner that he rightly deserves to be called the king of sculptors, the prince of painters, and the most excellent of architects, nay rather, of architecture the true master. And indeed we can affirm with certainty that those do in no way err who call him divine, seeing that he has within his own self embraced the three arts most worthy of praise and most ingenious that are to be found among mortal men, and that with these, after the manner of a God, he can give us infinite delight. And let this suffice for the dispute raised between the factions, and for our own opinion.

Now, returning to my first intention, I say that, wishing in so far as it lies within the reach of my powers to drag from the ravening maw of time, the names of the sculptors, painters, and architects, who, from Cimabue to the present day, have been of some notable excellence in Italy, and desiring that this my labour may be no less useful than it has been pleasant to me in the undertaking, it appears to me necessary, before we come to the history, to make as briefly as may be an introduction to these three arts, wherein those were valiant of whom I am to write the Lives, to the end that every gracious spirit may first learn the most notable things in their professions, and afterwards may be able with greater pleasure and benefit to see clearly in what they were different among themselves, and how great adornment and convenience they give to their countries and to all who wish to avail themselves of their industry and knowledge.

I will begin, then, with architecture, as the most universal and the most necessary and useful to men, and as that for the service and adornment of which the two others exist; and I will expound briefly the varieties of stone, the manners or methods of construction, with their proportions, and how one may recognize buildings that are good and well-conceived. Afterwards, discoursing of sculpture, I will tell how statues are wrought, the form and the proportion that are looked for in them, and of what kind are good sculptures, with all the most secret and most necessary precepts. Finally, treating of painting, I will speak of draughtsmanship, of the methods of colouring, of the perfect execution of any work, of the quality of the pictures themselves, and of whatsoever thing appertains to painting; of every kind of mosaic, of niello, of enamelling, of damascening, and then, lastly, of the printing of pictures. And in this way I am convinced that these my labours will delight those who are not engaged in these pursuits, and will both delight and help those who have made them a profession. For not to mention that in the Introduction they will review the methods of working, and that in the Lives of the craftsmen themselves they will learn where their works are, and how to recognize easily their perfection or imperfection and to discriminate between one manner and another, they will also be able to perceive how much praise and honour that man deserves who adds upright ways and goodness of life to the excellencies of arts so noble. Kindled by the praise that those so constituted have obtained, they too will aspire to true glory. Nor will little fruit be gathered from the history, true guide and mistress of our actions, in reading of the infinite variety of innumerable accidents that befell the craftsmen, sometimes by their own fault and very often by chance.

It remains for me to make excuse for having on occasion used some words of indifferent Tuscan, whereof I do not wish to speak, having ever taken thought to use rather the words and names particular and proper to our arts than the delicate or choice words of precious writers. Let me be allowed, then, to use in their proper speech the words proper to our craftsmen, and let all content themselves with my good will, which has bestirred itself to produce this result not in order to teach to others what I do not know myself, but through a desire to preserve this memory at least of the most celebrated craftsmen, seeing that in so many decades I have not yet been able to see one who has made much record of them. For I have wished with these my rough labours, adumbrating their noble deeds, to repay to them in some measure the debt that I owe to their works, which have been to me as masters for the learning of whatsoever I know, rather than, living in sloth, to be a malignant critic of the works of others, blaming and decrying them as men are often wont to do. But it is now time to come to our business.


[Footnote 2: The process of sgraffito work is described in Professor Baldwin Brown's notes to "Vasari on Technique" as follows: "A wall is covered with a layer of tinted plaster, and on this is superimposed a thin coating of white plaster. This outer coating is scratched through (with an iron tool), and the colour behind is revealed. Then all the surface outside the design is cut away, and a cameo-like effect is given to the design."]

[Footnote 3: The process of niello is as follows: A design is engraved on silver or bronze, and the lines of the design are filled with a composition of silver and lead. On the application of fire to the whole, this composition turns black, leaving the design strongly outlined.]


I have no manner of doubt that it is with almost all writers a common and deeply-fixed opinion that sculpture and painting together were first discovered, by the light of nature, by the people of Egypt, and that there are certain others who attribute to the Chaldaeans the first rough sketches in marble and the first reliefs in statuary, even as they also give to the Greeks the invention of the brush and of colouring. But I will surely say that of both one and the other of these arts the design, which is their foundation, nay rather, the very soul that conceives and nourishes within itself all the parts of man's intellect, was already most perfect before the creation of all other things, when the Almighty God, having made the great body of the world and having adorned the heavens with their exceeding bright lights, descended lower with His intellect into the clearness of the air and the solidity of the earth, and, shaping man, discovered, together with the lovely creation of all things, the first form of sculpture; from which man afterwards, step by step (and this may not be denied), as from a true pattern, there were taken statues, sculptures, and the science of pose and of outline; and for the first pictures (whatsoever they were), softness, harmony, and the concord in discord that comes from light and shade. Thus, then, the first model whence there issued the first image of man was a lump of clay, and not without reason, seeing that the Divine Architect of time and of nature, being Himself most perfect, wished to show in the imperfection of the material the way to add and to take away; in the same manner wherein the good sculptors and painters are wont to work, who, adding and taking away in their models, bring their imperfect sketches to that final perfection which they desire. He gave to man that most vivid colour of flesh, whence afterwards there were drawn for painting, from the mines of the earth, the colours themselves for the counterfeiting of all those things that are required for pictures. It is true, indeed, that it cannot be affirmed for certain what was made by the men before the Flood in these arts in imitation of so beautiful a work, although it is reasonable to believe that they too carved and painted in every manner; seeing that Belus, son of the proud Nimrod, about 200 years after the Flood, caused to be made that statue wherefrom there was afterwards born idolatry, and his son's wife, the very famous Semiramis, Queen of Babylon, in the building of that city, placed among its adornments not only diverse varied kinds of animals, portrayed and coloured from nature, but also the image of herself and of Ninus, her husband, and, moreover, statues in bronze of her husband's father, of her husband's mother, and of the mother of the latter, as Diodorus relates, calling them by the Greek names (that did not yet exist), Jove, Juno, and Ops. From these statues, perchance, the Chaldaeans learnt to make the images of their gods, seeing that 150 years later Rachel, in flying from Mesopotamia together with Jacob her husband, stole the idols of Laban her father, as is clearly related in Genesis. Nor, indeed, were the Chaldaeans alone in making sculptures and pictures, but the Egyptians made them also, exercising themselves in these arts with that so great zeal which is shown in the marvellous tomb of the most ancient King Osimandyas, copiously described by Diodorus, and proved by the stern commandment made by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt, namely, that under pain of death there should be made to God no image whatsoever. He, on descending from the mountain, having found the golden calf wrought and adored solemnly by his people, and being greatly perturbed to see Divine honours paid to the image of a beast, not only broke it and reduced it to powder, but for punishment of so great a sin caused many thousands of the wicked sons of Israel to be slain by the Levites. But because not the making of statues but their adoration was a deadly sin, we read in Exodus that the art of design and of statuary, not only in marble but in every kind of metal, was bestowed by the mouth of God on Bezaleel, of the tribe of Judah, and on Aholiab, of the tribe of Dan, who were those that made the two cherubim of gold, the candlesticks, the veil, the borders of the priestly vestments, and so many other most beautiful castings for the Tabernacle, for no other reason than to bring the people to contemplate and to adore them.

From the things seen before the Flood, then, the pride of men found the way to make the statues of those for whom they wished that they should remain famous and immortal in the world. And the Greeks, who think differently about this origin, say that the Ethiopians invented the first statues, as Diodorus tells; that the Egyptians took them from the Ethiopians, and, from them, the Greeks; for by Homer's time sculpture and painting are seen to have been perfected, as it is proved, in discoursing of the shield of Achilles, by that divine poet, who shows it to us carved and painted, rather than described, with every form of art. Lactantius Firmianus, by way of fable, attributes it to Prometheus, who, in the manner of Almighty God, shaped man's image out of mud; and from him, he declares, the art of statuary came. But according to what Pliny writes, this came to Egypt from Gyges the Lydian, who, being by the fire and gazing at his own shadow, suddenly, with some charcoal in his hand, drew his own outline on the wall. And from that age, for a time, outlines only were wont to be used, with no body of colour, as the same Pliny confirms; which method was rediscovered with more labour by Philocles the Egyptian, and likewise by Cleanthes and Ardices of Corinth and by Telephanes of Sicyon.

Cleophantes of Corinth was the first among the Greeks who used colours, and Apollodorus the first who discovered the brush. There followed Polygnotus of Thasos, Zeuxis, and Timagoras of Chalcis, with Pythias and Aglaophon, all most celebrated; and after these the most famous Apelles, so much esteemed and honoured by Alexander the Great for his talent, and the most ingenious investigator of slander and false favour, as Lucian shows us; even as almost all the excellent painters and sculptors were endowed by Heaven, in nearly every case, not only with the adornment of poetry, as may be read of Pacuvius, but with philosophy besides, as may be seen in Metrodorus, who, being as well versed in philosophy as in painting, was sent by the Athenians to Paulus Emilius to adorn his triumph, and remained with him to read philosophy to his sons.

The art of sculpture, then, was greatly exercised in Greece, and there appeared many excellent craftsmen, and, among others, Pheidias, an Athenian, with Praxiteles and Polycletus, all very great masters, while Lysippus and Pyrgoteles were excellent in sunk reliefs, and Pygmalion in reliefs in ivory, of whom there is a fable that by his prayers he obtained breath and spirit for the figure of a virgin that he made. Painting, likewise, was honoured and rewarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, seeing that to those who made it appear marvellous they showed favour by bestowing on them citizenship and the highest dignities. So greatly did this art flourish in Rome that Fabius gave renown to his house by writing his name under the things so beautifully painted by him in the temple of Salus, and calling himself Fabius Pictor. It was forbidden by public decree that slaves should exercise this art throughout the cities, and so much honour did the nations pay without ceasing to the art and to the craftsmen that the rarest works were sent among the triumphal spoils, as marvellous things, to Rome, and the finest craftsmen were freed from slavery and recompensed with honours and rewards by the commonwealths.

The Romans themselves bore so great reverence for these arts that besides the respect that Marcellus, in sacking the city of Syracuse, commanded to be paid to a craftsman famous in them, in planning the assault of the aforesaid city they took care not to set fire to that quarter wherein there was a most beautiful painted panel, which was afterwards carried to Rome in the triumph, with much pomp. Thither, having, so to speak, despoiled the world, in course of time they assembled the craftsmen themselves as well as their finest works, wherewith afterwards Rome became so beautiful, for the reason that she gained so great adornment from the statues from abroad more than from her own native ones; it being known that in Rhodes, the city of an island in no way large, there were more than 30,000 statues counted, either in bronze or in marble, nor did the Athenians have less, while those at Olympia and at Delphi were many more and those in Corinth numberless, and all were most beautiful and of the greatest value. Is it not known that Nicomedes, King of Lycia, in his eagerness for a Venus that was by the hand of Praxiteles, spent on it almost all the wealth of his people? Did not Attalus the same, who, in order to possess the picture of Bacchus painted by Aristides, did not scruple to spend on it more than 6,000 sesterces? Which picture was placed by Lucius Mummius in the temple of Ceres with the greatest pomp, in order to adorn Rome.

But for all that the nobility of these arts was so highly valued, it is none the less not yet known for certain who gave them their first beginning. For, as has been already said above, it appears most ancient among the Chaldaeans, some give it to the Ethiopians, and the Greeks attribute it to themselves; and it may be thought, not without reason, that it is perchance even more ancient among the Etruscans, as our Leon Batista Alberti testifies, whereof we have clear enough proof in the marvellous tomb of Porsena at Chiusi, where, no long time since, there were discovered underground, between the walls of the Labyrinth, some terracotta tiles with figures on them in half-relief, so excellent and in so beautiful a manner that it can be easily recognized that the art was not begun precisely at that time, nay rather, by reason of the perfection of these works, that it was much nearer its height than its beginning. To this, moreover, witness is likewise borne by our seeing every day many pieces of those red and black vases of Arezzo, made, as may be judged from the manner, about those times, with the most delicate carvings and small figures and scenes in low-relief, and many small round masks wrought with great subtlety by masters of that age, men most experienced, as is shown by the effect, and most excellent in that art. It may be seen, moreover, by reason of the statues found at Viterbo at the beginning of the pontificate of Alexander VI, that sculpture was in great esteem and in no small perfection among the Etruscans; and although it is not known precisely at what time they were made, it may be reasonably conjectured, both from the manner of the figures and from the style of the tombs and of the buildings, no less than from the inscriptions in those Etruscan letters, that they are most ancient and were made at a time when the affairs of this country were in a good and prosperous state. But what clearer proof of this can be sought? seeing that in our own day—that is, in the year 1554—there has been found a bronze figure of the Chimaera of Bellerophon, in making the ditches, fortifications, and walls of Arezzo, from which figure it is recognized that the perfection of that art existed in ancient times among the Etruscans, as may be seen from the Etruscan manner and still more from the letters carved on a paw, about which—since they are but few and there is no one now who understands the Etruscan tongue—it is conjectured that they may represent the name of the master as well as that of the figure itself, and perchance also the date, according to the use of those times. This figure, by reason of its beauty and antiquity, has been placed in our day by the Lord Duke Cosimo in the hall of the new rooms in his Palace, wherein there have been painted by me the acts of Pope Leo X. And besides this there were found in the same place many small figures in bronze after the same manner, which are in the hands of the said Lord Duke.

But since the dates of the works of the Greeks, the Ethiopians, and the Chaldaeans are as doubtful as our own, and perhaps more, and by reason of the greater need of founding our judgment about these works on conjectures, which, however, are not so feeble that they are in every way wide of the mark, I believe that I strayed not at all from the truth (and I think that everyone who will consent to consider this question discreetly will judge as I did), when I said above that the origin of these arts was nature herself, and the example or model, the most beautiful fabric of the world, and the master, that divine light infused by special grace into us, which has not only made us superior to the other animals, but, if it be not sin to say it, like to God. And if in our own times it has been seen (as I trust to be able to demonstrate a little later by many examples) that simple children roughly reared in the woods, with their only model in the beautiful pictures and sculptures of nature, and by the vivacity of their wit, have begun by themselves to make designs, how much more may we, nay, must we confidently believe that these primitive men, who, in proportion as they were less distant from their origin and divine creation, were thereby the more perfect and of better intelligence, that they, by themselves, having for guide nature, for master purest intellect, and for example the so lovely model of the world, gave birth to these most noble arts, and from a small beginning, little by little bettering them, brought them at last to perfection? I do not, indeed, wish to deny that there was one among them who was the first to begin, seeing that I know very well that it must needs be that at some time and from some one man there came the beginning; nor, also, will I deny that it may have been possible that one helped another and taught and opened the way to design, to colour, and relief, because I know that our art is all imitation, of nature for the most part and then, because a man cannot by himself rise so high, of those works that are executed by those whom he judges to be better masters than himself. But I say surely that the wishing to affirm dogmatically who this man or these men were is a thing very perilous to judge, and perchance little necessary to know, provided that we see the true root and origin wherefrom art was born. For since, of the works that are the life and the glory of the craftsmen, the first and step by step the second and the third were lost by reason of time, that consumes all things, and since, for lack of writers at that time, they could not, at least in that way, become known to posterity, their craftsmen as well came to be forgotten. But when once the writers began to make record of things that were before their day, they could not speak of those whereof they had not been able to have information, in a manner that there came to be first with them those of whom the memory had been the last to be lost. Even as the first of the poets, by common consent, is said to be Homer, not because there were none before him, for there were, although not so excellent, which is seen clearly from his own works, but because of these early poets, whatever manner of men they were, all knowledge had been lost quite 2,000 years before. However, leaving behind us this part, as too uncertain by reason of its antiquity, let us come to the clearer matters of their perfection, ruin, and restoration, or rather resurrection, whereof we will be able to discourse on much better grounds.

I say, then, it being true indeed, that they began late in Rome, if the first figure was, as is said, the image of Ceres made of metal from the treasure of Spurius Cassius, who, for conspiring to make himself King, was put to death by his own father without any scruple; and that although the arts of sculpture and of painting continued up to the end of the twelve Caesars, they did not, however, continue in that perfection and excellence which they had enjoyed before, for it may be seen from the edifices that the Emperors built in succession one after the other that these arts, decaying from one day to another, were coming little by little to lose their whole perfection of design. And to this clear testimony is borne by the works of sculpture and of architecture that were wrought in the time of Constantine in Rome, and in particular the triumphal arch raised for him by the Roman people near the Colosseum, wherein it is seen that in default of good masters they not only made use of marble groups made at the time of Trajan, but also of the spoils brought from various places to Rome. And whosoever knows that the votive offerings in the medallions, that is, the sculptures in half-relief, and likewise the prisoners, and the large groups, and the columns, and the mouldings, and the other ornaments, whether made before or from spoils, are excellently wrought, knows also that the works which were made to fill up by the sculptors of that time are of the rudest, as also are certain small groups with little figures in marble below the medallions, and the lowest base wherein there are certain victories, and certain rivers between the arches at the sides, which are very rude and so made that it can be believed most surely that by that time the art of sculpture had begun to lose something of the good. And there had not yet come the Goths and the other barbarous and outlandish peoples who destroyed, together with Italy, all the finer arts. It is true, indeed, that in the said times architecture had suffered less harm than the other arts of design had suffered, for in the bath that Constantine erected on the Lateran, in the entrance of the principal porch it may be seen, to say nothing of the porphyry columns, the capitals wrought in marble, and the double bases taken from some other place and very well carved, that the whole composition of the building is very well conceived; whereas, on the contrary, the stucco, the mosaics, and certain incrustations on the walls made by masters of that time are not equal to those that he caused to be placed in the same bath, which were taken for the most part from the temples of the heathen gods. Constantine, so it is said, did the same in the garden of AEquitius, in making the temple which he afterwards endowed and gave to the Christian priests. In like manner, the magnificent Church of S. Giovanni Laterano, erected by the same Emperor, can bear witness to the same—namely, that in his day sculpture had already greatly declined; for the image of the Saviour and the twelve Apostles in silver that he caused to be made were very debased sculptures, wrought without art and with very little design. Besides this, whosoever examines with diligence the medals of Constantine and his image and other statues made by the sculptors of that time, which are at the present day in the Campidoglio, may see clearly that they are very far removed from the perfection of the medals and statues of the other Emperors; and all this shows that long before the coming of the Goths into Italy sculpture had greatly declined.

Architecture, as has been said, continued to maintain itself, if not so perfect, in a better state; nor is there reason to marvel at this, seeing that, as the great edifices were made almost wholly of spoils, it was easy for the architects, in making the new, to imitate in great measure the old, which they had ever before their eyes, and that much more easily than the sculptors could imitate the good figures of the ancients, their art having wholly vanished. And that this is true is manifest, because the Church of the Prince of the Apostles on the Vatican was not rich save in columns, bases, capitals, architraves, mouldings, doors, and other incrustations and ornaments, which were all taken from various places and from the edifices built most magnificently in earlier times. The same could be said of S. Croce in Gierusalemme, which Constantine erected at the entreaty of his mother Helena, of S. Lorenzo without the walls of Rome, and of S. Agnesa, built by him at the request of Constantia, his daughter. And who does not know that the font which served for the baptism of both her and her sister was all adorned with works wrought long before, and in particular with the porphyry basin carved with most beautiful figures, with certain marble candlesticks excellently carved with foliage, and with some boys in low-relief that are truly most beautiful? In short, for these and many other reasons it is clear how much, in the time of Constantine, sculpture had already declined, and together with it the other finer arts. And if anything was wanting to complete this ruin, it was supplied to them amply by the departure of Constantine from Rome, on his going to establish the seat of the Empire at Byzantium; for the reason that he took with him not only all the best sculptors and other craftsmen of that age, whatsoever manner of men they were, but also an infinite number of statues and other works of sculpture, all most beautiful.

After the departure of Constantine, the Caesars whom he left in Italy, building continually both in Rome and elsewhere, exerted themselves to make their works as fine as they could; but, as may be seen, sculpture, as well as painting and architecture, went ever from bad to worse, and this perchance came to pass because, when human affairs begin to decline, they never cease to go ever lower and lower until such time as they can grow no worse. So, too, it may be seen that although at the time of Pope Liberius the architects of that day strove to do something great in constructing the Church of S. Maria Maggiore, they were yet not happy in the success of the whole, for the reason that although that building, which is likewise composed for the greater part of spoils, was made with good enough proportions, it cannot be denied any the less, not to speak of certain other parts, that the frieze made right round above the columns with ornaments in stucco and in painting is wholly wanting in design, and that many other things which are seen in that great church demonstrate the imperfection of the arts.

Many years after, when the Christians were persecuted under Julian the Apostate, there was erected on the C[oe]lian Mount a church to S. John and S. Paul, the martyrs, in a manner so much worse than those named above, that it is seen clearly that the art was at that time little less than wholly lost. The buildings, too, that were erected at the same time in Tuscany, bear most ample testimony to this; and not to speak of many others, the church that was built outside the walls of Arezzo to S. Donatus, Bishop of that city (who, together with the monk Hilarian, suffered martyrdom under the said Julian the Apostate), was in no way better in architecture than those named above. Nor can it be believed that this came from anything else but the absence of better architects in that age, seeing that the said church (as it has been possible to see in our own day), which is octagonal and constructed from the spoils of the Theatre, the Colosseum and other edifices that had been standing in Arezzo before it was converted to the faith of Christ, was built without thought of economy and at the greatest cost, and adorned with columns of granite, of porphyry, and of many-coloured marbles, which had belonged to the said buildings. And for myself I do not doubt, from the expense which was clearly bestowed on that church, that if the Aretines had had better architects they would have built something marvellous; for it may be seen from what they did that they spared nothing if only they might make that work as rich and as well designed as they possibly could, and since, as has been already said so many times, architecture had lost less of its perfection than the other arts, there was to be seen therein some little of the good. At this time, likewise, was enlarged the Church of S. Maria in Grado, in honour of the said Hilarian, for the reason that he had been for a long time living in it when he went, with Donatus, to the crown of martyrdom.

But because Fortune, when she has brought men to the height of her wheel, is wont, either in jest or in repentance, to throw them down again, it came about after these things that there rose up in various parts of the world all the barbarous peoples against Rome; whence there ensued after no long time not only the humiliation of so great an Empire but the ruin of the whole, and above all of Rome herself, and with her were likewise utterly ruined the most excellent craftsmen, sculptors, painters, and architects, leaving the arts and their own selves buried and submerged among the miserable massacres and ruins of that most famous city. And the first to fall into decay were painting and sculpture, as being arts that served more for pleasure than for use, while the other—namely, architecture—as being necessary and useful for bodily weal, continued to exist, but no longer in its perfection and excellence. And if it had not been that the sculptures and pictures presented, to the eyes of those who were born from day to day, those who had been thereby honoured to the end that they might have eternal life, there would soon have been lost the memory of both; whereas some of them survived in the images and in the inscriptions placed in private houses, as well as in public buildings, namely, in the amphitheatres, the theatres, the baths, the aqueducts, the temples, the obelisks, the colossi, the pyramids, the arches, the reservoirs, the public treasuries, and finally, in the very tombs, whereof a great part was destroyed by a barbarous and savage race who had nothing in them of man but the shape and the name. These, among others, were the Visigoths, who, having created Alaric their King, assailed Italy and Rome and sacked the city twice without respect for anything whatsoever. The same, too, did the Vandals, having come from Africa with Genseric, their King, who, not content with his booty and prey and all the cruelties that he wrought there, carried away her people into slavery, to their exceeding great misery, and among them Eudoxia, once the wife of the Emperor Valentinian, who had been slaughtered no long time before by his own soldiers. For these, having fallen away in very great measure from the ancient Roman valour, for the reason that all the best had gone a long time before to Byzantium with the Emperor Constantine, had no longer any good customs or ways of life. Nay more, there had been lost at one and the same time all true men and every sort of virtue, and laws, habits, names, and tongues had been changed; and all these things together and each by itself had caused every lovely mind and lofty intellect to become most brutish and most base.

But what brought infinite harm and damage on the said professions, even more than all the aforesaid causes, was the burning zeal of the new Christian religion, which, after a long and bloody combat, with its wealth of miracles and with the sincerity of its works, had finally cast down and swept away the old faith of the heathens, and, devoting itself most ardently with all diligence to driving out and extirpating root and branch every least occasion whence error could arise, not only defaced or threw to the ground all the marvellous statues, sculptures, pictures, mosaics, and ornaments of the false gods of the heathens, but even the memorials and the honours of numberless men of mark, to whom, for their excellent merits, the noble spirit of the ancients had set up statues and other memorials in public places. Nay more, it not only destroyed, in order to build the churches for the Christian use, the most honoured temples of the idols, but in order to ennoble and adorn S. Pietro (to say nothing of the ornaments which had been there from the beginning) it also robbed of its stone columns the Mausoleum of Hadrian, now called the Castello di S. Angelo, and many other buildings that to-day we see in ruins. And although the Christian religion did not do this by reason of hatred that it bore to the arts, but only in order to humiliate and cast down the gods of the heathens, it was none the less true that from this most ardent zeal there came so great ruin on these honoured professions that their very form was wholly lost. And as if aught were wanting to this grievous misfortune, there arose against Rome the wrath of Totila, who, besides razing her walls and destroying with fire and sword all her most wonderful and noble buildings, burnt the whole city from end to end, and, having robbed her of every living body, left her a prey to flames and fire, so that there was not found in her in eighteen successive days a single living soul; and he cast down and destroyed so completely the marvellous statues, pictures, mosaics, and works in stucco, that there was lost, I do not say only their majesty, but their very form and essence. Wherefore, it being the lower rooms chiefly of the palaces and other buildings that were wrought with stucco, with painting, and with statuary, there was buried by the ruins from above all that good work that has been discovered in our own day, and those who came after, judging the whole to be in ruins, planted vines thereon, in a manner that, since the said lower rooms remained under the ground, the moderns have called them grottoes, and "grotesque" the pictures that are therein seen at the present day.

After the end of the Ostrogoths, who were destroyed by Narses, men were living among the ruins of Rome in some fashion, poorly indeed, when there came, after 100 years, Constantine II, Emperor of Constantinople, who, although received lovingly by the Romans, laid waste, robbed, and carried away all that had remained, more by chance than by the good will of those who had destroyed her, in the miserable city of Rome. It is true, indeed, that he was not able to enjoy this booty, because, being carried by a sea-tempest to Sicily and being justly slain by his own men, he left his spoils, his kingdom, and his life a prey to Fortune. But she, not yet content with the woes of Rome, to the end that the things stolen might never return, brought thither for the ruin of the island a host of Saracens, who carried off both the wealth of the Sicilians and the spoils of Rome to Alexandria, to the very great shame and loss of Italy and of Christendom. And so all that the Pontiffs had not destroyed (and above all S. Gregory, who is said to have decreed banishment against all the remainder of the statues and of the spoils of the buildings) came finally, at the hands of that most rascally Greek, to an evil end; in a manner that, there being no trace or sign to be found of anything that was in any way good, the men who came after, although rude and boorish, and in particular in their pictures and sculptures, yet, incited by nature and refined by the air, set themselves to work, not according to the rules of the aforesaid arts, which they did not know, but according to the quality of their own intelligence.

The arts of design, then, having been brought to these limits both before and during the lordship of the Lombards over Italy and also afterwards, continued gradually to grow worse, although some little work was done, insomuch that nothing could have been more rudely wrought or with less design than what was done, as bear witness, besides many other works, certain figures that are in the portico of S. Pietro in Rome, above the doors, wrought in the Greek manner in memory of certain holy fathers who had made disputation for Holy Church in certain councils. To this, likewise, bear witness many works in the same manner that are to be seen in the city and in the whole Exarchate of Ravenna, and in particular some that are in S. Maria Rotonda without that city, made a little time after the Lombards had been driven out of Italy. In this church, as I will not forbear to say, there may be seen a thing most notable and marvellous, namely, the vault, or rather cupola, that covers it, which, although it is ten braccia wide and serves for roof and covering to that building, is nevertheless of one single piece, so great and ponderous that it seems almost impossible that such a stone, weighing more than 200,000 libbre,[4] could have been set into place so high. But to return to our subject; there issued from the hands of the masters of these times those puppet-like and uncouth figures that are still to be seen in the works of old. The same thing happened to architecture, seeing that, since it was necessary to build, and since form and the good method were completely lost by reason of the death of the craftsmen and the destruction and ruin of their works, those who applied themselves to this exercise built nothing that either in ordering or in proportion showed any grace, or design, or reason whatsoever. Wherefore there came to arise new architects, who brought from their barbarous races the method of that manner of buildings that are called by us to-day German; and they made some that are rather a source of laughter for us moderns than creditable to them, until better craftsmen afterwards found a better style, in some measure similar to the good style of the ancients, even as that manner may be seen throughout all Italy in the old churches (but not the ancient), which were built by them, such as a palace of Theodoric, King of Italy, in Ravenna, and one in Pavia, and another in Modena; all in a barbarous manner, and rather rich and vast than well-conceived or of good architecture. The same may be affirmed of S. Stefano in Rimini, of S. Martino in Ravenna, and of the Church of S. Giovanni Evangelista, erected in the same city by Galla Placidia about the year of our salvation 438; of S. Vitale, which was erected in the year 547, of the Abbey of Classi di Fuori, and in short of many other monasteries and churches erected after the Lombard rule. All these buildings, as has been said, are both large and magnificent, but of the rudest architecture, and among them are many abbeys in France erected to S. Benedict, the Church and Monastery of Monte Casino, and the Church of S. Giovanni Battista at Monza, built by that Theodelinda, Queen of the Goths, to whom S. Gregory the Pope wrote his Dialogues; in which place that Queen caused to be painted the story of the Lombards, wherein it was seen that they shaved the back of their heads, and in front they had long locks, and they dyed themselves as far as the chin. Their garments were of ample linen, as was the use of the Angles and Saxons, and below a mantle of diverse colours; their shoes open as far as the toes and tied above with certain straps of leather. Similar to the aforesaid churches were the Church of S. Giovanni in Pavia, erected by Gondiberta, daughter of the aforesaid Theodelinda, and in the same city the Church of S. Salvadore, built by the brother of the said Queen, Aribert, who succeeded to the throne of Rodoald, husband of Gondiberta; and the Church of S. Ambrogio in Pavia, erected by Grimoald, King of the Lombards, who drove Bertrid, son of Aribert, from his throne. This Bertrid, being restored to his throne after the death of Grimoald, erected, also in Pavia, a monastery for nuns called the Monasterio Nuovo, in honour of Our Lady and of S. Agatha; and the Queen erected one without the walls, dedicated to the "Virgin Mary in Pertica." Cunibert, likewise, son of that Bertrid, erected a monastery and church after the same manner to S. Giorgio, called di Coronate, on the spot where he had gained a great victory over Alahi. Not unlike to these, too, was the church that the King of the Lombards, Luitprand (who lived in the time of King Pepin, father of Charlemagne), built in Pavia, which is called S. Pietro in Cieldauro; nor that one, likewise, that Desiderius built, who reigned after Astolf—namely, S. Pietro Clivate, in the diocese of Milan; nor the Monastery of S. Vincenzo in Milan, nor that of S. Giulia in Brescia, seeing that they were all built at the greatest cost, but in the most ugly and haphazard manner.

Later, in Florence, architecture made some little progress, and the Church of S. Apostolo, that was erected by Charlemagne, although small, was most beautiful in manner; for not to mention that the shafts of the columns, although they are of separate pieces, show much grace and are made with beautiful proportion, the capitals, also, and the arches turned to make the little vaulted roofs of the two small aisles, show that in Tuscany there had survived or in truth arisen some good craftsman. In short, the architecture of this church is such that Filippo di Ser Brunellesco did not disdain to avail himself of it as a model in building the Church of S. Spirito and that of S. Lorenzo in the same city. The same may be seen in the Church of S. Marco in Venice, which (to say nothing of S. Giorgio Maggiore, erected by Giovanni Morosini in the year 978) was begun under the Doge Giustiniano and Giovanni Particiaco, close by S. Teodosio, when the body of that Evangelist was sent from Alexandria to Venice; and after many fires, which greatly damaged the Doge's palace and the church, it was finally rebuilt on the same foundations in the Greek manner and in that style wherein it is seen to-day, at very great cost and under the direction of many architects, in the year of Christ 973, at the time of Doge Domenico Selvo, who had the columns brought from wheresoever he could find them. And so it continued to go on up to the year 1140, when the Doge was Messer Piero Polani, and, as has been said, with the design of many masters, all Greeks. In the same Greek manner and about the same time were the seven abbeys that Count Ugo, Marquis of Brandenburg, caused to be built in Tuscany, as can be seen in the Badia of Florence, in that of Settimo, and in the others; which buildings, with the remains of those that are no longer standing, bear testimony that architecture was still in a measure holding its ground, although greatly corrupted and far removed from the good manner of the ancients. To this can also bear witness many old palaces built in Florence after the ruin of Fiesole, in Tuscan workmanship, but with barbaric ordering in the proportions of those doors and windows of immense length, in the curves of the pointed quarter-segments, and in the turning of the arches, after the wont of the foreign architects of those times.

The year afterwards, 1013, it is clear that the art had regained some of its vigour from the rebuilding of that most beautiful church, S. Miniato in Sul Monte, in the time of Messer Alibrando, citizen and Bishop of Florence; for the reason that, besides the marble ornaments that are seen therein both within and without, it may be seen from the facade that the Tuscan architects strove as much as they could in the doors, the windows, the columns, the arches, and the mouldings, to imitate the good order of the ancients, having in part recovered it from the most ancient temple of S. Giovanni in their city. At the same time painting, which was little less than wholly spent, may be seen to have begun to win back something, as the mosaic shows that was made in the principal chapel[5] of the said Church of S. Miniato.

From such beginnings, then, these arts commenced to grow better in design throughout Tuscany, as is seen in the year 1016, from the commencement made by the people of Pisa for the building of their Duomo, seeing that in those times it was a great thing for men to put their hands to the construction of a church made, as this was, with five naves, and almost wholly of marble both within and without. This church, which was built under the direction and design of Buschetto, a Greek of Dulichium, an architect of rarest worth for those times, was erected and adorned by the people of Pisa with innumerable spoils brought by sea (for they were at the height of their greatness) from diverse most distant places, as is well shown by the columns, bases, capitals, cornices, and all the other kinds of stonework that are therein seen. And seeing that these things were some of them small, some large, and some of a middle size, great was the judgment and the talent of Buschetto in accommodating them and in making the distribution of all this building, which is very well arranged both within and without; and besides other work, he contrived the frontal slope of the facade very ingeniously with a great number of columns, adorning it besides with columns carved in diverse and varied ways, and with ancient statues, even as he also made the principal doors in the same facade, between which—that is, beside that of the Carroccio—there was afterwards given an honourable burial-place to Buschetto himself, with three epitaphs, whereof this is one, in Latin verses in no way dissimilar to others of those times:


And seeing that there has been made mention above of the Church of S. Apostolo in Florence, I will not forbear to say that on a marble slab therein, on one side of the high-altar, there may be seen these words:

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