The Visitation. 1503. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
MARIOTTO ALBERTINELLI, the closest and most intimate friend of Fra Bartolommeo his other self, one might call him, not only on account of the constant connection and intercourse between them, but also through their similarity of manner during the period when Mariotto gave proper attention to art was the son of Biagio di Bindo Albertinelli. At the age of twenty he abandoned his calling of gold-beater, in which he had been employed up to that time ; and he learnt the first rudiments of painting in the workshop of Cosimo Rosselli, where he formed such an intimacy with Baccio della Porta, that they were one soul and one body. Such, indeed, was the brotherly friendship between them, that when Baccio took his leave of Cosimo, in order to practise his art as a master by himself, Mariotto went off with him ; whereupon they lived for a long time, both one and the other, at the Porta a S. Piero Gattolini, executing many works in company. And since Mariotto was not so well grounded in drawing as was Baccio, he devoted himself to the study of such antiquities as were then in Florence, the greater part and the best of which were in the house of the Medici. He made a number of drawings of certain little panels in half-relief that were under the loggia in the garden, on the side towards S. Lorenzo, in one of which is Adonis with a very beautiful dog, and in another two nude figures, one seated, with a dog at its feet, and the other standing with the legs crossed, leaning on a staff. Both these panels are marvellous; and there are likewise two others of the same size, in one of which are two little boys carrying Jove's thunderbolt, while in the other is the nude figure of an old man, with wings on his shoulders and feet, representing Chance, and balancing a pair of scales in his hands. In addition to these works, that garden was full of torsi of men and women, which were a school not only for Mariotto, but for all the sculptors and painters of his time. A good part of these are now in the guardaroba of Duke Cosimo, and others, such as the two torsi of Marsyas, the heads over the windows, and those of the Emperors over the doors, are still in the same place.
By studying these antiquities, Mariotto made great proficience in drawing; and he entered into the service of the mother of Duke Lorenzo, Madonna Alfonsina, who, desiring that he should devote himself to becoming an able master, offered him all possible assistance. Dividing his time, therefore, between drawing and coloring, he became a passing good craftsman, as is proved by some pictures that he executed for that lady, which were sent by her to Rome, for Carlo and Giordano Orsini, and which afterwards came into the hands of Caesar Borgia. He made a very good portrait of Madonna Alfonsina from the life; and it seemed to him, on account of his friendship with her, that his fortune was made, when, in the year 1494, Piero de' Medici was banished, and her assistance and favour failed him. Whereupon he returned to the workshop of Baccio, where he set himself with even greater zeal to make models of clay and to increase his knowledge, labouring at the study of nature, and imitating the works of Baccio, so that in a few years he became a sound and practised master. And then, seeing his work succeeding so well, he so grew in courage, that, imitating the manner and method of his companion, the hand of Mariotto was taken by many for that of Fra Bartolommeo.
But when he heard that Baccio had gone off to become a monk, Mariotto was almost overwhelmed and out of his mind; and so strange did the news seem to him, that he was in despair, and nothing could cheer him. If it had not been, indeed, that Mariotto could not then endure having anything to do with monks, against whom he was ever railing, and belonged to the party that was opposed to the faction of Fra Girolamo of Ferrara, his love for Baccio would have wrought upon him so strongly, that it would have forced him to don the cowl in the same convent as his companion. However, he was besought by Gerozzo Dini, who had given the commission for the Judgment that Baccio had left unfinished in the Ossa, that he, having a manner similar to Baccio's, should undertake to finish it; whereupon, being also moved by the circumstance that the cartoon completed by the hand of Baccio and other drawings were there, and by the entreaties of Fra Bartolommeo himself, who had received money on account of the painting, and was troubled in conscience at not having kept his promise, he finished the work, and executed all that was wanting with diligence and love, in such a way that many, not knowing this, think that it was painted by one single hand; and this brought him vast credit among craftsmen.
In the Chapterhouse of the Certosa of Florence he executed a Crucifixion, with Our Lady and the Magdalene at the foot of the Cross, and some angels in the sky, who are receiving the blood of Christ; a work wrought in fresco, with diligence and lovingness, and passing well painted. Now some of the young men who were learning art under him, thinking that the friars were not giving them proper food, had counterfeited, without the knowledge of Mariotto, the keys of those windows opening into the friar's rooms, through which their pittance is passed; and sometimes, in secret, they stole some of it, now from one and now from another. There was a great uproar about this among the friars, since in the matter of eating they are as sensitive as any other person; but the lads did it with great dexterity, and, since they were held to be honest fellows, the blame fell on some of the friars, who were said to be doing it from hatred of one another. However, one day the truth was revealed, and the friars, to the end that the work might be finished, gave a double allowance to Mariotto and his lads, who finished the work with great glee and laughter.
For the Nuns of S. Giuliano in Florence he painted the panel of their high altar, which he executed in a room that he had in the Gualfonda; together with another for the same church, with a Crucifix, some Angels, and God the Father, representing the Trinity, in oils and on a gold ground.
Mariotto was a most restless person, devoted to the pleasures of love, and a good liver in the matter of eating; wherefore, conceiving a hatred for the subtleties and brain-rackings of painting, and being often wounded by the tongues of other painters (according to the undying custom among them, handed down from one to another), he resolved to turn to a more humble, less fatiguing, and more cheerful art. And so, having opened a very fine inn, without the Porta S. Gallo, and a tavern and inn on the Ponte Vecchio, at the Dragon, he followed that calling for many months, saying that he had chosen an art without foreshortenings, muscles, and perspectives, and, what was much more important, free from censure, and that the art which he had given up was quite the contrary of his new one, since the former imitated flesh and blood, and the latter made both blood and flesh; and now, having good wine, he heard himself praised all day long, whereas before he used to hear nothing but censure.
However, having grown weary of this as well, and ashamed of the baseness of his calling, he returned to painting, and executed pictures and paintings for the houses of citizens in Florence. For Giovan Maria Benintendi he painted three little scenes with his own hand; and for the house of the Medici, at the election of Leo X, he painted a round picture of his arms, in oils, with Faith, Hope, and Charity, which hung for a long time over the door of their palace. He undertook to make, in the Company of S. Zanobi, near the Chapterhouse of S. Maria del Fiore, a panel picture of the Annunciation, which he executed with great labour. For this he caused special windows to be made, wishing to work on the spot, in order to be able to make the views recede, where they were high and distant, by lowering the tones, or to bring them forward, at his pleasure. Now he had conceived the idea that pictures which have no relief and force, combined with delicacy, are of no account; but since he knew that they cannot be made to stand out from the surface without shadows, which, if they are too dark, remain indistinct, while, if they are delicate, they have no force, he was eager to combine this delicacy with a certain method of treatment to which up to that time, so it seemed to him, art had not attained in any satisfactory manner. Wherefore, looking on this work as an opportunity for accomplishing this, he set himself, to this end, to make extraordinary efforts, which may be recognized in a figure of God the Father, which is in the sky, and in some little children, who stand out from the panel in strong relief against a dark background in perspective that he made there with a ceiling in the form of a barrel- shaped vault, which, with its arches curving and its lines diminishing to a point, recedes inwards in such a manner that it appears to be in relief; besides which, there are some angels scattering flowers as they fly, that are very graceful.
This work was painted out and painted in again many times by Mariotto before he could bring it to completion. He was for ever changing the coloring, making it now lighter, now darker, and sometimes more lively and glowing, sometimes less; but, never being completely satisfied, and never persuaded that he had done justice with his hand to the thoughts of his intellect, he wished to find a white that should be more brilliant than lead-white, and set himself, therefore, to clarify the latter, in order to be able to heighten the highest light to his own satisfaction. However, having recognized that he was not able to express by means of art all that the intelligence of the human brain grasps and comprehends, he contented himself with what he had achieved, since he could not attain to what it was not possible to reach. This work brought Mariotto praise and honor among craftsmen, but by no means as much profit as he hoped to gain from his patrons in return for his labours, since a dispute arose between him and those who had commissioned him to paint it. But Pietro Perugino, then an old man, Ridolfo Ghirlandajo, and Francesco Granacci valued it, and settled the price of the work by common consent.
For S. Pancrazio, in Florence, Mariotto painted a semicircular picture of the Visitation of Our Lady. For S. Trinita, likewise, he executed with diligence a panel picture of Our Lady, S. Jerome, and S. Zanobi, at the commission of Zanobi del Maestro; and for the Church of the Congregation of the Priests of S. Martino, he painted a picture on panel of the Visitation, which is much extolled. He was invited to the Convent of La Quercia, without Viterbo; but after having begun a panel there, he conceived a desire to see Rome. Having made his way to that city, therefore, he executed to perfection for the Chapel of Fra Mariano
Fetti, in S. Silvestro di Monte Cavallo, a panel picture in oils of S. Dominic, S. Catherine of Siena, with Christ marrying her, and Our Lady in a delicate manner. He then returned to La Quercia, where he had a mistress, to whom, on account of the desire that he had felt while he was in Rome and could not enjoy her love, he sought to show that he was valiant in the lists; wherefore he exerted himself so much, that, being no longer young and so stalwart in such efforts, he was forced to take to his bed. And laying the blame for this on the air of the place, he had himself carried to Florence in a litter; but no expedients or remedies availed him in his sickness, from which he died in a few days, at the age of forty-five. He was buried in S. Piero Maggiore, in that city. There are some drawings by the hand of this master in our book, executed with the pen and in chiaroscuro, which are very good; particularly a spiral staircase, drawn with great ingenuity in perspective, of which he had a good knowledge.
Mariotto had many disciples; among others, Giuliano Bugiardini and Franciabigio, both Florentines, and Innocenzio da Imola, of whom we will speak in the proper place. Visino, a painter of Florence, was likewise his disciple, and excelled all these others in drawing, colouring, and industry, showing, also, a better manner in the works that he made, which he executed with great diligence. A few of them are still in Florence ; and one can study his work at the present day in the house of Giovan Battista d' Agnol Doni, in a mirror *-picture painted in oils after the manner of a miniature, wherein are Adam and Eve naked, eating the apple, a work executed with great care; and from another picture, of Christ being taken down from the Cross, together with the Thieves, in which there is a beautifully contrived complication of ladders, with some men aiding each other to take down the body of Christ, and others bearing one of the Thieves on their shoulders to burial, and all the figures in varied and fantastic attitudes, suited to that subject, and proving that he was an able man.* The words of the text, "un quadro d' una spera," are a little obscure; but the translator has been strengthened in his belief that his rendering is correct by seeing a little picture, painted on a mirror, and numbered 7697, in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The subject of this picture, which the translator was enabled to see by the courtesy of Mr. B. S. Long, of the Department of Paintings, is the same as that of the work mentioned by Vasari, and it may be a copy.
The same master was brought by some Florentine merchants to Hungary, where he executed many works and gained great renown. But the poor man was soon in danger of coming to an evil end, because, being of a frank and free-spoken nature, he was not able to endure the wearisome persistence of some Hungarians, who kept tormenting him all day long with praises of their own country, as if there were no pleasure or happiness in anything except eating and drinking in their stifling rooms, and no grandeur or nobility save in their King and his Court, all the rest of the world being rubbish. It seemed to him (and indeed it is true) that in Italy there was another kind of excellence, culture, and beauty; and one day, being wean 7 [HUH?] of their nonsense, and chancing to be a little merry, he let slip the opinion that a flask of Trebbiano and a berlingozzo* [* Florentine puff-pastry.] were worth all the Kings and Queens that had ever reigned in those regions. And if the matter had not happened to fall into the hands of a Bishop, who was a gentleman and a man of the world, and also, above all, a tactful person, both able and willing to turn the thing into a joke, Visino would have learnt not to play with savages; for those brutes of Hungarians, not understanding his words, and thinking that he had uttered something terrible, such as a threat that he would rob their King of his life and throne, wished to give him short shrift and crucify him by mob law. But the good Bishop drew him out of all embarrassment, and, appraising the merit of the excellent master at its true value, and putting a good complexion on the affair, restored him to the favor of the King, who, on hearing the story, was much amused by it. His good fortune, however, did not last long, for, not being able to endure the stifling rooms and the cold air, which ruined his constitution, in a short time this brought his life to an end; although his repute and fame survived in the memory of those who knew him when alive, and of those who saw his works in the years after his death. His pictures date about the year 1512.