Vasari's Lives of the Artists
HOW HONORABLE and profitable it is to be excellent in a noble art is manifestly seen in the talent and management of Taddeo Gaddi, who, having acquired very good means as well as fame with his industry and labours, left the affairs of his family so well arranged, when he passed to the other life, that Agnolo and Giovanni, his sons, were easily able to give a beginning to the very great riches and to the exaltation of the house of Gaddi, to-day very noble in Florence and in great repute throughout all Christendom. And in truth it has been very reasonable, seeing that Gaddo, Taddeo, Agnolo, and Giovanni adorned many honoured churches with their talent and their art, that their successors have been since adorned by the Holy Roman Church and by the Supreme Pontiffs of the same with the greatest ecclesiastical dignities.
Taddeo, then, of whom we have already written the Life, left his sons Agnolo and Giovanni in company with many of his disciples, hoping that Agnolo, in particular, would become very excellent in painting; but he, who in his youth showed promise of surpassing his father by a great measure, did not succeed further in justifying the opinion that had already been conceived of him, for the reason that, being born and bred in easy circumstances, which are often an impediment to study, he was given more to traffic and to trading than to the art of painting; which should not appear a thing new or strange, seeing that avarice very often bars the way to many intellects which would ascend to the greatest height of excellence, if the desire of gain did not impede their path in their earliest and best years. Working as a youth in S. Jacopo tra' Fossi in Florence, Agnolo wrought a little scene, with figures little more[Pg 218] than a braccio high, of Christ raising Lazarus on the fourth day after death, wherein, imagining the corruption of that body, which had been dead three days, with much thought he made the grave-clothes which held him bound discoloured by the decay of the flesh, and round the eyes certain livid and yellowish marks in the flesh, that seems half living and half dead; not without stupefaction in the Apostles and in other figures, who, with attitudes varied and beautiful, and with their draperies to their noses in order not to feel the stench of that corrupt body, are no less afraid and awestruck at such a marvellous miracle than Mary and Martha are joyful and content to see life returning to the dead body of their brother. This work was judged so excellent that many deemed the talent of Agnolo to be destined to surpass all the disciples of Taddeo, and even Taddeo himself; but the event proved otherwise, because, even as in youth the will conquers every difficulty in order to acquire fame, so a certain negligence that the years bring with them often causes a man, instead of advancing, to go backwards, as did Agnolo. Having given so great a proof of his talent, he was commissioned by the family of Soderini, who had great hopes of him, to paint the principal chapel of the Carmine, and he painted therein all the life of Our Lady, so much less well than he had done the resurrection of Lazarus, that he gave every man to know that he had little wish to attend with every effort to the art of painting; for the reason that in all that great work there is nothing else of the good save one scene, wherein, round Our Lady, in a room, are many maidens who are wearing diverse costumes and head-dresses, according to the diversity of the use of those times, and are engaged in diverse exercises: this one is spinning, that one is sewing, that other is winding thread, one is weaving, and others working in other ways, all passing well conceived and executed by Agnolo.
For the noble family of the Alberti, likewise, he painted in fresco the principal chapel of the Church of S. Croce, making therein all that came to pass in the discovery of the Cross, and he executed that work with much mastery of handling but not with much design, for only the coloring is beautiful and good enough. Next, in painting in fresco some stories of St. Louis in the Chapel of the Bardi in the same church, he acquitted himself much better. And because he used to work by caprice, now with more zeal and now with less, working in S. Spirito, also in Florence, within the door that leads from the square into the convent, he made in fresco, over another door, a Madonna with the Child in her arms, and S. Augustine and S. Nicholas, so well that the said figures appear as if made only yesterday.
And because in a certain manner there had come to Agnolo, by way of inheritance, the secret of working in mosaic, and he had at home the instruments and all the materials that his grandfather Gaddo had used in this, he would make something in mosaic when it pleased him, merely to pass time and by reason of that convenience of material, rather than for aught else. Now, seeing that time had eaten away many of those marbles that cover the eight faces of the roof of S. Giovanni, and that the damp penetrating within had therefore spoilt much of the mosaic which Andrea Tafi had wrought there at a former time, the Consuls of the Guild of Merchants determined, to the end that the rest might not be spoilt, to rebuild the greater part of that covering with marble, and in like manner to have the mosaic restored. Wherefore, the direction and commission for the whole being given to Agnolo, he, in the year 1346, had it recovered with new marbles and the pieces laid over each other at the joinings, with unexampled diligence, to the breadth of two fingers, cutting each slab to the half of its thickness; then, joining them together with cement made of mastic and wax melted together, he fitted them with so great diligence that from that time onwards neither the roof nor the vaulting has received any damage from the rains. Agnolo, having afterwards restored the mosaic, brought it about by means of his counsel and of a design very well conceived that there was rebuilt, round the said church, all the upper cornice of marble below the roof, in that form wherein it now remains; which cornice was much smaller than it is and very commonplace. Under direction of the same man there was also made the vaulting of the Great Hall of the Palace of the Podestà, which before was directly under the roof, to the end that, besides the adornment, fire might not again be able to do it damage, as it had done a long time before. After this, by the counsel of Agnolo, there were made round the said Palace the battlements that are there today, which before were in no wise there.
The while that these works were executing, he did not desert his painting entirely, and painted in distemper, in the panel that he made for the high-altar of S. Pancrazio, Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, and the Evangelist, and beside them the Saints Nereus, Archileus, and Pancratius, brothers, with other Saints. But the best of this work--nay, all that is seen therein of the good--is the predella alone, which is all full of little figures, divided into eight stories of the Madonna and of S. Reparata. Next, in 1348, he painted the panel of the high-altar of S. Maria Maggiore, also in Florence, for Barone Cappelli, making therein a passing good dance of angels round a Coronation of Our Lady. A little afterwards, in the Pieve of the district of Prato, rebuilt under direction of Giovanni Pisano in the year 1312, as it has been said above, Agnolo painted in fresco, in the chapel wherein was deposited the Girdle of Our Lady, many scenes of her life; and in other churches of that district, which was full of monasteries and convents held in great honour, he made other works in plenty. In Florence, next, he painted the arch over the door of S. Romeo; and in Orto S. Michele he wrought in distemper a Disputation of the Doctors with Christ in the Temple. And at the same time, many houses having been pulled down in order to enlarge the Piazza de' Signori, and in particular the Church of S. Romolo, this was rebuilt with the design of Agnolo. There are many panels by his hand throughout the churches in the said city, and many of his works may also be recognized in the domain, which were wrought by him with much profit to himself, although he worked more in order to do as his forefathers had done than for any love of it, having his mind directed on commerce, which brought him better profit; as it is seen when his sons, not wishing any longer to be painters, gave themselves over completely to commerce, holding a house open for this purpose in Venice together with their father, who, from a certain time onward, did not work save for his own pleasure, and, in a certain manner, in order to pass time. Having thus acquired great wealth by means of trading and by means of his art, Agnolo died in the sixty-third year of his life, overcome by a malignant fever which in a few days made an end of him.
His disciples were Maestro Antonio da Ferrara, who made many beautiful works in S. Francesco at Urbino, and at Città di Castello; and Stefano da Verona, who painted in fresco most perfectly, as it is seen in many places at Verona, his native city, and also in many of his works at Mantua. This man, among other things, was excellent in giving very beautiful expressions to the faces of children, of women, and of old men, as it may be seen in his works, which were all imitated and copied by that Piero da Perugia, illuminator, who illuminated all the books that are in the library of Pope Pius in the Duomo at Siena, and was a practised colorist in fresco. A disciple of Agnolo, also, was Michele da Milano, as was Giovanni Gaddi, his brother, who made, in the cloister of S. Spirito where are the little arches of Gaddo and of Taddeo, the Disputation of Christ in the Temple with the Doctors, the Purification of the Virgin, the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness, and the Baptism of John; and finally, having created very great expectation, he died. A pupil of the same Agnolo in painting was Cennino di Drea Cennini of Colle di Valdelsa, who, having very great affection for the art, wrote a book describing the methods of working in fresco, in distemper, in size, and in gum, and, besides, how illuminating is done, and all the methods of applying gold; which book is in the hands of Giuliano, goldsmith of Siena, an excellent master and a friend of these arts. And in the beginning of this his book he treated of the nature of colours, both the minerals and the earth-colours, according as he learnt from Agnolo his master, wishing, for the reason perchance that he did not succeed in learning to paint perfectly, at least to know the nature of the colors, the distempers, the sizes, and the application of gesso, and what colours we must guard against as harmful in making the[Pg 222] mixtures, and in short many other considerations whereof there is no need to discourse, there being to-day a perfect knowledge of all those matters which he held as great and very rare secrets in those times. But I will not forbear to say that he makes no mention (and perchance they may not have been in use) of some earth colors, such as dark red earths, cinabrese, and certain vitreous greens. Since then there have been also discovered umber, which is an earth-colour, giallo santo, the smalts both for fresco and for oils, and some vitreous greens and yellows, wherein the painters of that age were lacking. He treated finally of mosaics, and of grinding colours in oils in order to make grounds of red, blue, green, and in other manners; and of the mordants for the application of gold, but not then for figures. Besides the works that he wrought in Florence with his master, there is a Madonna with certain saints by his hand under the loggia of the hospital of Bonifazio Lupi, colored in such a manner that it has been very well preserved up to our own day.
This Cennino, in the first chapter of his said book, speaking of himself, uses these very words: "I, Cennino di Drea Cennini, of Colle di Valdelsa, was instructed in the said art for twelve years by Agnolo di Taddeo of Florence, my master, who learnt the said art from Taddeo, his father, who was held at baptism by Giotto and was his disciple for four-and-twenty years; which Giotto transmuted the art of painting from Greek into Latin, and brought it to the modern manner, and had it for certain more perfected than anyone ever had it." These are the very words of Cennino, to whom it appeared that even as those who translate any work from Greek into Latin confer very great benefit on those who do not understand Greek, so, too, did Giotto in transforming the art of painting from a manner not understood or known by anyone, save perchance as very rude, to a beautiful, facile, and very pleasing manner, understood and known as good by all who have judgment and the least grain of reason.
All these disciples of Agnolo did him very great honor, and he was buried by his sons, to whom it is said that he left the sum of fifty thousand florins or more, in S. Maria Novella, in the tomb that he himself had made for himself and for his descendants, in the year of our salvation 1387. The portrait of Agnolo, made by himself, is seen in the Chapel of the Alberti, in S. Croce, beside a door in the scene wherein, the Emperor Heraclius is bearing the Cross; it is painted in profile, with a little beard, and with a rose-coloured cap on his head according to the use of those times. He was not excellent in draughtsmanship, in so far as is shown by some drawings by his hand that are in our book.