Detail. Good Government in the City. 1338-1340. Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
IF THAT DEBT IS GREAT, as without doubt it is, which craftsmen of fine genius should acknowledge to nature, much greater should that be that is due from us to them, seeing that they, with great solicitude, fill the cities with noble and useful buildings and with lovely historical compositions, gaining for themselves, for the most part, fame and riches with their works; as did Ambrogio Lorenzetti, painter of Siena, who showed beautiful and great invention in grouping and placing his figures thoughtfully in historical scenes. That this is true is proved by a scene in the Church of the Friars Minor in Siena, painted by him very gracefully in the cloister, wherein there is represented in what manner a youth becomes a friar, and how he and certain others go to the Soldan, and are there beaten and sentenced to the gallows and hanged on a tree, and finally beheaded, with the addition of a terrible tempest. In this picture, with much art and dexterity, he counterfeited in the travailing of the figures the turmoil of the air and the fury of the rain and of the wind, wherefrom the modern masters have learnt the method and the principle of this invention, by reason of which, since it was unknown before, he deserved infinite commendation.
Ambrogio was a practised colorist in fresco, and he handled colors in distemper with great dexterity and facility, as it is still seen in the panels executed by him in Siena for the little hospital called Mona Agnesa, where he painted and finished a scene with new and beautiful composition. And at the great hospital, on one front, he made in fresco the Nativity of Our Lady and the scene when she is going with the virgins to the Temple. For the Friars of S. Augustine in the same city he painted their Chapterhouse, where the Apostles are seen represented on the vaulting, with scrolls in their hands whereon is written that part of the Creed which each one of them made; and below each is a little scene containing in painting that same subject that is signified above by the writing. Near this, on the main front, are three stories of S. Catherine the martyr, who is disputing with the tyrant in a temple, and, in the middle, the Passion of Christ, with the Thieves on the Cross, and the Maries below, who are supporting the Virgin Mary who has swooned; which works were finished by him with much grace and with beautiful manner.
In a large hall of the Palazzo della Signoria in Siena he painted the War of Asinalunga, and after it the Peace and its events, wherein he fashioned a map, perfect for those times; and in the same palace he made eight scenes in terra-verde, highly finished. It is said that he also sent to Volterra a panel in distemper which was much praised in that city. And painting a chapel in fresco and a panel in distemper at Massa, in company with others, he gave them proof how great, both in judgment and in genius, was his worth in the art of painting; and in Orvieto he painted in fresco the principal Chapel of S. Maria. After these works, proceeding to Florence, he made a panel in S. Procolo, and in a chapel he painted the stories of S. Nicholas with little figures, in order to satisfy certain of his friends, who desired to see his method of working; and, being much practised, he executed this work in so short a time that there accrued to him fame and infinite repute. And this work, on the predella of which he made his own portrait, brought it about that in the year 1335 he was summoned to Cortona by order of Bishop Ubertini, then lord of that city, where he wrought certain works in the Church of S. Margherita, built a short time before for the Friars of S. Francis on the summit of the hill, and in particular the half of the vaulting and the walls, so well that, although today they are wellnigh eaten away by time, there are seen notwithstanding most beautiful effects in the figures; and it is clear that he was deservedly commended for them.
This work finished, Ambrogio returned to Siena, where he lived honorably the remainder of his life, not only by reason of being an excellent master in painting, but also because, having given attention in his youth to letters, they were a useful and pleasant accompaniment to him in his painting, and so great an ornament to his whole life that they rendered him no less popular and beloved than did his profession of painting; wherefore he was not only intimate with men of learning and of taste, but he was also employed, to his great honor and advantage, in the government of his Republic. The ways of Ambrogio were in all respects worthy of praise, and rather those of a gentleman and a philosopher than of a craftsman; and what most demonstrates the wisdom of men, he had ever a mind disposed to be content with that which the world and time brought, wherefore he supported with a mind temperate and calm the good and the evil that came to him from fortune. And truly it cannot be told to what extent courteous ways and modesty, with the other good habits, are an honourable accompaniment to all the arts, and in particular to those that are derived from the intellect and from noble and exalted talents; wherefore every man should make himself no less beloved with his ways than with the excellence of his art.
Finally, at the end of his life, Ambrogio made a panel at Monte Oliveto di Chiusuri with great credit to himself, and a little afterwards, being eighty-three years of age, he passed happily and in the Christian faith to a better life. His works date about 1340.
As it has been said, the portrait of Ambrogio, by his own hand, is seen in the predella of his panel in S. Procolo, with a cap on his head. And what was his worth in draughtsmanship is seen in our book, wherein are some passing good drawings by his hand.
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