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Vasari's Lives of the Artists

How many great and illustrious Princes, abounding with infinite wealth, would leave behind them a name renowned and glorious, if they possessed, together with their store of the goods of Fortune, a mind filled with grandeur and inclined to those things that not only embellish the world, but also confer vast benefit and advantage on the whole race of men! And what works can or should Princes and great persons undertake more readily than noble and magnificent buildings and edifices, both on account of the many kinds of men that are employed upon them in the making, and because, when made, they endure almost to eternity? For of all the costly enterprises that the ancient Romans executed at the time when they were at the supreme height of their greatness, what else is there left to us save those remains of buildings, the everlasting glory of the Roman name, which we revere as sacred things and strive to imitate as the sole patterns of the highest beauty? And how much these considerations occupied the minds of certain Princes who lived in the time of the Florentine architect, Antonio da San Gallo, will now be seen clearly in the Life of him that we are about to write.

Antonio, then, was the son of Bartolommeo Picconi of Mugello, a maker of casks; and after having learned the joiner's craft in his boyhood, hearing that his uncle, Giuliano da San Gallo, was working at Rome in company with his brother Antonio, he set out from Florence for that city. And there, having devoted himself to the matters of the art of architecture with the greatest possible zeal, and pursuing that art, he gave promise of those achievements that we see in such abundance throughout all Italy, in the vast number of works executed by him at a more mature age. Now it happened that Giuliano was forced by the torment that he suffered from the stone to return to Florence; and Antonio, having become known to the architect Bramante of Castel Durante, began to give assistance to that master, who, being old and crippled in the hands by palsy, was not able to work as before in the preparation of his designs. And these Antonio executed with such accuracy and precision that Bramante, finding that they were correct and true in all their measurements, was constrained to leave to him the charge of a great number of works that he had on his hands, only giving him the order that he desired and all the inventions and compositions that were to be used in each work. In these he found himself served by Antonio with so much judgment, diligence, and expedition, that in the year 1512 he gave him the charge of the corridor that was to lead to the ditches of the Castello di S. Angelo; for which he began to receive a salary of ten crowns a month; but the death of Julius II then took place, and the work was left unfinished. However, the circumstance that Antonio had already acquired a name as a person of ability in architecture, and one who had a very good manner in matters of building, was the reason that Alessandro, who was first Cardinal Farnese, and afterwards Pope Paul III, conceived the idea of commissioning him to restore the old palace in the Campo di Fiore, in which he lived with his family; and for that work Antonio, desiring to grow in reputation, made several designs in different manners. Among which, one that was arranged with two apartments was that which pleased his very reverend Highness, who, having two sons, Signor Pier Luigi and Signor Ranuccio, thought that he would leave them well accommodated by such a building. And, a beginning having been made with that work, a certain portion was constructed regularly every year.

At this time a church dedicated to S. Maria di Loreto was being built at the Macello de' Corbi, near the Column of Trajan, in Rome, and it was brought to perfection by Antonio, with decorations of great beauty. After this, Messer Marchionne Baldassini caused a palace to be erected from the model and under the direction of Antonio, near S. Agostino, which is arranged in such a manner that, small though it may be, it is held to be, as indeed it is, the finest and most convenient dwelling in Rome; and in it the staircases, the court, the loggie, the doors, and the chimney pieces, are all executed with consummate grace. With which Messer Marchionne being very well satisfied, he determined that Perino del Vaga, the Florentine painter, should decorate one of the halls in color, with scenes and other figures, as will be related in his Life; which decorations have given it infinite grace and beauty. And near the Torre di Nona Antonio directed and finished the building of the house of the Centelli, which is small, but very convenient.

No long time passed before he went to Gradoli, a place in the dominions of the very reverend Cardinal Farnese, where he caused a most beautiful and commodious palace to be erected for that Cardinal. On that journey he did a work of great utility in restoring the fortress of Capo di Monte, which he surrounded with low and well-shaped walls; and at the same time he made the design of the fortress of Caprarola. And the very reverend Monsignor Farnese, finding himself served by Antonio in all these works in a manner so satisfactory, was constrained to wish him well, and, coming to love him more and more, he showed him favor in his every enterprise whenever he was able. After this, Cardinal Alborense, wishing to leave a memorial of himself in the church of his nation, caused a chapel of marble, with a tomb for himself, to be erected and brought to completion by Antonio in S. Jacopo degli Spagnuoli; which chapel, as has been related, was all painted in the spaces between the pilasters by Pellegrino da Modena, and on the altar stood a most beautiful S. James of marble executed by Jacopo Sansovino. This is a work of architecture that is held to be truly worthy of the highest praise, since the marble ceiling is divided very beautifully into octagonal compartments. Nor was it long before M. Bartolommeo Ferratino, for his own convenience and for the benefit of his friends, and also in order to leave an honorable and enduring memorial of himself, commissioned Antonio to build a palace on the Piazza d' Amelia, which is a beautiful and most imposing work; whereby Antonio acquired no little fame and profit. During this time Antonio di Monte, Cardinal of Santa Prassedia, was in Rome, and he desired that the same architect should build for him the palace that he afterwards occupied, looking out upon the Agone, where there is the statue of Maestro Pasquino; and in the centre, which looks over the Piazza, he wished to erect a tower. This was planned and brought to completion for him by Antonio with a most beautiful composition of pilasters and windows from the first floor to the third --a good and graceful design; and it was adorned both within and without by Francesco dell' Indaco with figures and scenes in terretta. And Antonio having meanwhile become the devoted servant of the Cardinal of Arimini, that lord caused him to erect a palace at Tolentino in the March, for which, in addition to the rewards that Antonio received, the Cardinal ever afterwards held himself indebted to him.

While these matters were in progress, and the fame of Antonio was growing and spreading abroad, it happened that old age and various infirmities made Bramante a citizen of the other world; at which three architects were appointed straightway by Pope Leo for the building of S. Pietro--Raffaello da Urbino, Giuliano da San Gallo, the uncle of Antonio, and Fra Giocondo of Verona. But no long time passed before Fra Giocondo departed from Rome, and Giuliano, being old, received leave to return to Florence. Whereupon Antonio, who was in the service of the very reverend Cardinal Farnese, besought him very straitly that he should make supplication to Pope Leo, to the end that he might grant the place of his uncle Giuliano to him, which proved to be a thing very easy to obtain, first because of the abilities of Antonio, which were worthy of that place, and then by reason of the cordial relations between the Pope and the very reverend Cardinal Farnese. And thus, in company with Raffaello da Urbino, he continued that building, but coldly enough.

The Pope then went to Civita' Vecchia, in order to fortify it, and in his company were many lords; among others, Giovan Paolo Baglioni and Signor Vitello, and such persons of ability as Pietro Navarra and Antonio Marchissi, the architect for fortifications at that time, who had come from Naples at the command of the Pope. Discussions arising as to the fortification of that place, many and various were the opinions about this, one man making one design, and another a different one; but among so many, Antonio displayed before them a plan which was approved by the Pope and by those lords and architects as superior to all the others in strength and beauty and in the handsome and useful character of its arrangements; wherefore Antonio came into very great credit with the Court. After this, the genius of Antonio repaired a great mischief brought about in the following manner: Raffaello da Urbino, in executing the Papal Loggie and the apartments that are over the foundations, had left many empty spaces in the masonry in order to oblige some friends, to the serious damage of the whole building, by reason of the great weight that had to be supported above them; and the edifice was already beginning to show signs of falling, on account of the weight being too great for the walls. And it would certainly have fallen down but for the genius of Antonio, who filled up those little chambers with the aid of props and beams, and refounded the whole fabric, thus making it as firm and solid as it had ever been in the beginning.

Meanwhile the Florentine colony had begun their church in the Strada Giulia, behind the Banchi, from the design of Jacopo Sansovino. But they had chosen a site that extended too far into the river, so that, compelled by necessity, they spent twelve thousand crowns on foundations in the water, which were executed in a very secure and beautiful manner by Antonio, who found the way after Jacopo had failed to discover it; and several braccia of the edifice were built over the water. Antonio made a model so excellent, that, if the work had been carried to completion, it would have been something stupendous. Nevertheless, it was a great error, giving proof of little judgment, on the part of those who were at that time the heads of that colony in Rome, for they should never have allowed the architects to found so large a church in so terrible a river, for the sake of gaining twenty braccia of length, and to throw away so many thousands of crowns on foundations, only to be compelled to contend with that river for ever; particularly because, by bringing that church forward and giving it another form, they might have built it on solid ground, and, what is more, might have carried the whole to completion with almost the same expense. And if they trusted in the riches of the merchants of that colony, it was seen afterwards how fallacious such a hope was, for in all the years that the pontificate was held by Leo and Clement of the Medici family, by Julius III, and by Marcellus, who all came from Florentine territory, although the last-named lived but a short time, and for all the greatness of so many Cardinals and the riches of so many merchants, it remained, as it still does, in the same condition in which it was left by our San Gallo. It is clear, therefore, that architects and those who cause buildings to be erected should look well to the end and to every matter, before setting their hands to works of importance.

But to return to Antonio: the fortress of Monte Fiascone had been formerly built by Pope Urban, and he restored it at the commission of the Pope, who took him to those parts one summer in his train. And at the request of Cardinal Farnese he built two little temples on the island of Visentina in the Lake of Bolsena, one of which was constructed as an octagon without and round within, and the other was square on the outer side and octagonal on the inner, with four niches in the walls at the corners, one to each; which two little temples, executed in so beautiful a manner, bore testimony to the skill with which Antonio was able to give variety to the details of architecture. While these temples were building, Antonio returned to Rome, where he made a beginning with the Palace of the Bishop of Cervia, which was afterwards left unfinished, on the Canto di S. Lucia, where the new Mint stands. He built the Church of S. Maria di Monferrato, which is held to be very beautiful, near the Corte Savella, and likewise the house of one Marrano, which is behind the Cibo Palace, near the houses of the Massimi.

Meanwhile Leo died, and with him all the fine and noble arts, which had been restored to life by him and by his predecessor, Julius II; and his successor was Adrian VI, in whose pontificate all arts and talents were so crushed down, that, if the government of the Apostolic Seat had remained long in his hands, that fate would have come upon Rome under his rule which fell upon her on another occasion, when all the statues saved from the destruction of the Goths, both the good and the bad, were condemned to be burned. Adrian, perhaps in imitation of the Pontiffs of those former times, had already begun to speak of intending to throw to the ground the Chapel of the divine Michelagnolo, saying that it was a bagnio of nudes; and he despised all good pictures and statues, calling them vanities of the world, and shameful and abominable things, which circumstance was the reason that not only Antonio, but all the other beautiful intellects were kept idle, insomuch that, not to mention other works, scarcely anything was done in the time of that Pontiff on the building of S. Pietro, to which at least he should have been friendly, since he wished to prove himself so much the enemy of worldly things.

For that reason, therefore, attending under that Pontiff to works of no great importance, Antonio restored the aisles of the Church of S. Jacopo degli Spagnuoli, and furnished the faŤade with most beautiful windows. He also caused a tabernacle of travertine to be constructed for the Imagine di Ponte, which, although small, is yet very graceful; and in it Perino del Vaga afterwards executed a beautiful little work in fresco.

The poor arts had already come to an evil pass through the life of Adrian, when Heaven, moved to pity for them, resolved by the death of one to give new life to thousands; wherefore it removed him from the world and caused him to surrender his place to one who would fill that position more worthily and would govern the affairs of the world in a different spirit. And thus a new Pope was elected in Clement VII, who, being a man of generous mind, and desiring to follow in the steps of Leo and of the other members of his illustrious family who had preceded him, bethought himself that, even as he had created beautiful memorials of himself as Cardinal, so as Pope he should surpass all others in restoring and adorning buildings. That election, then, brought consolation to many men of talent, and infused a potent and heaven-sent breath of life in those ingenious but timid spirits who had sunk into abasement; and they, thus revived, afterwards executed the beautiful works that we see at the present day. And first, having been set to work at the commission of His Holiness, Antonio straightway reconstructed a court in front of the Loggie, which had been painted previously under the direction of Raffaello, in the Palace; which court was a vast improvement in beauty and convenience, for it was formerly necessary to pass through certain narrow and tortuous ways, and Antonio, widening these and giving them better form, made them spacious and beautiful. But this part is not now in the condition in which Antonio left it, for Pope Julius III took away the columns of granite that were there, in order to adorn his villa with them, and altered everything. Antonio also executed the facade of the old Mint of Rome, a work of great beauty and grace, in the Banchi, making a rounded corner, which is held to be a difficult and even miraculous thing; and in that work he placed the arms of the Pope. And he refounded the unfinished part of the Papal Loggie, which had remained incomplete at the death of Pope Leo, and had not been continued, or even touched, through the negligence of Adrian. And thus, at the desire of Clement, they were carried to their final completion.

His Holiness then resolving to fortify Parma and Piacenza, after many designs and models had been made by various craftsmen, Antonio was sent to those places, and with him Giuliano Leno, the supervisor of those fortifications. When they had arrived there, Antonio having with him his pupil L'Abacco, Pier Francesco da Viterbo, a very able engineer, and the architect Michele San Michele of Verona, all of them together carried the designs of those fortifications into execution. Which done, the others remaining, Antonio returned to Rome, where Pope Clement, since the Palace was poorly supplied in the matter of apartments, ordained that Antonio should begin those in which the public consistories are held, above the Ferraria, which were executed in such a manner, that the Pontiff was well satisfied with them, and caused other apartments to be constructed above them for the Chamberlains of His Holiness. Over the ceilings of those apartments, likewise, Antonio made others which were very commodious--a work which was most dangerous, because it necessitated so much refounding. In this kind of work Antonio was in truth very able, seeing that his buildings never showed a crack; nor was there ever among the moderns any architect more cautious or more skilful in joining walls.

In the time of Pope Paul II, the Church of the Madonna of Loreto, which was small, and had its roof immediately over brick piers of rustic work, had been refounded and brought to that size in which it may be seen at the present day, by means of the skill and genius of Giuliano da Maiano; and it had been continued from the outer string-course upwards by Sixtus IV and by others, as has been related; but finally, in the time of Clement, in the year 1526, without having previously shown the slightest sign of falling, it cracked in such a manner, that not only the arches of the tribune were in danger, but the whole church in many places, for the reason that the foundations were weak and wanting in depth. Wherefore Antonio was sent by the said Pope Clement to put right so great a mischief; and when he had arrived at Loreto, propping up the arches and fortifying the whole, like the resolute and judicious architect that he was, he refounded all the building, and, making the walls and pilasters thicker both within and without, he gave it a beautiful form, both as a whole and in its well-proportioned parts, and made it strong enough to be able to support any weight, however great. He adhered to one and the same order in the transepts and in the aisles of the church, making superb mouldings on the architraves, friezes, and cornices above the arches, and he rendered beautiful and well constructed in no common way the socles of the four great piers around the eight sides of the tribune which support the four arches--namely, three in the transepts, where the chapels are, and the larger one in the central nave. This work certainly deserves to be celebrated as the best that Antonio ever executed, and that not without sufficient reason, seeing that those who erect some new building, or raise one from the foundations, have the power to make it high or low, and to carry it to such perfection as they desire or are able to achieve, without being hindered by anything; which does not fall to the lot of him who has to rectify or restore works begun by others and brought to a sorry state either by the craftsman or by the circumstances of Fortune; whence it may be said that Antonio restored a dead thing to life, and did that which was scarcely possible. Having finished all this, he arranged that the church should be covered with lead, and gave directions for the execution of all that still remained to do; and thus, by his means, that famous temple received a better form and more grace than it had possessed before, and the hope of a long-enduring life.

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