AGOSTINO (Agostino di Giovanni)(d. 1350)
AND AGNOLO OF SIENA (Agnolo di Ventura) (d. 1348)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

AMONG OTHERS who exercised themselves in the school of the sculptors Giovanni and Niccola of Pisa, Agostino and Agnolo, sculptors of Siena, of whom we are at present about to write the Life, became very excellent for those times. These, according to what I find, were born from a father and mother of Siena, and their forefathers were architects, seeing that in the year iiqo, under the rule of the three Consuls, they brought to perfection the Fontebranda, and afterwards, in the following year, under the same Consulate, the Customs-house of that city and other buildings. And in truth it is clear that very often the seeds of talent germinate in the houses where they have lain for some time, and throw out shoots which afterwards produce greater and better fruits than the first plants had done. Agostino and Agnolo, then, adding great betterment to the manner of Giovanni and Niccola of Pisa, enriched the art with better' design and invention, as their works clearly demonstrate. It is said that the aforesaid Giovanni, returning from Naples to Pisa in the year 1284, stayed in Siena in order to make the design and foundation for the facade of the Duomo, wherein are the three principal doors, to the end that it might be all adorned very richly with marbles ; and that then Agostino, being no more than fifteen years of age, went to be with him in order to apply himself to sculpture, whereof he had learnt the first principles, being no less inclined to this art than to the matters of architecture.

And so, under the teaching of Giovanni, by means of continual study he surpassed all his fellow disciples in design, grace, and manner, so greatly that it was said by all that he was the right eye of his master. And because, between people who love each other, there is no gift, whether of nature, or of soul, or of fortune, that is mutually desired so much as excellence, which alone makes men great and noble, and what is more, most happy both in this life and in the other, therefore Agostino, seizing this occasion of assistance from Giovanni, drew his brother Agnolo into the same pursuit. Nor was it a great labour for him to do this, seeing that the intercourse of Agnolo with Agostino and with the other sculptors had already, as he saw the honor and profit that they were drawing from such an art, fired his mind with extreme eagerness and desire to apply himself to sculpture; nay, before Agostino had given a thought to this, Agnolo had wrought certain works in secret.

Agostino, then, being engaged in working with Giovanni on the marble panel of the high-altar in the Vescovado of Arezzo, whereof there has been mention above, contrived to bring there the said Agnolo, his brother, who acquitted himself in this work in such a manner that when it was finished he was found to have equalled Agostino in the excellence of his art. Which circumstance, becoming known to Giovanni, was the reason that after this work he made use of both one and the other in many other works of his that he wrought in Pistoia, in Pisa, and in other places. And seeing that he applied himself not only to sculpture but to architecture as well, no long time passed before, under the rule of the Nine in Siena, Agostino made the design of their Palace in Malborghetto, which was in the year 1308. In the making of this he acquired so great a name in his country, that, returning to Siena after the death of Giovanni, they were made, both one and the other, architects to the State; wherefore afterwards, in the year 1317, there was made under their direction the front of the Duomo that faces towards the north, and in the year 1321, with the design of the same men, there was begun the construction of the Porta Romana in that manner wherein it stands today, and it was finished in the year 1326; which gate was first called Porta S. Martino.

They rebuilt, also, the Porta a Tun, which at first was called Porta di S. Agata all' Arco. In the same year, with the design of the same Agostino and Agnolo, there was begun the Church and Convent of S. Francesco, in the presence of Cardinal di Gaeta, Apostolic Legate. No long time after, by the action of some of the Tolomei who were living as exiles at Orvieto, Agostino and Agnolo were summoned to make certain sculptures for the work of S. Maria in that city; wherefore, going there, they carved some prophets in marble which are now, in comparison with the other statues in that facade, the finest and best proportioned in that so greatly renowned work.

Now it came to pass in the year 1326, as it has been said in his Life, that Giotto was called by means of Charles, Duke of Calabria, who was then staying in Florence, to Naples, in order to make some things for King Robert in S. Chiara and other places in that city; wherefore Giotto, passing by way of Orvieto on his way to Naples, in order to see the works that had been made and were still being made there by so many men, wished to see everything minutely. And because the prophets of Agostino and Agnolo of Siena pleased him more than all the other sculptures, it came about therefore that Giotto not only commended them and held them, much to their contentment, among his friends, but also presented them to Piero Saccone da Pietramala as the best of all the sculptors then living, for the making of the tomb of Bishop Guido, Lord and Bishop of Arezzo, which has been mentioned in the Life of Giotto himself. And so then Giotto having seen in Orvieto the works of many sculptors and having judged the best to be those of Agostino and Agnolo of Siena, this was the reason that the said tomb was given to them to make in that manner, however, wherein he had designed it, and according to the model which he himself had sent to the said Piero Saccone. Agostino and Agnolo finished this tomb in the space of three years, executing it with much diligence, and built it into the Church of the Vescovado of Arezzo, in the Chapel of the Sacrament. Over the sarcophagus, which rests on certain great consoles carved more than passing well, there is stretched the body of that Bishop in marble, and at the sides are some angels that are drawing back certain curtains very gracefully. Besides this, there are carved in half-relief, in compartments, twelve scenes from the life and actions of that Bishop, with an infinite number of little figures. I will not grudge the labor of describing the] contents of these scenes, to the end that it may be seen with what great patience they were wrought, and how zealously these sculptors sought the good manner.

In the first is the scene when, assisted by the Ghibelline party of Milan, which sent him money and four hundred masons, he is rebuilding the walls of Arezzo all anew, making them much longer than they were and giving them the form of a galley. In the second is the taking of Lucignano di Valdichiana. In the third, that of Chiusi. In the fourth, that of Fronzoli, then a strong castle above Poppi, and held by the sons of the Count of Battifolle. The fifth is when the Castle of Rondine, after having been many months besieged by the Aretines, is surrendering finally to the Bishop. In the sixth is the taking of the Castle of Bucine in Valdarno. The seventh is when he is taking by storm the fortress of Caprese, which belonged to the Count of Romena, after having maintained the siege for several months. In the eighth the Bishop is having the Castle of Laterino pulled down and the hill that rises above it cut into the shape of a cross, to the end that it may no longer be possible to build a fortress thereon. In the ninth he is seen destroying Monte Sansovino and putting it to fire and flames, chasing from it all the inhabitants. In the eleventh is his coronation, wherein are to be seen many beautiful costumes of soldiers on foot and on horseback, and of other people. In the twelfth, finally, his men are seen carrying him from Montenero, where he fell sick, to Massa, and thence afterwards, now dead, to Arezzo. Round this tomb, also, in many places, are the Ghibelline insignia, and the arms of the Bishop, which are six square stones "or," on a field " azure," in the same ordering as are the six balls in the arms of the Medici; which arms of the house of the Bishop were described by Frate Guittone, chevalier and poet of Arezzo, when he said, writing of the site of the Castle of Pietramala, whence that family had its origin:

Dove si scontra il Giglion con la Chiassa 

Ivi furono i miei antecessori, 

Che in campo azurro d'or portan sei sassa. 

Agnolo and Agostino of Siena, then, executed this work with better art and invention and with more diligence than there had been shown in any work executed in their times. And in truth they deserve nothing but infinite praise, having made therein so many figures and so great a variety of sites, places, towers, horses, men, and other things, that it is indeed a marvel. And although this tomb was in great part destroyed by the Frenchmen of the Duke of Anjou, who sacked the greater part of that city in order to take revenge on the hostile party for certain affronts received, none the less it shows that it was wrought with very good judgment by the said Agostino and Agnolo, who cut on it, in rather large letters, these words :


After this, in the year 1329, they wrought an altar panel of marble for the Church of S. Francesco at Bologna, in a passing good manner; and therein, besides the carved ornamentation, which is very rich, they made a Christ who is crowning Our Lady, and on each side three similar figures S. Francis, S. James, S. Dominic, S. Anthony of Padua, S. Petronius, and S. John the Evangelist, with figures one braccio and a half in height. Below each of the said figures is carved a scene in low-relief from the life of the Saint that is above; and in all these scenes is an infinite number of half-length figures, which make a rich and beautiful adornment, according to the custom of those times. It is seen clearly that Agostino and Agnolo endured very great fatigue in this work, and that they put into it all diligence and study in order to make it, as it truly was, a work worthy of praise; and although they are half eaten away, yet there are to be read thereon their names and the date, by means of which, it being known when they began it, it isj seen that they laboured eight whole years in completing it. It is true, indeed, that in that same time they wrought many other small works in diverse places and for various people.

Now, while they were working in Bologna, that city, by the mediation of a Legate of the Pope, gave herself absolutely over to the Church; and the Pope, in return, promised that he would go to settle with his Court in Bologna, saying that he wished to erect a castle there, or truly a fortress, for his own security. This being conceded to him by the Bolognese, it was immediately built under the direction and design of Agostino and Agnolo, but it had a very short life, for the reason that the Bolognese, having found that the many promises of the Pope were wholly vain, pulled down and destroyed the said fortress, with much greater promptness than it had been built.

It is said that while these two sculptors were staying in Bologna the Po issued in furious flood from its bed and laid waste the whole country round for many miles, doing incredible amage to the territory of Mantua and Ferrara and slaying more than ten thousand persons; and that they, being called on for this reason as ingenious and able men, found a way to put this terrible river back into its course, confining it with dikes and other most useful barriers; which was greatly to their credit and profit, because, besides acquiring fame thereby, they were recompensed by the Lords of Mantua and by the D' Este family with most honorable rewards.

After this they returned to Siena, and in the year 1338, with their direction and design, there was made the new Church of S. Maria, near the Duomo Vecchio, towards Piazza Manetti; and no long time after, the people of Siena, remaining much satisfied with all the works that these men were making, determined with an occasion so apt to put into effect that which had been discussed many times, but up to then in vain namely, the making of a public fountain on the principal square, opposite the Palagio della Signoria. Wherefore, this being entrusted to Agostino and Agnolo, they brought the waters of that fountain through pipes of lead and of clay, which was very difficult, and it began to play in the year 1343, on the first day of June, with much pleasure and contentment to' the whole city, which remained thereby much indebted to the talent of these its two citizens.

About the same time there was made the Great Council Chamber in the Municipal Palace; and so too, with the direction and design of the same men, there was brought to its completion the tower of the said Palace, in the year 1344, and there were placed thereon two great bells, whereof they had one from Grosseto and the other was made in Siena. Finally, while Agnolo chanced to be in the city of Assisi, where he made a chapel and a tomb in marble in the lower Church of S. Francesco for a brother of Napoleone Orsino, a Cardinal and a friar of S. Francis, who had died in that place Agostino, who had remained in Siena in the service of the State, died while he was busy making the design for the adornments of the said fountain in the square, and was honorably buried in the Duomo. I have not yet found, and cannot therefore say anything about the matter, either how or when Agnolo died, or even any other works of importance by their hand; and therefore let this be the end of their Life. >P>Now, seeing that it would be without doubt an error, in following the order of time, not to make mention of some who, although they have not wrought so many works that it is possible to write their whole life, have none the less contributed betterment and beauty to art and to the world, I will say, taking occasion from that which has been said above about the Vescovado of Arezzo and about the Pieve, that Pietrp and Paolo, goldsmiths of Arezzo, who learnt design from Agnolo and Agostino of Siena, were the first who wrought large works of some excellence with the chasing tool, since, for an arch-priest of the said Pieve of Arezzo, they executed a head in silver as large as life, wherein was placed the head of S. Donatus, Bishop and Protector of that city; which work was worthy of nothing but praise, both because they made therein some very beautiful figures in enamel and other ornaments, and because it was one of the first works, as it has been said, that were wrought with the chasing tool.

About the same time, the Guild of Calimara in Florence caused Maestro Cione, an excellent goldsmith, to make the greater part, if not the whole, of the silver altar of S. Giovanni Battista, wherein are many scenes from the life of that Saint embossed on a plate of silver, with passing good figures in half-relief; which work, both by reason of its size and of its being something new, was held marvellous by all who saw it. In the year 1330, after the body of S. Zanobi had been found beneath the vaults of S. Reparata, the same Maestro Cione made a head of silver to contain a piece of the head of that Saint, which is still preserved today in the same head of silver and is borne in processions; which head was then held something very beautiful and gave a great name to its craftsman, who died no long time after, rich and in great repute.

Maestro Cione left many disciples, and among others Forzore di Spinello of Arezzo, who wrought every kind of chasing very well but was particularly excellent in making scenes in silver enamelled over fire, to which witness is borne by a mitre with most beautiful adornments in enamel, and a very beautiful pastoral staff of silver, which are in the Vescovado of Arezzo. The same man wrought for Cardinal Galeotto da Pietramala many works in silver that remained after his death with the friars of La Vernia, where he wished to be buried. There, besides the wall that was erected in that place by Count Orlando, Lord of Chiusi, a small town below La Vernia, the Cardinal built the church, together with many rooms in the convent and throughout that whole place, without putting his arms there or leaving any other memorial. A disciple of Maestro Cione, also, was Leonardo di Ser Giovanni, a Florentine, who wrought many works in chasing and soldering, with better design than the others before him had shown, and in particular the altar and panel of silver in S. Jacopo at Pistoia; in which work, besides the scenes, which are numerous, there was much praise given to a figure in the round that he made in the middle, representing S. James, more than one braccio in height, and wrought with so great finish that it appears rather to have been made by casting than by chasing. This figure is set in the midst of the said scenes on the panel of the altar, round which is a frieze of letters in enamel, that run thus:





Now, returning to Agostino and Agnolo: they had many disciples who, after their death, wrought many works of architecture and of sculpture in Lombardy and other parts of Italy, and among others Maestro Jacopo Lanfrani of Venice, who founded S. Francesco of Imola and wrought the principal door in sculpture, where he carved his name and the date, which was the year 1343. And at Bologna, in the Church of S. Domenico, the same Maestro Jacopo made a tomb in marble for Giovanni Andrea Calduino, Doctor of Laws and Secretary to Pope Clement VI; and another, also in marble and in the said church, very well wrought, for Taddeo Peppoli, Conservator of the people and of Justice in Bologna. And in the same year, which was the year 1347, or a little before, this tomb being finished, Maestro Jacopo went to his native city of Venice and founded the Church of S. Antonio, which was previously of wood, at the request of a Florentine Abbot of the ancient family of the Abati, the Doge being Messer Andrea Dandolo. This church was finished in the year 1349. Jacobello and Pietro Paolo, also, Venetians and disciples of Agostino and Agnolo, made a tomb in marble for Messer Giovanni da Lignano, Doctor of Laws, in the year 1383, in the Church of S. Domenico at Bologna.

All these and many other sculptors went on for a long space of time following one and the same method, in a manner that with it they filled all Italy. It is believed, also, that the Pesarese, who, besides many other works, built the Church of S. Domenico in his native city, and made in sculpture the marble door with the three figures in the round, God the Father, S. John the Baptist, and S. Mark, was a disciple of Agostino and Agnolo; and to this the manner bears witness. This work was finished in the year 1385. But, seeing that it would take too long if I were to make mention minutely of the works that were wrought by many masters of those times in that manner, I wish that this, that I have said of them thus in general, should suffice me for the present, and above all because there is not any benefit of much account for our arts from such works. Of the aforesaid it has seemed to me proper to make mention, because, if they do not deserve to be discussed at length, yet, on the other hand, they were not such as to need to be passed over completely in silence.

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