Madonna and Child. c. 1380, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
MANY who would fain stay in the country where they are born, being torn by the tooth of envy and oppressed by the tyranny of their fellow citizens, take themselves off, and choosing for country those places where they find that their talent is recognized and rewarded, they make their works therein; and striving to become very excellent in order to put to shame, in some sort, those by whom they have been outraged, they become very often great men, whereas, by staying quietly in their country, they would peradventure have had little more than a mediocre success in their arts. Antonio Viniziano, who betook himself to Florence in the wake of Agnolo Gaddi in order to learn painting, grasped the good method of working so well that he was not only esteemed and loved by the Florentines, but also greatly cherished by reason of this talent and of his other good qualities. Whereupon, being seized by a wish to show himself in his own city in order to enjoy some fruit of the fatigues endured by him, he returned to Venice, where, having made himself known by many works wrought in fresco and in distemper, he was commissioned by the Signoria to paint one of the walls of the Council Chamber. This he executed so excellently and with so great majesty that, according to his merit, he would have obtained an honorable reward; but the emulation, or rather, the envy of the craftsmen, and the favor that some gentlemen showed to other painters from abroad, caused the affair to fall out otherwise.
Wherefore the poor Antonio, finding himself thus crushed and overborne, took the wiser part and returned to Florence, with the intention never again to consent to return to Venice, and determined once and for all that his country should be Florence. Establishing himself, then, in that city, he painted in the cloister of S. Spirito, in a little arch, a Christ who is calling Peter and Andrew from their nets, and Zebedee and his sons; and below the three little arches of Stefano he painted the story of the miracle of Christ with the loaves and fishes, wherein he showed infinite diligence and lovingness, as it is clearly seen in the figure of Christ Himself, who, in the air of His countenance and in His aspect, is showing the compassion that He has for the multitude, and the ardor of the love wherewith He is causing the bread to be dispensed. Great affection, likewise, is seen in the very beautiful action of an Apostle, who is exerting himself greatly in dispensing the bread from a basket. From this work all who belong to art learn ever to paint their figures in a manner that they may appear to be speaking, for otherwise they are not prized. Antonio demonstrated the same thing on the outer frontal in a little scene of the Manna, wrought with so great diligence, and finished with so fine grace, that it can be truly called excellent. Afterwards, in S. Stefano al Ponte Vecchio, on the predella of the high altar, he made some stories of S. Stephen, with so great lovingness that it is not possible to see either more gracious or more beautiful figures, even if they were done in miniature. In S. Antonio al Ponte alia Carraja, moreover, he painted the arch over the door, which, with the whole church, was thrown to the ground in our own day by Monsignor Ricasoli, Bishop of Pistoia, because it took away the view from his houses; although, even if he had not done this, we should today, in any case, be deprived of that work, the late flood of 1557, as it has been said before, having carried away on that side two arches and the abutment of the bridge on which was built the said little Church of S. Antonio.
Antonio, being summoned after these works to Pisa by the Warden of Works of the Campo Santo, continued therein the painting of the stories of the Blessed Ranieri, a holy man of that city, formerly begun by Simone Sanese, following his arrangement. In the first part of the work painted by Antonio there is seen, in company with the said Ranieri when he is embarking in order to return to Pisa, a good number of figures wrought with diligence, among which is the portrait of Count Gaddo, who died ten years before, and that of Neri, his uncle, once Lord of Pisa. Among the said figures, also, that of a maniac is very notable, for, with the features of madness, with the person writhing in distorted gestures, the eyes blazing, and the mouth gnashing and showing the teeth, it resembles a real maniac so greatly that it is not possible to imagine either a more lifelike picture or one more true to nature.
In the next part, which is beside that named above, three figures (who are marvelling to see the Blessed Ranieri showing the Devil, in the form of a cat on a barrel, to a fat host, who has the air of a gay companion, and who, all fearful, is commending himself to the Saint) can be said to be truly very beautiful, being very well executed in the attitudes, the manner of the draperies, the variety of the heads, and all the other parts. Not far away are the host's womenfolk, and they, too, could not be wrought with more grace, Antonio having made them with certain tucked-up garments and with certain ways so peculiar to women who serve in hostelries, that nothing better can be imagined. Nor could that scene likewise be more pleasing than it is, wherein the Canons of the Duomo of Pisa, in very beautiful vestments of those times, no little different from those that are used today and very graceful, are receiving S. Ranieri at table, all the figures being made with much consideration. Next, in the painting of the death of the said Saint, he expressed very well not only the effect of weeping, but also the movement of certain angels who are bearing his soul to Heaven, surrounded by a light most resplendent and made with beautiful invention. And truly one cannot but marvel as one sees, in the bearing of the body of that Saint by the clergy to the Duomo, certain priests who are singing, for in their gestures, in the actions of their persons, and in all their movements, as they chant diverse parts, they bear a marvellous resemblance to a choir of singers; and in that scene, so it is said, is the portrait of the Bavarian.
In like manner, the miracles that Ranieri wrought as he was borne to his tomb, and those that he wrought in another place when already laid to rest therein in the Duomo, were painted with very great diligence by Antonio, who made there blind men receiving their sight, paralytics regaining the use of their members, men possessed by the Devil being delivered, and other miracles, all represented very vividly. But among all the other figures, that of a dropsical man deserves to be considered with marvel, for the reason that, with the face withered, with the lips shrivelled, and with the body swollen, he is such that a living man could not show more than does this picture the very great thirst of the dropsical and the other effects of that malady. A wonderful thing, too, in those times, was a ship that he made in this work, which, being in travail in a tempest, was saved by that Saint; for he made therein with great vivacity all the actions of the mariners, and everything which is wont to befall in such accidents and travailings. Some are casting into the insatiable sea, without a thought, the precious merchandize won by so much sweat and labor, others are running to see to their vessel, which is breaking up, and others, finally, to other mariners' duties, whereof it would take too long to relate the whole; it is enough to say that all are made with so great vividness and beautiful method that it is a marvel.
In the same place, below the lives of the Holy Fathers painted by Pietro Laurati of Siena, Antonio made the body of the Blessed Oliverio (together with the Abbot Panuzio, and many events of their lives), in a sarcophagus painted to look like marble; which figure is very well painted. In short, all these works that Antonio made in the Campo Santo are such that they have been universally held, and with great reason, the best of all those that have been wrought by many excellent masters at various times in that place, for the reason that, besides the particulars mentioned, the fact that he painted everything in fresco, never retouching any part on the dry, brought it about that up to our day they have remained so vivid in the coloring that they can teach the followers of that art and make them understand how greatly the retouching of works in fresco with other colours, after they are dry, causes injury to their pictures and labors, as it has been said in the treatise on Theory; for it is a very certain fact that they are aged, ' and not allowed to be purified by time, by being covered with colors that have a different body, being tempered with gums, with tragacanths, with eggs, with size, or some other similar substance, which tarnishes what is below, and does not allow the course of time and the air to purify that which has been truly wrought in fresco on the soft plaster, as they would have done if other colours had not been superimposed on the dry.
Having finished this work, which, being truly worthy of all praise, brought him honorable payment from the Pisans, who loved him greatly ever afterwards, Antonio returned to Florence, where, at Nuovoli without the Porta a Prato, he painted in a shrine, for Giovanni degli Agli, a Dead Christ, the story of the Magi with many figures, and a very beautiful Day of judgment. Summoned, next, to the Certosa, he painted for the Acciaiuoli, who built that place, the panel of the high altar, which was consumed by fire in our day by reason of the inadvertence of a sacristan of that monastery, who left the thurible full of fire hanging from the altar, wherefore the panel was burnt, and afterwards the altar was made by those monks, as it stands today, entirely of marble. In that same place, also, the same master made in fresco, over a wardrobe that is in the said chapel, a Transfiguration of Christ which is very beautiful. And because he studied the science of herbs in Dioscorides, being much inclined thereunto by nature, and delighting to understand the property and virtue of each one of them, at last he abandoned painting and gave himself to the distilling of simples and to seeking them out with all diligence.
Changing thus from painter to physician, for a long time he followed this art. Finally, falling sick from disease of the stomach, or, as others say, from plague caught while acting as physician, he finished the course of his life at the age of seventy-four, in the year 1384, when there was a very great plague in Florence, having been no less expert as physician than he was diligent as painter; wherefore, having made infinite experiments in medicine by means of those who had availed Themselves of him in their necessities, he left to the world a very good name for himself in both one and the other of these arts. Antonio drew very graciously with the pen, and so well in chiaroscuro, that some drawings by him which are in our book, wherein he made the little arch of S. Spirito, are the best of those times. A disciple of Antonio was Gherardo Stamina, the Florentine, who imitated him greatly; and Paolo Uccello, who was likewise his disciple, did him no small honor.
The portrait of Antonio Viniziano, by his own hand, is in the Campo Santo in Pisa.