Life of Baccio d'Agnolo

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists

GREAT IS THE PLEASURE that I take in studying at times the beginnings of our craftsmen, for one sees some rising from the lowest depth to the greatest height, and especially in architecture, a science which has not been practised for several years past save by carvers and cunning impostors who profess to understand perspective without knowing even its terms or its first principles. The truth, indeed, is that architecture can never be practised to perfection save by those who have an excellent judgment and a good mastery of design, or have labored much in painting, sculpture, or works in wood, for the reason that in it have to be executed with true measurements the dimensions of their figures, which are columns, cornices, and bases, and all the ornaments, which are made for the adornment of the figures, and for no other reason. And thus the workers in wood, by continually handling such things, in course of time become architects; and sculptors likewise, by having to find positions for their statues and by making ornaments for tombs and other works in the round, come in time to a knowledge of architecture; and painters, on account of their perspectives, the variety of their inventions, and the buildings that they draw, are compelled to take the groundplans of edifices, seeing that they cannot plant houses or flights of steps on the planes where their figures stand, without in the first place grasping the order of the architecture.

Working in his youth excellently well at wood-inlaying, Baccio executed the backs of the stalls in the choir of S. Maria Novella, in the principal chapel, wherein are most beautiful figures of S. John the Baptist and S. Laurence. In carving, he executed the ornaments of [Pg 66] that same chapel, those of the high-altar in the Nunziata, the decorations of the organ in S. Maria Novella, and a vast number of other works, both public and private, in his native city of Florence. Departing from that city, he went to Rome, where he applied himself with great zeal to the study of architecture; and on his return he made triumphal arches of wood in various places for the visit of Pope Leo X. But for all this he never gave up his workshop, where there were often gathered round him, in addition to many citizens, the best and most eminent masters of our arts, so that most beautiful conversations and discussions of importance took place there, particularly in winter. The first of these masters was Raffaello da Urbino, then a young man, and next came Andrea Sansovino, Filippino, Maiano, Cronaca, Antonio da San Gallo and Giuliano da San Gallo, Granaccio, and sometimes, but not often, Michelagnolo, with many young Florentines and strangers.

Having thus given his attention to architecture in so thorough a manner, and having made some trial of his powers, Baccio began to be held in such credit in Florence, that the most magnificent buildings that were erected in his time were entrusted to him and were put under his direction. When Piero Soderini was Gonfalonier, Baccio took part, with Cronaca and others, as has been related above, in the deliberations that were held with regard to the great Hall of the Palace; and with his own hand he executed in wood the ornament for the large panel-picture which was begun by Fra Bartolommeo, after the design by Filippino. In company with the same masters he made the staircase that leads to that Hall, with a very beautiful ornamentation of stone, and also the columns of variegated marble and the doors of marble in the hall that is now called the Sala de' Dugento.

He built a palace for Giovanni Bartolini, which is very ornate within, on the Piazza di S. Trinita'; and he made many designs for the garden of the same man in Gualfonda. And since that palace was the first edifice that was built with ornaments in the form of square windows with pediments, and a portal with columns supporting architrave, frieze, and cornice, these things were much censured by the Florentines with spoken words and sonnets, and festoons of boughs were hung upon them, as is done in churches for festivals, men saying that the faŤade was more like that of a temple than of a palace; so that Baccio was like to go out of his mind. However, knowing that he had imitated good examples, and that his work was sound, he regained his peace of mind. It is true that the cornice of the whole palace proved, as has been said in another place, to be too large; but in every other respect the work has always been much extolled.

For Lanfredino Lanfredini he erected a house on the bank of the Arno, between the Ponte a S. Trinita' and the Ponte alla Carraja; and on the Piazza de' Mozzi he began the house of the Nasi, which looks out upon the sandy shore of the Arno, but did not finish it. For Taddeo, of the Taddei family, he built a house that was held to be very beautiful and commodious. For Pier Francesco Borgherini he made the designs of the house that he built in Borgo S. Apostolo, in which he caused ornaments for the doors and most beautiful chimney-pieces to be executed at great expense, and made for the adornment of one chamber, in particular, coffers of walnut-wood covered with little boys carved with supreme diligence. Such a work it would now be impossible to execute with such perfection as he gave to it. He also prepared the design for the villa that Borgherini caused to be built on the hill of Bellosguardo, which was very beautiful and commodious, and erected at vast expense. For Giovan Maria Benintendi he executed an antechamber, with an ornamental frame for some scenes painted by excellent masters, which was a rare thing. The same Baccio made the model of the Church of S. Giuseppe near S. Nofri, and directed the construction of the door, which was his last work. He also caused to be built of masonry the campanile of S. Spirito in Florence, which was left unfinished, and is now being completed by order of Duke Cosimo after the original design of Baccio; and he likewise erected the campanile of S. Miniato sul Monte, which was battered by the artillery of the camp, but never destroyed, on which account it gained no less fame for the affront that it offered to the enemy than for the beauty and excellence with which Baccio had caused it to be built and carried to completion.

Next, having been appointed on account of his abilities, and because [Pg 68] he was much beloved by the citizens, as architect to S. Maria del Fiore, Baccio gave the design for constructing the gallery that encircles the cupola. This part of the work Filippo Brunelleschi, being overtaken by death, had not been able to execute; and although he had made designs even for this, they had been lost or destroyed through the negligence of those in charge of the building. Baccio, then, having made the design and model for this gallery, carried into execution all the part that is to be seen facing the Canto de' Bischeri. But Michelagnolo Buonarroti, on his return from Rome, perceiving that in carrying out this work they were cutting away the toothings that Filippo Brunelleschi, not without a purpose, had left projecting, made such a clamour that the work was stopped; saying that it seemed to him that Baccio had made a cage for crickets, that a pile so vast required something grander and executed with more design, art, and grace than appeared to him to be displayed by Baccio's design, and that he himself would show how it should be done. Michelagnolo having therefore made a model, the matter was disputed at great length before Cardinal Giulio de' Medici by many craftsmen and competent citizens; and in the end neither the one model nor the other was carried into execution. Baccio's design was censured in many respects, not that it was not a well-proportioned work of its kind, but because it was too insignificant in comparison with the size of the structure; and for these reasons that gallery has never been brought to completion.

Baccio afterwards gave his attention to executing the pavement of S. Maria del Fiore, and to his other buildings, which were not a few, for he had under his particular charge all the principal monasteries and convents of Florence, and many houses of citizens, both within and without the city. Finally, when near the age of eighty-hree, but still of good and sound judgment, he passed to a better life in 1543, leaving three sons, Giuliano, Filippo, and Domenico, who had him buried in S. Lorenzo.

Of these sons, who all gave their attention after the death of Baccio to the art of carving and working in wood, Giuliano, who was the second, was the one who applied himself with the greatest zeal to architecture [Pg 69] both during his father's lifetime and afterwards; wherefore, by favor of Duke Cosimo, he succeeded to his father's place as architect to S. Maria del Fiore, and continued not only all that Baccio had begun in that temple, but also all the other buildings that had remained unfinished at his death. At that time Messer Baldassarre Turini da Pescia was intending to place a panel picture by the hand of Raffaello da Urbino in the principal church of Pescia, of which he was Provost, and to erect an ornament of stone, or rather, an entire chapel, around it, and also a tomb; and Giuliano executed all this after his own designs and models, and also restored for the same patron his house at Pescia, making in it many beautiful and useful improvements. For Messer Francesco Campana, formerly First Secretary to Duke Alessandro, and afterwards to Duke Cosimo de' Medici, the same Giuliano built at Montughi, without Florence, beside the church, a house which is small but very ornate, and so well situated, that it commands from its slight elevation a view of the whole city of Florence and the surrounding plain. And a most beautiful and commodious house was built at Colle, the native place of that same Campana, from the design of Giuliano, who shortly afterwards began for Messer Ugolino Grifoni, Lord of Altopascio, a palace at San Miniato al Tedesco, which was a magnificent work.

For Ser Giovanni Conti, one of the secretaries of the Lord Duke Cosimo, he made many useful and beautiful improvements in his house at Florence; although it is true that in the two groundfloor windows, supported by knee-shaped brackets, which open out upon the street, Giuliano departed from his usual method, and so cut them up with projections, little brackets, and off-sets, that they inclined rather to the German manner than to the true and good manner of ancient or modern times. Works of architecture, without a doubt, must first be massive, solid, and simple, and then enriched by grace of design and by variety of subject in the composition, without, however, disturbing by poverty or by excess of ornamentation the order of the architecture or the impression produced on a competent judge.

Meanwhile Baccio Bandinelli, having returned from Rome, where he had finished the tombs of Leo and Clement, persuaded the Lord Duke Cosimo, then a young man, to make at the head of the Great Hall of the Ducal Palace a faŤade full of columns and niches, with a range of fine marble statues; and this faŤade was to have windows of marble and greystone looking out upon the Piazza. The Duke having resolved to have this done, Bandinelli set his hand to making the design; but finding that the hall, as has been related in the Life of Cronaca, was out of square, and having never given attention to architecture, which he considered an art of little value, marvelling and even laughing at those who gave their attention to it, he was forced, on recognizing the difficulty of this work, to confer with Giuliano with regard to his model, and to beseech him that he, as an architect, should direct the work. And so all the stonecutters and carvers of S. Maria del Fiore were set to work, and a beginning was made with the structure. Bandinelli had resolved, with the advice of Giuliano, to let the work remain out of square, following in part the course of the wall. It came to pass, therefore, that he was forced to make all the stones irregular in shape, preparing them with great labour by means of the pifferello, which is the instrument otherwise called the bevel-square; and this made the work so clumsy, that, as will be related in the Life of Bandinelli, it has been difficult to bring it to such a form as might be in harmony with the rest. Such a thing would not have happened if Bandinelli had possessed as much knowledge in architecture as he did in sculpture; not to mention that the great niches in the side walls at each end proved to be squat, and that the one in the centre was not without defect, as will be told in the Life of that same Bandinelli. This work, after having been pursued for ten years, was abandoned, and so it remained for some time. It is true that the profiled stones as well as the columns, both of Fossato stone and of marble, were wrought with the greatest diligence by the stone-cutters and carvers under the care of Giuliano, and were afterwards so well built in that it would not be possible to find any masonry better put together, all the stones being accurately measured. In this respect Giuliano may be celebrated as most excellent; and the work, as will be related in the proper place, was finished in five months, with an addition, by Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo.

Giuliano, meanwhile, not neglecting his workshop, was giving his attention, together with his brothers, to the execution of many carvings and works in wood, and also to pressing on the making of the pavement of S. Maria del Fiore; and since he was superintendent and architect of that building, he was requested by the same Bandinelli to make designs and models of wood, after some fantasies of figures and other ornaments of his own, for the high altar of that same S. Maria del Fiore, which was to be constructed of marble; which Giuliano did most willingly, being a good and kindly person and one who delighted in architecture as much as Bandinelli despised it, and being also won over by the lavish promises of profit and honor that Bandinelli made him. Setting to work, therefore, on that model, Giuliano made it much after the simple pattern formerly designed by Brunelleschi, save that he enriched it by doubling both the columns and the arch above. And when he had brought it to completion, and the model, together with many designs, had been carried by Bandinelli to Duke Cosimo, his most illustrious Excellency resolved in his regal mind to execute not only the altar, but also the ornament of marble that surrounds the choir, following its original octagonal shape, with all those rich adornments with which it has since been carried out, in keeping with the grandeur and magnificence of that temple. Giuliano, therefore, with the assistance of Bandinelli, made a beginning with that choir, without altering anything save the principal entrance, which is opposite to the above-mentioned altar; for which reason he wished that it should be exactly similar to that altar, with the same arch and decorations. He also made two other similar arches, which unite with the entrance and the altar in forming a cross; and these were for two pulpits, which the old choir also had, serving for music and other ceremonies of the choir and of the altar. In this choir, around the eight faces, Giuliano made an ornament of the Ionic Order, and placed at every corner a pilaster bent in the middle, and one on every face; and since each pilaster so narrowed that the extension lines of its side faces met in the centre of the choir, from inside it looked narrow and bent in, and from outside broad and pointed. This invention was not much extolled, nor can it be commended as beautiful by any man of judgment; and for a work of such cost, in a place so celebrated, Bandinelli, if he despised architecture, or had no knowledge of it, should have availed himself of someone living at that time with the knowledge and ability to do better. Giuliano deserves to be excused in the matter, because he did all that he could, which was not a little; but it is very certain that one who has not strong powers of design and invention in himself, will always be too poor in grace and judgment to bring to perfection great works of architecture.

Giuliano made for Filippo Strozzi a couch of walnut wood, which is now at Citta' di Castello, in the house of the heirs of Signor Alessandro Vitelli. For an altarpiece which Giorgio Vasari painted for the high altar of the Abbey of Camaldoli in the Casentino, he made a very rich and beautiful frame, after the design of Giorgio; and he carved another ornamental frame for a large altarpiece that the same Giorgio executed for the Church of S. Agostino in Monte Sansovino. The same Giuliano made another beautiful frame for another altarpiece by the hand of Vasari, which is in the Abbey of Classi, a seat of the Monks of Camaldoli, at Ravenna. He also executed the frames for the pictures by the hand of the same Giorgio of Arezzo that are in the refectory of the Monks of the Abbey of S. Fiore at Arezzo; and in the Vescovado in the same city, behind the high-altar, he made a most beautiful choir of walnut wood, after the design of Giorgio, which provided for the bringing forward of the altar. And, finally, a short time before his death, he made the rich and beautiful Ciborium of the most Holy Sacrament for the high altar of the Nunziata, with the two Angels of wood, in full relief, which are on either side of it. This was the last work that he executed, and he passed to a better life in the year 1555.

Nor was Domenico, the brother of that Giuliano, inferior to him in judgment, seeing that, besides carving much better in wood, he was also very ingenious in matters of architecture, as may be seen from the house that was built for Bastiano da Montaguto in the Via de' Servi after his design, wherein there are also many works in wood by Domenico's own hand. The same master executed for Agostino del Nero, in the Piazza de' Mozzi, the buildings that form the street corner and a very beautiful terrace for that house of the Nasi formerly begun by his father Baccio. And it is the common belief that, if he had not died so young, he would have surpassed by a great measure both his father and his brother Giuliano.

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