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BARTOLOMMEO DA BAGNACAVALLO (1484-1542) and OTHERS
PAINTERS OF ROMAGNA

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists







IT IS CERTAIN that the result of emulation in the arts, caused by a desire for glory, proves for the most part to be one worthy of praise; but when it happens that the aspirant, through presumption and arrogance, comes to hold an inflated opinion of himself, in course of time the name for excellence that he seeks may be seen to dissolve into mist and smoke, for the reason that there is no advance to perfection possible for him who knows not his own failings and has no fear of the work of others. More readily does hope mount towards proficience for those modest and studious spirits who, leading an upright life, honor the works of rare masters and imitate them with all diligence, than for those who have their heads full of smoky pride, as had Bartolommeo da Bagnacavallo, Amico of Bologna, Girolamo da Cotignola, and Innocenzio da Imola, painters all, who, living in Bologna at one and the same time, felt the greatest jealousy of one another that could possibly be imagined. And, what is more, their pride and vainglory, not being based on the foundation of ability, led them astray from the true path, which brings to immortality those who strive more from love of good work than from rivalry. This circumstance, then, was the reason that they did not crown the good beginnings that they had made with that final excellence which they expected; for their presuming to the name of masters turned them too far aside from the good way.

Bartolommeo da Bagnacavallo had come to Rome in the time of Raffaello, in order to attain with his works to that perfection which he believed himself to be already grasping with his intellect. And being a young man who had some fame at Bologna and had awakened expectations, he was set to execute a work in the Church of the Pace at Rome, in the first chapel on the right hand as one enters the church, above the chapel of Baldassarre Peruzzi of Siena. But, thinking that he had not achieved the success that he had promised himself, he returned to Bologna. There he and the others mentioned above, in competition one with another, executed each a scene from the Lives of Christ and His Mother in the Chapel of the Madonna in S. Petronio, near the door of the facade, on the right hand as one enters the church; among which little difference in merit is to be seen between one and another. But Bartolommeo acquired from this work the reputation of having a manner both softer and stronger than the others; and although there is a vast number of strange things in the scene of Maestro Amico, in which he depicted the Resurrection of Christ with armed men in crouching and distorted attitudes, and many soldiers crushed flat by the stone of the Sepulchre, which has fallen upon them, nevertheless that of Bartolommeo, as having more unity of design and coloring, was more extolled by other craftsmen. On account of this Bartolommeo associated himself with Biagio Bolognese, a person with much more practice than excellence in art; and they executed in company at S. Salvatore, for the Frati Scopetini, a refectory which they painted partly in fresco and partly "a secco," containing the scene of Christ satisfying five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. They painted, also, on a wall of the library, the Disputation of S. Augustine, wherein they made a passing good view in perspective. These masters, thanks to having seen the works of Raffaello and associated with him, had a certain quality which, upon the whole, gave promise of excellence, but in truth they did not attend as they should have done to the more subtle refinements of art. Yet, since there were no painters in Bologna at that time who knew more than they did, they were held by those who then governed the city, as well as by all the people, to be the best masters in Italy.

By the hand of Bartolommeo are some round pictures in fresco under the vaulting of the Palace of the Podesta', and a scene of the Visitation of S. Elizabeth in S. Vitale, opposite to the Palace of the Fantucci. In the Convent of the Servites at Bologna, round a panel picture of the Annunciation painted in oils, are some saints executed in fresco by Innocenzio da Imola. In S. Michele in Bosco Bartolommeo painted in fresco the Chapel of Ramazzotto, a faction leader in Romagna. In a chapel in S. Stefano the same master painted two saints in fresco, with some little angels of considerable beauty in the sky; and in S. Jacopo, for Messer Annibale del Corello, a chapel in which he represented the Circumcision of Our Lord, with a number of figures, above which, in a lunette, he painted Abraham sacrificing his son to God. This work, in truth, was executed in a good and able manner. For the Misericordia, without Bologna, he painted a little panel picture in distemper of Our Lady and some saints; with many pictures and other works, which are in the hands of various persons in that city.

This master, in truth, was above mediocrity both in the uprightness of his life and in his works, and he was superior to the others in drawing and invention, as may be seen from a drawing in our book, wherein is Jesus Christ, as a boy, disputing with the Doctors in the Temple, with a building executed with good mastery and judgment. In the end, he finished his life at the age of fifty-eight.

He had always been much envied by Amico of Bologna, an eccentric man of extravagant brain, whose figures, executed by him throughout all Italy, but particularly in Bologna, where he spent most of his time, are equally eccentric and even mad, if one may say so. If, indeed, the vast labor which Amico devoted to drawing had been pursued with a settled object, and not by caprice, he might perchance have surpassed many whom we regard as rare and able men. And even so, such is the value of persistent labor, that it is not possible that out of a mass of work there should not be found some that is good and worthy of praise; and such, among the vast number of works that this master executed, is a faŤade in chiaroscuro on the Piazza de' Marsigli, wherein are many historical pictures, with a frieze of animals fighting together, very spirited and well executed, which is almost the best work that he ever painted. He painted another facade at the Porta di S. Mammolo, and a frieze round the principal chapel of S. Salvatore, so extravagant and so full of absurdities that it would provoke laughter in one who was on the verge of tears. In a word, there is no church or street in Bologna which has not some daub by the hand of this master.

In Rome, also, he painted not a little; and in S. Friano, at Lucca, he filled a chapel with inventions fantastic and bizarre, among which are some things worthy of praise, such as the stories of the Cross and some of S. Augustine. In these are innumerable portraits of distinguished persons of that city; and, to tell the truth, this was one of the best works that Maestro Amico ever executed with colors in fresco.

In S. Jacopo, at Bologna, he painted at the altar of S. Niccola some stories of the latter Saint, and below these a frieze with views in perspective, which deserve to be extolled. When the Emperor Charles V visited Bologna, Amico made a triumphal arch, for which Alfonso Lombardi executed statues in relief, at the gate of the Palace. And it is no marvel that the work of Amico revealed skill of hand rather than any other quality, for it is said that, like the eccentric and extraordinary person that he was, he went through all Italy drawing and copying every work of painting or relief, whether good or bad, on which account he became something of an adept in invention; and when he found anything likely to be useful to him, he laid his hands upon it eagerly, and then destroyed it, so that no one else might make use of it. The result of all this striving was that he acquired the strange, mad manner that we know.

Finally, having reached the age of seventy, what with his art and the eccentricity of his life, he became raving mad, at which Messer Francesco Guicciardini, a noble Florentine, and a most trustworthy writer of the history of his own times, who was then Governor of Bologna, found no small amusement, as did the whole city. Some people, however, believe that there was some method mixed with this madness of his, because, having sold some property for a small price while he was mad and in very great straits, he asked for it back again when he regained his sanity, and recovered it under certain conditions, since he had sold it, so he said, when he was mad. I do not swear, indeed, that this is true, for it may have been otherwise; but I do say that I have often heard the story told.

Amico also gave his attention to sculpture, and executed to the best of his ability, in marble, a Dead Christ with Nicodemus supporting Him. This work, which he treated in the manner seen in his pictures, is on the right within the entrance of the Church of S. Petronio. He used to paint with both hands at the same time, holding in one the brush with the bright color, and in the other that with the dark. But the best joke of all was that he had his leather belt hung all round with little pots full of tempered colors, so that he looked like the Devil of S. Macario with all those flasks of his; and when he worked with his spectacles on his nose, he would have made the very stones laugh, and particularly when he began to chatter, for then he babbled enough for twenty, saying the strangest things in the world, and his whole demeanor was a comedy. Certain it is that he never used to speak well of any person, however able or good, and however well dowered he saw him to be by Nature or Fortune. And, as has been said, he so loved to chatter and tell stories, that one evening, at the hour of the Ave Maria, when a painter of Bologna, after buying cabbages in the Piazza, came upon Amico, the latter kept him under the Loggia del Podesta' with his talk and his amusing stories, without the poor man being able to break away from him, almost till daylight, when Amico said: "Now go and boil your cabbages, for the time is getting on."

He was the author of a vast number of other jokes and follies, of which I shall not make mention, because it is now time to say something of Girolamo da Cotignola. This master painted many pictures and portraits from life in Bologna, and among them are two in the house of the Vinacci, which are very beautiful. He made a portrait after death of Monsignore de Foix, who died in the rout of Ravenna, and not long after he executed a portrait of Massimiliano Sforza. For S. Giuseppe he painted a panel picture which brought him much praise, and, for S. Michele in Bosco, the panel picture in oils which is in the Chapel of S. Benedetto. The latter work led to his executing, in company with Biagio Bolognese, all the scenes which are round that church, laid on in fresco and executed "a secco," wherein are seen proofs of no little mastery, as has been said in speaking of the manner of Biagio. The same Girolamo painted a large altarpiece for S. Colomba at Rimini, in competition with Benedetto da Ferrara and Lattanzio, in which work he made a S. Lucia rather wanton than beautiful. And in the great tribune of that church he executed a Coronation of Our Lady, with the twelve Apostles and the four Evangelists, with heads so gross and hideous that they are an outrage to the eye.

He then returned to Bologna, but had not been there long when he went to Rome, where he made portraits from life of many men of rank, and in particular that of Pope Paul III. But, perceiving that it was no place for him, and that he was not likely to acquire honour, profit, or fame among so many noble craftsmen, he went off to Naples, where he found some friends who showed him favor, and above all M. Tommaso Cambi, a Florentine merchant, and a devoted lover of pictures and antiquities in marble, by whom he was supplied with everything of which he was in need. Thereupon, setting to work, he executed a panel-picture of the Magi, in oils, for the chapel of one M. Antonello, Bishop of I know not what place, in Monte Oliveto, and another panel picture in oils for S. Aniello, containing the Madonna, S. Paul, and S. John the Baptist, with portraits from life for many noblemen.

Being now well advanced in years, he lived like a miser, and was always trying to save money; and after no long time, having little more to do in Naples, he returned to Rome. There some friends of his, having heard that he had saved a few crowns, persuaded him that he ought to get married and live a properly-regulated life. And so, thinking that he was doing well for himself, he let those friends deceive him so completely that they imposed upon him for a wife, to suit their own convenience, a prostitute whom they had been keeping. Then, after he had married her and come to a knowledge of her, the truth was revealed, at which the poor old man was so grieved that he died in a few weeks at the age of sixty-nine.

And now to say something of Innocenzio da Imola. This master was for many years in Florence with Mariotto Albertinelli; and then, having returned to Imola, he executed many works in that place. But finally, at the persuasion of Count Giovan Battista Bentivogli, he went to live in Bologna, where one of his first works was a copy of a picture formerly executed by Raffaello da Urbino for Signor Leonello da Carpi. And for the Monks of S. Michele in Bosco he painted in fresco, in their chapterhouse, the Death of Our Lady and the Resurrection of Christ, works which were executed with truly supreme diligence and finish. For the church of the same monks, also, he painted the panel of the high-altar, the upper part of which is done in a good manner. For the Servites of Bologna he executed an Annunciation on panel, and for S. Salvatore a Crucifixion, with many pictures of various kinds throughout the whole city. At the Viola, for the Cardinal of Ivrea, he painted three loggie in fresco, each containing two scenes, executed in color from designs by other painters, and yet finished with much diligence. He painted in fresco a chapel in S. Jacopo, and for Madonna Benozza a panel picture in oils, which was not otherwise than passing good. He made a portrait, also, besides many others, of Cardinal Francesco Alidosio, which I have seen at Imola, together with the portrait of Cardinal Bernardino Carvajal, and both are works of no little beauty.

Innocenzio was a very good and modest person, and therefore always avoided any dealings or intercourse with the painters of Bologna, who were quite the opposite in nature, and he was always exerting himself beyond the limits of his strength; wherefore, when he fell sick of a putrid fever at the age of fifty-six, it found him so weak and exhausted that it killed him in a few days. He left unfinished, or rather, scarcely begun, a work that he had undertaken without Bologna, and this was completed to perfection, according to the arrangement made by Innocenzio before his death, by Prospero Fontana, a painter of Bologna.

The works of all the above-named painters date from 1506 to 1542, and there are drawings by the hands of them all in our book.



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