Relief from the coro of the Duomo of Florence. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence.

Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560)
Part IIl
Vasari's Lives of the Artists

Arriving in Florence, Baccio found that the Duke had sent the sculptor Tribolo to Carrara to quarry the marble for the fountains of Castello and the tomb of Signor Giovanni; and he so wrought upon the Duke that he wrested the tomb of Signor Giovanni from the hands of Tribolo, demonstrating to his Excellency that the marbles for such a work were already in great measure in Florence. Thus, little by little, he penetrated into the confidence of the Duke, insomuch that both for this reason and for his arrogance everyone was afraid of him. He then proposed to the Duke that the tomb of Signor Giovanni should be erected in the Chapel of the Neroni, a narrow, confined, and mean place, in San Lorenzo, being too ignorant or not wishing to suggest that for so great a Prince it was proper that a new chapel should be built on purpose.

He also prevailed on the Duke to demand from Michelangelo, on Baccio's behalf, many pieces of marble that he had in Florence; and when the Duke had obtained them from Michelangelo, and Baccio from the Duke, among those marbles being some blocked out figures and a statue carried well on towards completion by Michelangelo, Bandinelli, taking them all over, hacked and broke to pieces everything that he could find, thinking that by so doing he was avenging himself on Michelangelo and causing him displeasure. He found, moreover, in the same room in San Lorenzo wherein Michelangelo worked, two statues in one block of marble, representing Hercules crushing Antaeus, which the Duke was having executed by the sculptor Fra Giovanni Agnolo. These were well advanced; but Baccio, saying to the Duke that the friar had spoilt that marble, broke it into many pieces.

In the end, he constructed all the base of the tomb, which is an isolated pedestal about four braccia on every side, and has at the foot a socle with a moulding in the manner of a base, which goes right round, and with a fillet at the top, such as is generally made for pedestals; and above this a cyma three-quarters of a braccio in height, which goes inwards in a concave curve, inverted, after the manner of a frieze, on which are carved some horse's skulls bound one to another with draperies; and above the whole was to be a smaller pedestal, with a seated statue of four braccia and a half, armed in the ancient fashion, and holding in the hand the baton of a condottiere captain of armies, which was to represent the person of the invincible Signor Giovanni de' Medici. This statue was begun by him from a block of marble, and carried well on, but never finished or placed on the base built for it. It is true that on the front of that base he finished entirely a scene of marble in half-relief, with figures about two braccia high, in which he represented Signor Giovanni seated, to whom are being brought many prisoners, soldiers, women with disheveled hair, and nude figures, but all without invention and without revealing any feeling. At the end of the scene, indeed, there is a figure with a pig on the shoulder, which is said to have been made by Baccio to represent Messer Baldassarre da Pescia, in derision; for Baccio looked upon him as his enemy, since about this time Messer Baldassarre, as has been related above, had allotted the two statues of Leo and Clement to other sculptors, and, moreover, had so gone to work in Rome that Baccio had perforce to restore at great inconvenience the money that he had received beyond his due for those statues and figures.

During this time Baccio had given his attention to nothing else but demonstrating to Duke Cosimo how much the glory of the ancients had lived through their statues and buildings, saying that his Excellency should seek to obtain in the same way immortality for himself and his actions in the ages to come. Then, after he had brought the tomb of Signor Giovanni near completion, he set about planning to make the Duke begin some great and costly work, which might take a very long time. Duke Cosimo had ceased to inhabit the Palace of the Medici, and had returned with his Court to live in the Palace in the Piazza, which was formerly occupied by the Signoria; and this he was daily rearranging and adorning. Now he had said to Baccio that he had a desire to make a public audience-chamber, both for the foreign Ambassadors and for his citizens and the subjects of the State; and Baccio, with Giuliano di Baccio d'Agnolo, went about thinking how to suggest to him that he should erect an ornamental work of Fossato stone and marble, thirty-eight braccia in width and eighteen in height.

This ornamental work, they proposed, should serve as the audience-chamber, and should be in the Great Hall of the Palace, at that end which looks towards the north. The audience-chamber was to have a space of fourteen braccia in depth, the ascent to which was to be by seven great steps; and it was to be closed in front by a balustrade, excepting the entrance in the middle. At the end of the hall were to be three great arches, two of which were to serve for windows, being divided up by columns, four to each, two of Fossato stone and two of marble; and above this was to curve a round arch with a frieze of brackets, which were to form on the outer side the ornament of the façade of the Palace, and on the inner side to adorn in the same manner the facade of the hall. The arch in the middle, forming not a window, but a niche, was to be accompanied by two other similar niches, which were to be at the ends of the audience-chamber, one on the east and the other on the west, and adorned with four round Corinthian columns, which were to be ten braccia high and to form a projection at the ends. In the central facade were to be four pilasters, which were to serve as supports between one arch and another to the architrave, frieze, and cornice running right round both above the arches and above the columns. These pilasters were to have between one and another a space of about three braccia, and in each of these spaces was to be a niche four braccia and a half in height, to contain statues, by way of accompaniment to the great niche in the middle of the façade and the two at the sides; in each of which niches Baccio wished to place three statues.

Baccio and Giuliano had in mind, in addition to the ornament of the inner façade, another larger ornament of extraordinary cost and grandeur for the outer façade. The hall being awry and out of square, this ornament was to reduce that outer side to a square form; and there was to be a projection of six braccia right round the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio, with a range of columns fourteen braccia high supporting other columns, between which were to be arches, forming a loggia below, right round the Palace, where there are the Ringhiera and the Giants. Above this, again, was to be another range of pilasters, with arches between them in the same manner, running all the way round the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio, so as to make a façade right round the Palace; and above these pilasters was to be yet another range of arches and pilasters, after the manner of a theater, with the battlements of that Palace, finally, forming a cornice to the whole structure.

Knowing that this was a work of vast expense, Baccio and Giuliano consulted together that they should not reveal their conception to the Duke, save only with regard to the ornament of the audience-chamber within the hall, and that of the façades of Fossato stone on the side towards the Piazza, stretching to the length of twenty-four braccia, which is the breadth of the hall. Designs and plans of this work were made by Giuliano, and with these in his hand Baccio spoke to the Duke, to whom he pointed out that in the large niches at the sides he wished to place statues of marble four braccia high, seated on pedestals‹-namely, Leo X in the act of restoring peace to Italy, and Clement VII crowning Charles V, with two statues in smaller niches within the large ones, on either side of the Popes, which should represent the virtues practiced and put into action by them. For the niches four braccia high between the pilasters, in the central façade, he wished to make upright statues of Signor Giovanni, Duke Alessandro, and Duke Cosimo, together with many decorations of various fantasies in carving, and a pavement all of variegated marbles of different colors.

This ornament much pleased the Duke, thinking that with this opportunity it should be possible in time to bring to completion, as has since been done, the body of that hall, with the rest of the decorations and the ceiling, in order to make it the most beautiful hall in Italy. And so great was his Excellency's desire that this work should be done, that he assigned for its execution such a sum of money as Baccio wished and demanded every week. A beginning was made with the quarrying and cutting of the Fossato stone, in order to make the ornamentation in the form of the base, columns, and cornices; and Baccio required that all should be done and carried to completion by the stonecutters of the Office of Works of Santa Maria del Fiore. This work was certainly executed by those masters with great diligence; and if Baccio and Giuliano had urged it on, they would have finished and built in all the ornaments of stone very quickly. But Baccio gave his attention to nothing save to having the statues blocked out, finishing few of them entirely, and to drawing his salary, which the Duke gave him every month, besides paying for his assistants and meeting every sort of expense that he incurred in the work, and giving him five hundred crowns for one of the statues finished by him in marble; wherefore the end of this work was never in sight.

Even so, if Baccio and Giuliano, being engaged on a work of such importance, had brought the head of that hall into square, as they could have done, instead of putting right only half of the eight braccia by which it was awry, and leaving several parts badly proportioned, such as the central niche and the two large ones at the sides, which are squat, and the members of the cornices, which are too slight for so great a body; if, as they might have done, they had gone higher with the columns, thus giving greater grandeur, a better manner, and more invention to that work; and if, also, they had brought the uppermost cornice into touch with the level of the original old ceiling above, they would have shown more art and judgment, nor would all that labor have been spent in vain and wasted so thoughtlessly, as has since been evident to those to whom, as will be related, it has fallen to put it right and finish it. For, in spite of all the pains and thought afterwards devoted to it, there are many defects and errors in the door of entrance and in the relation of the niches in the side-walls, in which it has since been seen to be necessary to change the form of many parts, although it has never yet been found possible, without demolishing the whole, to correct the divergence from the square or to prevent this from being revealed in the pavement and the ceiling. It is true that in the manner in which they arranged it, even as it now stands, there is proof of great craftsmanship and pains, and it deserves no little praise for the many stones worked with the bevel-square, which slant away obliquely by reason of the hail being awry; and as for diligence and excellence in the working, laying, and joining together of the stones, nothing better could be seen or done. But the whole work would have succeeded much better if Baccio, who never held architecture in any account, had availed himself of some judgment more able than that of Giuliano, who, although he was a good master in wood and had some knowledge of architecture, was yet not the sort of man to be suitable for such a work as that was, as experience has proved. For this reason the work was pursued over a period of many years, without much more than half being built. Baccio finished and placed in the smaller niches the statue of Signor Giovanni and that of Duke Alessandro, both in the principal façade, and on a pedestal of bricks in the great niche the statue of Pope Clement; and he also brought to completion the statue of Duke Cosimo. In the last he took no little pains with the head, but for all this the Duke and the gentlemen of the Court said that it did not resemble him in the least.

Wherefore Baccio, having already made one of marble, which is now in one of the upper apartments in the same Palace, and which looked very well and was the best head that he ever made, defended himself and sought to cover up the defects and worthlessness of the new head with the excellence of the old. However, hearing that head censured by everyone, one day in a rage he knocked it off, with the intention of making another and fixing it in its place; but in the end he never made it at all. It was a custom of Baccio's to add pieces of marble both small and large to the statues that he executed, feeling no annoyance in doing this, and making light of it. He did this with one of the heads of Cerberus in the group of Orpheus; in the St. Peter that is in Santa Maria del Fiore he let in a piece of drapery; in the case of the Giant of the Piazza, as may be seen, he joined two pieces‹a shoulder and a leg‹to the Cacus, and in many other works he did the same, holding to such ways as generally damn a sculptor completely.

Having finished these statues, he set his hand to the statue of Pope Leo for this work, and carried it well forward. Then, perceiving that the work was proving very long, that he was now never likely to attain to the completion of his original design for the facades right round the Palace, that a great sum of money had been spent and much time consumed, and that for all this the work was not half finished and gained little approval from the people, he set about thinking of some new fantasy, and began to attempt to remove from the Duke¹s mind the thought of the Palace, believing that his Excellency also was weary of that work. Thus, then, having made enemies of the proveditors and of all the stone-cutters in the Office of Works of Santa Maria del Fiore, which was under his authority, while the statues that were destined for the audience chamber were, after his fashion, some only blocked out and others finished and placed in position, and the ornamentation in great part built up, wishing to conceal the many defects that were in the work and little by little to abandon it, he suggested to the Duke that the Wardens of Works of Santa Maria del Fiore were throwing away his money and no longer doing anything of any importance. He said that he had therefore thought that his Excellency would do well to divert all that useless expenditure of the Office of Works into making the octagonal choir of the church and the ornaments of the altar, the steps, the daises of the Duke and the magistrates, and the stalls in the choir for the canons, chaplains, and clerks, according as was proper for so honorable a church.

Of this choir Filippo di Ser Brunellesco had left the model in that simple framework of wood which previously served as the choir in the church, intending in time to have it executed in marble, in the same form, but more ornate. Baccio reflected, besides the considerations mentioned above, that in this choir he would have occasion to make many statues and scenes in marble and in bronze for the high altar and all around the choir, and also for two pulpits of marble that were to be in the choir, and that the base of the outer side of the eight faces might be adorned with many scenes in bronze let into the marble ornamentation. Above this he thought to place a range of columns and pilasters to support the cornice right round, and four arches distributed according to the cross of the church; of which arches one was to form the principal entrance, opposite to another rising above the high-altar, and the two others were to be at the sides, one on the right hand and another on the left, and below these last two were to be placed the pulpits. Over the cornice was to be a range of balusters, curving right round above the eight sides, and over the balusters a garland of candelabra, in order, as it were, to crown the choir with lights according to the seasons, as had always been the custom while the wooden model of Brunelleschi was there.

Pointing out all this to the Duke, Baccio said that his Excellency; with the revenues of the Office of Works‹namely, of Santa Maria del Fiore and of its Wardens‹-and with that which his liberality might add, in a short time could adorn that temple and give great grandeur and magnificence to the same, and consequently to the whole city, of which it was the principal temple, and would leave an everlasting and honorable memorial of himself in such a structure; and besides all this he e said, his Excellency would be giving him an opportunity of exerting his powers and of making many good and beautiful works, and also, by displaying his ability, of acquiring for himself name and fame with posterity, which should be pleasing to his Excellency, since he was his servant and had been brought up by the house of the Medici. With these designs and these words Baccio so moved the Duke, that, consenting that such a structure should be erected, his Excellency commissioned him to make a model of the whole choir. Departing from the Duke, then, Baccio went to his architect, Giuliano di Baccio d'Agnolo, and discussed the whole matter with him; and, after they had gone to the place and examined everything with diligence, they resolved not to depart from the form of Filippo¹s model, but to follow it, adding only other ornaments in the shape of columns and projections, and enriching it as much as they could while preserving the original design and form. But it is not the number of parts and ornaments that renders a fabric rich and beautiful, but their excellence, however few they may be, provided also that they are set in their proper places and arranged together with due proportion; it is these that give pleasure and are admired, and, having been executed with judgment by the craftsman, afterwards receive praise from all others. This Giuliano and Baccio do not seem to have considered or observed, for they chose a subject involving much labor and endless pains, but wanting in grace, as experience has proved.

The design of Giuliano, as may be seen, was to place at the corners of all the eight sides pilasters bent round the angles, the whole work being composed in the Ionic Order; and these pilasters, since in the ground-plan they were made, with all the rest of the work, to diminish towards the center of the choir and were not even, necessarily had to be broad on the outer side and narrow on the inner, which is a breach of proportionate measurement. And since each pilaster was bent according to the inner angles of the eight sides, the extension-lines towards the center so diminished it that the two columns that were one on either side of the pilaster at the corner caused it to appear too slender, and produced an ungraceful effect both in it and in the whole work, both on the outer side and likewise on the inner, although the measurements there are correct. Giuliano also made the model of the whole altar, which stood at a distance of one braccio and a half from the ornament of the choir. For the upper part of this Baccio afterwards made in wax a Christ lying dead, with two Angels, one of whom was holding His right arm and supporting His head on one knee, and the other was holding the Mysteries of the Passion; which statue of Christ occupied almost the whole altar, so that there would scarcely have been room to celebrate Mass, and Baccio proposed to make this statue about four braccia and a half in length. He made, also, a projection in the form of a pedestal behind the altar, attached to it in the center, with a seat upon which he afterwards placed a seated figure of God the Father, six braccia high and giving the benediction, and accompanied by two other Angels, each four braccia high, kneeling at the extreme corners of the predella of the altar, on the level on which rested the feet of God the Father. This predella was more than a braccio in height, and on it were many stories of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which were all to be in bronze, and on the corners of the predella were the Angels mentioned above, both kneeling and each holding in the hands a candelabrum; which candelabra of the Angels served to accompany eight large candelabra placed between the Angels, and three braccia and a half in height, which adorned that altar; and God the Father was in the midst of them all. Behind God the Father was left a space of half a braccio, in order that there might be room to ascend to kindle the lights.

Under the arch that stood opposite to the principal entrance of the choir, on the base that ran right round, on the outer side, Baccio had placed, directly under the center of that arch, the Tree of the Fall, round the trunk of which was wound the Ancient Serpent with a human face, and two nude figures were about the Tree, one being Adam and the other Eve. On the outer side of the choir, to which those figures had their faces turned, there ran lengthways along the base a space about three braccia long, which was to contain the story of their Creation, either in marble or in bronze; and this was. to be pursued along the faces of the base of the whole work, to the number of twenty-one stories, all from the Old Testament. And for the further enrichment of this base he had made for each of the socles upon which stood the columns and pilasters, a figure of some Prophet, either draped or nude, to be afterwards executed in marble‹-a great work, truly, and a marvelous opportunity, likely to reveal all the art and genius of a perfect master, whose memory should never be extinguished by any lapse of time. This model was shown to the Duke, and also a double series of designs made by Baccio, which, both from their variety and their number, and likewise from their beauty‹for the reason that Baccio worked boldly in wax and drew very well‹pleased his Excellency, and he ordained that the masonry-work should be straightway taken in hand, devoting to it all the expenditure administered by the Office of Works, and giving orders that a great quantity of marble should be brought from Carrara.

Baccio, on his part, also set to work to make a beginning with the statues; and among the first was an Adam who was raising one arm, and was about four braccia in height. This figure was finished by Baccio, but, since it proved to be narrow in the flanks and somewhat defective in other parts, he changed it into a Bacchus, and afterwards gave it to the Duke, who kept it in his Palace many years, in his chamber; and not long ago it was placed in a niche in the ground-floor apartments which his Excellency occupies in summer. He had also made a seated figure of Eve of the same size, which he had half finished: but it was abandoned on account of the Adam, which it was to have accompanied. For, having made a beginning with another Adam, in a different form and attitude, it became necessary for him to change also the Eve, and the original seated figure was converted by him into a Ceres, which he gave to the most illustrious Duchess Leonora, ogether with an Apollo, which was another nude that he had executed; and her Excellency had them placed in the ornament in front of the fish-pond, the design and architecture of which are by Giorgio Vasari, in the gardens of the Pitti Palace. Baccio worked at these two figures with very great zeal, thinking to satisfy the craftsmen and all the world as well as he had satisfied himself; and he finished and polished them with all the diligence and lovingness that were in him. He then set up these figures of Adam and Eve in their place, but, when uncovered, they experienced the same fate as his other works, and were torn to pieces with savage bitterness in sonnets and Latin verses, one going to the length of suggesting that even as Adam and Eve, having defiled Paradise by their disobedience, deserved to be driven out, so these figures, defiling the earth, deserved to be expelled from the church.

Nevertheless the statues are well-proportioned, and beautiful in many parts; and although there is not in them that grace which has been spoken of in other places, and which he was not able to give to his works, yet they display so much art and design, that they deserve no little praise. A lady who had set herself to examine these statues, being asked by some gentlemen what she thought of these naked bodies, answered, "About the man I can give no judgment;" and, being pressed to give her opinion of the woman, she replied that in the Eve there were two good points, worthy of considerable praise, in that she was white and firm; whereby she contrived ingeniously, while seeming to praise, covertly to deal a shrewd blow to the craftsman and his art, giving to the statue the praise proper to the female body, which it is also necessary to apply to the marble, the material, and which is true of it, but not of the work or of the craftsmanship, for by such praise he craftsmanship is not praised. Thus, then, that shrewd lady hinted that in her opinion nothing could be praised in that statue save the marble.

Baccio afterwards set his hand to the statue of the Dead Christ, which likewise not succeeding as he had expected, he abandoned it when it was already well advanced, and, taking another block of marble, began another Christ in an attitude different from the first, and together with that the Angel who supports the head of Christ on one leg and with one hand His arm and he did not rest until he had finished entirely both the one figure and the other. When arrangements were made to set it up on the altar, it proved to be so large that it occupied too much space, and there was no room left for the ministrations of the priest; and although this statue was passing good, and even one of Baccio¹s best, nevertheless the people‹the ordinary citizens no less than the priests‹could never have their fill of speaking ill of it and picking it to pieces. Recognizing that to uncover unfinished works injures the reputation of a craftsman in the eyes of all those who are not of the profession, or have no knowledge of art, or have not seen the models, Baccio resolved, in order to accompany the statue of Christ and to complete the altar, to make the statue of God the Father, for Which a very beautiful block of marble had come from Carrara. And he had already carried it well forward, making it half nude after the manner of a Jove, when, since it did not please the Duke and appeared to Baccio himself to have certain defects, he left it as it was, and even so it is still to be found in the Office of Works.

Continue to Part IV of the Life of Baccio Bandinelli

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists

This Web Site Created and Maintained by Adrienne DeAngelis