St Lucy. 1521. Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
THAT SAME QUALITY, the pure gift of nature, which has been seen in Giotto and in some others among those painters of whom we have spoken hitherto, has been revealed most recently in Domenico Beccafumi, the painter of Siena, in that he, while guarding some sheep for his father Pacio, the laborer of the Sienese citizen Lorenzo Beccafumi, was observed to practise his hand by himself, child as he was, in drawing sometimes on stones and sometimes in other ways. It happened that the said Lorenzo saw him one day drawing various things with a pointed stick on the sand of a small stream, where he was watching his little charges, and he asked for the child from his father, meaning to employ him as his servant, and at the same time to have him taught. The boy, therefore, who was then called Mecherino, having been given up by his father Pacio to Lorenzo, was taken to Siena, where Lorenzo caused him for a while to spend all the spare time that he had after his household duties in the workshop of a painter who was his neighbor. This painter, who was no great craftsman, caused Mecherino to learn all that he could not himself teach him from designs by eminent painters that he had in his possession, of which he availed himself for his own purposes, as those masters are wont to do who are not very able in design. Exercising his hand, therefore, in this manner, Mecherino gave promise of being destined to become an excellent painter.
During this time Pietro Perugino, then a famous painter, came to Siena, where, as has been related, he painted two altarpieces; and his manner pleased Domenico greatly, so that he set himself to study it and to copy those altarpieces, and no long time passed before he had caught that manner. Then, after the Chapel of Michelagnolo and the works of Raffaello da Urbino had been thrown open in Rome, Domenico, who desired nothing so much as to learn, and knew that he was losing his time in Siena, took leave of Lorenzo Beccafumi, from whom he acquired the family name of Beccafumi, and made his way to Rome. There he placed himself under a painter, who gave him board and lodging, and executed many works in company with him, giving his attention at the same time to studying the works of Michelagnolo, Raffaello, and other eminent masters, and the marvellous statues and sarcophagi of antiquity. No long time passed, therefore, before he became a bold draughtsman, fertile in invention, and a very pleasing colorist; but during this period, which did not exceed two years, he did nothing worthy of record save a facade in the Borgo with an escutcheon of Pope Julius II in color.
Meanwhile, there had been brought to Siena by a merchant of the Spannocchi family, as will be related in the proper place, the painter Giovanni Antonio of Vercelli, a young man of passing good ability, who was much employed, particularly in making portraits from life, by the gentlemen of that city, which has always been the friend and patron of all men of talent. Domenico, who was very desirous of returning to his own country, having heard this news, made his way back to Siena; and when he saw that Giovanni Antonio was very well grounded in drawing, which he knew to be the essence of the excellence of a craftsman, not resting content with what he had done in Rome, he set himself with the utmost zeal to follow him, devoting himself much to anatomy and to drawing nudes; which helped him so much, that in a short time he began to be greatly esteemed in that most noble city. Nor was he beloved less for his goodness and his character than for his art, for the reason that, whereas Giovanni Antonio was coarse, licentious, and eccentric, being called Il Sodoma because he always mixed and lived with beardless boys, and answering willingly enough to that name, Domenico, on the other hand, was a pattern of good conduct and uprightness, living like a Christian and keeping very much to himself. But such persons as are called merry fellows and good companions are very often more esteemed by men than the virtuous and orderly, and most of the young men of Siena followed Sodoma, extolling him as a man of originality. And this Sodoma, being an eccentric, and wishing to please the common herd, always kept at his house parrots, apes, dwarf donkeys, little Elba horses, a talking raven, barbs for running races, and other suchlike creatures; from which he had won such a name among the vulgar, that they spoke of nothing but his follies.
Sodoma, then, had painted with colors in fresco the facade of the house of M. Agostino Bardi, and Domenico at the same time, in competition with him, painted the facade of a house of the Borghese, close to the Postierla column, near the Duomo, with which he took very great pains. Below the roof, in a frieze in chiaroscuro, he executed some little figures that were much extolled; and in the spaces between the three ranges of windows of travertine that adorn that palace, he painted many ancient gods and other figures in imitation of bronze, in chiaroscuro and in color, which were more than passing good, although the work of Sodoma was more extolled. Both these facades were executed in the year 1512.
Domenico afterwards painted for S. Benedetto, a seat of Monks of Monte Oliveto, without the Porta a Tufi, an altarpiece of S. Catharine of Siena in a building receiving the Stigmata, with a S. Benedict standing on her right hand, and on her left a S. Jerome in the habit of a Cardinal; which altarpiece, being very soft in coloring and strong in relief, was much praised, as it still is. In the predella of this picture, likewise, he painted some little scenes in distemper with incredible boldness and vivacity, and with such facility of design, that they could not be more graceful, and yet they have the appearance of having been executed without the slightest effort in the world. In one of these little scenes is the Angel placing in the mouth of that same S. Catharine part of the Host consecrated by the priest; in another is Jesus Christ marrying her, in a third she is receiving the habit from S. Dominic, and there are other stories.
For the Church of S. Martino the same master painted a large altarpiece with Christ born and being adored by the Virgin, by Joseph, and by the Shepherds; and above the hut is a most beautiful choir of Angels dancing. In this work, which is much extolled by craftsmen, Domenico began to show to those who had some understanding that his works were painted with a different foundation from those of Sodoma. He then painted in fresco, in the Great Hospital, the Madonna visiting S. Elizabeth, in a manner very pleasing and very natural. And for the Church of S. Spirito he executed an altarpiece of the Madonna holding in her arms the Child, who is marrying the above-mentioned S. Catharine of Siena, and at the sides S. Bernardino, S. Francis, S. Jerome, and S. Catharine the Virgin Martyr, with S. Peter and S. Paul upon some marble steps in front, on the polished surface of which he counterfeited with great art some reflections of the color of their draperies. This work, which was executed with fine judgment and design, brought him much honor, as did also some little figures painted on the predella of the picture, in which is S. John baptizing Christ, a King causing the wife and children of S. Gismondo to be thrown into a well, S. Dominic burning the books of the heretics, Christ presenting to S. Catharine of Siena two crowns, one of roses and the other of thorns, and S. Bernardino of Siena preaching on the Piazza of Siena to a vast multitude.
Next, by reason of the fame of these works, there was allotted to Domenico an altarpiece that was to be placed in the Carmine, in which he had to paint a S. Michael doing vengeance on Lucifer; and he, being full of fancy, set himself to think out a new invention, in order to display his talent and the beautiful conceptions of his brain. And so, seeking to represent Lucifer and his followers driven for their pride from Heaven to the lowest depths of Hell, he began a shower of nude figures raining down, which is very beautiful, although, from his having taken too great pains with it, it appears if anything rather confused. This altarpiece, which remained unfinished, was taken after the death of Domenico to the Great Hospital and placed at the top of some steps near the high-altar, where it is still regarded with marvel on account of some very beautiful foreshortenings in the nudes. In the Carmine, where this picture was to have been set up, was placed another, in the upper part of which is counterfeited a God the Father above the clouds with many Angels round Him, painted with marvellous grace; and in the center of the picture is the Angel Michael in armor, flying, and pointing to Lucifer, whom he has driven to the center of the earth, where there are burning buildings, rugged caverns, and a lake of fire, with Angels in various attitudes, and nude figures of lost souls, who are swimming with different gestures of agony in that fire. All this is painted with such beauty and grace of manner, that it appears that this marvellous work, in its thick darkness, is illuminated by the fire; wherefore it is held to be a rare picture. Baldassarre Peruzzi of Siena, an excellent painter, could never have his fill of praising it, and I myself, one day that I saw it uncovered in his company, while passing through Siena, was struck with astonishment by it, as I also was by the five little scenes that are in the predella, painted with distemper in a judicious and beautiful manner. For the Nuns of Ognissanti in the same city Domenico painted another altarpiece, in which is Christ on high in the heavens, crowning the Glorified Virgin, and below them are S. Gregory, S. Anthony, S. Mary Magdalene, and S. Catharine the Virgin-Martyr; and in the predella, likewise, are some very beautiful little figures executed in distemper.
In the house of Signor Marcello Agostini Domenico painted some very lovely works in fresco on the ceiling of an apartment, which has three lunettes on each main side and two at each end, with a series of friezes that go right round. The center of the ceiling is divided into two quadrangular compartments; in the first, where a silken arras is counterfeited as upheld by the ornament, there may be seen, as if woven upon it, Scipio Africanus restoring the young woman untouched to her husband, and in the other the celebrated painter Zeuxis, who is copying several nude women in order to paint his picture, which was to be placed in the Temple of Juno. In one of the lunettes, painted with little figures only about half a braccio high, but very beautiful, are the two Roman Brothers who, having been enemies, became friends for the public good and for the sake of their country. In that which follows is Torquatus, who, in order to observe the laws, when his son has been condemned to lose his eyes, causes one of his son's and one of his own to be put out. In the next is the Petition of ..., who, after hearing the recital of his [Pg 240] crimes against his country and the Roman people, is put to death. In the lunette beside that one is the Roman people deliberating on the expedition of Scipio to Africa; and next to this, in another lunette, is an ancient sacrifice crowded with a variety of most beautiful figures, with a temple drawn in perspective, which has no little relief, for in that field Domenico was a truly excellent master. In the last is Cato killing himself after being overtaken by some horsemen that are most beautifully painted there. And in the recesses of the lunettes, also, are some little scenes very well finished.
The excellence of this work was the reason that Domenico was recognized as a rare painter by those who were then governing, and was commissioned to paint the vaulting of a hall in the Palace of the Signori, to which he devoted all the diligence, study, and effort of which any man is capable, in order to prove his worth and to adorn that celebrated building of his native city, which was honoring him so much. This hall, which is two squares long and one square wide, has the ceiling made not with lunettes, but after the manner of a groined vaulting; wherefore Domenico executed the compartments in painting, thinking that this would give the best result, with friezes and cornices overlaid with gold, and all so beautifully, that, without any stucco work or other ornaments, they are so well painted and so graceful that they appear to be really in relief. On each of the two ends of this hall there is a large picture with an historical scene, and on each main wall there are two, one on either side of an octagon; and thus the pictures are six and the octagons two, and in each of the latter is a scene. At each corner of the vaulting, where the rib is, there is drawn a round compartment, which extends half on one wall and half on the other, so that these compartments, being divided by the ribs of the vaulting, form eight spaces, in each of which are large seated figures, representing distinguished men who have defended their Republic and have observed her laws. The highest part of the surface of the vaulting is divided into three parts, in such a manner as to form a circular compartment in the centre, immediately above the octagons, and two square compartments over those on the walls.
In one of the octagons, then, is a woman with some children round her, who holds a heart in her hand, representing the love that men owe to their country. In the other octagon is another woman, with an equal number of children, as a symbol of civic concord. And these are one on either side of a Justice that is in the circle, with the sword and scales in her hands, and seen from below in such bold foreshortening that it is a marvel, for at the feet she is dark both in drawing and in color, and about the knees she becomes lighter, and so continues little by little towards the torso, the shoulders, and the arms, until she rises into a celestial splendour at the head, which makes it appear as if that figure dissolves gradually in a mist: wherefore it is not possible to imagine, much less to see, a more beautiful figure than this one, or one executed with greater judgment and art, among all that were ever painted to be seen in foreshortening from below.
As for the stories, in the first, at the end of the hall and on the left hand as one enters, are M. Lepidus and Fulvius Flaccus the Censors, who, after being at enmity with one another, as soon as they became colleagues in the office of the Censorship, laid aside their private hatred for the good of their country, and acted in that office like the closest friends. And Domenico painted them on their knees, embracing each other, with many figures round them, and with a most beautiful prospect of buildings and temples drawn in perspective so ingeniously and so well, that one may see in them what a master of perspective was Domenico. On the next wall there follows a picture with the story of the Dictator Postumius Tiburtius, who, having left his only son at the head of his army in place of himself, commanding him that he should do nothing else but guard the camp, put him to death for having been disobedient and having with a fair occasion attacked the enemy and gained a victory. In this scene Domenico painted Postumius as an old man with shaven face, with the right hand on his axe, and with the left showing to the army his son lying dead upon the ground, and depicted very well in foreshortening; and below this picture, which is most beautiful, is an inscription very well composed. In the octagon that follows, in the center of the wall, is the story of Spurius Cassius, whom the Roman Senate, suspecting that he was plotting to become King, caused to be beheaded, and his house to be pulled down; and in this scene the head, which is beside the executioner, and the body, which is on the ground in foreshortening, are very beautiful. In the next picture is the Tribune Publius Mucius, who caused all his fellow tribunes, who were conspiring with Spurius to become tyrants of their country, to be burned; and here the fire that is consuming their bodies is painted very well and with great art.
At the other end of the hall, in another picture, is the Athenian Codrus, who, having heard from the oracle that the victory would fall to that side whose King should be killed by the enemy, laid aside his robes, entered unknown among the enemy, and let himself be slain, thus giving the victory to his people by his own death. Domenico painted him seated, with his nobles round him as he puts off his robes, near a most beautiful round temple; and in the distant background of the picture he is seen dead, with his name in an epitaph below. Then, as one turns to the other long wall, opposite to the two pictures with the octagon in the center between them, in the first scene one finds Prince Zaleucus, who, in order not to break the law, caused one of his own eyes to be put out, and one of his son's; and here many are standing round him, praying him that he should not do that cruelty to himself and his son, and in the distance is his son offering violence to a maiden, and below is his name in an inscription. In the octagon that is beside that picture is the story of Marcus Manilius being hurled down from the Capitol; and the figure of the young Marcus, who is being thrown down from a kind of balcony, is painted so well in foreshortening, with the head downwards, that it seems to be alive, as also seem some figures that are below. In the next picture is Spurius Melius, who belonged to the Equestrian Order, and was killed by the Tribune Servilius because the people suspected that he was conspiring to become tyrant of his country; which Servilius is seated with many round him, and one who is in the center points to Spurius lying dead upon the ground, a figure painted with great art.
Then, in the circles at the corners, where there are the eight figures mentioned above, are many men who have been distinguished for their defence of their country. In the first part is the famous Fabius Maximus, seated and in armour; and on the other side is Speusippus, Prince of the Tegeatū, who, being exhorted by a friend that he should rid himself of his rival and adversary, answered that he did not wish, at the bidding of his own private interest, to deprive his country of such a citizen. In the circle that is at the next corner, in one part, there is the Prūtor Celius, who, for having fought against the advice and wish of the soothsayers, although he had won and had gained a victory, was punished by the Senate; and beside him sits Thrasybulus, who with the aid of some friends valorously slew thirty tyrants, in order to free his country. Thrasybulus is an old man, shaven, with white locks, and has his name written beneath him, as have also all the others. In a circle at one corner of the lower end of the hall is the Praetor Genutius Cippus, who having had a bird with wings in the form of horns miraculously alight on his head, was told by the oracle that he would become King of his country, whereupon, although already an old man, he chose to go into exile, in order not to take away her liberty; and Domenico therefore painted a bird upon his head. Beside him sits Charondas, who, having returned from the country, and having gone straightway into the Senate without disarming himself, in violation of a law which ordained that one who entered the Senate with arms should be put to death, killed himself on perceiving his error. In the second circle on the other side are Damon and Phintias, whose unexampled friendship is so well known, and with them is Dionysius, Tyrant of Sicily; and beside these figures sits Brutus, who from love of his country condemned his two sons to death, because they were conspiring to bring the Tarquins back to their country. This work, then, so truly extraordinary, made known to the people of Siena the ability and worthy of Domenico, who showed most beautiful art, judgment, and genius in all that he did.
The first time that the Emperor Charles V came to Italy, it was expected that he would go to Siena, for he had declared such an intention to the Ambassadors of that Republic; and among other vast and magnificent preparations that were made for the reception of so great an Emperor, Domenico fashioned a horse eight braccia high and in full relief, all of paste-board and hollow within. The weight of that horse was supported by an armature of iron, and upon it was the statue of the Emperor, armed in the ancient fashion, with a sword in his hand. And below it were three large figures--vanquished by him, as it were--which also supported part of the weight, the horse being in the act of leaping with the front legs high in the air; which three figures represented three provinces conquered and subdued by the Emperor. In that work Domenico showed that he was a master no less of sculpture than of painting; to which it must be added that he had placed the whole work upon a wooden structure four braccia high, with a number of wheels below it, which, being set in motion by men concealed within, caused the whole to move forward; and the design of Domenico was that at the entry of His Majesty this horse, having been set in motion as has been described, should accompany him from the gate as far as the Palace of the Signori, and should then come to rest in the middle of the Piazza. This horse, after being carried by Domenico so near completion that there only remained to gild it, was left in that condition, because His Majesty after all did not at that time go to Siena, but left Italy after being crowned at Bologna; and the work remained unfinished. But none the less the art and ingenuity of Domenico were recognized, and all men greatly praised the grandeur and excellence of that great structure, which stood in the Office of Works of the Duomo from that time until His Majesty, returning from his victorious enterprise in Africa, passed through Messina and then Naples, Rome, and finally Siena; at which time Domenico's work was placed on the Piazza del Duomo, to his great honour.
The fame of the ability of Domenico being thus spread abroad, Prince Doria, who was with the Court, after seeing all the works by his hand that were in Siena, besought him that he should go to Genoa to work in his palace, where Perino del Vaga, Giovanni Antonio of Pordenone, and Girolamo da Treviso had worked. But Domenico could not promise that lord that he would go to serve him at that time, although he engaged himself for another time, for in those days he had set his hand to finishing a part of the marble pavement in the Duomo, which Duccio, the painter of Siena, had formerly begun in a new manner of work. The figures and scenes were already in great part designed on the marble, the outlines being hollowed out with the chisel and filled with a black mixture, with ornaments of coloured marble all around, and likewise the grounds for the figures. But Domenico, with fine judgment, saw that this work could be much improved, and he therefore took grey marbles, to the end that these, profiled with the chisel and placed beside the brilliancy of the white marble, might give the middle shades; and he found that in this way, with white and grey marble, pictures of stone could be made with great perfection after the manner of chiaroscuro. Having then made a trial, the work succeeded so well in invention, in solidity of design, and in abundance of figures, that he made a beginning after this fashion with the grandest, the most beautiful, and the most magnificent pavement that had ever been made; and in the course of his life, little by little, he executed a great part of it. Round the high altar he made a border of pictures, in which, in order to follow the order of the stories begun by Duccio, he executed scenes from Genesis; namely, Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise and tilling the earth, the Sacrifice of Abel, and that of Melchizedek. In front of the altar is a large scene with Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and this has round it a border of half-length figures, carrying various animals which they seem to be going to sacrifice.
Descending the steps, one finds another large picture, which serves to accompany that above, and in it Domenico represented Moses receiving the Laws from God on Mount Sinai; and below this is the scene when, having found the people worshipping the Golden Calf, he is seized with anger and breaks the Tables on which those Laws were written. Below this scene, opposite to the pulpit, and right across the church, is a frieze with a great number of figures, which is composed with so much grace and such design that it defies description; and in this is Moses, who, striking the rock in the desert, causes water to gush out and gives drink to his thirsty people. Here, along the whole length of the frieze, Domenico represented the stream of water, from which the people are drinking in various ways with a vivacity so pleasing, that it is almost impossible to imagine any effect more lovely, or figures in more graceful and beautiful attitudes than are those in this scene--some stooping to the ground to drink, some kneeling before the rock that is spouting with water, some drawing it in vases and others in cups, and others, finally, drinking with their hands. There are, moreover, some who are leading animals to drink, amid the great rejoicing of that people; and, among other things, most marvellous is a little boy who has taken a little dog by the head and neck and plunges its muzzle into the water, in order to make it drink, after which the dog, having drunk, and not wishing to drink any more, shakes its head so naturally that it seems to be alive. In short, this frieze is so beautiful, that for a work of that kind it could not be executed with greater art, seeing that the various kinds of shadows that may be seen in these figures are not merely beautiful, but miraculous; and although the whole work, on account of the fantastic nature of its craftsmanship, is one of great beauty, this part is held to be the most beautiful and the best. Below the cupola, moreover, there is a hexagonal compartment, which is divided into seven hexagons and six rhombs, of which hexagons Domenico finished four before he died, representing in them the stories and sacrifices of Elijah, and doing all this much at his leisure, because this work was as a school and a pastime to Domenico, nor did he ever abandon it altogether for his other works.
While he was thus laboring now at this work and now elsewhere, he painted a large altarpiece in oils which is in S. Francesco on the right hand as one enters into the church, containing Christ descending in Glory to the Limbo of Hell in order to deliver the Holy Fathers; wherein, among many nudes, is a very beautiful Eve, and a Thief who is behind Christ with the cross is a very well-executed figure, while the cavern of Limbo and the demons and fires of that place are fantastic to a marvel. And since Domenico was of the opinion that pictures painted in distemper preserved their freshness better than those painted in oils, saying that it seemed to him that the works of Luca da Cortona, of the Pollaiuoli, and of the other masters who painted in oils in those days, had suffered from age more than those of Fra Giovanni, Fra Filippo, Benozzo, and the others before their time who painted in distemper--for this reason, I say, having to paint an altarpiece for the Company of S. Bernardino on the Piazza di S. Francesco, he resolved to do it in distemper; and in this way he executed it excellently well, painting in it Our Lady with many Saints. In the predella, which is very beautiful, and painted by him likewise in distemper, he depicted S. Francis receiving the Stigmata; S. Anthony of Padua, who, in order to convert some heretics, performs the miracle of the Ass, which makes obeisance before the sacred Host; and S. Bernardino of Siena, who is preaching to the people of his city on the Piazza de' Signori. And on the walls of this Company, also, he painted two stories of Our Lady in fresco, in competition with some others that Sodoma had executed in the same place. In one he represented the Visitation of S. Elizabeth, and in the other the Passing of Our Lady, with the Apostles all around; and both of these are much extolled.
Finally, after having been long expected in Genoa by Prince Doria, Domenico made his way there, but with great reluctance, being a man who was accustomed to a life of peace and contented with that which his wants required, and nothing more; besides which, he was not much used to making journeys, for the reason that, having built himself a little house in Siena, and having also a vineyard a mile beyond the Porta a Camollia, which he cultivated with his own hand as a recreation, going there often, it was a long time since he had gone far from Siena. Having then arrived in Genoa, he painted a scene there, beside that of Pordenone, in which he succeeded very well, and yet not in such a manner that it could be counted among his best works. But, since the ways of the Court did not please him, being used to a life of freedom, he did not stay very willingly in that place, and, indeed, appeared as if he were stupefied. Wherefore, having come to the end of that work, he sought leave of the Prince and set out to return home; and passing by Pisa, in order to see that city, he met with Battista del Cervelliera and was shown all the most noteworthy things in the city, and in particular the altarpieces of Sogliani and the pictures that are in the recess behind the high altar of the Duomo.
Meanwhile Sebastiano della Seta, the Warden of Works of the Duomo, having heard from Cervelliera of the qualities and abilities of Domenico, and being desirous to finish the work so long delayed by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, allotted two of the pictures for that recess to Domenico, to the end that he might execute them at Siena and send them finished to Pisa; and so it was done. In one is Moses, who, having found that the people had sacrificed to the Golden Calf, is breaking the Tables; and in this Domenico painted some nudes that are figures of great beauty. In the other is the same Moses, with the earth opening and swallowing up a part of the people; and in this, also, are some nudes killed by flaming thunderbolts, which are marvellous. These pictures, when taken to Pisa, led to Domenico painting four pictures for the front of that recess--namely, two on each side--of the four Evangelists, which were four very beautiful figures. Whereupon Sebastiano della Seta, who saw that he had been served quickly and well, commissioned Domenico, after these pictures, to paint the altarpiece of one of the chapels in the Duomo, Sogliani having by that time painted four. Settling in Pisa, therefore, Domenico painted in that altarpiece Our Lady in the sky with the Child in her arms, upon some clouds supported by some little Angels, with many Saints both male and female below, all executed passing well, but yet not with that perfection which marked the pictures described above. But he, excusing himself for this to many of his friends, and particularly on one occasion to Giorgio Vasari, said that since he was away from the air of Siena and from certain comforts of his own, he did not seem to be able to do anything.
Having therefore returned home, determined that he would never again go away to work elsewhere, he painted for the Nuns of S. Paolo, near S. Marco, an altarpiece in oils of the Nativity of Our Lady, with some nurses, and S. Anne in a bed that is foreshortened and represented as standing within a door; and in a dark shadow is a woman who is drying clothes, without any other light but that which comes from the blaze of the fire. In the predella, which is full of charm, are three scenes in distemper--the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, her Marriage, and the Adoration of the Magi. In the Mercanzia, a tribunal in that city, the officials have a little altarpiece which they say was painted by Domenico when he was young; it is very beautiful, and it contains in the centre a S. Paul seated, and on one side his Conversion, in little figures, and on the other the scene of his Beheading.
Finally, Domenico was commissioned to paint the great recess of the Duomo, which is at the end behind the high altar. In this he first made a decoration of stucco with foliage and figures, all with his own hand, and two Victories in the vacant spaces in the semicircle; which decoration was in truth a very rich and beautiful work. Then in the centre he painted in fresco the Ascension of Christ into Heaven; and from the cornice downwards he painted three pictures divided by columns in relief, and executed in perspective. In the middle picture, which has above it an arch in perspective, are Our Lady, S. Peter, and S. John; and in the spaces at the sides are ten Apostles, five on each side, all in various attitudes and gazing at Christ, who is ascending into Heaven; and above each of the two pictures of the Apostles is an Angel in foreshortening, the two together representing those two Angels who, after the Ascension, declared that He had risen into Heaven. This work is certainly admirable, but it would have been even more so if Domenico had given beautiful expressions to the heads; as it is, they have something in the expressions that is not very pleasing, and it appears that in his old age he adopted for his countenances an expression of terror by no means agreeable. This work, I say, if there had been any beauty in the heads, would have been so beautiful that there would have been nothing better to be seen. But in this matter of the expressions of the heads, in the opinion of the people of Siena, Sodoma was superior to Domenico, for the reason that Sodoma made them much more beautiful, although those of Domenico had more design and greater force. And, in truth, the manner of the heads in these our arts is of no little importance, and by painting them with graceful and beautiful expressions many masters have escaped the censure that they might have incurred for the rest of their work.
This was the last work in painting executed by Domenico, who, having taken it into his head in the end to work in relief, began to give his attention to casting in bronze, and went so far with this that he executed, although with extraordinary labour, six Angels of bronze in the round, little less than life-size, for the six columns nearest the high altar of the Duomo. These Angels, which are very beautiful, are holding tazze, or rather little basins, which support candelabra containing lights, and in the last of them he acquitted himself so well, that he was very highly praised for them. Whereupon, growing in courage, he made a beginning with figures of the twelve Apostles, which were to be placed on the columns lower down, where there are now some of marble, old and in a bad manner; but he did not continue them, for he did not live long after that. And since he was a man of infinite ingenuity, and succeeded well in everything, he engraved wood blocks by himself in order to make prints in chiaroscuro, and there are to be seen prints of two Apostles engraved by him excellently well, of which we have one in our book of drawings, together with some sheets drawn divinely by his hand. He also engraved copper plates with the burin, and he executed with aquafortis some very fanciful little stories of alchemy, in which Jove and the other Gods, wishing to congeal Mercury, place him bound in a crucible, and Vulcan and Pluto make fire around him; but when they think that he must be fixed, Mercury flies away and goes off in smoke.
Domenico, in addition to the works described above, executed many others of no great importance, pictures of the Madonna and other suchlike chamber pictures, such as a Madonna that is in the house of the Chevalier Donati, and a picture in distemper in which Jove changes himself into a shower of gold and rains into the lap of Danae. Piero Catanei, likewise, has a round picture in oils of a very beautiful Virgin by the hand of the same master. He also painted a most beautiful bier for the Confraternity of S. Lucia, and likewise another for that of S. Antonio; nor should anyone be astonished that I make mention of such works, for the reason that they are beautiful to a marvel, as all know who have seen them.
Finally, having come to the age of sixty-five, he hastened the end of his life by toiling all by himself day and night at his castings in metal, polishing them himself without calling in any assistance. He died, then, on the 18th of May, 1549, and was given burial by his dearest friend, the goldsmith Giuliano, in the Duomo, where he had executed so many rare works. And he was carried to the tomb by all the craftsmen of his city, which recognized even then the great loss that she had suffered in the death of Domenico, and now, as she admires his works, recognizes it more than ever.
Domenico was an orderly and upright person, fearing God and studious in his art, although solitary beyond measure; wherefore he well deserved to be honorably celebrated by his fellow-citizens of Siena, who have always won great praise by their attention to noble studies and to poetry, with verses both in Latin and in the vulgar tongue.