Portrait of a Woman. 1506/1510. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
BEFORE THE SIEGE of Florence the population had multiplied in such great numbers that the widespread suburbs which lay without every gate, together with the churches, monasteries, and hospitals, formed as it were another city, inhabited by many honorable persons and by good craftsmen of every kind, although for the most part they were less wealthy than those of the city, and lived there with less expense in the way of customs-dues and the like. In one of these suburbs, then, without the Porta a Faenza, was born Giuliano Bugiardini, who lived there, even as his ancestors had done, until the year 1529, when all the suburbs were pulled down. But before that, when still a mere lad, he began his studies in the garden of the Medici on the Piazza di S. Marco, in which, attending to the study of art under the sculptor Bertoldo, he formed such strait friendship and intimacy with Michelagnolo Buonarroti, that he was much beloved by Buonarroti ever afterwards; which Michelagnolo did not so much because of any depth that he saw in Giuliano's manner of drawing, as on account of the extraordinary diligence and love that he showed towards art. There was in Giuliano, besides this, a certain natural goodness and a sort of simplicity in his mode of living, free from all envy and malice, which vastly pleased Buonarroti; nor was there any notable defect in him save this, that he loved too well the works of his own hand. For, although all men are wont to err in this respect, Giuliano in truth passed all due bounds, whatever may have been the reason either the great pains and diligence that he put into executing them, or some other cause. Wherefore Michelagnolo used to call him blessed, since he appeared to be content with what he knew, and himself unhappy, in that no work of his ever fully satisfied him.
After Giuliano had studied design for some time in the above-named garden, he worked, together with Buonarroti and Granacci, under Domenico Ghirlandajo, at the time when he was painting the chapel in S. Maria Novella. Then, having made his growth and become a passing good master, he betook himself to work in company with Mariotto Albertinelli in Gualfonda; in which place he finished a panel picture that is now at the door of entrance of S. Maria Maggiore in Florence, containing S. Alberto, a Carmelite friar, who has under his feet the Devil in the form of a woman, a work that was much extolled.
It was the custom in Florence before the siege of 1530, at the burial of dead persons of good family and noble blood, to carry in front of the bier a string of pennons fixed round a panel that a porter bore on his head; which pennons were afterwards left in the church in memory of the deceased and of his family. Now, when the elder Cosimo Rucellai died, Bernardo and Palla, his sons, in order to have something new, thought of having not pennons, but in place of them a quadrangular banner four braccia wide and five braccia high, with some pennons at the foot containing the arms of the Rucellai. These men therefore giving this work to Giuliano to execute, he painted on the body of the said banner four great figures, executed very well namely, S. Cosimo, S. Damiano, S. Peter, and S. Paul, which were truly most beautiful paintings, and done with more diligence than had ever been shown in any other work on cloth.
These and other works of Giuliano's having been seen by Mariotto Albertinelli, he recognized how careful Giuliano was in following the designs that were put before him, without departing from them by a hair's breadth, and, since he was preparing in those days to abandon art, he gave him to finish a panel picture that Fra Bartolommeo di San Marco, his friend and companion, had formerly left only designed and shaded with watercolors on the gesso of the panel, as was his custom. Giuliano, then, setting his hand to this work, executed it with supreme diligence and labor, and it was placed at that time in the Church of S. Gallo, without the gate of that name. The church and convent were afterwards pulled down on account of the siege, and the picture was carried into the city and placed in the Priests' Hospital in the Via di S. Gallo, and then from there into the Convent of S. Marco, and finally into S. Jacopo tra Fossi on the Canto degli Alberti, where it stands at the present day on the high altar. In this picture is the Dead Christ, with the Magdalene, who is embracing His feet, and S. John the Evangelist, who is holding His head and supporting it on one knee. There, likewise, are S. Peter, who is weeping, and S. Paul, who, stretching out his arms, is contemplating his Dead Master; and, to tell the truth, Giuliano executed this picture with so much lovingness and so much consideration and judgment, that he will be always very highly extolled for it, even as he was at that time, and that rightly. And after this he finished for Cristofano Rinieri a picture with the Rape of Dina that had been likewise left incomplete by the same Fra Bartolommeo; and he painted another picture like it, which was sent to France.
Not long afterwards, having been drawn to Bologna by certain friends, he executed some portraits from life, and, for a chapel in the new choir of S. Francesco, an altarpiece in oils containing Our Lady and two Saints, which was held at that time in Bologna, from there not being many masters there, to be a good work and worthy of praise. Then, having returned to Florence, he painted for I know not what person five pictures of the life of Our Lady, which are now in the house of Maestro Andrea Pasquali, physician to his Excellency and a man of great distinction.
Messer Palla Rucellai having commissioned him to execute an altarpiece that was to be placed on his altar in S. Maria Novella, Giuliano began to paint in it the Martyrdom of S. Catharine the Virgin. Mountains in labor! He had it in hand for twelve years, but never carried it to completion after all that time, because he had no invention and knew not how to paint the many various things that had a part in that martyrdom; and, although he was always racking his brain as to how those wheels should be made, and how he should paint the lightning and the fire that consumed them, constantly changing one day what he had done the day before, in all that time he was never able to finish it. It is true that in the meantime he executed many works, and among others, for Messer Francesco Guicciardini who had returned from Bologna and was then living in his villa at Montici, writing his history a portrait of him, which was a passing good likeness and pleased him much. He took the portrait, likewise, of Signora Angela de' Rossi, the sister of the Count of Sansecondo, for Signor Alessandro Vitelli, her husband, who was then on garrison duty in Florence. For Messer Ottaviano de' Medici he painted in a large picture, copied from one by Fra Sebastiano del Piombo, two full-length portraits, Pope Clement seated and Fra Niccolo' della Magna standing; and in another picture, likewise, with incredible pains and patience, he portrayed Pope Clement seated, and before him Bartolommeo Valori, who is kneeling and speaking to him.
Next, the above-named Messer Ottaviano de' Medici having besought Giuliano privately that he should take for him the portrait of Michelagnolo Buonarroti, he set his hand to it; and, after he had kept Michelagnolo, who used to take pleasure in his conversation, sitting for two hours, Giuliano said to him: "Michelagnolo, if you wish to see yourself, get up and look, for I have now fixed the expression of the face." Michelagnolo, having risen and looked at the portrait, said to Giuliano, laughing: "What the devil have you been doing? You have painted me with one of my eyes up in the temple. Give a little thought to what you are doing." Hearing this, Giuliano, after standing pensive for a while and looking many times from the portrait to the living model, answered in serious earnest: "To me it does not seem so, but sit you down again, and I shall see a little better from the life whether it be true." Buonarroti, who knew whence the defect arose and how small was the judgment of Bugiardini, straightway resumed his seat, grinning. And Giuliano looked many times now at Michelagnolo and now at the picture, and then finally, rising to his feet, declared: "To me it seems that the thing is just as I have drawn it, and that the life is in no way different." "Well, then," answered Buonarroti, "it is a natural deformity. Go on, and spare neither brush nor art." And so Giuliano finished the picture and gave it to Messer Ottaviano, together with portrait of Pope Clement by the hand of Fra Sebastiano, as Buonarroti desired, who had sent to Rome for it.
Giuliano afterwards made for Cardinal Innocenzio Cibo a copy of the picture in which Raffaello da Urbino had formerly painted portraits of Pope Leo, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, and Cardinal de' Rossi; but in place of Cardinal de' Rossi he painted the head of Cardinal Cibo, in which he acquitted himself very well, and he executed the whole picture with great diligence and labor. At that time, likewise, he took the portrait of Cencio Guasconi, who was then a very beautiful youth. And after this he painted at the villa of Baccio Valori, at Olmo a Castello, a tabernacle in fresco, which, although it had not much design, was well and very carefully executed.
Meanwhile Palla Rucellai was pressing him to finish his altarpiece, of which mention has been made above, and Giuliano resolved to take Michelagnolo one day to see it. And so, after he had brought him to the place where he kept it, and had described to him with what pains he had executed the lightning-flash, which, coming down from Heaven, shivers the wheels and kills those who are turning them, and also a sun, which, bursting from a cloud, delivers S. Catharine from death, he frankly besought Michelagnolo, who could not keep from laughing as he heard poor Bugiardini's lamentations, that he should tell him how to make eight or ten principal figures of soldiers in the foreground of this altarpiece, drawn up in line after the manner of a guard, and in the act of flight, some being prostrate, some wounded, and others dead; for, said Giuliano, he did not know for himself how to foreshorten them in such a manner that there might be room for them all in so narrow a space, in the fashion that he had imagined, in line. Buonarroti, then, having compassion on the poor man and wishing to oblige him, went up to the picture with a piece of charcoal and outlined with a few strokes, lightly sketched in, a line of marvellous nude figures, which, foreshortened in different attitudes, were falling in various ways, some backward and others forward, with some wounded or dead, and all executed with that judgment and excellence that were peculiar to Michelagnolo. This done, he went away with the thanks of Giuliano, who not long afterwards took Tribolo, his dearest friend, to see what Buonarroti had done, telling him the whole story. But since, as has been related, Buonarroti had drawn his figures only in outline, Bugiardini was not able to put them into execution, because there were neither shadows in them nor any other help; whereupon Tribolo resolved to assist him, and thus made some sketch-models in clay, which he executed excellently well, giving them that boldness of manner that Michelagnolo had put into the drawing, and working them over with the gradine, which is a toothed instrument of iron, to the end that they might be somewhat rough and might have greater force; and, thus finished, he gave them to Giuliano. However, since that manner did not please the smooth fancy of Bugiardini, no sooner had Tribolo departed than he took a brush and, dipping it from time to time in water, so smoothed them that he took away the gradine marks and polished them all over, insomuch that, whereas the lights should have served as contrasts to make the shadows stronger, he contrived to destroy all the excellence that made the work perfect. Which having afterwards heard from Giuliano himself, Tribolo laughed at the foolish simplicity of the man; and Giuliano finally delivered the work finished in such a manner that there is nothing in it to show that Michelagnolo ever looked at it.
In the end, being old and poor, and having very few works to do, Giuliano applied himself with extraordinary and even incredible pains to make a Pieta' in a tabernacle that was to go to Spain, with figures of no great size, and executed it with such diligence, that it seems a strange thing to think of an old man of his age having the patience to do such a work for the love that he bore to art. On the doors of that tabernacle, in order to depict the darkness that fell at the death of the Saviour, he painted a Night on a black ground, copied from the one by the hand of Michelagnolo which is in the Sacristy of S. Lorenzo. But since that statue has no other sign than an owl, Giuliano, amusing himself over his picture of Night by giving rein to his fancy, painted there a net for catching thrushes by night, with the lantern, and one of those little vessels holding a candle, or rather, a candle-end, that are carried about at night, with other suchlike things that have something to do with darkness and gloom, such as night-caps, coifs, pillows, and bats; wherefore Buonarroti was like to dislocate his jaw with laughing when he saw this work and considered with what strange caprices Bugiardini had enriched his Night.
Finally, after having always been that kind of man, Giuliano died at the age of seventy-five, and was buried in the Church of S. Marco at Florence, in the year 1556.
Giuliano once relating to Bronzino how he had seen a very beautiful woman, after he had praised her to the skies, Bronzino said, "Do you know her?" "No," answered Giuliano, "but she is a miracle of beauty. Just imagine that she is a picture by my hand, and there you have her."