ANTONIO DA CORREGGIO
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
I DO NOT WISH to leave that country wherein our great mother Nature, in order not to be thought partial, gave to the world extraordinary men of that sort with which she had already for many and many a year adorned Tuscany; among whom was one endowed with an excellent and very beautiful genius, by name Antonio da Correggio, a most rare painter, who acquired the modern manner so perfectly, that in a few years, what with his natural gifts and his practice in art, he became a most excellent and marvellous craftsman. He was very timid by nature, and with great discomfort to himself he was continually laboring at the exercise of his art, for the sake of his family, which weighed upon him; and although it was a natural goodness that impelled him, nevertheless he afflicted himself more than was right in bearing the burden of those sufferings which are wont to crush mankind. He was very melancholy in his practice of art, a slave to her labors, and an unwearying investigator of all the difficulties of her realm ; to which witness is borne by a vast multitude of figures in the Duomo of Parma, executed in fresco and well finished, which are to be found in the great tribune of the said church, and are seen foreshortened from below with an effect of marvellous grandeur.
Antonio was the first who began to work in the modern manner in Lombardy; wherefore it is thought that if he, with his genius, had gone forth from Lombardy and lived in Rome, he would have wrought miracles, and would have brought the sweat to the brow of many who were held to be great men in his time. For, his works being such as they are without his having seen any of the ancient or the best of the modern, it necessarily follows that, if he had seen them, he would have vastly improved his own, and, advancing from good to better, would have reached the highest rank. It may, at least, be held for certain that no one ever handled colors better than he, and that no craftsman ever painted with greater delicacy or with more relief, such was the softness of his flesh painting, and such the grace with which he finished his works.
In the same place, also, he painted two large pictures executed in oils, in one of which, among other figures, there may be seen a Dead Christ, which was highly extolled. And in S. Giovanni, in the same city, he painted a tribune in fresco, wherein he represented Our Lady ascending into Heaven amidst a multitude of angels, with other saints around; as to which, it seems impossible that he should have been able, I do not say to express it with his hand, but even to conceive it in his imagination, so beautiful are the curves of the draperies and the expressions that he gave to those figures. Of these there are some drawings in our book, done in red chalk by his hand, with some very beautiful borders of little boys, and other borders drawn in that work by way of ornament, with various fanciful scenes of sacrifices in the ancient manner. And in truth, if Antonio had not brought his works to that perfection which is seen in them, his drawings (although they show excellence of manner, and the charm and practised touch of a master) would not have gained for him among craftsmen the name that he has won with his wonderful paintings. This art is so difficult, and has so many branches, that very often a craftsman is not able to practise them all to perfection ; for there have been many who have drawn divinely well, but have shown some imperfection in colouring, and others have been marvellous in colouring, but have not drawn half so well. All this depends on choice, and on the practice bestowed, in youth, in one case on drawing, in another on colour. But since all is learnt in order to carry works to the height of perfection, which is to put good coloring, together with draughtsmanship, into everything that is executed, for this reason Correggio deserves great praise, having attained to the height of perfection in the works that he coloured either in oils or in fresco; as he did in the Church of the Frati de' Zoccoli di S. Francesco, in the same city, where he painted an Annunciation in fresco so well, that, when it became necessary to pull it down in making some changes in that building, those friars caused the wall round it to be bound with timber strengthened with iron, and, cutting it away little by little, they saved it ; and it was built by them into a more secure place in the same convent.
He painted, also, over one of the gates of that city, a Madonna who has the Child in her arms; and it is an astounding thing to see the lovely colouring of this work in fresco, through which he has won from passing strangers, who have seen nothing else of his, infinite praise and honour. For S. Antonio, likewise in that city, he painted a panel wherein is a Madonna, with S. Mary Magdalene; and near them is a boy in the guise of a little angel, holding a book in his hand, who is smiling, with a smile that seems so natural that he moves whoever beholds him to smile also, nor can any person, be his nature ever so melancholy, see him without being cheered. There is also a S. Jerome; and the whole work is colored in a manner so wonderful and so astounding, that painters revere it for the marvel of its colouring, and it is scarcely possible to paint better.
In like manner, he executed square pictures and other paintings for many lords throughout Lombardy ; and, among other works, two pic- tures in Mantua for Duke Federigo II, to be sent to the Emperor, a gift truly worthy of such a Prince. Giulio Romano, seeing these works, said that he had never seen any colouring that attained to such per- fection. One was a naked Leda, and the other a Venus ; both so soft in colouring, with the shadows of the flesh so well wrought, that they appeared to be not colours, but flesh. In one there was a marvellous landscape, nor was there ever a Lombard who painted such things better than he ; and, besides this, hair so lovely in color, and executed in detail with such exquisite finish, that it is not possible to see anything better. There were also certain Loves, executed with beautiful art, who were making trial of their arrows, some of gold and some of lead, on a stone; and what lent most grace to the Venus was a clear and limpid stream, which ran among some stones and bathed her feet, but scarcely concealed any part of them, so that the sight of their delicate whiteness was a moving thing for the eye to behold. For which reason Antonio most certainly deserved all praise and honour during his lifetime, and the greatest glory from the lips and pens of men after his death.
In Modena, also, he painted a panel picture of Our Lady, which is held in esteem by all painters, as the best picture in that city. In Bologna, likewise, in the house of the Ercolani, gentlemen of that city, there is a work by his hand, a Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene in the Garden, which is very beautiful. In Reggio there was a rare and most beautiful picture; and not long since, Messer Luciano Pallavigino, who takes much delight in noble paintings, passing through the city and seeing it, gave no thought to the cost, and, as if he had bought a jewel, sent it to his house in Genoa. At Reggio, likewise, is a panel containing a Nativity of Christ, wherein the splendour radiating from Him throws its light on the shepherds and all around on the figures that are contemplating Him; and among the many conceptions shown in that subject, there is a woman who, wishing to gaze intently at Christ, and not being able with her mortal sight to bear the light of His Divinity, which seems to be beating upon her with its rays, places a hand before her eyes ; which is expressed so well that it is a marvel. Over the hut is a choir of angels singing, who are so well executed, that they appear rather to have rained down from Heaven than to have been made by the hand of a painter. And in the same city there is a little picture, a foot square, the rarest and most beautiful work that is to be seen by his hand, of Christ in the Garden, representing an effect of night, and painted with little figures ; wherein the Angel, appearing to Christ, illumines Him with the splendour of his light, with such truth to nature, that nothing better can be imagined or expressed. Below, on a plain at the foot of the mountain, are seen the three Apostles sleeping, over whom the mountain on which Christ is praying casts a shadow, giving those figures a force which one is not able to describe. Far in the background, over a distant land- scape, there is shown the appearing of the dawn; and on one side are seen coming some soldiers, with Judas. And although it is so small, this scene is so well conceived, that there is no work of the same kind to equal it either in patience or in study.
Many things might be said of the works of this master; but since, among the eminent men of our art, everything that is to be seen by his hand is admired as something divine, I will say no more. I have used all possible diligence in order to obtain his portrait, but, since he himself did not make it, and he was never portrayed by others, for he always lived in retirement, I have not been able to find one. He was, in truth, a person who had no opinion of himself, nor did he believe himself to be an able master of his art, contrasting his deficiencies with that perfection which he would have liked to achieve. He was contented with little, and he lived like an excellent Christian.
Antonio, like a man who was weighed down by his family, was anxious to be always saving, and he had thereby become as miserly as he could well be. Wherefore it is related that, having received at Parma a payment of sixty crowns in copper coins, and wishing to take them to Correggio to meet some demand, he placed the money on his back and set out to walk on foot; but, being smitten by the heat of the sun, which was very great, and drinking water to refresh himself, he was seized by pleurisy, and had to take to his bed in a raging fever, nor did he ever raise his head from it, but finished the course of his life at the age of forty, or thereabout.
His pictures date about 1512; and he bestowed a very great gift on painting by his handling of colours, which was that of a true master ; and it was by means of him that men's eyes were opened in Lombardy, where so many beautiful intellects have been seen in painting, following him in making works worthy of praise and memory. Thus, by showing them his treatment of hair, executed with such facility, for all the diffi- culty of painting it, he taught them how it should be painted ; for which all painters owe him an everlasting debt. At their instance the following epigram was written to him by Messer Fabio Segni, a gentleman of Florence:Hujus cum regeret mortales spiritus artus Pictoris, Charlies supplicuere Jovi. Non alia pingi dextra, Pater alme, rogamus ; Hunc praster, nulli pingere nos liceat. Annuit his votis summi regnator Olympi, Et juvenem subito sidera ad alta tulit, Ut posset melius Charitum simulacra referre Praesens, et nudas cerneret inde Deas.
At this same time lived Andrea del Gobbo of Milan, a very pleasing painter and colorist, many of whose works are scattered about in the houses of his native city of Milan. There is a large panel picture of the Assumption of Our Lady, by his hand, in the Certosa of Pavia, but it was left unfinished, on account of death overtaking him ; which panel shows how excellent he was, and how great a lover of the labours of art.