Portrait of a Woman. 1490-1500 circa. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
THE WHILE THAT Maestro Credi, an excellent goldsmith in his day, was working in Florence with very good credit and repute, Andrea Sciarpelloni placed with him, to the end that he might learn that craft, his son Lorenzo, a young man of beautiful intellect and excellent character. And since the ability and willingness of the master to teach were not greater than the zeal and readiness with which the disciple absorbed whatever was shown to him, no long time passed before Lorenzo became not only a good and diligent designer, but also so able and finished a goldsmith, that no young man of that time was his equal; and this brought such honor to Credi, that from that day onward Lorenzo was always called by everyone, not Lorenzo Sciarpelloni, but Lorenzo di Credi.
Growing in courage, then, Lorenzo attached himself to Andrea Verrocchio, who at that time had taken it into his head to devote himself to painting; and under him, having Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci as his companions and friends, although they were rivals, he set himself with all diligence to learn to paint. And since Lorenzo took an extraordinary pleasure in the manner of Leonardo, he contrived to imitate it so well that there was no one who came nearer to it than he did in the high finish and thorough perfection of his works, as may be seen from many drawings that are in our book, executed with the style, with the pen, or in water-colours, among which are some drawings made from models of clay covered with waxed linen cloths and with liquid clay, imitated with such diligence, and finished with such patience, as it is scarcely possible to conceive, much less to equal.
For these reasons, then, Lorenzo was so beloved by his master, that, when Andrea went to Venice to cast in bronze the horse and the statue of Bartolommeo da Bergamo, he left to Lorenzo the whole management and administration of his revenues and affairs, and likewise all his drawings, reliefs, statues, and art materials. And Lorenzo, on his part, loved his master Andrea so dearly, that, besides occupying himself with incredible zeal with his interests in Florence, he also went more than once to Venice to see him and to render him an account of his good administration, which was so much to the satisfaction of his master, that, if Lorenzo had consented, Andrea would have made him his heir. Nor did Lorenzo prove in any way ungrateful for this good-will, for, after the death of Andrea, he went to Venice and brought his body to Florence; and then he handed over to his heirs everything that was found to belong to Andrea, except his drawings, pictures, sculptures, and all other things connected with art.
The first paintings of Lorenzo were a round picture of Our Lady, which was sent to the King of Spain (the design of which picture he copied from one by his master Andrea), and a picture, much better than the other, which was likewise copied by Lorenzo from one by Leonardo da Vinci, and also sent to Spain; and so similar was it to that by Leonardo, that no difference could be seen between the one and the other. By the hand of Lorenzo is a Madonna in a very well executed panel, which is beside the great Church of S. Jacopo at Pistoia; and another, also, which is in the Hospital of the Ceppo, and is one of the best pictures in that city. Lorenzo painted many portraits, and when he was a young man he made that one of himself which is now in the possession of his disciple, Gian Jacopo, a painter in Florence, together with many other things left to him by Lorenzo, among which are the portrait of Pietro Perugino and that of Lorenzo's master, Andrea Verrocchio. He also made a portrait of Girolamo Benivieni, a man of great learning, and much his friend.
For the Company of S. Sebastiano, behind the Church of the Servi in Florence, he executed a panel picture of Our Lady, S. Sebastian, and other saints; and for the altar of S. Giuseppe, in S. Maria del Fiore, he painted the first-named saint. To Montepulciano he sent a panel that is now in the Church of S. Agostino, containing a Crucifix, Our Lady, and S. John, painted with much diligence. But the best work that Lorenzo ever executed, and that to which he devoted the greatest care and zeal, in order to surpass himself, was the one that is in a chapel at Cestello, a panel containing Our Lady, S. Julian, and S. Nicholas; and whoever wishes to know how necessary it is for a painter to work with a high finish in oils if he desires that his pictures should remain fresh, must look at this panel, which is painted with such a finish as could not be excelled.
While still a young man, Lorenzo painted a S. Bartholomew on a pilaster in Orsanmichele, and for the Nuns of S. Chiara, in Florence, a panel picture of the Nativity of Christ, with some shepherds and angels; in which picture, besides other things, he took great pains with the imitation of some herbage, painting it so well that it appears to be real. For the same place he made a picture of S. Mary Magdalene in Penitence; and in a round picture that is in the house of Messer Ottaviano de' Medici he painted a Madonna. For S. Friano he painted a panel; and he executed some figures in S. Matteo at the Hospital of Lelmo. For S. Reparata he painted a picture with the Angel Michael, and for the Company of the Scalzo he made a panel picture, executed with much diligence. And, in addition to these works, he made many pictures of Our Lady and others, which are dispersed among the houses of citizens in Florence.
Having thus got together a certain sum of money by means of these labors, and being a man who loved quiet more than riches, Lorenzo retired to S. Maria Nuova in Florence, where he lived and had a comfortable lodging until his death. Lorenzo was much inclined to the sect of Fra Girolamo of Ferrara, and always lived like an upright and orderly man, showing a friendly courtesy whenever the occasion arose. Finally, having come to the seventy-eighth year of his life, he died of old age, and was buried in S. Pietro Maggiore, in the year 1530.
He showed such a perfection of finish in his works, that any other painting, in comparison with his, must always seem merely sketched and dirty. He left many disciples, and among them Giovanni Antonio Sogliani and Tommaso di Stefano. Of Sogliani there will be an account in another place; and as for Tommaso, he imitated his master closely in his high finish, and made many works in Florence and abroad, including a panel picture for Marco del Nero at his villa of Arcetri, of the Nativity of Christ, executed with great perfection of finish. But ultimately it became Tommaso's principal profession to paint on cloth, insomuch that he painted church-hangings better than any other man. Now Stefano, the father of Tommaso, had been an illuminator, and had also done something in architecture; and Tommaso, after his father's death, in order to follow in his steps, rebuilt the bridge of Sieve, which had been destroyed by a flood about that time, at a distance of ten miles from Florence, and likewise that of S. Piero a Ponte on the River Bisenzio, which is a beautiful work; and afterwards he erected many buildings for monasteries and other places. Then, being architect to the Guild of Wool, he made the model for the new buildings which were constructed by that Guild behind the Nunziata; and, finally, having reached the age of seventy or more, he died in the year 1564, and was buried in S. Marco, to which he was followed by an honorable train of the Academy of Design.
But returning to Lorenzo: he left many works unfinished at his death, and, in particular, a very beautiful picture of the Passion of Christ, which came into the hands of Antonio da Ricasoli, and a panel painted for M. Francesco da Castiglioni, Canon of S. Maria del Fiore, who sent it to Castiglioni. Lorenzo had no wish to make many large works, because he took great pains in executing his pictures, and devoted an incredible amount of labour to them, for the reason, above all, that the colours which he used were ground too fine; besides which, he was always purifying and distilling his nut oils, and he made mixtures of colours on his palette in such numbers, that from the first of the light tints to the last of the darks there was a gradual succession involving an over-careful and truly excessive elaboration, so that at times he had twenty-five or thirty of them on his palette. For each tint he kept a separate brush; and where he was working he would never allow any movement that might raise dust. Such excessive care is perhaps no more worthy of praise than the other extreme of negligence, for in all things one should observe a certain mean and avoid extremes, which are generally harmful.