(In part) Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. 1490-1504.


Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists

MANY INTELLECTS ARE LOST that would make rare and worthy works, if, on coming into the world, they were to hit upon persons able and willing to set them to work on those labours for which they are fitted. But it often happens that he who has the means is neither capable nor willing; and if, indeed, there chances to be one willing to erect some worthy building, he often takes no manner of care to seek out an architect of real merit or of any loftiness of spirit. Nay, he puts his honor and glory into the keeping of certain thievish creatures, who generally disgrace the name and fame of such memorials; and in order to thrust forward into greatness those who depend entirely upon him (so great is the power of ambition), he often rejects the good designs that are offered to him, and puts into execution the very worst; wherefore his own fame is left besmirched by the clumsiness of the work, since it is considered by all men of judgment that the craftsman and the patron who employs him, in that they are conjoined in their works, are of one and the same mind. And on the other hand, how many Princes of little understanding have there been, who, through having chanced upon persons of excellence and judgment, have obtained after death no less fame from the memory of their buildings than they enjoyed when alive from their sovereignty over their people.

Truly fortunate, however, in his day, was Cronaca, in that he not only had the knowledge, but also found those who kept him continually employed, and that always on great and magnificent works. Of him it is related that while Antonio Pollaiuolo was in Rome, working at the tombs of bronze that are in S. Pietro, there came to his house a young lad, his relative, whose proper name was Simone, and who had fled from Florence on account of some brawl. This Simone, having worked with a master in woodwork, and being much inclined to the art of architecture, began to observe the beautiful antiquities of that city, and, delighting in them, went about measuring them with the greatest diligence. And, going on with this, he had not been long in Rome before he showed that he had made much proficience, both in taking measurements and in carrying one or two things into execution.

Thereupon he conceived the idea of returning to Florence, and departed from Rome; and on arriving in his native city, having become a passing good master of words, he described the marvels of Rome and of other places with such accuracy, that from that time onwards he was called Il Cronaca, every man thinking that he was truly a chronicle of information in his discourse. Now he had become such that he was held to be the most excellent of the modern architects in the city of Florence, seeing that he had good judgment in choosing sites, and showed that he had an intellect more lofty than that of many others who were engaged in that profession; for it was evident from his works how good an imitator he was of antiquities, and how closely he had observed the rules of Vitruvius and the works of Filippo di Ser Brunellesco.

There was then in Florence that Filippo Strozzi who is now called "the elder," to distinguish him from his son; and he, being very rich, wished to leave to his native city and to his children, among other memorials of himself, one in the form of a beautiful palace. Wherefore Benedetto da Maiano, having been called upon by him for this purpose, made him a model entirely isolated, which was afterwards put into execution, although not in all its extent, as will be related below, for some of his neighbours would not give up their houses to accommodate him. Benedetto began the palace, therefore, in the best way that he could, and brought the outer shell almost to completion before the death of Filippo: which outer shell is in the Rustic Order, with varying degrees of rustication, as may be seen, since the boss-covered part from the first range of windows downwards, together with the doors, is very much Rustic, and the part from the first range of windows to the second is much less Rustic. Now it happened that at the very moment when Benedetto was leaving Florence, Cronaca returned from Rome; whereupon, Simone being presented to Filippo, the latter was so pleased with the model that he made for the courtyard and for the great cornice which goes round the outer side of the palace, that, having recognized the excellence of his intellect, he decided that thenceforward the whole work should pass through his hands, and availed himself of his services ever afterwards. Cronaca, then, in addition to the beautiful exterior in the Tuscan Order, made at the top a very magnificent Corinthian cornice, which serves to complete the roof; and half of it is seen finished at the present day, with such extraordinary grace that nothing could be added to it, nor could anything more beautiful be desired. This cornice was taken by Cronaca, who copied it in Rome with exact measurements, from an ancient one that is to be found at Spoglia Cristo, which is held to be the most beautiful among the many that are in that city; although it is true that it was enlarged by Cronaca to the proportions required by the palace, to the end that it might make a suitable finish, and might also complete the roof of that palace by means of its projection.

Thus, then, the genius of Cronaca was able to make use of the works of others and to transform them almost into his own; which does not succeed with many, since the difficulty lies not in merely having drawings and copies of beautiful things, but in accommodating them to the purpose which they have to serve, with grace, true measurement, proportion, and fitness. But just as much as this cornice of Cronaca's was and always will be extolled, so was that one censured which was made for the Palace of the Bartolini in the same city by Baccio d' Agnolo, who, seeking to imitate Cronaca, placed over a small facade, delicate in detail, a great ancient cornice copied with the exact measurements from the frontispiece of Monte Cavallo; which resulted in such ugliness, from his not having known how to adapt it with judgment, that it could not look worse, for it seems like an enormous cap on a small head. It is not enough for craftsmen, when they have executed their works, to excuse themselves, as many do, by saying that they were taken with exact measurements from the antique and copied from good masters, seeing that good judgment and the eye play a greater part in all such matters than measuring with compasses. Cronaca, then, executed half of the said cornice with great art right round that palace, together with dentils and ovoli, and finished it completely on two sides, counterpoising the stones in such a way, in order that they might turn out well bound and balanced, that there is no better masonry to be seen, nor any carried to perfection with more diligence. In like manner, all the other stones are so well put together, and with so high a finish, that the whole does not appear to be of masonry, but rather all of one piece. And to the end that everything might be in keeping, he caused beautiful pieces of iron-work to be made for all parts of the palace, as adornments for it, and the lanterns that are at the corners, which were all executed with supreme diligence by Niccolo' Grosso, called Il Caparra, a smith of Florence. In those marvellous lanterns may be seen cornices, columns, capitals, and brackets of iron, fixed together with wonderful craftsmanship; nor has any modern ever executed in iron works so large and so difficult, and with such knowledge and mastery.

Niccolo' Grosso was an eccentric and self-willed person, claiming justice for himself and giving it to others, and never covetous of what was not his own. He would never give anyone credit in the payment of his works, and always insisted on having his earnest money. For this reason Lorenzo de' Medici called him Il Caparra, and he was known to many others by that name. He had a sign fixed over his shop, wherein were books burning; wherefore, when one asked for time to make his payment, he would say, "I cannot give it, for my books are burning, and I can enter no more debtors in them." He was commissioned by the honorable Captains of the Guelph party to make a pair of andirons, which, when he had finished them, were sent for several times. But he kept saying, "On this anvil do I sweat and labor, and on it will I have my money paid down." Whereupon they sent to him once more for the work, with a message that he should come for his money, for he would straightway be paid; but he, still obstinate, answered that they must first bring the money. The provveditore, therefore, knowing that the Captains wished to see the work, fell into a rage, and sent to him saying that he had received half the money, and that when he had dispatched the andirons, he would pay him the rest. On which account Caparra, recognizing that this was true, gave one of the andirons to the messenger, saying: "Take them this one, for it is theirs; and if it pleases them, bring me the rest of the money, and I will hand over the other; but at present it is mine." The officials, seeing the marvellous work that he had put into it, sent the money to his shop; and he sent them the other andiron.

It is related, also, that Lorenzo de' Medici resolved to have some pieces of ironwork made, to be sent abroad as presents, in order that the excellence of Caparra might be made known. He went, therefore, to his shop, and happened to find him working at some things for certain poor people, from whom he had received part of the price as earnest money. On Lorenzo making his request, Niccolo' would in no way promise to serve him before having satisfied the others, saying that they had come to his shop before Lorenzo, and that he valued their money as much as his. To the same master some young men of the city brought a design, from which he was to make for them an iron instrument for breaking and forcing open other irons by means of a screw, but he absolutely refused to serve them; nay, he upbraided them, and said: "Nothing will induce me to serve you in such a matter; for these things are nothing but thieves' tools, or instruments for abducting and dishonoring young girls. Such things are not for me, I tell you, nor for you, who seem to me to be honest men." And they, perceiving that Caparra would not do their will, asked him who there was in Florence who might serve them; whereupon, flying into a rage, he drove them away with a torrent of abuse. He would never work for Jews, and was wont, indeed, to say that their money was putrid and stinking. He was a good man and a religious, but whimsical in brain and obstinate: and he would never leave Florence, for all the offers that were made to him, but lived and died in that city. Of him I have thought it right to make this record, because he was truly unique in his craft, and has never had and never will have an equal, as may be seen best from the ironwork and the beautiful lanterns of the Palace of the Strozzi.

This palace was brought to completion by Cronaca, and adorned with a very rich courtyard in the Corinthian and Doric Orders, with ornaments in the form of columns, capitals, cornices, windows, and doors, all most beautiful. And if it should appear to anyone that the interior of this palace is not in keeping with the exterior, he must know that the fault is not Cronaca's, for the reason that he was forced to adapt his interior to an outer shell begun by others, and to follow in great measure what had been laid down by those before him; and it was no small feat for him to have given it such beauty as it displays. The same answer may be made to any who say that the ascent of the stairs is not easy, nor correct in proportion, but too steep and sudden; and likewise, also, to such as say that the rooms and apartments of the interior in general are out of keeping, as has been described, with the grandeur and magnificence of the exterior. Nevertheless this palace will never be held as other than truly magnificent, and equal to any private building whatsoever that has been erected in Italy in our own times; wherefore Cronaca rightly obtained, as he still does, infinite commendation for this work.

The same master built the Sacristy of S. Spirito in Florence, which is in the form of an octagonal temple, beautiful in proportions, and executed with a high finish; and among other things to be seen in this work are some capitals fashioned by the happy hand of Andrea dal Monte Sansovino, which are wrought with supreme perfection; and such, likewise, is the antechamber of that sacristy, which is held to be very beautiful in invention, although the coffered ceiling, as will be described, is not well distributed over the columns. The same Cronaca also erected the Church of S. Francesco dell' Osservanza on the hill of S. Miniato, without Florence; and likewise the whole of the Convent of the Servite Friars, which is a highly extolled work.

At this same time there was about to be built, by the advice of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, a most famous preacher of that day, the Great Council Chamber of the Palace of the Signoria in Florence; and for this opinions were taken from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelagnolo Buonarroti, although he was a mere lad, Giuliano da San Gallo, Baccio d' Agnolo, and Simone del Pollaiuolo, called Il Cronaca, who was the devoted friend and follower of Savonarola. These men, after many disputes, came to an agreement, and decided that the Hall should be made in that form which it retained down to our own times, when, as has been mentioned and will be related yet again in another place, it was almost rebuilt. The charge of the whole work was given to Cronaca, as a man of talent and also as the friend of the aforesaid Fra Girolamo; and he executed it with great promptitude and diligence, showing the beauty of his genius particularly in the making of the roof, since the structure is of vast extent in every direction. He made the tie-beams of the roof-truss, which are thirty-eight braccia in length from wall to wall, of a number of timbers well scarfed and fastened together, since it was not possible to find beams of sufficient size for the purpose; and whereas the tie-beams of other roof-trusses have only one king-post, all those of this Hall have three each, a king-post in the middle, and a queen-post on either side. The rafters are long in proportion, and so are the struts of each king-post and queen-post; nor must I omit to say that the struts of the queen-posts, on the side nearest the wall, thrust against the rafters, and, towards the center, against the struts of the king-post. I have thought it right to describe how this roof-truss is made, because it was constructed with beautiful design, and I have seen drawings made of it by many for sending to various places. When these tie-beams, thus contrived, had been drawn up and placed at intervals of six braccia, and the roof had been likewise laid down in a very short space of time, Cronaca attended to the fixing of the ceiling, which was then made of plain wood and divided i nto panels, each of which was four braccia square and surrounded by an ornamental cornice of few members; and a flat moulding was made of the same width as the planks, which enclosed the panels and the whole work, with large bosses at the intersections and the corners of the whole ceiling. And although the end walls of this Hall, one on either side, were eight braccia out of the square, they did not make up their minds, as they might have done, to thicken the walls so as to make it square, but carried them up to the roof just as they were, making three large windows on each of those end walls.

But when the whole was finished, the Hall, on account of its extraordinary size, turned out to be too dark, and also stunted and wanting in height in relation to its great length and breadth; in short, almost wholly out of proportion. They sought, therefore, but with little success, to improve it by making two windows in the middle of the eastern side of the Hall, and four on the western side. After this, in order to give it its final completion, they made on the level of the brick floor, with great rapidity, being much pressed by the citizens, a wooden tribune right round the walls of the Hall, three braccia both in breadth and height, with seats after the manner of a theatre, and with a balustrade in front; on which tribune all the magistrates of the city were to sit. In the middle of the eastern side was a more elevated dais, on which the Signori sat with the Gonfalonier of Justice; and on either side of this more prominent place was a door, one of them leading to the Segreto and the other to the Specchio. Opposite to this, on the west side, was an altar at which Mass was read, with a panel by the hand of Fra Bartolommeo, as has been mentioned; and beside the altar was the pulpit for making speeches. In the middle of the Hall, then, were benches in rows laid crossways, for the citizens; while in the centre and at the corners of the tribune were some gangways with six steps, providing a convenient ascent for the ushers in the collection of votes. In this Hall, which was much extolled at that day for its many beautiful features and the rapidity with which it was erected, time has since served to reveal such errors as that it is low, dark, gloomy, and out of the square. Nevertheless Cronaca and the others deserve to be excused, both on account of the haste with which it was executed at the desire of the citizens, who intended in time to have it adorned with pictures and the ceiling overlaid with gold, and because up to that day there had been no greater hall built in Italy; although there are others very large, such as that of the Palace of S. Marco in Rome, that of the Vatican, erected by Pius II and Innocent VIII, that of the Castle of Naples, that of the Palace of Milan, and those of Urbino, Venice, and Padua.

After this, to provide an ascent to this Hall, Cronaca, with the advice of the same masters, made a great staircase six braccia wide and curving in two flights, richly adorned with greystone, and with Corinthian pilasters and capitals, double cornices, and arches, of the same stone; and with barrel-shaped vaulting, and windows with columns of variegated marble and carved marble capitals. But although this work was much extolled, it would have won even greater praise if the staircase had not turned out inconvenient and too steep; for it is a sure fact that it could have been made more gentle, as has been done in the time of Duke Cosimo, within the same amount of space and no more, in the new staircase made, opposite to that of Cronaca, by Giorgio Vasari, which is so gentle in ascent and so convenient, that going up it is almost like walking on the level. This has been the work of the aforesaid Lord Duke Cosimo, who, being a man of most happy genius and most profound judgment both in the government of his people and in all other things, grudges neither expense nor anything else in his desire to make all the fortifications and other buildings, both public and private, correspond to the greatness of his own mind, and not less beautiful than useful or less useful than beautiful.

His Excellency, then, reflecting that the body of this Hall is the largest, the most magnificent, and the most beautiful in all Europe, has resolved to have it improved in such parts as are defective, and to have it made in every other part more ornate than any other structure in Italy, by the design and hand of Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo. And thus, the walls having been raised twelve braccia above their former height, in such a manner that the height from the pavement to the ceiling is thirty-two braccia, the roof-truss made by Cronaca to support the roof has been restored and replaced on high after a new arrangement; and the old ceiling, which was simple and commonplace, and by no means worthy of that Hall, has been remodelled with a system of compartments of great variety, rich in mouldings, full of carvings, and all overlaid with gold, together with thirty-nine painted panels, square, round, and octagonal, the greater number of which are each nine braccia in extent, and some even more, and all containing scenes painted in oils, with the largest figures seven or eight braccia high. In these stories, commencing with the very beginning, may be seen the rise, the honours, the victories, and the glorious deeds of the city and state of Florence, and in particular the wars of Pisa and Siena, together with an endless number of other things, which it would take too long to describe. And on each of the side walls there has been left a convenient space of sixty braccia, in each of which are to be painted three scenes in keeping with the ceiling and embracing the space of seven pictures on either side, which represent events from the wars of Pisa and Siena. These compartments on the walls are so large, that no greater spaces for the painting of historical pictures have ever been seen either by the ancients or by the moderns.

And the said compartments are adorned by some vast stone ornaments which meet at the ends of the Hall, at one side of which, namely, the northern side, the Lord Duke has caused to be finished a work begun and carried nearly to completion by Baccio Bandinelli, that is, a facade filled with columns and pilasters and with niches containing statues of marble; which space is to serve as a public audience chamber, as will be related in the proper place. On the other side, opposite to this, there is to be, in a similar facade that is being made by the sculptor and architect Ammanati, a fountain to throw up water in the Hall, with a rich and most beautiful adornment of columns and statues of marble and bronze. Nor will I forbear to say that this Hall, in consequence of the roof having been raised twelve braccia, has gained not only height, but also an ample supply of windows, since, in addition to the others that are higher up, in each of those end walls are to be made three large windows, which will be over the level of a corridor that is to form a loggia within the Hall and to extend on one side over the work of Bandinelli, whence there will be revealed a most beautiful view of the whole Piazza. But of this Hall, and of the other improvements that have been or are being made in the Palace, there will be a longer account in another place. This only let me say at present, that if Cronaca and those other ingenious craftsmen who gave the design for the Hall could return to life, in my belief they would not recognize either the Palace, or the Hall, or any other thing that is there. The Hall, namely, that part which is rectangular, without counting the works of Bandinelli and Ammanati, is ninety braccia in length and thirty-eight braccia in breadth.

But returning to Cronaca: in the last years of his life there entered into his head such a frenzy for the cause of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, that he would talk of nothing else but that. Living thus, in the end he died after a passing long illness, at the age of fifty-five, and was buried honorably in the Church of S. Ambrogio at Florence, in the year 1509; and after no long space of time the following epitaph was written for him by Messer Giovan Battista Strozzi:


Cronaca had a brother called Matteo, who gave himself to sculpture and worked under the sculptor Antonio Rossellino; but although he was a man of good and beautiful intelligence, a fine draughtsman, and well practised in working marble, he left no finished work, because, being snatched from the world by death at the age of nineteen, he was not able to accomplish that which was expected from him by all who knew him.

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists

This Web Site Created and Maintained by Adrienne DeAngelis