First fruits of the Earth offered to Saturn. Detail. 1555-1557. Sala degli Elementi, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
WHILE Raffaello dal Colle of Borgo San Sepolcro, who was a disciple of Giulio Romano and helped him to paint in fresco the Hall of Constantine in the Papal Palace at Rome, and the apartments of the Te in Mantua, was painting, after his return to the Borgo, the altarpiece of the Chapel of SS. Gilio e Arcanio (in which, imitating Giulio and Raffaello da Urbino, he depicted the Resurrection of Christ, a work that was much extolled), with another altar-piece of the Assumption for the Frati de' Zoccoli without the Borgo, and some other works for the Servite Friars at Citta' di Castello; while, I say, Raffaello was executing these and other works in the Borgo, his native place, acquiring riches and fame, a young man sixteen years of age, called Cristofano, and by way of by-name, Doceno, the son of Guido Gherardi, a man of honorable family in that city, was attending from a natural inclination and with much profit to painting, drawing and coloring so well and with such grace, that it was a marvel. Wherefore the above-named Raffaello, having seen some animals by the hand of this Cristofano, such as dogs, wolves, hares, and various kinds of birds and fishes, executed very well, and perceiving that he was most agreeable in his conversation and very witty and amusing, although he lived a life apart, almost like a philosopher, was well pleased to form a friendship with him and to have him frequent his workshop in order to learn.
Now, after Cristofano had spent some time drawing under the discipline of Raffaello, there arrived in the Borgo the painter Rosso, with whom he contracted a friendship, and received some of his drawings; and these Doceno studied with great diligence, considering, as one who had seen no others but those by the hand of Raffaello, that they were very beautiful, as indeed they were. But these studies were broken off by him, for, when Giovanni de' Turrini of the Borgo, at that time Captain of the Florentines, went with a band of soldiers from the Borgo and from Citta' di Castello to the defence of Florence, which was besieged by the armies of the Emperor and of Pope Clement, Cristofano went thither among the other soldiers, having been led away by his many friends. It is true that he did this no less in the hope of having some occasion to study the works in Florence than with the intention of fighting; but in this he failed, for his captain, Giovanni, had to guard not a place within the city, but the bastions on the hill without. That war finished, and the guard of Florence being commanded not long afterwards by Signor Alessandro Vitelli of Citta' di Castello, Cristofano, drawn by his friends and by his desire to see the pictures and sculptures of the city, enlisted as a soldier in that guard. And while he was in that service, Signor Alessandro, having heard from Battista della Bilia, a painter and soldier from Citta' di Castello, that Cristofano gave his attention to painting, and having obtained a beautiful picture by his hand, determined to send him with that same Battista della Bilia and with another Battista, likewise of Citta' di Castello, to decorate with sgraffiti and paintings a garden and loggia that he had begun at Citta' di Castello. But the one Battista having died while that garden was being built up, and the other Battista having taken his place, for the time being, whatever may have been the reason, nothing more was done.
Meanwhile Giorgio Vasari had returned from Rome, and was passing his time with Duke Alessandro in Florence, until his patron Cardinal Ippolito should return from Hungary; and he had received rooms in the Convent of the Servites, that he might make a beginning with the execution of certain scenes in fresco from the life of Caesar in the chamber at the corner of the Medici Palace, where Giovanni da Udine had decorated the ceiling with stucco-work and pictures. Now Cristofano, having made Giorgio's acquaintance at the Borgo in the year 1528, when he went to see Rosso in that place, where he had shown him much kindness, resolved that he would attach himself to Vasari and thus find much more opportunity for giving attention to art than he had done in the past. Giorgio, then, after a year's intercourse with him as his companion, finding that he was likely to make an able master, and that he was pleasant and gentle in manners and a man after his own heart, conceived an extraordinary affection for him. Wherefore, having to go not long afterwards, at the commission of Duke Alessandro, to Citta' di Castello, in company with Antonio da San Gallo and Pier Francesco da Viterbo (who had been in Florence to build the castle, or rather, citadel, and on their return were taking the road by Citta' di Castello), in order to repair the walls of the above-mentioned garden of Vitelli, which were threatening to fall, he took Cristofano with him, to the end that after Vasari himself had designed and distributed in their due order the friezes that were to be executed in certain apartments, and likewise the scenes and compartments of a bath-room, and other sketches for the walls of the loggia, Gherardi and the above-named Battista might carry the whole to completion. All this they did so well and with such grace, and particularly Cristofano, that a past master in art, well practised in his work, could not have done so much; and, what is more, experimenting in that work, he became facile and able to a marvel in drawing and coloring.
Then, in the year 1536, the Emperor Charles V coming to Italy and to Florence, as has been related in other places, the most magnificent festive preparations were ordained, among which Vasari, by order of Duke Alessandro, received the charge of the decorations of the Porta a S. Piero Gattolini, of the facade at S. Felice in Piazza, at the head of the Via Maggio, and of the pediment that was erected over the door of S. Maria del Fiore; and, in addition, of a standard of cloth for the castle, fifteen braccia in depth and forty in length, into the gilding of which there went fifty thousand leaves of gold. Now the Florentine painters and others who were employed in these preparations, thinking that Vasari was too much in favour with Duke Alessandro, and wishing to leave him disgraced in that part of the decorations a part truly great and laborious which had fallen to him, so went to work that he was not able to enlist the services of any master of architectural painting, whether young or old, among all those that were in the city, to assist him in any single thing. Of which having become aware, Vasari sent for Cristofano, Raffaello dal Colle, and Stefano Veltroni of Monte Sansovino, his kinsman; and with their assistance and that of other painters from Arezzo and other places, he executed the works mentioned above, in which Cristofano acquitted himself in such a manner, that he caused everyone to marvel, doing honour to himself and also to Vasari, who was much extolled for those works. After they were finished, Cristofano remained many days in Florence, assisting the same Vasari in the preparations that were made in the Palace of Messer Ottaviano de' Medici for the nuptials of Duke Alessandro; wherein, among other things, Cristofano executed the coat of arms of the Duchess Margherita of Austria, with the balls, upheld by a most beautiful eagle, with some boys, very well done.
Not long afterwards, when Duke Alessandro had been assassinated, a compact was made in the Borgo to hand over one of the gates of the city to Piero Strozzi, when he came to Sestino, and letters were therefore written to Cristofano by some soldiers exiled from the Borgo, entreating him that he should consent to help them in this: which letters received, although Cristofano did not grant their request, yet, in order not to do a mischief to the soldiers, he chose rather to tear them up, as he did, than to lay them, as according to the laws and edicts he should have done, before Gherardo Gherardi, who was then Commissioner for the Lord Duke Cosimo in the Borgo. When the troubles were over and the matter became known, many citizens of the Borgo were exiled as rebels, and among them Doceno; and Signor Alessandro Vitelli, who knew the truth of this affair and could have helped him, did not do so, to the end that Cristofano might be as it were forced to serve him in the work of his garden at Citta' di Castello, of which we have spoken above.
After having consumed much time in this service, without any profit or advantage, Cristofano finally took refuge, almost in despair, with other exiles, in the village of S. Giustino in the States of the Church, a mile and a half distant from the Borgo and very near the Florentine frontier. In that place, although he stayed there at his peril, he painted for Abbot Bufolini of Citta di Castello, who has most beautiful and commodious apartments there, a chamber in a tower, with a pattern of little boys and figures very well foreshortened to be seen from below, and with grotesques, festoons, and masks, the most lovely and the most bizarre that could be imagined. This chamber, when finished, so pleased the Abbot that he caused him to do another, in which, desiring to make some ornaments of stucco, and not having marble to grind into powder for mixing it, for this purpose he found a very good substitute in some stones from a river-bed, veined with white, the powder from which took a good and very firm hold. And within these ornaments of stucco Cristofano then painted some scenes from Roman history, executing them so well in fresco that it was a marvel.
At that time Giorgio Vasari was painting in fresco the upper part of the tramezzo of the Abbey of Camaldoli, and two panel pictures for the lower part; and, wishing to make about these last an ornament in fresco full of scenes, he would have liked to have Cristofano with him, no less to restore him to the favour of the Duke than to make use of him. But, although Messer Ottaviano de' Medici pleaded strongly with the Duke, it proved impossible to bend him, so ugly was the information that had been given to him about the behavior of Cristofano. Not having succeeded in this, therefore, Vasari, as one who loved Cristofano, set himself to contrive to remove him at least from S. Giustino, where he, with other exiles, was living in the greatest peril. In the year 1539, then, having to execute for the Monks of Monte Oliveto, for the head of a great refectory in the Monastery of S. Michele in Bosco without Bologna, three panel pictures in oils with three scenes each four braccia in length, and a frieze in fresco three braccia high all round with twenty stories of the Apocalypse in little figures, and all the monasteries of that Order copied from the reality, with partitions of grotesques, and round each window fourteen braccia of festoons with fruits copied from nature, Giorgio wrote straightway to Cristofano that he should go from S. Giustino to Bologna, together with Battista Cungi of the Borgo, his compatriot, who had also served Vasari for seven years. These men, therefore, having gone to Bologna, where Giorgio had not yet arrived for he was still at Camaldoli, where, having finished the tramezzo, he was drawing the cartoon for a Deposition from the Cross, which was afterwards executed by him and set up on the high-altar in that same place set themselves to prime the said three panels with gesso and to lay on the ground, until such time as Giorgio should arrive.
Now Vasari had given a commission to Dattero, a Jew, the friend of Messer Ottaviano de' Medici, who was then a banker in Bologna, that he should provide Cristofano and Battista with everything that they required. And since this Dattero was very obliging and most courteous, he did them a thousand favors and courtesies; wherefore those two at times went about Bologna in his company in very familiar fashion, and, Battista having prominent eyes and Cristofano a great speck in one of his, they were thus taken for Jews, as Dattero was in fact. One morning, therefore, a shoemaker, who had to bring a pair of new shoes at the commission of the above-named Jew to Cristofano, arriving at the monastery, said to Cristofano himself, who was standing at the gate looking on at the distribution of alms, " Sir, could you show me the rooms of those two Jew painters who are working in there?" "Jews or no Jews," said Cristofano, "what have you to do with them ?" "I have to give these shoes," he answered, "to one of them called Cristofano." "I am he," replied Cristofano, "an honest man and a better Christian than you are." " You may be what you please," answered the shoemaker. "I called you Jews, because, besides that you are held and known as Jews by everyone, that look of yours, which is not of our country, convinced me of it." " Enough," said Cristofano, "you shall see that we do the work of Christians."
But to return to the work: Vasari having arrived in Bologna, not a month had passed before, Giorgio designing, and Cristofano and Battista laying in the panels in color, all three were completely laid in, with great credit to Cristofano, who acquitted himself in this excellently well. The laying in of the panels being finished, work was begun on the frieze, in which Cristofano had a companion, although he was to have executed it all by himself ; for there came from Camaldoli to Bologna the cousin of Vasari, Stefano Veltroni of Monte Sansovino, who had laid in the panel- picture of the Deposition, and the two executed that work together, and that so well, that it proved a marvel. Cristofano painted grotesques so well, that there was nothing better to be seen, but he did not give them that particular finish that would have made them perfect; and Stefano, on the contrary, was wanting in resolution and grace, for the reason that his brush-strokes did not fix his subjects in their places at one sweep, but, since he was very patient, in the end, although he endured greater labour, he used to execute his grotesques with more neatness and delicacy. Labouring in competition, then, at the work of this frieze, these two took such pains, both the one and the other, that Cristofano learned to finish from Stefano, and Stefano learned from Cristofano to be more resolute and to work like a master.
Work being then begun on the broad festoons that were to run in clusters round the windows, Vasari made one with his own hand, keeping real fruits in front of him, that he might copy them from nature. This done, he ordained that Cristofano and Stefano should go on with the rest, holding to the same design, one on one side of the window, and the other on the other side, and should thus, one by one, proceed to finish them all; promising to him who might prove at the end of the work to have acquitted himself best a pair of scarlet hose. And so, competing lovingly for both honor and profit, they set themselves to copy everything, from the large things down to the most minute, such as millet-seed, hemp-seed, bunches of fennel, and the like, in such a manner that those festoons proved to be very beautiful; and both of them received from Vasari the prize of the scarlet hose.