LINK TO BIB
The Transfiguration. 1555. Museo Diocesano, Cortona. 

CRISTOFANO GHERARDI, CALLED DOCENO
OF BORGO SAN SEPOLCRO, PAINTER
Part 2


Vasari's Lives of the Artists




GIORGIO TOOK GREAT PAINS to persuade Cristofano to execute by himself part of the designs for the scenes that were to go into the frieze, but he would never do it. Wherefore, the while that Giorgio was drawing them himself, Gherardi executed the buildings in two of the panel pictures, with much grace and beauty of manner, and such perfection, that a master of great judgment, even if he had had the cartoons before him, could not have done what Cristofano did. And, in truth, there never was a painter who could do by himself, and without study, the things that he contrived to do. After having finished the execution of the buildings in the two panel-pictures, the while that Vasari was carrying to completion the twenty stories from the Apocalypse for the above-mentioned frieze, Cristofano, taking in hand the panel-picture in which S. Gregory (whose head is a portrait of Pope Clement VII) is eating with his twelve poor men, executed the whole service of the table, all very lifelike and most natural. Then, a beginning having been made with the third panel picture, while Stefano was occupied with the gilding of the ornamental frames of the other two, a staging was erected upon two trestles of wood, from which, while Vasari was painting on one side, in a glory of sunlight, the three Angels that appeared to Abraham in the Valley of Mamre, Cristofano painted some buildings on the other side.

But he was always making some contraption with stools and tables, and at times with basins and pans upside down, on which he would climb, like the casual creature that he was; and once it happened that, seeking to draw back in order to look at what he had done, one of his feet gave way under him, the whole contraption turned topsy-turvy, and he fell from a height of five braccia, bruising himself so grievously that he had to be bled and properly nursed, or he would have died. And, what was worse, being the sort of careless fellow that he was, one night there slipped off the bandages that were on the arm from which the blood had been drawn, to the great danger of his life, so that, if Stefano, who was sleeping with him, had not noticed this, it would have been all up with him; and even so Stefano had something to do to revive him, for the bed was a lake of blood, and he himself was reduced almost to his last gasp. Vasari, therefore, taking him under his own particular charge, as if he had been his brother, had him tended with the greatest possible care, than which, indeed, nothing less would have sufficed; and with all this he was not restored until that work was completely finished. After that, returning to S. Giustino, Cristofano completed some of the apartments of the Abbot there, which had been left unfinished, and then executed at Citta di Castello, all with his own hand, an altarpiece that had been allotted to Battista, his dearest friend, and a lunette that is over the side door of S. Fiorido, containing three figures in fresco.

Giorgio being afterwards summoned to Venice at the instance of Messer Pietro Aretino, in order to arrange and execute for the nobles and gentlemen of the Company of the Calza the setting for a most sumptuous and magnificent festival, and the scenery of a comedy written by that same Messer Pietro Aretino for those gentlemen, Giorgio, I say, knowing that he was not able to carry out so great a work by himself alone, sent for Cristofano and the above-mentioned Battista Cungi. And they, having finally arrived in Venice after being carried by the chances of the sea to Sclavonia, found that Vasari not only had arrived there before them, but had already designed everything, so that there was nothing for them to do but to set hand to painting. Now the said gentlemen of the Calza had taken at the end of the Canareio a large house which was not finished it had nothing, indeed, save the main walls and the roof and in a space forming an apartment seventy braccia long and sixteen braccia wide, Giorgio caused to be made two ranges of wooden steps, four braccia in height from the floor, on which the ladies were to be seated. The walls at the sides he divided each into four square spaces of ten braccia, separated by niches each four braccia in breadth, within which were figures, and these niches had each on either side a terminal figure in relief, nine braccia high; insomuch that the niches on either side were five and the terminal figures ten, and in the whole apartment there were altogether ten niches, twenty terminal figures, and eight square pictures with scenes.

In the first of these pictures (which were all in chiaroscuro), that on the right hand, next the stage, there was, representing Venice, a most beautiful figure of Adria depicted as seated upon a rock in the midst of the sea, with a branch of coral in the hand. Around her stood Neptune, Thetis, Proteus, Nereus, Glaucus, Palaemon, and other sea gods and nymphs, who were presenting to her jewels, pearls, gold, and other riches of the sea; and besides this there were some Loves that were shooting arrows, and others that were flying through the air and scattering flowers, and the rest of the field of the picture was all most beautiful palms. In the second picture were the Rivers Drava and Sava naked, with their vases. In the third was the Po, conceived as large and corpulent, with seven sons, representing the seven branches which, issuing from the Po, pour into the sea as if each of them were a kingly river. In the fourth was the Brenta, with other rivers of Friuli. On the other wall, opposite to the Adria, was the Island of Candia, wherein was to be seen Jove being suckled by the Goat, with many Nymphs around. Beside this, and opposite to the Drava, were the River Tagliamento and the Mountains of Cadore. Beyond this, opposite to the Po, were Lake Benacus and the Mincio, which were pouring their waters into the Po; and beside them, opposite to the Brenta, were the Adige and the Tesino, falling into the sea.

The pictures on the right-hand side were divided by these Virtues, placed in the niches Liberality, Concord, Compassion, Peace, and Religion; and opposite to these, on the other wall, were Fortitude, Civic Wisdom, Justice, a Victory with War beneath her, and, lastly, a Charity. Above all, then, were a large cornice and architrave, and a frieze full of lights and of glass globes filled with distilled waters, to the end that these, having lights behind them, might illuminate the whole apartment. Next, the ceiling was divided into four quadrangular compartments, each ten braccia wide in one direction and eight braccia in the other; and, with a width equal to that of the niches of four braccia, there was a frieze which ran right round the cornice, while in a line with the niches there came in the middle of all the spaces a compartment three braccia square. These compartments were in all twenty-three, without counting one of double size that was above the stage, which brought the number up to twenty-four; and in them were the Hours, twelve of the night, namely, and twelve of the day. In the first of the compartments ten braccia in length, which was above the stage, was Time, who was arranging the Hours in their places, accompanied by Aeolus, God of the Winds, by Juno, and by Iris. In another compartment, at the door of entrance, was the Car of Aurora, who, rising from the arms of Tithonus, was scattering roses, while the Car itself was being drawn by some Cocks. In the third was the Chariot of the Sun; and in the fourth was the Chariot of Night, drawn by Owls, and Night had the Moon upon her head, some Bats in front of her, and all around her darkness.

Of these pictures Cristofano executed the greater part, and he acquitted himself so well, that everyone stood marvelling at them: particularly in the Chariot of Night, wherein he did in the way of oil-sketches that which was, in a manner of speaking, not possible. And in the picture of Adria, likewise, he painted those monsters of the sea with such beauty and variety, that whoever looked at them was struck with aston- ishment that a craftsman of his rank should have shown such knowledge. In short, in all this work he bore himself beyond all expectation like an able and well-practised painter, and particularly in the foliage and grotesques.

After finishing the preparations for that festival, Vasari and Cristofano stayed some months in Venice, painting for the Magnificent Messer Giovanni Cornaro the ceiling, or rather, soffit, of an apartment, into which there went nine large pictures in oils. Vasari being then entreated by the Veronese architect, Michele San Michele, to stay in Venice, he might perhaps have consented to remain there for a year or two; but Cristofano always dissuaded him from it, saying that it was not a good thing to stay in Venice, where no account was taken of design, nor did the painters in that city make any use of it, not to mention that those painters themselves were the reason that no attention was paid there to the labors of the arts; and he declared that it would be better to return to Rome, the true school of noble arts, where ability was recognized much more than in Venice. The dissuasions of Cristofano being thus added to the little desire that Vasari had to stay there, they went off together. But, since Cristofano, being an exile from the State of Florence, was not able to follow Giorgio, he returned to S. Giustino, where he did not remain long, doing some work all the time for the above-mentioned Abbot, before he went to Perugia on the first occasion when Pope Paul III went there after the war waged with the people of that city. There, in the festive preparations that were made to receive his Holiness, he acquitted himself very well in several works, and particularly in the portal called after Frate Rinieri, where, at the wish of Monsignore della Barba, who was then governor there, Cristofano executed a large Jove in Anger and another Pacified, which are two most beautiful figures, and on the other side he painted an Atlas with the world on his back, between two women, one of whom had a sword and the other a pair of scales.

These works, with many others that Cristofano executed for those festivities, were the reason that afterwards, when the citadel had been built in Perugia by order of the same Pontiff, Messer Tiberio Crispo, who was governor and castellan at that time, when causing many of the rooms to be painted, desired that Cristofano, in addition to that which Lattanzio, a painter of the March, had executed in them up to that time, should also work there. Whereupon Cristofano not only assisted the above-named Lattanzio, but afterwards executed with his own hand the greater part of the best works that are painted in the apartments of that fortress, in which there also worked Raffaello dal Colle and Adone Doni of Assisi, an able and well-practised painter, who has executed many things in his native city and in other places. Tommaso Papacello also worked there; but the best that there was among them, and the one who gained most praise there, was Cristofano, on which account he was recommended by Lattanzio to the favor of the said Crispo, and was ever afterwards much employed by him.

Meanwhile, that same Crispo having built in Perugia a new little church known as S. Maria del Popolo, but first called Del Mercato, Lattanzio had begun for it an altarpiece in oils, and in this Cristofano painted with his own hand all the upper part, which is indeed most beautiful and worthy of great praise. Then, Lattanzio having been changed from a painter into the Constable of Perugia, Cristofano returned to S. Giustino, where he stayed many months, again working for the above-named Lord Abbot Bufolini.

After this, in the year 1543, Giorgio Vasari, having to execute a panel picture in oils for the Great Cancelleria by order of the most illustrious Cardinal Farnese, and another for the Church of S. Agostino at the commission of Galeotto da Girone, sent for Cristofano, who went very willingly, as one who had a desire to see Rome. There he stayed many months, doing little else but go about seeing everything; but nevertheless he thus gained so much, that, after returning once more to S. Giustino, he painted in a hall some figures after his own fancy which were so beautiful, that it appeared that he must have studied at them twenty years. Then, in the year 1545, Vasari had to go to Naples to paint for the Monks of Monte Oliveto a refectory involving much more work than that of S. Michele in Bosco at Bologna, and he sent for Cristo- fano, Raffaello dal Colle, and Stefano, already mentioned as his friends and pupils; and they all came together at the appointed time in Naples, excepting Cristofano, who remained behind because he was ill. However, being pressed by Vasari, he made his way to Rome on his journey to Naples ; but he was detained by his brother Borgognone, who was likewise an exile, and who wished to take him to France to enter the service of the Colonel Giovanni da Turrino, and so that occasion was lost. But when Vasari returned from Naples to Rome in the year 1546, in order to execute twenty-four pictures that were afterwards sent to Naples and placed in the Sacristy of S. Giovanni Carbonaro, in which he painted stories from the Old Testament, and also from the life of S. John the Baptist, with figures of one braccio or little more, and also in order to paint the doors of the organ of the Piscopio, which were six braccia in height, he availed himself of Cristofano, who was of great assistance to him and executed figures and landscapes in those works excellently well. Giorgio had also proposed to make use of him in the Hall of the Cancelleria, which was painted after cartoons by his hand, and entirely finished in a hundred days, for Cardinal Farnese, but in this he did not succeed, for Cristofano fell ill and returned to S. Giustino as soon as he had begun to mend. And Vasari finished the Hall without him, assisted by Raffaello dal Colle, the Bolognese Giovan Battista Bagnacavallo, the Spaniards Roviale and Bizzerra, and many others of his friends and pupils.

After returning from Rome to Florence and setting out from that city to go to Rimini, to paint a chapel in fresco and an altarpiece in the Church of the Monks of Monte Oliveto for Abbot Gian Matteo Faettani, Giorgio passed through S. Giustino, in order to take Cristofano with him: but Abbot Bufolini, for whom he was painting a hall, would not let him go for the time being, although he promised Giorgio that he should send Cristofano to him soon all the way to Romagna. But, notwithstanding such a promise, the Abbot delayed so long to send him, that Cristofano, when he did go, found that Vasari had not only finished all the work for the other Abbot, but had also executed an altarpiece for the high altar of S. Francesco at Rimini, for Messer Niccolo' Marcheselli, and another altarpiece in the Church of Classe, belonging to the Monks of Camaldoli, at Ravenna, for Don Romualdo da Verona, the Abbot of that abbey.

In the year 1550, not long before this, Giorgio had just executed the story of the Marriage of Esther in the Black Friars' Abbey of S. Fiore, that is, in the refectory, at Arezzo, and also, at Florence, for the Chapel of the Martelli in the Church of S. Lorenzo, the altarpiece of S. Gismondo, when, Julius III having been elected Pope, he was summoned to Rome to enter the service of his Holiness. Thereupon he thought for certain that by means of Cardinal Farnese, who went at that time to stay in Florence, he would be able to reinstate Cristofano in his country and restore him to the favour of Duke Cosimo. But this proved to be impossible, so that poor Cristofano had to stay as he was until 1554, at which time, Vasari having been invited into the service of Duke Cosimo, there came to him an opportunity of delivering Cristofano. Bishop de' Ricasoli, who knew that he would be doing a thing pleasing to his Excellency, had set to work to have the three faades of his palace, which stands on the abutment of the Ponte alia Carraja, painted in chiaroscuro, when Messer Sforza Almeni, Cup-bearer as well as first and favorite Chamberlain to the Duke, resolved that he also would have his house in the Via de' Servi painted in chiaroscuro, in emulation of the Bishop. But, not having found in Florence any painters according to his fancy, he wrote to Giorgio Vasari, who had not then arrived in Florence, that he should think out the inventions and send him designs of all that it might seem to him best to paint on that facade of his.

Whereupon Giorgio, who was much his friend, for they had known each other from the time when they were both in the service of Duke Alessandro, having thought out the whole according to the measurements of the facade, sent him a design of most beautiful invention, which embellished the windows and joined them together with a well-varied decoration in a straight line from top to bottom, and filled all the spaces in the facade with rich scenes. This design, I say, which contained, to put it briefly, the whole life of man from birth to death, was sent by Vasari to Messer Sforza; and it so pleased him, and likewise the Duke, that, in order that it might have all its perfection, they resolved that they would not have it taken in hand until such time as Vasari himself should have arrived in Florence. Which Vasari having at last come and having been received by his most illustrious Excellency and by the above-named Messer Sforza with great friendliness, they began to discuss who might be the right man to execute that faade. Whereupon Giorgio, not allowing the occasion to slip by, said to Messer Sforza that no one was better able to carry out that work than Cristofano, and that neither in that nor in the works that were to be executed in the Palace, could he do without Cristofano's aid. And so, Messer Sforza having spoken of this to the Duke, after many inquiries it was found that Cristofano's crime was not so black as it had been painted, and the poor fellow was at last pardoned by his Excellency. Which news having been received by Vasari, who was at Arezzo, revisiting his native place and his friends, he sent a messenger expressly to Cristofano, who knew nothing of the matter, to give him that good news; and when he heard it, he was like to faint with joy. All rejoicing, therefore, and confessing that no one had ever been a better friend to him than Vasari, he went off next morning from Citta di Castello to the Borgo, where, after presenting his letters of deliverance to the Commissioner, he made his way to his father's house, where his mother and also his brother, who had been recalled from exile long before, were struck with astonishment. Then, after passing two days there, he went off to Arezzo, where he was received by Giorgio with more rejoicing than if he had been his own brother, and recognized that he was so beloved by Vasari that he resolved that he would spend the rest of his life with him.



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