Vasari's portrait of Cristofano Gherardi. 

Part 3

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

THEY THEN WENT FROM Arezzo to Florence together, and Cristofano went to kiss the hands of the Duke, who received him readily and was struck with amazement, for the reason that, whereas he had thought to see some great bravo, he saw the best little man in the world. Cristofano was likewise made much of by Messer Sforza, who conceived a very great affection for him; and he then set his hand to the above-mentioned facade. In that work, Giorgio, because it was not yet possible to work in the Palace, assisted him, at his own request, to execute some designs for the scenes in the facade, also designing at times during the progress of the work, on the plaster, some of the figures that are there. But, although there are in it many things retouched by Vasari, nevertheless the whole fagade, with the greater part of the figures and all the ornaments, festoons, and large ovals, is by the hand of Cristofano, who in truth, as may be seen, was so able in handling colors in fresco, that it may be said and Vasari confesses it that he knew more about it than Giorgio himself. And if Cristofano, when he was a lad, had exercised himself continuously in the studies of art for he never did a drawing save when he had afterwards to carry it into execution and had pursued the practice of art with spirit, he would have had no equal, seeing that his facility, judgment and memory enabled him to execute his works in such a way, without any further study, that he used to surpass many who in fact knew more than he. Nor could anyone believe with what facility and resolution he executed his labours, for, when he set himself to work, no matter how long a time it might take, he so delighted in it that he would never lift his eyes off his painting ; wherefore his friends might well expect the greatest things from him. Besides this, he was so gracious in his conversation and his jesting as he worked, that Vasari would at times stay working in his company from morning till night, without ever growing weary.

Cristofano executed this fagade in a few months, not to mention that he sometimes stayed away some weeks without working there, going to the Borgo to see and enjoy his home. Now I do not wish to grudge the labor of describing the distribution and the figures of this work, which, from its being in the open air and much exposed to the vagaries of the weather, may not have a very long life; scarcely, indeed, was it finished, when it was much injured by a terrible rain and a very heavy hail-storm, and in some places the wall was stripped of plaster. In this fagade, then, there are three compartments. The first, to begin at the foot, is where the principal door and the two windows are; the second is from the sill of those windows to that of the second range of windows; and the third is from those last windows to the cornice of the roof. There are, besides this, six windows in each range, which give seven spaces; and the whole work was divided according to this plan in straight lines from the cornice of the roof down to the ground. Next to the cornice of the roof, then, there is in perspective a great cornice, with brackets that project over a frieze of little boys, six of whom stand upright along the breadth of the facade namely, one above the centre of the arch of each window; and these support with their shoulders most beautiful festoons of fruits, leaves, and flowers, which run from one to another. Those fruits and flowers are arranged in due succession according to the seasons, symbolizing the periods of our life, which is there depicted; and on the middle of the festoons, likewise, where they hang down, are other little boys in various attitudes. This frieze finished, between the upper windows, in the spaces that are there, there were painted the seven Planets, with the seven celestial Signs above them as a crown and an ornament. Beneath the sill of these windows, on the parapet, is a frieze of Virtues, who, two by two, are holding seven great ovals; in which ovals are seven distinct stories representing the Seven Ages of Man, and each Age is accompanied by two Virtues appropriate to her, and beneath the ovals in the spaces between the lower windows there are the three Theological and the four Moral Virtues. Below this, in the frieze that is above the door and the windows supported by knee-shaped brackets, are the seven Liberal Arts, each of which is in a line with the oval in which is the particular story of the Life of Man appropriate to it; and in the same straight lines, continued upwards, are the Moral Virtues, Planets, Signs, and other corresponding symbols. Next, between the windows with knee-shaped brackets, there is Life, both the active and the contemplative, with scenes and statues, continued down to Death, Hell, and our final Resurrection.

In brief, Cristofano executed almost all by himself the whole cornice, the festoons, the little boys, and the seven Signs of the Planets. Then, beginning on one side, he painted first the Moon, and represented her by a Diana who has her lap full of flowers, after the manner of Proserpine, with a moon upon her head and the Sign of Cancer above her. Below, in the oval wherein is the story of Infancy, there are present at the Birth of Man some nurses who are suckling infants, and newly-delivered women in bed, executed by Cristofano with much grace; and this oval is supported by Will alone, who is a half-nude young woman, fair and beautiful, and she is sustained by Charity, who is also suckling infants. And beneath the oval, on the parapet, is Grammar, who is teaching some little boys to read.

Beginning over again, there follows Mercury with the Caduceus and with his Sign, who has below him in the oval some little boys, some of whom are going to school and some playing. This oval is supported by Truth, who is a nude little girl all pure and simple, who has on one side a male figure representing Falsehood, with a variety of girt-up garments and a most beautiful countenance, but with the eyes much sunken. Beneath the oval of the windows is Faith, who with the right hand is baptizing a child in a conch full of water, and with the left hand is holding a cross; and below her, on the parapet, is Logic covered by a veil, with a serpent.

Next follows the Sun, represented by an Apollo who has the lyre in his hand, with his Sign in the ornament above. In the oval is Adolescence, represented by two boys of equal age, one of whom, holding a branch of olive, is ascending a mountain illumined by the sun, and the other, halting half-way up to admire the beauties that Fraud displays from the middle upwards, without perceiving that her hideous counten- ance is concealed behind a smooth and beautiful mask, is caused by her and her wiles to fall over a precipice. This oval is supported by Sloth, a gross and corpulent man, who stands all sleepy and nude in the guise of a Silenus ; and also by Toil, in the person of a robust and hard-working peasant, who has around him the implements for tilling the earth. These are supported by that part of the ornament that is between the windows, where Hope is, who has the anchors at her feet; and on the parapet below is Music, with various musical instruments about her.

There follows in due order Venus, who has clasped Love to her bosom, and is kissing him ; and she, also, has her Sign above her. In the oval that she has beneath her is the story of Youth ; that is, in the center a young man seated, with books, instruments for measuring, and other things appertaining to design, and in addition maps of the world and cosmographical globes and spheres; and behind him is a loggia, in which are young men who are merrily passing the time away with singing, dancing, and playing, and also a banquet of young people all given over to enjoyment. On one side this oval is supported by Self-knowledge, who has about her compasses, armillary spheres, quadrants, and books, and is gazing at herself in a mirror; and, on the other side, by Fraud, a hideous old hag, lean and toothless, who is mocking at Self-knowledge, and in the act of covering her face with a smooth and beautiful mask. Below the oval is Temperance, with a horse's bridle in her hand, and beneath her, on the parapet, is Rhetoric, who is in a line with the other similar figures.

Next to these comes Mars in armor, with many trophies about him, and with the Sign of the Lion above him. In his oval, which is below him, is Virility, represented by a full-grown man, standing between Memory and Will, who are holding before him a basin of gold containing a pair of wings, and are pointing out to him the path of deliverance in the direction of a mountain; and this oval is supported by Innocence, who is a maiden with a lamb at her side, and by Hilarity, who, all smiling and merry, reveals herself as what she really is. Beneath the oval, be- tween the windows, is Prudence, who is making herself beautiful before a mirror; and she has below her, on the parapet, a figure of Philosophy.

Next there follows Jove, with his thunderbolt and his bird, the Eagle, and with his Sign above him. In the oval is Old Age, who is represented by an old man clothed as a priest and kneeling before an altar, upon which he is placing the basin of gold with the two wings; and this oval is supported by Compassion, who is covering some naked little boys, and by Religion, enveloped in sacerdotal vestments. Below these is a Fortitude in armor, who, planting one of her legs in a spirited attitude on a fragment of a column, is placing some balls in the mouth of a lion; and beneath her, on the parapet, she has a figure of Astrology.

The last of the seven Planets is Saturn, depicted as an old man heavy with melancholy, who is devouring his own children, with a great serpent that is seizing its own tail with its teeth; which Saturn has above him the Sign of Capricorn. In the oval is Decrepitude, and here is depicted Jove in Heaven receiving a naked and decrepit old man, kneeling, who is watched over by Felicity and Immortality, who are casting his garments into the world. This oval is supported by Beatitude, who is upheld by a figure of Justice in the ornament below, who is seated and has in her hand the sceptre and upon her shoulders the stork, with arms and laws around her; and on the parapet below is Geometry.

In the lowest part at the foot, which is about the windows with knee-shaped brackets and the door, is Leah in a niche, representing the Active Life, and on the other side of the same place is Industry, who has a Cornucopia and two goads in her hands. Near the door is a scene in which many masters in wood and stone, architects, and stonecutters have before them the gate of Cosmopolis, a city built by the Lord Duke Cosimo in the island of Elba, with a representation of Porto-Ferrajo. Between this scene and the frieze in which are the Liberal Arts, is Lake Trasimene, round which are Nymphs who are issuing from the water with tench, pike, eels, and roach, and beside the lake is Perugia, a nude figure holding with her hands a dog, which she is showing to a figure of Florence corresponding to her, who stands on the other side, with a figure of Arno beside her who is embracing and fondling her. And below this is the Contemplative Life in another scene, in which many philosophers and astrologers are measuring the heavens, appearing to be casting the horoscope of the Duke; and beside this, in the niche corresponding to that of Leah, is her sister Rachel, the daughter of Laban, representing the Contemplative Life. The last scene, which is likewise between two niches and forms the conclusion of the whole invention, is Death, who, mounted on a lean horse and holding the scythe, and accompanied by War, Pestilence, and Famine, is riding over persons of every kind. In one niche is the God Pluto, and beneath him Cerberus, the Hound of Hell; and in the other is a large figure rising again from a sepulchre on the last day. After all these things Cristofano executed on the pediments of the windows with knee-shaped brackets some nude figures that are holding the devices of his Excellency, and over the door a Ducal coat of arms, the six balls of which are upheld by some naked little boys, who twine in and out between each other as they fly through the air. And last of all, in the bases at the foot, beneath all the scenes, the same Cristofano painted the device of M. Sforza; that is, some obelisks, or rather triangular pyramids, which rest upon three balls, with a motto around that reads Immobilis.

This work, when finished, was vastly extolled by his Excellency and by Messer Sforza himself, who, like the courteous gentleman that he was, wished to reward with a considerable present the art and industry of Cristofano; but he would have none of it, being contented and fully repaid by the goodwill of that lord, who loved him ever afterwards more than I could say. While the work was being executed, Vasari had Cristofano with him, as he had always done in the past, in the house of Signer Bernardetto de' Medici, who much delighted in painting; which having perceived, Cristofano painted two scenes in chiaroscuro in a corner of his garden. One was the Rape of Proserpine, and in the other were Vertumnus and Pomona, the deities of agriculture; and besides this Cristofano painted in this work some ornaments of terminal figures and children of such variety and beauty, that there is nothing better to be seen.

Meanwhile arrangements had been made for beginning to paint in the Palace, and the first thing that was taken in hand was a hall in the new apartments, which, being twenty braccia wide, and having a height, according as Tasso had constructed it, of not more than nine braccia, was raised three braccia with beautiful ingenuity by Vasari, that is, to a total height of twelve braccia, without moving the roof, which was half a pavilion roof.

But because in doing this, before it could become possible to paint, much time had to be devoted to reconstructing the ceilings and to other works in that apartment and in others, Vasari himself obtained leave to go to Arezzo to spend two months there together with Cristofano. However, he did not succeed in being able to rest during that time, for the reason that he could not refuse to go in those days to Cortona, where he painted in fresco the vaulting and the walls of the Company of Jesus with the assistance of Cristofano, who acquitted himself very well, and particularly in the twelve different sacrifices from the Old Testament which they executed in the lunettes between the spandrels of the vaulting. Indeed, to speak more exactly, almost the whole of this work was by the hand of Cristofano, Vasari having done nothing therein beyond making certain sketches, designing some parts on the plaster, and then retouching it at times in various places, according as it was necessary.

This work finished, which is not otherwise than grand, worthy of praise, and very well executed, by reason of the great variety of things that are in it, they both returned to Florence in the month of January of the year 1555. There, having taken in hand the Hall of the Elements, while Vasari was painting the pictures of the ceiling, Cristofano executed some devices that bind together the friezes of the beams in perpendicular lines, in which are heads of capricorns and tortoises with the sail, devices of his Excellency. But the works in which he showed himself most marvellous were some festoons of fruits that are in the friezes of the beams on the under side, which are so beautiful that there is nothing better coloured or more natural to be seen, particularly because they are separated one from another by certain masks, that hold in their mouths the ligatures of the festoons, than which one would not be able to find any more varied or more bizarre; in which manner of work it may be said that Cristofano was superior to any other who has ever made it his principal and particular profession. This done, he painted some large figures on that part of the walls where there is the Birth of Venus, but after the cartoons of Vasari, and many little figures in a landscape, which were executed very well. In like manner, on the wall where there are the Loves as tiny little children, fashioning the arrows of Cupid, he painted the three Cyclopes forging thunderbolts for Jove. Over six doors he executed in fresco six large ovals with ornaments in chiaroscuro and containing scenes in the color of bronze, which were very beautiful; and in the same hall, between the windows, he painted in colours a Mercury and a Pluto, which are likewise very beautiful.

Work being then begun in the Chamber of the Goddess Ops, which is next to that described above, he painted the four Seasons in fresco on the ceiling, and, in addition to the figures, some festoons that were marvellous in their variety and beauty, for the reason that, even as those of Spring were filled with a thousand kinds of flowers, so those of Summer were painted with an infinite number of fruits and cereals, those of Autumn were of leaves and bunches of the grape, and those of Winter were of onions, turnips, radishes, carrots, parsnips, and dried leaves, not to mention that in the central picture, in which is the Car of Ops, he coloured so beautifully in oils four lions that are drawing the Car, that nothing better could be done; and, in truth, in painting animals he had no equal.

Then in the Chamber of Ceres, which is beside the last-named, he executed in certain angles some little boys and festoons that are beautiful to a marvel. And in the central picture, where Vasari had painted Ceres seeking for Proserpine with a lighted pine torch, upon a car drawn by two serpents, Cristofano carried many things to completion with his own hand, because Vasari was ill at that time and had left that picture, among other things, unfinished.

Finally, when it came to decorating a terrace that is beyond the Chamber of Jove and beside that of Ops, it was decided that all the history of Juno should be painted there; and so, after all the ornamentation in stucco had been finished, with very rich carvings and various compositions of figures, wrought after the cartoons of Vasari, the same Vasari ordained that Cristofano should execute that work by himself in fresco, desiring, since it was a work to be seen from near, and of figures not higher than one braccio, that Gherardi should do something beautiful in this, which was his peculiar profession. Cristofano, then, executed in an oval on the vaulting a Marriage with Juno in the sky, and in a picture on one side Hebe, Goddess of Youth, and on the other Iris, who is pointing to the rainbow in the heavens. On the same vaulting he painted three other quadrangular pictures, two to match the others, and a larger one in a line with the oval in which is the Marriage, and in the last-named picture is Juno seated in a car drawn by peacocks. In one of the other two, which are on either side of that one, is the Goddess of Power, and in the other Abundance with the Cornucopia at her feet. And in two other pictures on the walls below, over the openings of two doors, are two other stories of Juno the Transformation of lo, the daughter of the River Inachus, into a Cow, and of Callisto into a Bear.

During the execution of that work his Excellency conceived a very great affection for Cristofano, seeing him zealous and diligent in no ordinary manner at his work; for the morning had scarcely broken into day when Cristofano would appear at his labour, of which he had such a love, and it so delighted him, that very often he would not finish dressing before setting out. And at times, nay, frequently, it happened that in his haste he put on a pair of shoes all such things he kept under his bed that were not fellows, but of two kinds; and more often than not he had his cloak wrong side out, with the hood on the inside. One morning, therefore, appearing at an early hour at his work, where the Lord Duke and the Lady Duchess were standing looking at it, while preparations were being made to set out for the chase, and the ladies and others of the Court were making themselves ready, they noticed that Cristofano had as usual his cloak wrong side out and the hood inside. At which both laughing, the Duke said: "What is your idea in always wearing your cloak inside out ?" "I know not, my Lord," answered Cristofano, " but I mean to find some day a kind of cloak that shall have neither right side nor wrong side, and shall be the same on both sides, for I have not the patience to think of wearing it in any other way, since in the morning I generally dress and go out of the house in the dark, besides that I have one eye so feeble that I can see nothing with it. But let your Excellency look at what I paint, and not at my manner of dressing." The Duke said nothing in answer, but within a few days he caused to be made for him a cloak of the finest cloth, with the pieces sewn and drawn together in such a manner that there was no difference to be seen between outside and inside, and the collar worked with braid in the same manner both inside and out, and so also the trimming that it had round the edges. This being finished, he sent it to Cristofano by a lackey, commanding the man that he should give it to him on the part of the Duke. Having therefore received the cloak very early one morning, Cristofano, without making any further ceremony, tried it on and then said to the lackey: "The Duke is a man of sense. Tell him that it suits me well."

Now, since Cristofano was thus careless of his person and hated nothing more than to have to put on new clothes or to go about too tightly constrained and confined in them, Vasari, who knew this humor of his, whenever he observed that he was in need of any new clothes, used to have them made for him in secret, and then, early one morning, used to place these in his chamber and take away the old ones; and so Cristofano was forced to put on those that he found. But it was marvellous sport to stand and hear him raging with fury as he dressed himself in the new clothes. "Look here," he would say, " what devilments are these? Devil take it, can a man not live in his own way in this world, without the enemies of comfort giving themselves all this trouble?" One morning among others, Cristofano having put on a pair of white hose, the painter Domenico Benci, who was also working in the Palace with Vasari, contrived to persuade him to go with himself, in company with other young men, to the Madonna dell' Impruneta. There they walked, danced, and enjoyed themselves all day, and in the evening, after supper, they returned home. Then Cristofano, who was tired, went off straightway to his room to sleep; but, when he set himself to take off his hose, what with their being new and his having sweated, he was not able to pull off more than one of them. Now Vasari, having gone in the evening to see how he was, found that he had fallen asleep with one leg covered and the other bare; whereupon, one servant holding his leg and the other pulling at the stocking, they contrived to draw it off, while he lay cursing clothes, Giorgio, and him who invented such fashions as so he said kept men bound in chains like slaves. Nay, he grumbled that he would take leave of them all and by hook or by crook return to S. Giustino, where he was allowed to live in his own way and had not all these restraints; and it was the devil's own business to pacify him.

It pleased him to talk seldom, and he loved that others also should be brief in speaking, insomuch that he would have gone so far as to have men's proper names very short, like that of a slave belonging to M. Sforza, who was called " M." "These," said Cristofano, "are fine names, and not your Giovan Francesco and Giovanni Antonio, which take an hour's work to pronounce;" and since he was a good fellow at heart, and said these things in his own jargon of the Borgo, it would have made the Doleful Knight himself laugh. He delighted to go on feast-days to the places where legends and printed pictures were sold, and he would stay there the whole day; and if he bought some, more often than not, while he went about looking at the others, he would leave them at some place where he had been leaning. And never, unless he was forced, would he go on horseback, although he was born from a noble family in his native place and was rich enough.

Finally, his brother Borgognone having died, he had to go to the Borgo; and Vasari, who had drawn much of the money of his salary and had kept it for him, said to him: "See, I have all this money of yours, it is right that you should take it with you and make use of it in your requirements." "I want no money," answered Cristofano, "take it for yourself. For me it is enough to have the luck to stay with you and to live and die in your company." "It is not my custom," replied Vasari, "to profit by the labor of others. If you will not have it, I shall send it to your father Guido." "That you must not do," said Cristofano, "for he would only waste it, as he always does." In the end, he took the money and went off to the Borgo, but in poor health and with little contentment of mind; and after arriving there, what with his sorrow at the death of his brother, whom he had loved very dearly, and a cruel flux of the reins, he died in a few days, after receiving the full sacraments of the Church and distributing to his family and to many poor persons the money that he had brought. He declared a little before his death that it grieved him for no other reason save that he was leaving Vasari too much embarrassed by the great labors to which he had set his hand in the Palace of the Duke. Not long afterwards, his Excellency having heard of the death of Cristofano, and that with true regret, he caused a head of him to be made in marble and sent it with the underwritten epitaph from Florence to the Borgo, where it was placed in S. Francesco:

D. O. M. 







VIXIT AN. LVI, M. Ill, D. VI. 

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