Courtyard. Palazzo Medici, Florence, ca. 1444.



Vasari's Lives of the Artists

ALFONSO OF FERRARA, working in his early youth with stucco and wax, made an endless number of portraits from life on little medallions for many nobles and gentlemen of his own country. Some of these are still to be seen, white in color and made of wax or stucco, and bear witness to the fine intellect and judgment that he possessed; such as those of Prince Doria, of Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, of Clement VII, of the Emperor Charles V, of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, of Bembo, of Ariosto, and of other suchlike personages. Finding himself in Bologna at the coronation of Charles V, he executed the decorations of the door of S. Petronio as a part of the preparations for that festival; and he had come into such repute through being the first to introduce the good method of making portraits from life in the form of medals, as has been related, that there was not a single man of distinction in those Courts for whom he did not execute some work, to his own great profit and honour. But, not being content with the gain and the glory that came to him from making works in clay, in wax, and in stucco, he set himself to work in marble; and such was the proficience that he showed in some things that he made, although these were of little importance, that he was commissioned to execute the tomb of Ramazzotto, which brought him very great fame and honor, in S. Michele in Bosco, without Bologna.

After that work he made some little scenes of marble in half-relief on the predella of the altar at the tomb of S. Dominic, in the same city. And for the door of S. Petronio, also, on the left hand of the entrance into the church, he executed some little scenes in marble, containing a very beautiful Resurrection of Christ. But what pleased the people of Bologna most of all was the Death of Our Lady, wrought with a very hard mixture of clay and stucco, with figures in full relief, in an upper room of the Della Vita Hospital; and marvellous, among other things in that work, is the Jew who leaves his hands fixed to the bier of the Madonna. With the same mixture, also, he made a large Hercules with the dead Hydra under his feet, for the upper room of the Governor in the Palazzo Pubblico of that city; which statue was executed in competition with Zaccaria da Volterra, who was greatly surpassed by the ability and excellence of Alfonso. For the Madonna del Baracane the same master made two Angels in stucco, who are upholding a canopy in half-relief; and in some medallions in the middle aisle of S. Giuseppe, between one arch and another, he made the twelve Apostles from the waist upwards, of terra-cotta and in full-relief. In terracotta, likewise, for the corners of the vaulting of the Madonna del Popolo in the same city, he executed four figures larger than life; namely, S. Petronio, S. Procolo, S. Francis, and S. Dominic, figures which are all very beautiful and grand in manner. And by the hand of the same man are some works in stucco at Castel Bolognese, and some others in the Company of S. Giovanni at Cesena.

Let no one marvel that hitherto our account of this master has dealt with scarcely any work save in clay, wax, and stucco, and very little in marble, because--besides the fact that Alfonso was always inclined to that sort of work--after passing a certain age, being very handsome in person and youthful in appearance, he practised art more for pleasure and to satisfy his own vanity than with any desire to set himself to chisel stone. He used always to wear on his arms, on his neck, and in his clothing, ornaments of gold and suchlike fripperies, which showed him to be rather a courtier, vain and wanton, than a craftsman desirous of glory. Of a truth, just as such ornaments enhance the splendour of those to whom, on account of their wealth, high estate, and noble blood, they are becoming, so are they worthy of reproach in craftsmen and others, who should not measure themselves, some for one reason and some for another, with the rich, seeing that such persons, in place of being praised, are held in less esteem by men of judgment, and often laughed to scorn. Now Alfonso, charmed with himself and indulging in expressions and wanton excesses little worthy of a good craftsman, on one occasion robbed himself through this behavior of all the glory that he had won by labouring at his profession. For one evening, chancing to be at a wedding in the house of a Count in Bologna, and having made love for some time to a lady of quality, he had the luck to be invited by her to dance the torch-dance; whereupon, whirling round with her, and overcome by the frenzy of his passion, he said with a trembling voice, sighing deeply, and gazing at his lady with eyes full of tenderness: "S'amor non e', che dunque e' quel ch' io sento?"["What is it that I feel, if it is not love?"] Hearing this, the lady, who had a shrewd wit, answered, in order to show him his error: "A louse, perhaps." Which answer was heard by many, so that the saying ran through all Bologna, and he was held to scorn ever afterwards. Truly, if Alfonso had given his attention not to the vanities of the world, but to the labors of art, without a doubt he would have produced marvellous works; for if he achieved this in part without exerting himself much, what would he have done if he had faced the dust and heat?

The aforesaid Emperor Charles V being in Bologna, and the most excellent Tiziano da Cadore having come to make a portrait of his Majesty, Alfonso likewise was seized with a desire to execute a portrait of that Sovereign. And having no other means of contriving to do that, he besought Tiziano, without revealing to him what he had in mind, that he should do him the favour of introducing him, in the place of one of those who used to carry his colours, into the presence of his Majesty. Wherefore Tiziano, who loved him much, like the truly courteous man that he has always been, took Alfonso with him into the apartments of the Emperor. Alfonso, as soon as Tiziano had settled down to work, took up a position behind him, in such a way that he could not be seen by the other, who was wholly intent on his portrait; and, taking up a little box in the shape of a medallion, he made therein a portrait of the Emperor in stucco, and had it finished at the very moment when Tiziano had likewise brought his picture to completion.

The Emperor then rising, Alfonso closed the box and had already hidden it in his sleeve, to the end that Tiziano might not see it, when his Majesty said to him: "Show me what you have done." He was thus forced to give his portrait humbly into the hand of the Emperor, who, having examined it and praised it highly, said to him: "Would you have the courage to do it in marble?" "Yes, your sacred Majesty," answered Alfonso. "Do it, then," added the Emperor, "and bring it to me in Genoa." How unusual this proceeding must have seemed to Tiziano every man may imagine for himself. For my part, I believe that it must have appeared to him that he had compromised his credit. But what must have seemed to him most strange was this, that when his Majesty sent a present of a thousand crowns to Tiziano, he bade him give the half, or five hundred crowns, to Alfonso, keeping the other five hundred for himself, at which it is likely enough that Tiziano felt aggrieved. Alfonso, then, setting to work with the greatest zeal in his power, brought the marble head to completion with such diligence, that it was pronounced to be a very fine thing: which was the reason that, when he had taken it to the Emperor, his Majesty ordered that three hundred crowns more should be given to him.

Alfonso having come into great repute through the gifts and praises bestowed on him by the Emperor, Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici took him to Rome, where he kept many sculptors and painters about his person, in addition to a vast number of other men of ability; and he commissioned him to make a copy in marble of a very famous antique head of the Emperor Vitellius. In that work Alfonso justified the opinion held of him by the Cardinal and by all Rome, and he was charged by the same patron to make a portrait-bust in marble of Pope Clement VII, after the life, and shortly afterwards one of Giuliano de' Medici, father of the Cardinal; but the latter was left not quite finished. These heads were afterwards sold in Rome, and bought by me at the request of the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, together with some pictures; and in our own day they have been placed by the Lord Duke Cosimo de' Medici in that hall of the new apartments of his palace wherein I have painted, on the ceiling and the walls, all the stories of Pope Leo X; they have been placed, I say, in that hall, over the doors made of that red veined marble which is found near Florence, in company with the heads of other illustrious men of the house of Medici.

But returning to Alfonso; he then went on to execute many works in sculpture for the same Cardinal, but these, being small things, have disappeared. After the death of Clement, when a tomb had to be made for him and also for Leo, the work was allotted by Cardinal de' Medici to Alfonso; whereupon he made a model with figures of wax, which was held to be very beautiful, after some sketches by Michelagnolo Buonarroti, and went off to Carrara with money to have the marble quarried. But not long afterwards the Cardinal, having departed from Rome on his way to Africa, died at Itri, and the work slipped out of the hands of Alfonso, because he was dismissed by its executors, Cardinals Salviati, Ridolfi, Pucci, Cibo, and Gaddi, and it was entrusted by the favor of Madonna Lucrezia Salviati, daughter of the great Lorenzo de' Medici, the elder, and sister of Leo, to Baccio Bandinelli, a sculptor of Florence, who had made models for it during the lifetime of Clement.

For this reason Alfonso, thus knocked off his high horse and almost beside himself, determined to return to Bologna; and, having arrived in Florence, he presented to Duke Alessandro a most beautiful head in marble of the Emperor Charles V, which is now in Carrara, whither it was sent by Cardinal Cibo, who removed it after the death of Duke Alessandro from the guardaroba of that Prince. The Duke, when Alfonso arrived in Florence, was in the humor to have his portrait taken; for it had already been done on medals by Domenico di Polo, a gem-engraver, and by Francesco di Girolamo dal Prato, for the coinage by Benvenuto Cellini, and in painting by Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo and Jacopo da Pontormo, and he wished that Alfonso should likewise portray him. Wherefore he made a very beautiful portrait of him in relief, much better than the one executed by Danese da Carrara, and then, since he was wholly set on going to Bologna, he was given the means to make one there in marble, after the model. And so, having received many gifts and favours from Duke Alessandro, Alfonso returned to Bologna, where, being still far from content on account of the death of the Cardinal, and sorely vexed by the loss of the tombs, there came upon him a pestilent and incurable disease of the skin, which wasted him away little by little, until, having reached the age of forty-nine, he passed to a better life, never ceasing to rail at Fortune, which had robbed him of a patron to whom he might have looked for all the blessings which could make him happy in this life, and saying that she should have closed his own eyes, since she had reduced him to such misery, rather than those of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici. Alfonso died in the year 1536.

Michelagnolo, a sculptor of Siena, after he had spent the best years of his life in Sclavonia with other excellent sculptors, made his way to Rome on the following occasion. After the death of Pope Adrian, Cardinal Hincfort, who had been the friend and favourite of that Pontiff, determined, as one not ungrateful for the benefits received from him, to erect to him a tomb of marble; and he gave the charge of this to Baldassarre Peruzzi, the painter of Siena. And that master, having made the model, desired that the sculptor Michelagnolo, his friend and compatriot, should undertake the work on his own account. Michelagnolo, therefore, made on that tomb a lifesize figure of Pope Adrian, lying upon the sarcophagus and portrayed from nature, with a scene, also in marble, below him, showing his arrival in Rome and the Roman people going to meet him and to do him homage. Around the tomb, moreover, in four niches, are four Virtues in marble, Justice, Fortitude, Peace, and Prudence, all executed with much diligence by the hand of Michelagnolo after the counsel of Baldassarre. It is true, indeed, that some of the things that are in this work were wrought by the Florentine sculptor, Tribolo, then a very young man, and these were considered the best of all; but Michelagnolo executed the minor details of the work with supreme diligence and subtlety, and the little figures that are in it deserve to be extolled more than all the rest. Among other things, there are some variegated marbles wrought with a high finish, and put together so well that nothing more could be desired. For these labours Michelagnolo received a just and honourable reward from the aforesaid Cardinal, and was treated with much favor by him for the rest of his life; and, in truth, with right good reason, seeing that this tomb and the Cardinal's gratitude have done as much to bring fame to him as did the work to give a name to Michelagnolo in his lifetime and renown after his death. This work finished, no long time elapsed before Michelagnolo passed from this life to the next, at about the age of fifty.

Girolamo Santa Croce of Naples, although he was snatched from us by death in the very prime of life, at a time when greater things were looked for from him, yet showed in the works of sculpture that he made at Naples during his few years, what he would have done if he had lived longer; for the works that he executed in sculpture at Naples were wrought and finished with all the lovingness that could be desired in a young man who wishes to surpass by a great measure those who for many years before his day have held the sovereignty in some noble profession. In S. Giovanni Carbonaro at Naples he built the Chapel of the Marchese di Vico, which is a round temple, partitioned by columns and niches, with some tombs carved with much diligence. And because the altarpiece of this chapel, made of marble in half-relief and representing the Magi bringing their offerings to Christ, is by the hand of a Spaniard, Girolamo executed in emulation of this work a S. John in a niche, so beautifully wrought in full-relief, that it showed that he was not inferior to the Spaniard either in courage or in judgment; on which account he won such a name, that, although Giovanni da Nola was held in Naples to be a marvellous sculptor and better than any other, nevertheless Girolamo worked in competition with him as long as he lived, notwithstanding that his rival was now old and had executed a vast number of works in that city, where it is much the custom to make chapels and altar-pieces of marble. Competing with Giovanni, then, Girolamo undertook to execute a chapel in Monte Oliveto at Naples, just within the door of the church, on the left hand, while Giovanni executed another opposite to his, on the other side, in the same style. In his chapel Girolamo made a lifesize Madonna in the round, which is held to be a very beautiful figure; and since he took infinite pains in executing the draperies and the hands, and in giving bold relief to the marble by undercutting, he brought it to such perfection that it was the general opinion that he had surpassed all those who had handled tools for working marble at Naples in his time. This Madonna he placed between a S. John and a S. Peter, figures very well conceived and executed, and finished in a beautiful manner, as are also some children which are placed above them.

In addition to these, he made two large and most beautiful statues in full-relief for the Church of Capella, a seat of the Monks of Monte Oliveto. He then began a statue of the Emperor Charles V, at the time of his return from Tunis; but after he had blocked it and carved it with the pointed chisel, and even in some places with the broad-toothed chisel, it remained unfinished, because fortune and death, envying the world such excellence, snatched him from us at the age of thirty-five. It was confidently expected that Girolamo, if he had lived, even as he had outstripped all his compatriots in his profession, would also have surpassed all the craftsmen of his time. Wherefore his death was a grievous blow to the Neapolitans, and all the more because he had been endowed by nature not only with a most beautiful genius, but also with as much modesty, sweetness, and gentleness as could be looked for in mortal man; so that it is no marvel if all those who knew him are not able to restrain their tears when they speak of him. His last sculptures were executed in 1537, in which year he was buried at Naples with most honorable obsequies.

Old as he was, Giovanni da Nola, who was a well-practised sculptor, as may be seen from many works made by him at Naples with good skill of hand, but not with much design, still remained alive. Him Don Pedro di Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca, and at that time Viceroy of Naples, commissioned to execute a tomb of marble for himself and his wife; and therein Giovanni made a great number of scenes of the victories obtained by that lord over the Turks, with many statues for the same work, which stands quite by itself, and was executed with much diligence. This tomb was to have been taken to Spain; but, since that nobleman did not do this while he was alive, it remained in Naples. Giovanni died at the age of seventy, and was buried in Naples, in the year 1558.

About the same time that Heaven presented to Ferrara, or rather, to the world, the divine Lodovico Ariosto, there was born in the same city the painter Dosso, who, although he was not as rare among painters as Ariosto among poets, nevertheless acquitted himself in his art in such a manner, that, besides the great esteem wherein his works were held in Ferrara, his merits caused the learned poet, his intimate friend, to honor his memory by mentioning him in his most celebrated writings; so that the pen of Messer Lodovico has given more renown to the name of Dosso than did all the brushes and colors that he used in the whole of his life. Wherefore I, for my part, declare that there could be no greater good fortune than that of those who are celebrated by such great men, since the might of the pen forces most of mankind to accept their fame, even though they may not wholly deserve it.

Dosso was much beloved by Duke Alfonso of Ferrara: first for his good abilities in the art of painting, and then because he was a very pleasant and amiable person--a manner of man in whom the Duke greatly delighted. Dosso had the reputation in Lombardy of executing landscapes better than any other painter engaged in that branch of the profession, whether in mural painting, in oils, or in gouache; and all the more after the German manner became known. In Ferrara, for the Cathedral Church, he executed a panel-picture with figures in oils, which was held to be passing beautiful; and in the Duke's Palace he painted many rooms, in company with a brother of his, called Battista. These two were always enemies, one against the other, although they worked together by the wish of the Duke. In the court of the said palace they executed stories of Hercules in chiaroscuro, with an endless number of nudes on those walls; and in like manner they painted many works on panel and in fresco throughout all Ferrara. By their hands is a panel in the Duomo of Modena; and they painted many things in the Cardinal's Palace at Trento, in company with other painters.

At this same time the painter and architect, Girolamo Genga, was executing various decorations in the Imperiale Palace, above Pesaro, as will be related in the proper place, for Duke Francesco Maria of Urbino; and among the number of painters who were summoned to that work by order of the same Signor Francesco Maria, invitations were sent to Dosso and Battista of Ferrara, principally for the painting of landscapes; many paintings having been executed long before in that palace by Francesco di Mirozzo[This seems to be an error for Melozzo.] of Forl“, Raffaello dal Colle of Borgo a San Sepolcro, and many others. Now, having arrived at the Imperiale, Dosso and Battista, according to the custom of men of their kidney, found fault with most of the paintings that they saw, and promised the Duke that they would do much better work; and Genga, who was a shrewd person, seeing how the matter was likely to end, gave them an apartment to paint by themselves. Thereupon, setting to work, they strove with all labor and diligence to display their worth; but, whatever may have been the reason, never in all the course of their lives did they do any work less worthy of praise, or rather, worse, than that one. It seems often to happen, indeed, that in their greatest emergencies, when most is expected of them, men become blinded and bewildered in judgment, and do worse work than at any other time; which may result, perchance, from their own malign and evil disposition to be always finding fault with the works of others, or from their seeking to force their genius overmuch, seeing that to proceed step by step according to the ruling of nature, yet without neglecting diligence and study, appears to be a better method than seeking to wrest from the brain, as it were by force, things that are not there; and it is a fact that in the other arts as well, but above all in that of writing, lack of spontaneity is only too easily recognized, and also, so to speak, over-elaboration in everything.

Now, when the work of the Dossi was unveiled, it proved to be so ridiculous that they left the service of the Duke in disgrace; and he was forced to throw to the ground all that they had executed, and to have it repainted by others after the designs of Genga.

Finally, they painted a very beautiful panel picture in the Duomo of Faenza for the Chevalier, M. Giovan Battista de' Buosi, of Christ disputing in the Temple; in which work they surpassed themselves, by reason of the new manner that they used, and particularly in the portraits of that Chevalier and of others. That picture was set up in that place in the year 1536. Ultimately Dosso, having grown old, spent his last years without working, being pensioned until the close of his life by Duke Alfonso. And in the end Battista survived him, executing many works by himself, and maintaining himself in a good condition. Dosso was buried in his native city of Ferrara. There lived in the same times the Milanese Bernazzano, a very excellent painter of landscapes, herbage, animals, and other things of earth, air, and water. And since, as one who knew himself to have little aptitude for figures, he did not give much attention to them, he associated himself with Cesare da Sesto, who painted them very well and in a beautiful manner. It is said that Bernazzano executed in a courtyard some very beautiful landscapes in fresco, in which he painted a strawberry bed full of strawberries, ripe, green, and in blossom, and so well imitated, that some peacocks, deceived by their natural appearance, were so persistent in picking at them as to make holes in the plaster.

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