Detail. Filarete. From the Trattato d'architettura. 1465.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
IF POPE EUGENIUS IV, when he resolved to make the bronze door for San Pietro in Rome, had used diligence in seeking for men of excellence to execute that work (and he would easily have been able to find them at that time, when Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, Donatello, and other rare craftsmen were alive), it would not have been carried out in the deplorable manner which it reveals to us in our own day. but perchance the same thing happened to him that is very often wont to happen to the greater number of Princes, who either have no understanding of such works or take very little delight in them. Now, if they were to consider how important it is to show preference to men of excellence in public works, by reason of the fame that comes from these, it is certain that neithre they nor their ministers would be so negligent; for the reason that he who encumbers himself with poor and inept craftsmen ensures but a short life to his works or his fame, not to mention that injury is done to the public interest and to the age in which he was born, for it is firmly believed by all who come after, that, if there had been better masters to be found in that age, the Prince would have availed himself rather of them than of the inept and vulgar.
Now, after being created Pontiff in the year 1431, Pope Eugenius IV, hearing that the Florentines were having the doors of San Giovanni made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, conceived a wish to try to make one of the doors of San Pietro in like manner in bronze. But since he had no knowledge of such works, he entrusted the matter to his ministers, with whom Antonio Filarete, then a youth, and Simone, the brother of Donatello, both sculptors of Florence, had so much interest, that the work was allotted to them. Putting their hands to this, therefore, they toiled for twelve years to complete it; and although Pope Eugenius fled from Eome and was much harassed by reason of the Councils, yet those who had charge of San Pietro contrived to prevent that work from being abandoned.
Filarete, then, wrought that door in low-relief, making a simple division, with two upright figures in each part--namely, the Saviour and the Madonna above, and St. Peter and St. Paul below; and at the foot of St. Peter is that Pope on his knees, portrayed from life. Beneath each figure, likewise, there is a little scene from the life of the Saint that is above; below St. Peter, his crucifixion, and below St. Paul, his beheading; and beneath the Saviour and the Madonna, also, some events from their lives. At the foot of the inner side of the said door, to amuse himself, Antonio made a little scene in bronze, wherein he portrayed himself and Simone and their disciples going with an ass lade with good cheer to take their pleasure in a vineyard. But since they were not always at work on the said door during the whole of those twelve years, they also made in San Pietro some marble tombs for Popes and Cardinals, which were thrown to the ground in the building of the new church.
After these works, Antonio was summoned to Milan by Duke Francesco Sforza, then Gonfalonier of the Holy Church (who had seen his works in Rome), to the end that there might be made with his design, as it afterwards was, the Albergo de'poveri di Dio, which is a hospital that serves for sick men and women, and for the innocent children born out of wedlock. The division for the men in this place is in the form of a cross, and extends 160 braccia in all directions; and that of the women is the same. The width is 16 braccia, and within the four square sides that enclose the crosses of each of these two divisions there are four courtyards surrounded by porticoes, loggie, and rooms for the use of the director, the officials, the servants, and the nurses of the hospital, all very commodius and useful. On one side there is a channel with water continually running for the service of the hospital and for grinding corn, with no small benefit and convenience for that place, as all may imagine.
Between the two divisions of the hospital there is a cloister, 80 braccia in extent in one direction and 160 in the other, in the middle of which is the church, so contrived as to serve for both divisions. In a word, this place is so well built and designed, that I do not believe that there is its like in Europe. According to the account of Filarete himself, the first stone of this building was laid with a solemn procession of the whole of the clergy of Milan, in the presence of Duke Francesco Sforza, the Lady Bianca Maria, and all their children, with the Marquis of Mantua, the Ambassador of Kind Alfonso of Arragon, and many other lords. On the first stone which was laid in the foundations, as well as on the medals, were these words:FRANCISCUS SFORTIA DUX IV, QUI AMISSUM PER PRAECESSORUM OBITUM URBIS IMPERIUM RECUPERAVIT, HOC MUNUS CHRISTI PAUPERIBUS DEDIT FUNDAVITQUE MCCCCLVII, DIE XII APRIL.
These scenes were afterwards depicted on the portico by Maestro Vincenzio di Zoppa, a Lombard, since no better master could be found in these parts.
A work by the same Antonio, likewise, was the principal church of Bergamo, which he built with no less diligence and judgment than he had shown in the above-named hospital. And because he also took delight in writing, the while that these works were in progress he wrote a book divided into three parts. In the first he treats of the measurements of all edifices, and of all that is necessary for the purpose of building. In the second he speaks of the methods of building, and of the manner wherein a most beautiful and most convenient city might be laid out. In the third he invents new forms of buildings, mingling the ancient with the modern. The whole work is divided into twenty-four books, illustrated throughout by drawings from his own hand; but, although there is something of the good to be found in it, it is nevertheless mostly ridiculous, and perhaps the most stupid book ever written. It was dedicated by him in the year 1464 to the Magnificent Piero di Cosimo de'Medici, and it is now in the collection of the most Illustrious Lord Duke Cosimo. And in truth, since he put himself to so great pains, the book might be commended in some sort, if he had at least made some records of the masters of his day and of their works; but as there are few to be found therein, and those few are scattered throughout the book without method and in the least suitable places, he has toiled only to beggar himself, as the saying goes, and to be thought a man of little judgment for meddling with something that he did not understand.
But I have said quite enough about Filarete, and it is now time to turn to Simone, the brother of Donato [Donatello]. This man, after the work of the door, made the bronze tomb of Pope Martin. He likewise made some castings that were sent to France, of many of which the fate is not known. For the Church of the Ermini, in the Canto alla Macine in Florence, he wrought a life-size Crucifix for carrying in processions, and it render it the lighter he made it of cork. In Santa Felicita he made a terra-cotta figure of St. Mary Magdalene in Penitence, three braccia and a half in height and beautifully proportioned, and revealing the muscles in such a manner as to show that he had a very good knowledge of anatomy. He also wrought a marble tombstone for the Company of the Nunziata in the Church of the Servi, inlaying it with a figure in grey and white marble in the manner of a painting (which was much extolled), like the work already mentioned as having been done by the Sienese Duccio in the Duomo of Siena.
At Prato he made the bronze grille for the Chapel of the Girdle. At Forli, over the door of the Canon's house, he wrought a Madonna with two angels in low-relief; and he adorned the Chapel of the Trinita in San Francesco with work in half-relief for Messer Giovanni da Riolo. In the Church of San Francesco at Rimini, for Sigismondo Malatesta, he built the Chapel of San Sigismondo, wherein there are many elephants, the device of that lord, carved in marble. To Messer Bartolommeo Scamisci, Canon of the Pieve of Arezzo, he sent a Madonna with the Child in her arms, made of terra-cotta, with certain angels in half-relief, very well executed; which Madonna is now in the said Pieve, set up against a column. For the baptismal font of the Vescovado of Arezzo, likewise, he wrought, in some scenes in low-relief, a Christ being baptized by St. John. In the Church of the Nunziata in Florence he made a marble tomb for Messer Orlando de'Medici.
Finally, at the age of fifty-five, he rendered up his spirit to God who had given it to him. Nor was it long before Filarete, having returned to Rome, died at the age of sixty-nine, and was buried in the Minerva, where he had caused Giovanni Foccora, a painter of no small repute, to make a portrait of Pope Eugenius, while he was staying in Rome int he service of that Pontiff. The portrait of Antonio, by his own hand, is at the beginning of his book, where he gives instructions for building. His disciples were Varrone and Niccolo, both Florentines, who made the marble statue for Pope Pius II near Pontemolle, at the same time when he brought the head of St. Andrew to Rome. By the order of the same Pope they restored Tigoli [???] almost from the foundations; and in San Pietro they made the ornament of marble that is above the columns of the chapel wherein the said head of St. Andrew is preserved. Near that chapel is the tomb of the said Pope Pius, made by Pasquino da Montepulciano, a disciple of Filarete, and Bernardo Ciuffagni. This Bernardo wrought a tomb of marble for Sigismondo Malatesta in San Francesco at Rimini, making his portrait there from nature; and he also executed some works, so it is said, in Lucca and in Mantua.