LINK TO BIB
Four Elephants. Detail. 
Etching and engraving. 1540s. Worcester Art Museum.

BATTISTA FRANCO (d. 1561)
PAINTER OF VENICE


Vasari's Lives of the Artists





BATTISTA FRANCO of Venice, having given his attention in his early childhood to design, went off at the age of twenty, as one who aimed at perfection in that art, to Rome, where, after he had devoted himself for some time with much study to design, and had seen the manner of various masters, he resolved that he would not study or seek to imitate any other works but the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of Michelagnolo; wherefore, having set himself to make research, there remained no sketch, study, or even any thing copied by Michelagnolo that he had not drawn. Wherefore no long time passed before he became one of the first draughtsmen who frequented the Chapel of Michelagnolo; and, what was more, he would not for a time set himself to paint or to do any other thing but draw. But in the year 1536, festive preparations of a grand and sumptuous kind being arranged by Antonio da San Gallo for the coming of the Emperor Charles V, in which, as has been related in another place, all the craftsmen, good and bad, were employed, Raffaello da Montelupo, who had to execute the decorations of the Ponte S. Angelo with the ten statues that were placed upon it, having seen that Battista was a young man of good parts and a finished draughtsman, resolved to bring it about that he also should be employed, and by hook or by crook to have some work given to him to do. And so, having spoken of this to San Gallo, he so contrived that Battista was commissioned to execute in fresco four large scenes in chiaroscuro on the front of the Porta Capena, now called the Porta di S. Bastiano, through which the Emperor was to enter.

In that work Battista, without having hitherto touched colors, executed over the gate the arms of Pope Paul III and those of the Emperor Charles, with a Romulus who was placing on the arms of the Pontiff a Papal crown, and on those of the Emperor an Imperial crown; which Romulus, a figure of five braccia, dressed in the ancient manner, with a crown on the head, had on the right hand Numa Pompilius, and on the left Tullus Hostilius, and above him these words Quirinus Pater. In one of the scenes that were on the faces of the towers standing on either side of the gate, was the elder Scipio triumphing over Carthage, which he had made tributary to the Roman people; and in the other, on the right hand, was the triumph of the younger Scipio, who had ruined and destroyed that same city. In one of the two pictures that were on the exterior of the towers, on the front side, could be seen Hannibal under the walls of Rome, driven back by the tempest, and in the other, on the left, Flaccus entering by that gate to succour Rome against that same Hannibal. All these scenes and pictures, being Battista's first paintings, and in comparison with those of the others, were passing good and much extolled. And, if Battista had begun from the first to paint and from time to time to practise using colors and handling brushes, there is no doubt that he would have surpassed many craftsmen; but his obstinate adherence to a certain opinion that many others hold, who persuade themselves that draughtsmanship is enough for him who wishes to paint, did him no little harm.

For all that, however, he acquitted himself much better than did some of those who executed the scenes on the arch of S. Marco, on which there were eight scenes, four on each side, the best of which were painted partly by Francesco Salviati, and partly by a certain Martino* [* Martin Heemskerk.] and other young Germans, who had come to Rome at that very time in order to learn. Nor will I omit to tell, in this connection, that the above-named Martino, who was very able in works in chiaroscuro, executed some battle scenes with such boldness and such beautiful inventions in certain encounters and deeds of arms between Christians and Turks, that nothing better could have been done. And the marvellous thing was that Martino and his assistants executed those canvases with such assiduity and rapidity, in order that the work might be finished in time, that they never quitted their labor; and since drink, and that good Greco, was continually being brought to them, what with their being constantly drunk and inflamed with the heat of the wine, and their facility in execution, they achieved wonders. Wherefore, when Salviati, Battista, and Calavrese saw the work of these men, they confessed that for him who wishes to be a painter it is necessary to begin to handle brushes in good time; which matter having afterwards considered more carefully in his own mind, Battista began not to give so much study to finishing his drawings, and at times to use color.

Montelupo then going to Florence, where, in like manner, very great preparations were being made for the reception of the above-named Emperor, Battista went with him, and when they arrived they found those preparations well on the way to completion ; but Battista, being set to work, made a base all covered with figures and trophies for the statue on the Canto de' Carnesecchi that Fra Giovanni Agnolo Montorsoli had executed. Having therefore become known among the craftsmen as a young man of good parts and ability, he was much employed afterwards at the coming of Madama Margherita of Austria, the wife of Duke Alessandro, and particularly in the festive preparations that Giorgio Vasari made in the Palace of Messer Ottaviano de' Medici, where that lady was to reside.

These festivities finished, Battista set himself to draw with the greatest industry the statues of Michelagnolo that are in the new Sacristy of S. Lorenzo, to which at that time all the painters and sculptors of Florence had nocked to draw and to work in relief; and among these Battista made no little proficience, but, nevertheless, it was recognized that he had committed an error in never consenting to draw from the life and to use colours, or to do anything but imitate statues and little else besides, which had given his manner a hardness and dryness that he was not able to shake off, nor could he prevent his works from having a hard and angular quality, as may be seen from a canvas in which he depicted with much pains and labour the Roman Lucretia violated by Tarquinius. Consorting thus with the others and frequenting that sacristy, Battista formed a friendship with the sculptor Bartolommeo Ammanati, who was studying the works of Buonarroti there in company with many others. And of such a kind was that friendship, that Ammanati took Battista into his house, as well as Genga of Urbino, and they lived thus in company for some time, attending with much profit to the studies of art.

Duke Alessandro having then been done to death in the year 1536, and Signor Cosimo de' Medici elected in his place, many of the servants of the dead Duke remained in the service of the new, but others did not, and among those who went away was the above-named Giorgio Vasari, who returned to Arezzo, with the intention of having nothing more to do with Courts, having lost Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, his first lord, and then Duke Alessandro; but he brought it about that Battista was invited to serve Duke Cosimo and to work in his guardaroba, where he painted in a large picture Pope Clement and Cardinal Ippolito, copying them from a work by Fra Sebastiano and from one by Tiziano, and Duke Alessandro from a picture by Pontormo. This picture was not of that perfection that was expected; but, having seen in the same guardaroba the cartoon of the "Noli me tangere" by Michelagnolo, which Pontormo had previously executed in colors, he set himself to make a cartoon like it, but with larger figures; which done, he painted a picture from it wherein he acquitted himself much better in the colouring. And the cartoon, which he copied exactly after that of Michelagnolo, was executed with great patience and very beautiful.

The affair of Monte Murlo having then taken place, in which the exiles and rebels hostile to the Duke were routed and captured, Battista depicted with beautiful invention a scene of the battle fought there, mingled with poetic fantasies of his own, which was much extolled, although there were recognized in the armed encounter and in the taking of the prisoners many things copied bodily from the works and drawings of Buonarroti. For the battle was in the distance, and in the foreground were the huntsmen of Ganymede, who were standing there gazing at Jove's Eagle carrying the young man away into Heaven; which part Battista took from the design of Michelagnolo, in order to use it to signify that the young Duke had risen by the grace of God from the midst of his friends into Heaven, or some such thing. This scene, I say, was first drawn by Battista in a cartoon, and then painted with supreme diligence in a picture; and it is now, together with his other works mentioned above, in the upper apartments of the Pitti Palace, which his most illustrious Excellency has just caused to be completely finished.

Having thus been engaged on these and some other works in the service of the Duke, until the time when he took to wife the Lady Donna Leonora of Toledo, Battista was next employed in the festive preparations for those nuptials, on the triumphal arch at the Porta al Prato, where Ridolfo Ghirlandajo caused him to execute some scenes of the actions of Signer Giovanni, father of Duke Cosimo. In one of these that lord could be seen passing the Rivers Po and Adda, in the presence of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, who became Pope Clement VII, Signer Prospero Colonna, and other lords ; and in another was the scene of the delivering of San Secondo. On the other side Battista painted in another scene the city of Milan, and around it the Camp of the League, which, on departing, the above-named Signor Giovanni leaves there. On the right flank of the arch he painted on one side a picture of Opportunity, who, having her tresses all unbound, was offering them with one hand to Signor Giovanni, and on the other side Mars, who was likewise offering him his sword. In another scene under the arch, by the hand of Battista, was Signor Giovanni fighting between the Tesino and Biegrassa upon the Ponte Rozzo, defending it, as it were like another Horatius, with incredible.

Opposite to this was the Taking of Caravaggio, and in the center of the battle Signor Giovanni, who was passing fearlessly through fire and sword in the midst of the hostile army. Between the columns, on the right hand, there was in an oval Garlasso, taken by the same lord with a single company of soldiers, and on the left hand, between the two other columns, the bastion of Milan, likewise taken from the enemy. On the fronton, which was at the back of anyone entering, was the same Signor Giovanni on horseback under the walls of Milan, when, tilting in single combat with a knight, he ran him through from side to side with his lance. Above the great cornice, which reached out to the other cornice, on which the pediment rested, in another large scene executed by Battista with much diligence, there was in the center the Emperor Charles V, who, crowned with laurel, was seated on a rock, with the sceptre in his hand; at his feet lay the River Betis with a vase that poured water from two mouths, and beside that figure was the River Danube, which, with seven mouths, was pouring its waters into the sea.

I shall not make mention here of the vast number of statues that accompanied the above-named pictures and others on that arch, for the reason that it is enough for me at the present moment to describe that which concerns Battista Franco, and it is not my office to give an account of all that was done by others in the festive preparations for those nuptials and described at great length; besides which, having spoken of the masters of those statues where the necessity arose, it would be superfluous for me to say anything about them here, and particularly because the statues are not now standing, so that they cannot be seen and considered. But to return to Battista: the best thing that he did for those nuptials was one of the ten above-mentioned pictures which were in the decorations in the great court of the Medici Palace, wherein he painted in chiaroscuro Duke Cosimo invested with all the Ducal insignia. But, for all the diligence that he used there, he was surpassed by Bronzino, and by others who had less design than himself, in invention, in boldness, and in the treatment of the chiaroscuro. For, as has been said before, pictures must be executed with facility, and the parts set in their places with judgment, and without that effort and that labor which make things appear hard and crude; besides which, overmuch study often makes them come out heavy and dark, and spoils them, while lingering over them so long takes away the grace, boldness and excellence that facility is wont to give them. And these qualities, although they come in great measure as gifts from nature, can also in part be acquired by study and art.

Having then been taken by Ridolfo Ghirlandajo to the Madonna di Vertigli in Valdichiana (which place was once attached to the Monastery of the Angeli, of the Order of Camaldoli, in Florence, and is now an independent body in place of the Monastery of S. Benedetto, which, being without the Porta a Pinti, was destroyed on account of the siege of Florence), Battista painted there the scenes in the cloister already mentioned, while Ridolfo was executing the altarpiece and the ornaments of the high altar. These finished, as has been related in the Life of Ridolfo, they adorned with other pictures that holy place, which is very celebrated and renowned for the many miracles that are wrought there by the Virgin Mother of the Son of God.

Battista then returned to Rome, at the very time when the Judgment of Michelagnolo had just been uncovered; and, being a zealous student of the manner and works of that master, he gazed at it very gladly, and in infinite admiration made drawings of it all. And then, having resolved to remain in Rome, at the commission of Cardinal Francesco Cornaro who had rebuilt the palace that he occupied beside S. Pietro, which looks out on the portico in the direction of the Camposanto he painted over the stucco a loggia that looks towards the Piazza, making there a kind of grotesques all full of little scenes and figures; which work, executed with much labor and diligence, was held to be very beautiful.

About the same time, which was the year 1538, Francesco Salviati, having painted a scene in fresco in the Company of the Misericordia, was to give it the final completion and to set his hand to others, which many private citizens desired to have painted; but, by reason of the rivalry that there was between him and Jacopo del Conte, nothing more was done; which hearing, Battista sought to obtain by this means an opportunity to prove himself superior to Francesco and the best master in Rome ; and he so went to work, employing his friends and other means, that Monsignor della Casa, after seeing a design by his hand, allotted the work to him. Thereupon, setting his hand to it, he painted there in fresco S. John the Baptist taken at the command of Herod and cast into prison. But, although this picture was executed with much labor, it was not held to be equal by a great measure to that of Salviati, from its having been painted with very great effort and in a manner crude and melancholy, while it had no order in the composition, nor in a single part any of that grace and charm of coloring which Francesco's work possessed. And from this it may be concluded that those men are deceived who, in pursuing this art, give all their attention to executing well and with a good knowledge of muscles a torso, an arm, a leg, or other member, believing that a good grasp of that part is the whole secret; for the reason that the part of a work is not the whole, and only he carries it to perfect completion, in a good and beautiful manner, who, after executing the parts well, knows how to make them fit in due proportion into the whole, and who, moreover, so contrives that the composition of the figures expresses and produces well and without confusion the effect that it should produce. And, above all, care must be taken to make the heads vivacious, spirited, gracious, and beautiful in the expressions, the manner not crude, and the nudes so tinted with black that they may have relief, melting gradually into the distance according as may be required; to say nothing of the perspective-views, landscapes, and other parts that good pictures demand, nor that in making use of the works of others a man should proceed in such a manner that this may not be too easily recognized. Battista thus became aware too late that he had wasted time beyond all reason over the minutiae of muscles and over drawing with too great diligence, while paying no attention to the other fields of art.

Having finished that work, which brought him little praise, Battista transferred himself by means of Bartolommeo Genga to the service of the Duke of Urbino, to paint a very large vaulting in the church and chapel attached to the Palace of Urbino. Having arrived there, he set himself straightway to make the designs according as the invention presented itself in the work, without giving it any further thought and without making any compartments. And so in imitation of the Judgment of Buonarroti, he depicted in a Heaven the Glory of the Saints, who are dispersed over that vaulting on certain clouds, with all the choirs of the Angels about a Madonna, who, having ascended into Heaven, is received by Christ, who is in the act of crowning her, while in various separate groups stand the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Sibyls, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Confessors, and the Virgins; which figures, in their different attitudes, reveal their rejoicing at the advent of that Glorious Virgin. This invention would certainly have given Battista a great opportunity to prove himself an able master, if he had chosen a better way, not only making himself well-practised in fresco colors, but also proceeding with better order and judgment than he displayed in all his labor. But he used in this work the same methods as in all his others, for he made always the same figures, the same countenances, the same members, and the same draperies; besides which, the coloring was without any charm, and everything labored and executed with difficulty. When all was finished, therefore, it gave little satisfaction to Duke Guidobaldo, Genga, and all the others who were expecting great things from that master, equal to the beautiful design that he had shown to them in the beginning; for, in truth, in making beautiful designs Battista had no peer and could be called an able man.

Which recognizing, the Duke thought that his designs would succeed very well if carried into execution by those who were fashioning vases of clay so excellently at Castel Durante, for which they had availed themselves much of the prints of Raffaello da Urbino and other able masters; and he caused Battista to draw innumerable designs, which, when put into execution in that sort of clay, the most kindly of all that there are in Italy, produced a rare result. Wherefore vases were made in such numbers and of as many kinds as would have sufficed to do honor to the credence of a King; and the pictures that were painted on them would not have been better if they had been executed in oils by the most excellent masters. Of these vases, which in the quality of the clay much resemble the kind that was wrought at Arezzo in ancient times, in the days of Porsenna, King of Tuscany, the above-named Duke Guidobaldo sent enough for a double credence to the Emperor Charles V, and a set to Cardinal Farnese, the brother of Signora Vittoria, his consort. And it is right that it should be known that of this kind of paintings on vases, in so far as we can judge, the Romans had none, for the vases of those times, filled with the ashes of their dead or used for other purposes, are covered with figures hatched and grounded with only one color, either black, or red, or white; nor have they ever that lustrous glazing or that charm and variety of paintings which have been seen and still are seen in our own times.

Nor can it be said that, if perchance they did have such things, the paintings have been consumed by time and by their having been buried, for the reason that we see our own resisting the assaults of time and every other danger, insomuch that it may even be said that they might remain four thousand years under the ground without the paintings being spoilt. Now, although vases and paintings of that kind are made throughout all Italy, yet the best and most beautiful works in clay are those tha.t are wrought, as I have said, at Castel Durante, a place in the State of Urbino, and those of Faenza, the best of which are for the most part of a very pure white, with few paintings, and those in the center or on the edges, but delicate and pleasing enough.

But to return to Battista: for the nuptials of the above-mentioned Lord Duke and Signora Vittoria Farnese, which took place afterwards at Urbino, he, assisted by his young men, executed on the arches erected by Genga, who was the head of the festive preparations, all the historical pictures that were painted upon them. Now, since the Duke doubted that Battista would not finish in time, the undertaking being very great, he sent for Giorgio Vasari who at that time was painting at Rimini, for the White Friars of Scolca, of the Order of Monte Oliveto, a large chapel in fresco and an altarpiece in oils for their high altar to the end that he might go to the aid of Genga and Battista in those preparations. But Vasari, feeling indisposed, made his excuses to his Excellency and wrote to him that he should have no doubt, for the reason that the talents and knowledge of Battista were such that he would have everything finished in time, as indeed, in the end, he did. Giorgio then going, after finishing his works at Rimini, to visit that Duke and to make his excuses in person, his Excellency caused him to examine, to the end that he might value it, the above-mentioned chapel that had been painted by Battista, which Vasari much extolled, recommending the ability of that master, who was largely rewarded by the great liberality of that lord.

It is true, however, that Battista was not at that time in Urbino, but in Rome, where he was engaged in drawing not only the statues but all the antiquities of that city, and in making, as he did, a great book of them, which was a praiseworthy work. Now, while Battista was giving his attention to drawing in Rome, Messer Giovanni Andrea dell' Anguillara, a man truly distinguished in certain forms of poetry, having got together a company of various choice spirits, was causing very rich scenery and decorations to be prepared in the large hall of S. Apostolo, in order to perform comedies by various authors before gentlemen, lords, and great persons. He had caused seats to be made for the spectators of different ranks, and for the Cardinals and other great prelates he had prepared certain rooms from which, through jalousies, they could see and hear without being seen. And since in that company there were painters, sculptors, architects, and men who were to perform the dramas and to fulfil other offices, Battista and Ammanati, having been chosen of the company, were given the charge of preparing the scenery, with some stories and ornaments in painting, which Battista executed so well (together with some statues that Ammanati made), that he was very highly extolled for them. But the great expenses of that place exceeded the means available, so that M. Giovanni Andrea and the others were forced to remove the prospect-scene and the other ornaments from S. Apostolo and to convey them into the new Temple of S. Biagio, in the Strada Giulia. There, Battista having once more arranged everything, many comedies were performed with extraordinary satisfaction to the people and courtiers of Rome; and from this origin there sprang in time the players who travel around, called the Zanni.

After these things, having come to the year 1550, Battista executed in company with Girolamo Siciolante of Sermoneta, for Cardinal di Cesis, on the fa9ade of his palace, the coat of arms of Pope Julius III, who had been newly elected Pontiff, with three figures and some little boys, which were much extolled. That finished, he painted in the Minerva, in a chapel built by a Canon of S. Pietro and all adorned with stucco, some stories of the Madonna and of Jesus Christ in the compartments of the vaulting, which were the best works that he had ever executed up to that time. On one of the two walls he painted the Nativity of Jesus Christ, with some Shepherds, and Angels that are singing over the hut, and on the other the Resurrection of Christ, with many soldiers in various attitudes about the Sepulchre; and above each of those scenes, in certain lunettes, he executed some large Prophets. And finally, on the altar wall, he painted Christ Crucified, Our Lady, S. John, S. Dominic, and some other Saints in the niches; in all which he acquitted himself very well and like an excellent master.

But since his earnings were scanty and the expenses of Rome very great, after having executed some works on cloth, which had not much success, he returned to his native country of Venice, thinking by a change of country to change also his fortune. There, by reason of his fine manner of drawing, he was judged to be an able man, and a few days afterwards he was commissioned to execute an altarpiece in oils for the Chapel of Mons. Barbaro, Patriarch-elect of Aquileia, in the Church of S. Francesco della Vigna; in which he painted S. John baptizing Christ in the Jordan, in the air God the Father, at the foot two little boys who are holding the vestments of Christ, in the angles the Annunciation, and below these figures the semblance of a canvas superimposed, with a good number of little nude figures of Angels, Demons, and Souls in Purgatory, and with an inscription that runs "In nomine Jesu omne genuflect atur." That work, which was certainly held to be very good, won him much credit and fame; indeed, it was the reason that the Frati de' Zoccoli, who have their seat in that place, and who have charge of the Church of S. Giobbe in Canareio, caused him to paint in the Chapel of the Foscari, in that Church of S. Giobbe, a Madonna who is seated with the Child in her arms, with a S. Mark on one side and a female Saint on the other, and in the air some Angels who are scattering flowers. In S. Bartolommeo, at the tomb of Cristofano Fuccheri, a German merchant, he executed a picture of Abundance, Mercury, and Fame. For M. Antonio della Vecchia, a Venetian, he painted in a picture with figures of the size of life and very beautiful Christ crowned with Thorns, and about them some Pharisees, who are mocking Him.

Meanwhile there had been built of masonry in the Palace of S. Marco, after the design of Jacopo Sansovino, as will be related in the proper place, the staircase that leads from the first floor upwards, and it had been adorned with various designs in stucco by the sculptor Alessandro. a disciple of Sansovino; and Battista painted very minute grotesques over it all, and in certain larger spaces a good number of figures in fresco, which have been extolled not a little by the craftsmen, and he then decorated the ceiling of the vestibule of that staircase. Not long afterwards, when, as has been related above, three pictures were given to each of the best and most renowned painters of Venice to paint for the Library of S. Marco, on the condition that he who should acquit himself best in the judgment of those Magnificent Senators was to receive, in addition to the usual payment, a chain of gold, Battista executed in that place three scenes, with two Philosophers between the windows, and acquitted himself very well, although he did not win the prize of honor, as we said above.

After these works, having received from the Patriarch Grimani the commission for a chapel in S. Francesco della Vigna, which is the first on the left hand entering into the church, Battista set his hand to it and began to make very rich designs in stucco over the whole vaulting, with scenes of figures in fresco, laboring there with incredible diligence. But whether it was his own carelessness, or that he had executed some works, perchance on very fresh walls, as I have heard say, at the villas of certain gentlemen before he had that chapel finished, he died, and it remained incomplete. It was finished afterwards by Federigo Zucchero of S. Agnolo in Vado, a young and excellent painter, held to be among the best in Rome, who painted in fresco on the walls at the sides Mary Magdalene being converted by the Preaching of Christ and the Raising of her brother Lazarus, which are pictures full of grace. And, when the walls were finished, the same Federigo painted in the altarpiece the Adoration of the Magi, which was much extolled.

Extraordinary credit and fame have come to Battista, who died in the year 1561, from his many printed designs, which are truly worthy to be praised.



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