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St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata.  Pinacoteca Comunale, Castiglion Fiorentino.

BARTOLOMMEO DELLA GATTA (1435-1496/97)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists





RARELY DOES IT HAPPEN that a man of good character and exemplary life fails to be provided by Heaven with the best of friends and with honorable dwellings, or to be held in veneration when alive by reason of the goodness of his ways, and very greatly regretted when dead by all who knew him, as was Don Bartolommeo della Gatta, Abbot of San Clemente in Arezzo, who was excellent in diverse pursuits and most praiseworthy in all his actions. This man, who was a monk of the Angeli in Florence , a seat of the Order of Camaldoli, was in his youth--perchance for the reasons mentioned above in the Life of Don Lorenzo--a very rare illuminator, and a very able master of design. Of this we have proof in the books that he illuminated for the Monks of SS. Fiore e Lucilla in the Abbey of Arezzo, particularly a missal that was presented to Pope Sixtus, in which, on the first page of the Secret Prayers, there was a very beautiful Passion of Christ. Those are likewise by his hand which are in San Martino, the Duomo of Lucca.

A little while after these works the said Abbey of San Clemente in Arezzo was presented to this father by Mariotto Maldoli of Mezzo, General of the Order of Camaldoli, who belonged to the same family from which sprang that Maldolo who gave the site and lands of Camaldoli, then called Campo di Maldolo, to San Romualdo, the founder of that Order. Don Bartolommeo , in gratitude for that benefice, afterwards executed many works for that General and for his Order. After this there came the plague of 1468, by reason of which the Abbot, like many others, stayed indoors without going about much, and devoted himself to painting large figures; and seeing that he was succeeding as well as he could desire, he began to execute certain works. The first was a San Rocco that he painted on a panel for the Rectors of the Confraternity of Arezzo, which is now in the Audience Chamber where they assemble. This figure is recommending the people of Arezzo to Our Lady, and in this picture he portrayed the Piazza of the said city and the holy house of that Confraternity, with certain gravediggers who are returning from burying the dead. He also painted another San Rocco for the Church of San Pietro, likewise on a panel, wherein he portrayed the city of Arezzo exactly as it stood at that time, when it was very different from what it is today. And he made another, which was much better than the two mentioned above, on a panel which is in the Chapel of the Lippi in the Church of the Pieve of Arezzo; and this S. Rocco is a rare and beautiful figure, almost the best that he ever made, and the head and hands are as beautiful and natural as they could be. In the same city of Arezzo, in San Pietro, a seat of the Servite Friars, he painted an Angel Raphael on a panel; and in the same place he made a portrait of the Blessed Jacopo Filippo of Piacenza.

Afterwards, being summoned to Rome, he painted a scene in the Chapel of Pope Sixtus, in company with Luca da Cortona [Signorelli] and Pietro Perugino. On returning to Arezzo, he painted a St. Jerome in Penitence in the Chapel of the Gozzari in the Vescovado; and this figure, lean and shaven, with the eyes fixed most intently on the Crucifix, and beating his breast, shows very clearly how greatly the passions of love can disturb the chastity even of a body so grievously wasted away. In this work he made an enormous crag, with certain cliffs of rock, among the fissures of which he painted some stories of that Saint, with very graceful little figures. After this, in a chapel in San Agostino, for the Nuns of the Third Order, as they are called, he wrought in fresco a Coronation of Our Lady, which is very well done and much extolled; and below this, in another chapel, a large panel with an Assumption and certain angels beautifully robed in delicate draperies. This panel, for a work made in tempera, is much extolled, and in truth it was wrought with good design and executed with extraordinary diligence. In the lunette that is over the door of the Church of San Donato, in the Fortress of Arezzo, the same man painted in fresco a Madonna with the Child in her arms, Donatus, and San Giovanni Gualberto, all very beautiful figures. In the Abbey of Santa Fiore in the said city, beside the principal door of entrance into the church, there is a chapel painted by his hand, wherein are St. Benedict and other saints, wrought with much grace, good handling, and sweetness.

For Gentile of Urbino, Bishop of Arezzo, who was much his friend, and with whom he almost always lived, he painted a Dead Christ in a chapel in the Palace of the Vescovado; and in a loggia he portrayed the Bishop himself, his vicar, and Ser Matteo Francini, his court notary, who is reading a Bull to him; and there he also made his own portrait and those f certain canons of that city. For the same Bishop he designed a loggia which issues from the Palace and leads to the Vescovado, on the same level with both. In the center of this the Bishop had intended to make place of burial for himself in the form of a chapel, in which he wished to be interred after his death; and he had carried it well on, when he was overtaken by death, and it remained unfinished, for, although he left orders that it should be completed by his successor, nothing more was done, as generally happens with works of this sort which are left by a man, to be finished after his death. For the said Bishop the Abbot painted large and beautiful chapel in the Duomo Vecchio, but, as it had only a short life, there is no need to say more about it.

Besides this, he made works in various places throughout the whole city, such as three figures in the Carmine , and the Chapel of the Nuns of Santa Orsina. At Castiglione Aretino, for the Chapel of the High altar in the Pieve of San Giuliano, he painted a panel in tempera, containing a very beautiful Madonna, St. Julian, and St. Michelangelo--figures very well wrought and executed, particularly St. Julian, who, with is eyes fixed on the Christ lying in the arms of the Madonna, appears to be much afflicted at having killed his father and mother. In a chapel little below this, likewise, is a little door painted by his hand (which formerly belonged to an old organ), wherein there is a St. Michael, which is held to be a marvelous thing, with a child in swaddling-clothes, which appears alive, in the arms of a woman. For the Nuns of the Murate at Arezzo he painted the Chapel of the high altar, a work which is truly much extolled. At Monte San Savino he painted a shrine opposite to the Palace of Cardinal di Monte, which was held very beautiful. And at Borgo San Sepolcro, where there is now the Vescovado, he decorated a chapel, which brought him very great praise and profit.

Don Clemente was a man of very versatile intelligence, and, besides being a great musician, he made organs of lead with his own hand. In San Domenico he made one of cardboard, which has ever remained sweet and good; and in San Clemente there was another, also by his hand, which was placed on high, with the keyboard below on the level of the choir--truly with very beautiful judgment, since, the place being such that the monks were few, he wished that the organist should sing as well as play. And since this Abbot loved his Order, like a true minister and not a squanderer of the things of God, he enriched that place greatly with buildings and pictures, particularly by rebuilding the principal chapel of his church and painting the whole of it; and in two niches, one on either side of it, he painted a St. Rocco and a St. Bartholomew, which were ruined together with the church.

But to return to the Abbot, who was a good and worthy church man. He left a disciple in painting named Maestro Lappoli, an Aretine, who was an able and practiced painter, as is shown by the works from his hand which are in S. Agostino, in the Chapel of San Sebastiano, where there is that Saint wrought in relief by the same man, with figures round him, in painting, of San Biagio, San Rocco, San Antonio of Padua, and San Bernardino; while on the arch of the chapel is an Annunciation, and on the vaulting are the four Evangelists, wrought in fresco with a high finish. By the hand of the same man , in another chapel on the left hand as one enters the said church by the side-door, is a Nativity in fresco, with the Madonna receiving the Annunciation from the Angel, in the figure of which Angel he portrayed Giuliano Bacci, then a young man of very beautiful aspect. Over the said door, on the outer side, he made an Annunciation , with St. Peter on one side and St. Paul on the other, portraying in the face of the Madonna the mother of Messer Pietro Aretino, a very famous poet.

In San Francesco, for the Chapel of San Bernardino, he painted a panel with that Saint, who appears alive, and so beautiful that this is the best figure that he ever made. In the Chapel of the Pietramaleschi in the Vescovado covado he painted a very beautiful Sant' Ignazio on a panel in tempera; and in the Pieve, at the entrance of the upper door which opens on the piazza, a St. Andrew and a St. Sebastian. For the Company of the Trinita, by order of Buoninsegna Buoninsegni of Arezzo, he made a work with beautiful invention, which can be numbered among the best that he ever executed, and this was a Crucifix over an altar, with a St. Martin on one side and a St. Rocco on the other, and two figures kneeling at the foot, one in the form of a poor man, lean, emaciated, and wretchedly clothed, from whom there issued certain rays that shone straight on the wounds of the Savior, while the Saint gazed on him most intently; and the other in the form of a rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, and all ruddy and cheerful in countenance, whose rays, as he was adoring Christ, although they were issuing from his heart, like those of the poor man, appeared not to shine directly on the wounds of the Crucified Christ, but to stray and spread over certain plains and fields full of grain, green crops, cattle, gardens, and other suchlike things, while some diverged over the sea towards certain boats laden with merchandise; and others, finally, shone on certain moneychangers' tables. All these things were wrought by Matteo with judgment, great mastery, and much diligence; but they were thrown to the ground no long time after in the making of a chapel. Beneath the pulpit of the Pieve the same man made a Christ with the Cross for Messer Leonardo Albergotti.

A disciple of the Abbot of San Clemente, likewise, was a Servite friar of Arezzo, who painted in colors the facade of the house of the Belichini in Arezzo, and two chapels in fresco, one beside the other, in San Pietro. Another disciple of Don Bartolommeo was Domenico Pecori of Arezzo, who made three figures in tempera on a panel at Sargiano, and painted a very beautiful banner in oil, to be carried in processions, for the Company of Santa Maria Maddalena. For Messer Presentino Bisdomini, in the Chapel of San Andrea in the Pieve, he made a picture of Sant' Apollonia--similar to that mentioned above--and he finished many works left incomplete by his master, such as the panel of St. Sebastian and St. Fabiano with the Madonna, in San Pietro, for the family of the Benucci in the Church of San Antonio he painted the panel of the high altar, wherein is a very devout Madonna, with some saints; and since the said Madonna is adoring the Child, whom she has in her lap, he made it appear that a little angel, kneeling behind her, is supporting Our Lord on a cushion, the Madonna not being able to uphold Him because she has her hands clasped in the act of adoration. in the Church of S. Giustino for Messer Antonio Roselli, he painted a chapel with the Magi in fresco; and for the Company of the Madonna, in the Pieve, he painted a very large panel containing a Madonna in the sky, with the people of Arezzo beneath, in which he made many portraits from the life. in this last work he was helped by a Spanish painter, who painted very well in oil and therein gave assistance to Domenico, who had not as much skill in painting in oil as he had in tempera.

With the help of the same man he executed a panel for the Company of the Trinita, containing the Circumcision of Our Lord, which was held a very good work, and a "Noli Me Tangere" in fresco in the garden of Santa Fiore. Finally, he painted a panel with many figures in the Vescovado, for Messer Donato Marinelli, Primicere. This work, which then brought him and still continues to bring him very great honor, shows good invention, good design, and strong relief; and in making it, being now very old, he called in the aid of a Sienese painter, Capanna, a passing good master, who painted so many walls in chiaroscuro and so many panels in Siena, and who, if he had lived longer, would have done himself much credit in his art, in so far as one may judge from the little that he executed. Domenico wrought for the Confraternity of Arezzo a baldacchino painted in oil, a rich and costly work, which was lent not many years ago for the holding of a representation in San Francesco at the festival of St. John and St. Paul, to adorn a Paradise near the roof of the church. A fire breaking out in consequence of the great quantity of lights, this work was burnt, together with the man who was representing God the Father, who, being fastened, could not escape, as the angels did, and many church-hangings were destroyed, while great harm came to the spectators, who, terrified by the fire, struggled furiously to fly from the church, everyone seeking to be the first, so that about eighty were trampled down in the press, which was something very pitiful. This baldacchino was afterwards reconstructed with greater richness, and painted by Giorgio Vasari. Domenico then devoted himself to the making of glass windows, and there were three by his hand in the Vescovado, which were ruined by the artillery in the wars.

Another pupil of the same master was the painter Angelo di Lorentino , who was a man of passing good ability. He painted the arch over the door of San Domenico, and if he had received assistance he would have become a very good master. The Abbot died at the age of eighty-three, l eaving unfinished the Temple of the Madonna delle Lacrime, for which he had made a model; it was afterwards completed by various masters. He deserves praise, then, as illuminator, architect, painter, and musician. He was given burial by his monks in his Abbey of San Clemente, and his works have ever been so highly esteemed in the said city that the following verses may be read over his tomb:

PINGEBAT DOCTE ZEUSIS, CONDEBAT ET AEDES NICON, PAN CAPRIPES, FISTULA PRIMA TUA EST. NON TAMEN EX VOBIS MECUM CERTAVERIT ULLUS; QUAE TRES FECISTIS, UNICUS HAEC FACIO.

He died in 1461, having added to the art of illumination that beauty which is seen in all his works, as some drawings by his hand can bear witness which are in our book. His method of working was afterwards imitated by Girolamo Padovano in some books that he illuminated for Santa Maria Nuova in Florence; by Gherardo, a Florentine illuminator; (and by Attavante,) who was also called Vante, of whom we have spoken in another place, particularly with regard to those of his works which are in Venice; with respect to which I included word for word a note sent to me by certain gentlemen of Venice, contenting myself, in order to recompense them for the great pains that they had taken to discover all that is to be read there, with relating the whole as they wrote it, since I had no personal knowledge of these works on which to form a judgment of my own.




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