Pisanello. Detail. Vision of St. Eustace. 1436.
London, National Gallery.
VERY GREAT is the advantage enjoyed by one who follows in the steps of a predecessor who has gained honor and fame by means of some rare talent, for the reason that, if only he follows to some extent the path prepared by his master, he seldom fails to arrive without much fatigue at an honorable goal; where, if he had to reach it by himself, he would have need of a much longer time and far greater labors. The truth of this could be seen, ready for the finger to point to, as the saying is, among many other examples, in that of Pisano, or rather, Pisanello, a painter of Verona, who, having spent many years in Florence with Andrea del Castagno, and having finished his works after his death, acquired so much credit by means of Andrea's name, that Pope Martin V, coming to Florence, took him in his train to Rome, where he caused him to paint some scenes in fresco in San Giovanni Laterano, which are very lovely and beautiful beyond belief, because he used there a great abundance of a sort of ultramarine blue given to him by the said Pope, which was so beautiful in color that it has never yet been equalled.
In competition with Pisanello, below the aforesaid scenes, certain others were painted by Gentile da Fabriano; of which Platina makes mention in his Life of Pope Martin, saying that when that Pontiff had caused the pavement, the ceiling, and the roof of San Giovanni Laterano to be reconstructed, Gentile da Fabriano painted many pictures there, and, among other figures between the windows, in terretta and in chiaroscuro, certain prophets, which are held to be the best paintings in the whole of the work. The same Gentile executed an infinite number of works in the Marches, particularly in Agobbio, where some of them are still to be seen, and likewise throughout the whole state of Urbino.
He worked in San Giovanni at Siena; and in the Sacristy of Santa Trinita in Florence he painted the Story of the Magi on a panel, in which he portrayed himself from life. In San Niccolo', near the Porta a San Miniato, for the family of the Quaratesi, he painted the panel of the high altar, which appears to me without a doubt the best of all the works that I have seen by his hand, for, not to mention the Madonna surrounded by many saints, all well wrought, the predella of the said panel, full of scenes with little figures from the life of St. Nicholas, could not be more beautiful or executed better than it is. In Santa Maria Nuova in Rome, in a little arch over the tomb of the Florentine Cardinal Adimari, Archbishop of Pisa, which is beside that of Pope Gregory IX, he painted the Madonna with the Child in her arms, between St. Benedict and St. Joseph. This work was held in esteem by the divine Michelangelo, who was wont to say, speaking of Gentile, that his hand in painting was similar to his name. The same master executed a very beautiful panel in San Domenico in Perugia; and in San Agostino at Bari he painted a Crucifix outlined in the wood, with three very beautiful half-length figures, which are over the door of the choir.
But to return to Vittore [sic, Antonio] Pisano; the account that has been given of him above was written by us, with nothing more, when this our book was printed for the first time, because we had not then received that information and knowledge of the works of this excellent craftsman which we have since gained from notices supplied by that very reverend and most learned Father, Fra Marco de'Medici of Verona, of the Order of Preaching Friars, and from the narrative of Biondo da Forli, where he speaks of Verona in his "Italian Illustrata." Vittore was equal in excellence to any painter of his age; and to this, not to speak of the works enumerated above, most ample testimony is borne by many others that are seen in his most noble city of Verona, although many are almost eaten away by time.
And because he took particular delight in depicting animals, he painted in the Chapel of the Pellegrini family, in the Church of S. Anastasia at Verona, a St. Eustace caressing a dog spotted with white and tan, which, with its feet raised and leaning against the leg of the said Saint, is turning its head backwards as though it had heard some noise; and it is making this movement with so great vivacity, that a live dog could not do it better. Beneath this figure there is seen painted the name of Pisano, who used to call himself sometimes Pisano, and sometimes Pisanello, as may be seen from the pictures and the medals by his hand. After the said figure of St. Eustace, which is truly very beautiful and one of the best that this craftsman ever wrought, he painted the whole outer wall of the same chapel; and on the other side he made a St. George clad in white armour made of silver, as was the custom in that age not only with him but with all the other painters. This St. George, wishing to replace his sword in the scabbard after slaying the Dragon, is raising his right hand, which holds the sword, the point of which is already in the scabbard, and is lowering the left hand, to the end that the increased distance may make it easier for him to sheathe the sword, which is long; and this he is doing with so much grace and with so beautiful a manner, that nothing better could be seen.
Michele San Michele of Verona, architect to the most illustrious Signoria of Venice, and a man with a very wide knowledge of these fine arts, was often seen during his life contemplating these works of Vittore [sic, Antonio] in a marvel, and then heard to say that there was little to be seen that was better than the St. Eustace, the dog, and the St. George described above. Over the arch of the said chapel is painted the scene when St. George, having slain the Dragon, is liberating the King's daughter, who is seen near the Saint, clad in a long dress after the custom of those times. Marvellous, likewise, in this part of the work, is the figure of the same St. George, who, armed as above, and about to remount his horse, is standing with his face and person turned towards the spectator, and is seen, with one foot in the stirrup and his left hand on the saddle, almost in the act of leaping on to the horse, which has its hindquarters towards the spectator, so that the whole animal, being foreshortened, is seen very well, although in a small space. In a word, it is impossible to contemplate without infinite marvel--nay, amazement--a work executed with such extraordinary design, grace, and judgment.
The same Pisano painted a picture in San Fermo Maggiore at Verona (a church of the Conventual Friars of S. Francis), in the Chapel of the Brenzoni, on the left as one enters by the principal door of the said church, over the tomb of the Resurrection of Our Lord, wrought in sculpture and very beautiful for those times; he painted, I say, as an ornament for that work, the Virgin receiving the Annunciation from the Angel, which two figures, picked out with gold according to the use of those times, are very beautiful, as are certain very well drawn buildings, as well as some little animals and birds scattered throughout the work, which are as natural and lifelike as it is possible to imagine. The same Vittore [sic, Antonio] cast in medallions innumerable portraits of Princes and other persons of his time, from which there have since been made many portraits in painting. And Monsignor Giovio, speaking of Vittore Pisano in an Italian letter written to the Lord Duke Cosimo, which may be read in print together with many others, says the following words:
"This man was also very excellent in the work of low-relief, which is esteemed very difficult among craftsmen, because it is the mean between the flat surface of painting and the roundness of statuary. For this reason there are seen many highly esteemed medals of great Princes by his hand, made in a large form, and in the same proportions as that reverse of the horse clad in armor that Guidi has sent me. Of these I have that of the great King Alfonso with his hair long, with a captain's helmet on the reverse; that of Pope Martin, with the arms of the house of Colonna as the reverse; that of the Sultan Mahomet (who took Constantinople), showing him on horseback in Turkish dress, with a scourge in his hand; Sigismondo Malatesta, with Madonna Isotta of Rimini on the reverse; and that of Niccolo Piccinino, wearing a large oblong cap on his head, with the said reverse sent to me by Guidi, which I am returning. Besides these, I have also a very beautiful medal of John Palaeologus, Emperor of Constantinople, with that bizarre Greek cap which the Emperors used to wear. This was made by Pisano in Florence, at the time of the Council of Eugenius, at which the aforesaid Emperor was present; and it has on the reverse the Cross of Christ, sustained by two hands--namely, the Latin and the Greek."
So far Giovio, and still further. Vittore also made medals with portraits of Fiippo de' Medici, Archbishop of Pisa, Braccio da Montone, Giovan Galeazzo Visconti, Carlo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, Giovan Caracciolo, Grand Seneschal of Naples, Borso and Ercole D'Este, and many other nobles and men distinguished in arms and in letters. By reason of his fame and reputation in that art, this master gained the honor of being celebrated by very great men and rare writers; for, besides what Biondo wrote of him, as has been said, he was much extolled in a Latin poem by the elder Guerino, his compatriot and a very great scholar and writer of those times; of which poem, called, from the surname of its subject, "Il Pisano del Guerino" honorable mention is made by Biondo. He was also celebrated by the elder Strozzi, Tito Vespasiano, father of the other Strozzi, both of whom were very rare poets in the Latin tongue. The father honored the memory of Vittore Pisano with a very beautiful epigram, which is in print with the others. Such are the fruits that are borne by a worthy life.
Some say that when he was learning art in Florence in his youth, he painted in the old Church of the Temple, which stood where the old Citadel now is, the stories of that pilgrim who was going to San Jacopo di Galizia, when the daughter of his host put a silver cup into his wallet, to the end that he might be punished as a robber; but he was rescued by San Jacopo, who brought him back home in safety. In this Pisano gave promise of becoming, as he did, an excellent painter. Finally, having come to a good old age, he passed to a better life. And Gentile, after making many works in Citta' di Castello, became palsied, and was reduced to such a state that he could no longer do anything good; and at length, wasted away by old age, and having lived eighty years, he died. The portrait of Pisano I have not been able to find in any place whatsoever. Both these painters drew very well, as may be seen in our book.