GHERARDO (1445-1497)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

IT IS CERTAIN that among all the enduring works that are made in colors there is none that resists the assault of wind and water better than mosaic. And well was this known hi his day to the elder Lorenzo de' Medici of Florence, who, like a man of spirit given to investigating the memorials of the ancients, sought to bring back into use what had been hidden for many years, and, since he took great delight in pictures and sculptures, could not fail to take delight also in mosaic. Wherefore, seeing that Gherardo, an illuminator of that time and a man of inquiring brain, was investigating the difficulties of that calling, he showed him great favour, as one who ever assisted those in whom he saw some germ of spirit and intellect. Placing him, therefore, in the company of Domenico del Ghirlandajo, he obtained for him from the Wardens of Works of S. Maria del Fiore a commission for decorating the chapels of the transepts, beginning with that of the Sacrament, wherein lies the body of S. Zanobi. Whereupon Gherardo, growing ever in keenness of intelligence, would have executed most marvellous works in company with Domenico, if death had not intervened, as may be judged from the beginning of that chapel, which remained unfinished.

Gherardo, in addition to his mosaics, was a most delicate illuminator, and he also made large figures on walls. Without the Porta alia Croce there is a shrine in fresco by his hand, and there is another in Florence, much extolled, at the head of the Via Larga. On the fagade of the Church of S. Gilio at S. Maria Nuova, beneath the stories painted by Lorenzo di Bicci, wherein is the consecration of that church by Pope Martin V, Gherardo depicted the same Pope conferring the monk's habit and many privileges on the Director of the Hospital. In this scene there were far fewer figures than it appeared to require, because it was cut in half by a shrine containing a Madonna, which has been removed recently by Don Isidoro Montaguto, the present Director of that place, in the reconstructing of a principal door for the building; and Francesco Brini, a young painter of Florence, has been commissioned to paint the rest of the scene. But to return to Gherardo; it would scarcely have been possible for even a well-practised master to accomplish without great fatigue and diligence what he did in that work, which is wrought most excellently in fresco. For the church of the same hospital Gherardo illuminated an infinite number of books, with some for S. Maria del Fiore in Florence, and certain others for Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. These last, on the death of the said King, together with some by the hand of Vante and of other masters who worked for that King in Florence, were purchased and taken over by the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, who placed them among those so greatly celebrated which were being collected for the formation of the library afterwards built by Pope Clement VII, which is now being thrown open to the public by order of Duke Cosimo.

Having thus developed, as has been related, from a master of illumination into a painter, in addition to the said works, he made some great figures in a large cartoon for the Evangelists that he had to make in mosaic in the Chapel of S. Zanobi. But before the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici had obtained for him the commission for the said chapel, wishing to show that he understood the art of mosaic, and that he could work without a companion, he made a life-size head of S. Zanobi, which remained in S. Maria del Fiore, and on days of the highest solemnity it is set up on the altar of the said Saint, or in some other place, as a rare thing.

The while that Gherardo was laboring at these things, there were brought to Florence certain prints in the German manner wrought by Martin and by Albrecht Duerer; whereupon, being much pleased with that sort of engraving, he set himself to work with the graver and copied some of those plates very well, as may be seen from certain examples that are in our book, together with some drawings by the same man's hand. Gherardo painted many pictures which were sent abroad, one of which is in the Chapel of S. Caterina da Siena in the Church of S. Domenico at Bologna, containing a very good painting of S. Catherine. And in S. Marco at Florence, over the table of Pardons, he painted a lunette full of very graceful figures. But the more he satisfied others the less did he satisfy himself in any of his works, with the exception of mosaic, in which sort of painting he was rather the rival than the companion of Domenico Ghirlandajo; and if he had lived longer he would have become most excellent in that art, for he was very willing to take pains with it, and he had discovered the greater part of its best secrets.

Some declare that Attavante, otherwise Vante, an illuminator of Florence, of whom we have spoken above in more than one place, was a disciple of Gherardo, as was Stefano, likewise a Florentine illuminator; but I hold it as certain, considering that both lived at the same time, that Attavante was rather the friend, companion, and contemporary of Gherardo than his disciple. Gherardo died well advanced in years, leaving everything that he used in his art to his disciple Stefano, who, devoting himself no long time after to architecture, abandoned the art of illuminating, and handed over all his appliances in connection with that profession to the elder Boccardino, who illuminated the greater part of the books that are in the Badia of Florence. Gherardo died at the age of sixty-three, and his works date about the year of our salvation 1470.

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