Portrait of a Man in Armor. c. 1510. National Gallery of Art, London.
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
Great, indeed, is the good fortune of those craftsmen who are brought into contact, either by their birth or by the associations that are formed in childhood, with those men whom Heaven has chosen out to be distinguished and exalted above all others in our arts, for the reason that a good and beautiful manner can be acquired with the greatest facility by seeing the methods and works of men of excellence, not to mention that rivalry and emulation, as we have said elsewhere, have great power over our minds.
Francesco Granacci, of whom we have already spoken, was one of those who were placed by the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici to learn in his garden; whence it happened that, recognizing, boy as he was, the great genius of Michelagnolo, and what extraordinary fruits he was likely to produce when full grown, he could never tear himself away from his side, and even strove with incredible attention and humility to be always following that great brain, insomuch that Michelagnolo was constrained to love him more than all his other friends, and to confide so much in him, that there was no one with whom he was more willing to confer touching his works or to share all that he knew of art at that time, than with Granacci. Then, after they had been companions together in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandajo, it came to pass that Granacci, because he was held to be the best of Ghirlandajo's young men, the strongest draughtsman, and the one who had most grace in painting in distemper, assisted David and Benedetto Ghirlandajo, the brothers of Domenico, to finish the altarpiece of the high altar in S. Maria Novella, which had been left unfinished at the death of the same Domenico. By this work Granacci gained much experience, and afterwards he executed in the same manner as that altarpiece many pictures that are in the houses of citizens, and others which were sent abroad.
And since he was very gracious, and made himself very useful in certain ceremonies that were performed in the city during the festivals of the Carnival, he was constantly employed by the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici in many similar works, and in particular for the masquerade that represented the Triumph of Paulus Emilius, which was held in honour of the victory that he gained over certain foreign nations. In this masquerade, which was full of most beautiful inventions, Granacci acquitted himself so well, although he was a mere lad, that he won the highest praise. And here I will not omit to tell that the same Lorenzo de' Medici, as I have said in another place, was the first inventor of those masquerades that represent some particular subject, and are called in Florence "Canti"; for it is not known that any were performed in earlier times.
In like manner Granacci was employed in the sumptuous and magnificent preparations that were made in the year 1513 for the entry of Pope Leo X, one of the Medici, by Jacopo Nardi, a man of great learning and most beautiful intellect, who, having been commanded by the Tribunal of Eight to prepare a splendid masquerade, executed a representation of the Triumph of Camillus. This masquerade, in so far as it lay in the province of the painter, was so beautifully arranged and adorned by Granacci that no man could imagine anything better; and the words of the song, which Jacopo composed, began thus:
Contempla in quanta gloria sei salita, Felice alma Fiorenza, Poiche' dal Ciel discesa,
with what follows. For the same spectacle Granacci executed a great quantity of theatrical scenery, as he did both before and afterwards. And while working with Ghirlandajo he painted standards for ships, and also banners and devices for certain Knights of the Golden Spur, for their public entry into Florence, all at the expense of the Captains of the Guelph Party, as was the custom at that time, and as has been done in our own day, not long since.
In like manner he made many beautiful embellishments and decorations of his own invention for the Potenze and their tournaments. These festivals were of a kind which is peculiar to the Florentines, and very pleasing, and in them were seen men standing almost upright on horseback, with very short stirrups, and breaking a lance with the same facility as do the warriors firmly seated on their saddles; and all this was done for the above-mentioned visit of Leo to Florence. Granacci also made, besides other things, a most beautiful triumphal arch opposite to the door of the Badia, covered with scenes in chiaroscuro and very lovely things of fancy. This arch was much extolled, and particularly for the invention of the architecture, and because he had made an imitation of that same door of the Badia for the entrance of the Via del Palagio, executed in perspective with the steps and every other thing, so that the painted and supposititious door was in no way different from the real and true one. To adorn the same arch he executed with his own hand some very beautiful figures of clay in relief, and on the summit of the arch he placed a great inscription with these words: LEONI X PONT. MAX. FIDEI CULTORI.
But to come at length to some works by Granacci that are in existence, let me relate that, having studied the cartoon of Michelagnolo Buonarroti while the latter was executing it for the Great Hall of the Palace, he found it so instructive and made such proficience, that, when Michelagnolo was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II to the end that he might paint the vaulting of the Chapel in his Palace, Granacci was one of the first to be sent for by Buonarroti to help him to paint that work in fresco after the cartoons that he himself had prepared. It is true that Michelagnolo, being dissatisfied with the manner and method [Pg 60] of every one of his assistants, afterwards found means to make them all return to Florence without dismissing them, by closing the door on them all and not allowing himself to be seen.
In Florence Granacci painted for Pier Francesco Borgherini a scene in oils on the headboard of a couch which stood in an apartment wherein Jacopo da Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, and Francesco Ubertini had painted many stories from the life of Joseph, in Pier Francesco's house in Borgo Sant' Apostolo; and in this scene were little figures representing a story of the same Joseph, executed with extraordinary finish and with great charm and beauty of coloring, and a building in perspective, wherein he depicted Joseph ministering to Pharaoh, which could not be more beautiful in any part. For the same man, also, he painted a round picture, likewise in oils, of the Trinity, or rather, God the Father supporting a Christ Crucified. And in the Church of S. Piero Maggiore there is a picture of the Assumption by his hand, with many Angels and a S. Thomas, to whom the Madonna is giving the Girdle. The figure of S. Thomas is very graceful, turning to one side in a beautiful attitude worthy of the hand of Michelagnolo, and such, also, is that of Our Lady. The drawing for these two figures by the hand of Granacci is in our book, together with others likewise by him. On either side of this picture are figures of S. Paul, S. Laurence, S. James, and S. John, which are all so beautiful that the work is held to be the best that Francesco ever painted; and in truth this work alone, even if he had never executed another, would ensure his being considered to be, as indeed he was, an excellent painter.
For the Church of S. Gallo, without the Gate of the same name, and formerly a seat of the Eremite Friars of S. Augustine, he painted an altarpiece with the Madonna and two children, S. Zanobi, Bishop of Florence, and S. Francis. This altarpiece, which was in the Chapel of the Girolami, to which family that S. Zanobi belonged, is now in S. Jacopo tra Fossi at Florence.
Michelagnolo Buonarroti, having a niece who was a nun in S. Apollonia at Florence, had therefore executed an ornament for the high-altar of that church, and a design for the altarpiece; and Granacci painted there some scenes in oils with figures large and small, which gave much satisfaction to the nuns at that time, and also to the other painters. For the same place he painted another altarpiece, which stood lower down, but this was burned one night, together with some draperies of great value, through some lights being inadvertently left on the altar; which was certainly a great loss, seeing that the work was much extolled by craftsmen. And for the Nuns of S. Giorgio in sulla Costa he executed the altarpiece of their high altar, painting in it the Madonna, S. Catharine, S. Giovanni Gualberto, S. Bernardo Uberti the Cardinal, and S. Fedele.
Granacci also executed many pictures, both square and round, which are dispersed among the houses of gentlemen in the city; and he made many cartoons for glass windows, which were afterwards put into execution by the Frati Ingiesuati of Florence. He delighted much in painting on cloth, either alone or in company with others; wherefore, in addition to the works mentioned above, he painted many church banners. And since he practised art more to pass the time than from necessity, he worked at his ease, always consulting his own convenience, and avoiding discomforts as much as he was able, more than any other man; and yet, without being covetous of the goods of others, he always preserved his own. Allowing but few cares to oppress him, he was a merry fellow, and took his pleasures with a glad heart. He lived sixty-seven years, at the end of which he finished the course of his life after an ordinary malady, a kind of fever; and he was buried in the Church of S. Ambrogio at Florence, on the day of S. Andrew the Apostle, in 1544.