St. Mark, 1410-1415. Now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
ABOUT the same time, engaged in the same pursuit of sculpture, and almost of the same excellence in the art, lived Niccolo di Piero, a citizen of Arezzo, to whom Nature was as liberal with her gifts of intellect and vivacity of mind as Fortune was niggardly with her benefits. He, then, being a needy fellow, and having received some affront from his nearest of kin in his own country, departed, in order to come to Florence, from Arezzo, where under the discipline of Maestro Moccio, sculptor of Siena, who, as it has been said in another place, wrought some works in Arezzo he had applied himself to sculpture with no little fruit, although the said Maestro Moccio was not very excellent. And so, having arrived in Florence, Niccolo at first for many months wrought whatsoever work came to his hand, both because poverty and want were pressing him hard, and also out of rivalry with certain young men, who, competing together honourably with much study and labor, were occupying themselves with sculpture. Finally, after many labors, Niccolo became a creditable sculptor, and was commissioned by the Wardens of Works of S. Maria del Fiore to make two statues for the Campanile; these statues, having been placed therein on the side facing the Canon's house, stand one on either side of those that Donato afterwards made ; and since nothing better in full-relief had been seen, they were held passing good.
Next, departing from Florence by reason of the plague of 1383, he went to his own country. There he found that by reason of the said plague the men of the Confraternity of S. Maria della Misericordia, whereof we have spoken above, had acquired great wealth by means of bequests made by diverse persons in the city through the devotion that they felt for that holy place and for its brethren, who attend to the sick and bury the dead in every pestilence, without fear of any peril; and that therefore they wished to make a facade for that place, but in grey-stone, for lack of a supply of marble. This work, which had been begun before in the German style, he undertook to do; and assisted by many stonecutters from Settignano, he brought it to perfect completion, making with his own hand, in the lunette of the facade, a Madonna with the Child in her arms, and certain angels who are holding open her mantle, under which the people of that city appear to be taking shelter, while S. Laurentino and S. Pergentino, kneeling below, are interceding for them. Next, in two niches at the sides, he made two statues, each three braccia high namely, one of S. Gregory the Pope, and one of S. Donatus the Bishop, Protector of that city, with good grace and passing good manner. It appears that in his youth, before making these works, he had formerly made three large figures of terracotta which were placed over the door of the Vescovado, and which are now in great part eaten away by frost, as is also a S. Luke of grey stone, made by the same man while he was a youth and placed in the facade of the said Vescovado. In the Pieve, likewise, in the Chapel of S. Biagio, he made a very beautiful figure of the said Saint in terracotta; and one of that Saint in the Church of S. Antonio, also in terra-cotta and in relief; and another Saint, seated, over the door of the hospital of the said city.
While he was making these and some other similar works, the walls of Borgo a San Sepolcro were ruined by an earthquake, and Niccol6 was sent for to the end that he might make as he did with good judgment a design for a new wall, which turned out much better and stronger than the first. And so, continuing to work now in Arezzo, and now in the neighbouring places, Niccolo was living very quietly and at his ease in his own country, when war, the capital enemy of the arts, compelled him to leave it, for, after the sons of Piero Saccone had been driven out of Pietramala and the castle had been destroyed down to its foundations, the city and the district of Arezzo were all in confusion. Wherefore, departing from that territory, Niccolo betook himself to Florence, where he had worked at other times, and for the Wardens of Works of S. Maria del Fiore he made a statue of marble, four braccia high, which was afterwards placed on the left hand of the principal door of that church. In this statue, which is an Evangelist seated, Niccolo showed that he was truly an able sculptor, and he was therefore much praised, since up to then there had not been seen, as there was afterwards, any better work in wholly round relief. Being then summoned to Rome by order of Pope Boniface IX, as the best of all the architects of his time, he fortified and gave better form to the Castle of S. Angelo. On returning to Florence, he made two little figures in marble for the Masters of the Mint, on that corner of Orsanmichele that faces the Guild of Wool, in the pilaster, above the niche wherein there is now the S. Matthew, which was made afterwards ; and these figures were so well made and so well placed on the summit of that shrine that they were then much extolled, as they have been ever afterwards, and in them Niccolo appears to have surpassed himself, for he never did anything better. In short, they are such that they can stand beside any other work of that kind; wherefore he acquired so great credit that he was thought worthy to be in the number of those who were under consideration for the making of the bronze doors of S. Giovanni, although, when the proof was made, he was left behind, and they were allotted, as it will be said in the proper place, to another. After these labors Niccolo went to Milan, where he was made Overseer of the Works of the Duomo in that city; and there he wrought some things in marble which gave great satisfaction.
Finally, being called back to his own country by the Aretines to the end that he might make a tabernacle for the Sacrament, while returning he was forced to stay in Bologna and to make the tomb of Pope Alexander V, who had finished the course of his years in that city, for the Convent of the Friars Minor. And although he was very unwilling to accept this work, he could not, however, but comply with the prayers of Messer Leonardo Bruni, the Aretine, who had been a highly favored Secretary of that Pontiff. Niccolo, then, made the said tomb and portrayed that Pope thereon from nature; although it is true that from lack of marble and other stone the tomb and its ornaments were made of stucco and brickwork, and likewise the statue of the Pope on the sarcophagus, which is placed behind the choir of the said church. This work finished, Niccolo fell grievously sick and died shortly afterwards at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried in the same church, in the year 1417. His portrait was made by Galasso of Ferrara, very much his friend, who was painting at that time in Bologna in competition with Jacopo and Simone, painters of Bologna, and one Cristofano I know not whether of Ferrara, or, as others say, of Modena who all painted many works in fresco in a church called the Casa di Mezzo, without the Porta di S. Mammolo. Cristofano painted scenes on one side, from the Creation of Adam by God up to the death of Moses, Simone and Jacopo painted thirty scenes, from the Birth of Christ up to the Last Supper that He held with the Apostles, and Galasso then painted the Passion, as it is seen from the name of each man, written below. These pictures were made in the year 1404, and afterwards the rest of the church was painted by other masters with stories of David, wrought with a high finish. And in truth it is not without reason that these pictures are held in much esteem by the Bolognese, both because, for old things, they are passing good, and also because the work, having been preserved fresh and vivacious, deserves much praise. Some say that the said Galasso, when very old, painted also in oil, but neither in Ferrara nor in any other place have I found any works of his save in fresco. A disciple of Galasso was Cosme, who painted a chapel in S. Domenico at Ferrara, and the folding doors that close the organ of the Duomo, and many other works, which are better than the pictures of Galasso, his master.
Niccolo was a good draughtsman, as it may be seen in our book, wherein there are an Evangelist and three heads of horses by his hand, very well drawn.