Joseph of Arimathea Supporting the Dead Christ. From the fototeca of the Federico Zeri Foundation, Universita' di Bologna.
RARELY DOES IT HAPPEN that from an old stock there fails to sprout some good shoot, which, growing with time, revives and reclothes with its leaves that desolate stem, and reveals with its fruits to those who taste them the same savor that was once known in the ancient tree. And that this is true is proved in this present Life of Giovanni Antonio, who, at the death of his father Matteo, who was a painter of passing good repute in his day, was left with a good income under the guardianship of his mother, and lived thus up to the age of twelve. Having come to that period of his life, and not caring to choose any other pursuit than that of painting, to which he was drawn, besides other reasons, by a wish to follow the footsteps of his father in that art, Giovanni Antonio began to learn the first rudiments of design under Domenico Pecori, a painter of Arezzo, who had been, together with his father Matteo, a disciple of Clemente, and who was his first master. Then, after having been some time with him, desiring to make greater proficience than he was making under the discipline of that master and in that place, where he was not able to learn by himself, although he had a strong natural inclination, he turned his thoughts towards the idea of settling in Florence. To this intention, not to mention that he was left alone by the death of his mother, Fortune was favorable enough, for a young sister that he had was married to Leonardo Ricoveri, one of the first and richest citizens that there were at that time in Arezzo; and so he went off to Florence.
There, among the works of many that he saw, the manner of Andrea del Sarto and of Jacopo da Pontormo pleased him more than that of all the others who had worked at painting in that city. Wherefore he resolved to place himself under one of those two, and was hesitating as to which of them he should choose as his master, when there were uncovered the Faith and Charity painted by Pontormo over the portico of the Nunziata in Florence, and he became fully determined to go to work under Pontormo, thinking that his manner was so beautiful that it might be expected that Jacopo, who was still a young man, was destined to surpass all the young painters of his own age, as, indeed, was the firm belief of everyone at that time. Lappoli, then, although he might have gone to work under Andrea, for the said reasons attached himself to Pontormo, under whose discipline he was for ever drawing, spurred to incredible exertions, out of emulation, by two motives. One of these was the presence of Giovan Maria dal Borgo a San Sepolcro, who was studying design and painting under the same master, and who, always advising him for his own good, brought it about that he changed his manner and adopted the good manner of Pontormo. The other--and this spurred him more strongly-- was the sight of Agnolo, who was called Bronzino, being much brought forward by Jacopo on account of his loving submissiveness and goodness and the untiring diligence that he showed in imitating his master's works, not to mention that he drew very well and acquitted himself in coloring in such a manner, that he aroused hopes that he was destined to attain to that excellence and perfection which have been seen in him, and still are seen, in our own day.
Giovanni Antonio, then, being desirous to learn, and impelled by the reasons mentioned above, spent many months in making drawings and copies of the works of Jacopo da Pontormo, which were so well executed, so good, and so beautiful, that it is certain that if he had persevered, what with the assistance that he had from Nature, his wish to become eminent, the force of competition, and the good manner of his master, he would have become most excellent; and to this some drawings in red chalk by his hand, which may be seen in our book, can bear witness. But pleasure, as may often be seen to happen, is in young men generally the enemy of excellence, and brings it about that their intellects are led astray; wherefore he who is engaged in the studies of any faculty, science, or art whatsoever should have no relations save with those who are of the same profession, and good and orderly besides. Giovanni Antonio, then, in order that he might be looked after, had gone to live in the house of one Ser Raffaello di Sandro, a lame chaplain, in S. Lorenzo, to whom he paid so much a year, and he abandoned in great measure the study of painting, for the reason that the priest was a man of the world, delighting in pictures, music, and other diversions, and many persons of talent frequented the rooms that he had at S. Lorenzo; among others, M. Antonio da Lucca, a most excellent musician and performer on the lute, at that time a very young man, from whom Giovanni learned to play the lute. And although the painter Rosso and some others of the profession also frequented the same place, Lappoli attached himself rather to the others than to the men of his art, from whom he might have learned much, while at the same time amusing himself. Through these distractions, therefore, the love of painting of which Giovanni Antonio had given proof cooled off in great measure; but none the less, being the friend of Pier Francesco di Jacopo di Sandro, who was a disciple of Andrea del Sarto, he went sometimes with him to the Scalzo to draw the pictures and nudes from life. And no long time passed before he applied himself to coloring and executed pictures of Jacopo's, and then by himself some Madonnas and portraits from life, among which were that of the above-mentioned M. Antonio da Lucca and that of Ser Raffaello, which are very good.
In the year 1523, the plague being in Rome, Perino del Vaga came to Florence, and he also settled down to lodge with Ser Raffaello del Zoppo; wherefore Giovanni Antonio having formed a strait friendship with him and having recognized the ability of Perino, there was reawakened in his mind the desire to attend to painting, abandoning all other pleasures, and he resolved when the plague had ceased to go with Perino to Rome. But this design was never fulfilled, for the plague having come to Florence, at the very moment when Perino had finished the scene of the Submersion of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, painted in the colour of bronze in chiaroscuro for Ser Raffaello, during the execution of which Lappoli was always present, they were forced both the one and the other to fly from Florence, in order not to lose their lives there.
Thereupon Giovanni Antonio returned to Arezzo, and set himself, in order to pass the time, to paint on canvas the scene of the death of Orpheus, killed by the Bacchantes: he set himself, I say, to paint this scene in chiaroscuro of the color of bronze, after the manner in which he had seen Perino paint the picture mentioned above, and when the work was finished it brought him no little praise. He then set to work to finish an altarpiece that his former master Domenico Pecori had begun for the Nuns of S. Margherita: in which altarpiece, now to be seen in their convent, he painted an Annunciation. And he made two cartoons for two portraits from life from the waist upwards, both very beautiful; one was Lorenzo d' Antonio di Giorgio, at that time a pupil and a very handsome youth, and the other was Ser Piero Guazzesi, who was a convivial person.
The plague having finally somewhat abated, Cipriano d' Anghiari, a rich man of Arezzo, who in those days had caused a chapel with ornaments and columns of greystone to be built in the Abbey of S. Fiore at Arezzo, allotted the altarpiece to Giovanni Antonio at the price of one hundred crowns. Meanwhile, Rosso passed through Arezzo on his way to Rome, and lodged with Giovanni Antonio, who was very much his friend; and, hearing of the work that he had undertaken to do, he made at the request of Lappoli a very beautiful little sketch full of nudes. Whereupon Giovanni Antonio, setting his hand to the work and imitating the design of Rosso, painted in that altar-piece the Visitation of S. Elizabeth, and in the lunette above it a God the Father and some children, copying the draperies and all the rest from life. And when he had brought it to completion, he was much praised and commended for it, and above all for some heads copied from life, painted in a good manner and with much profit to himself.
Then, recognizing that if he wished to make greater proficience in his art he must take his leave of Arezzo, he determined, after the plague had ceased entirely in Rome, to go to that city, where he knew that Perino, Rosso, and many others of his friends had already returned and were employed in a number of important works. While of this mind, a convenient occasion of going there presented itself to him, for there arrived in Arezzo M. Paolo Valdambrini, the Secretary of Pope Clement VII, who, in returning from France in great haste, passed through Arezzo in order to see his brothers and nephews; and when Giovanni Antonio had gone to visit him, M. Paolo, who was desirous that there should be in his native city of Arezzo men distinguished in all the arts, who might demonstrate the genius which that air and that sky give to those who are born there, exhorted him, although there was not much need for exhortation, that he should go in his company to Rome, where he would obtain for him every convenience to enable him to attend to the studies of his art. Having therefore gone with M. Paolo to Rome, he found there Perino, Rosso, and others of his friends; and besides this he was able by means of M. Paolo to make the acquaintance of Giulio Romano, Sebastiano Viniziano, and Francesco Mazzuoli of Parma, who arrived in Rome about that time. This Francesco, delighting to play the lute, and therefore conceiving a very great affection for Giovanni Antonio and consorting continually with him, brought it about that Lappoli set himself with great zeal to draw and paint and to profit by the good fortune that he enjoyed in being the friend of the best painters that there were in Rome at that time. And he had already carried almost to completion a picture containing a Madonna of the size of life, which M. Paolo wished to present to Pope Clement in order to make Lappoli known to him, when, as Fortune would have it, who often sets herself in opposition to the designs of mankind, there took place on the 6th of May, in the year 1527, the accursed sack of Rome. On that miserable day M. Paolo galloped on horseback, and Giovanni Antonio with him, to the Porta di S. Spirito in the Trastevere, in order to prevent the soldiers of Bourbon for a time from entering by that gate; and there M. Paolo was killed and Lappoli was taken prisoner by the Spaniards. And in a short time, everything being given over to sack, the picture was lost, together with the designs executed in the chapel and all that poor Giovanni Antonio possessed. He, after having been much tormented by the Spaniards to induce him to pay a ransom, escaped in his shirt one night with some other prisoners, and, after suffering desperate hardships and running in great danger of his life, because the roads were not safe, finally made his way to Arezzo, where he was received by M. Giovanni Pollastra, a man of great learning, who was his uncle; but he had all that he could do to recover himself, so broken was he by terror and suffering.
Then in the same year there came upon Arezzo the great plague in which four hundred persons died every day, and Giovanni Antonio was forced once more to fly, all in despair and very loath to go, and to stay for some months out of the city. But finally, when that pestilence had abated to such an extent that people could begin to mix together, a certain Fra Guasparri, a Conventual Friar of S. Francis, who was then Guardian of their convent in that city, commissioned Giovanni Antonio to paint the altarpiece of the high altar in that church for one hundred crowns, stipulating that he should represent in it the Adoration of the Magi. Whereupon Lappoli, hearing that Rosso, having also fled from Rome, was at Borgo a San Sepolcro, and was there executing an altar-piece for the Company of S. Croce, went to visit him; and after showing him many courtesies and causing some things to be brought for him from Arezzo, of which he knew him to stand in need, since he had lost everything in the sack of Rome, he obtained for himself from Rosso a very beautiful design of the above-mentioned altarpiece that he had to paint for Fra Guasparri. And when he had returned to Arezzo he set his hand to the work, and finished it within a year from the day of the commission, according to the agreement, and that so well, that he was very highly praised for it. That design of Rosso's passed afterwards into the hands of Giorgio Vasari, and from him to the very reverend Don Vincenzio Borghini, Director of the Hospital of the Innocenti in Florence, who has it in his book of drawings by various painters.
Not long afterwards, having become surety for Rosso to the amount of three hundred crowns, in the matter of some pictures that the said Rosso was to paint in the Madonna delle Lagrime, Giovanni Antonio found himself in a very evil pass, for Rosso went away without finishing the work, as has been related in his Life, and Lappoli was constrained to restore the money; and if his friends had not helped him, and particularly Giorgio Vasari, who valued at three hundred crowns the part that Rosso had left finished, Giovanni Antonio would have been little less than ruined in his effort to do honor and benefit to his native city. These difficulties over, Lappoli painted an altarpiece in oils containing the Madonna, S. Bartholomew, and S. Matthew at the commission of Abbot Camaiani of Bibbiena, for a chapel in the lower church at S. Maria del Sasso, a seat of the Preaching Friars in the Casentino; and he acquitted himself very well, counterfeiting the manner of Rosso. And this was the reason that a Confraternity at Bibbiena afterwards caused him to paint on a banner for carrying in processions a nude Christ with the Cross on His shoulder, who is shedding blood into the Chalice, and on the other side an Annunciation, which was one of the best things that he ever did.
In the year 1534, Duke Alessandro de' Medici being expected in Arezzo, the Aretines, with Luigi Guicciardini, the commissary in that city, wishing to honor the Duke, ordained that two comedies should be performed. The charge of arranging one of those festivals was in the hands of a Company of the most noble young men in the city, who called themselves the Umidi; and the preparations and scenery for this comedy, which had for its subject the Intronati of Siena, were made by Niccolo' Soggi, who was much extolled for them, and the comedy was performed very well and with infinite satisfaction to all who saw it. The festive preparations for the other were executed in competition by another Company of young men, likewise noble, who called themselves the Company of the Infiammati. And they, in order to be praised no less than the Umidi, performed a comedy by M. Giovanni Pollastra, a poet of Arezzo, under his management, and entrusted the making of the scenery to Giovanni Antonio, who acquitted himself consummately well; and thus their comedy was performed with great honor to that Company and to the whole city.
Nor must I pass over a lovely notion of that poet's, who was certainly a man of beautiful ingenuity. While the preparations for these and other festivals were in progress, on many occasions the young men of the two Companies, out of rivalry and for various other reasons, had come to blows, and several disputes had arisen; wherefore [Pg 262] Pollastra arranged a surprise (keeping the matter absolutely secret), which was as follows. When all the people, with the gentlemen and their ladies, had assembled in the place where the comedy was to be performed, four of those young men who had come to blows with one another in the city on other occasions, dashing out with naked swords and cloaks wound round their arms, began to shout on the stage and to pretend to kill one another: and the first of them to be seen rushed out with one temple as it were smeared with blood, crying out: "Come forth, traitors!" At which uproar all the people rose to their feet, men began to lay hands on their weapons, and the kinsmen of the young men, who appeared to be giving each other fearful thrusts, ran towards the stage; when he who had come out first, turning towards the other young men, said: "Hold your hands, gentlemen, and sheathe your swords, for I have taken no harm; and although we are at daggers drawn and you believe that the play will not be performed, yet it will take place, and I, wounded as I am, will now begin the Prologue." And so after this jest, by which all the spectators and the actors themselves, only excepting the four mentioned above, were taken in, the comedy was begun and played so well, that afterwards, in the year 1540, when the Lord Duke Cosimo and the Lady Duchess Leonora were in Arezzo, Giovanni Antonio had to prepare the scenery anew on the Piazza del Vescovado and have it performed before their Excellencies. And even as the performers had given satisfaction on the first occasion, so at that time they gave so much satisfaction to the Lord Duke, that they were afterwards invited to Florence to perform at the next Carnival. In these two scenic preparations, then, Lappoli acquitted himself very well, and he was very highly praised.
He then made an ornament after the manner of a triumphal arch, with scenes in the color of bronze, which was placed about the altar of the Madonna delle Chiavi. After a time Giovanni Antonio settled in Arezzo, fully determined, now that he had a wife and children, to go roaming no more, and living on his income and on the offices that the citizens of that city enjoy; and so he continued without working much. Not long, indeed, after these events, he sought to obtain the commissions or two altarpieces that were to be painted in Arezzo, one for the Church and Company of S. Rocco, and the other for the high altar of S. Domenico; but he did not succeed, for the reason that both those pictures were allotted to Giorgio Vasari, whose designs, among the many that were made, gave more satisfaction than any of the others. For the Company of the Ascension in that city Giovanni Antonio painted on a banner for carrying in processions Christ in the act of Resurrection, with many soldiers round the Sepulchre, and His Ascension into Heaven, with the Madonna surrounded by the twelve Apostles, which was all executed very well and with diligence. At Castello della Pieve he painted an altarpiece in oils of the Visitation of Our Lady, with some Saints about her, and in an altarpiece that was painted for the Pieve a San Stefano he depicted the Madonna and other Saints; which two works Lappoli executed much better than the others that he had painted up to that time, because he had been able to see at his leisure many works in relief and casts taken in gesso from the statues of Michelagnolo and from other ancient works, and brought by Giorgio Vasari to his house at Arezzo. The same master painted some pictures of Our Lady, which are dispersed throughout Arezzo and other places, and a Judith who is placing the head of Holofernes in a basket held by her serving-woman, which now belongs to Mons. M. Bernardetto Minerbetti, Bishop of Arezzo, who loved Giovanni Antonio much, as he loves all other men of talent, and received from him, besides other things, a young S. John the Baptist in the desert, almost wholly naked, which is held dear by him, since it is an excellent figure.
Finally, recognizing that perfection in this art consists in nothing else but seeking in good time to become rich in invention and to study the nude continually, and thus to render facile the difficulties of execution, Giovanni Antonio repented that he had not spent in the study of art the time that he had given to his pleasures, perceiving that what can be done easily in youth cannot be done well in old age. But although he was always conscious of his error, yet he did not recognize it fully until, having set himself to study when already an old man, he saw a picture in oils, fourteen braccia long and six braccia and a half high, executed in forty-two days by Giorgio Vasari, who painted it for the Refectory of the Monks of the Abbey of S. Fiore at Arezzo; in which work are painted the Nuptials of Esther and King Ahasuerus, and there are in it more than sixty figures larger than life. Going therefore at times to see Giorgio at work, and staying to discourse with him, Giovanni Antonio said: "Now I see that continual study and work is what lifts men out of laborious effort, and that our art does not come down upon us like the Holy Ghost."
Giovanni Antonio did not work much in fresco, for the reason that the colors changed too much to please him; nevertheless, there may be seen over the Church of Murello a Pieta' with two little naked Angels by his hand, executed passing well. Finally, after having lived like a man of good judgment and one not unpractised in the ways of the world, he fell sick of a most violent fever at the age of sixty, in the year 1552, and died.
A disciple of Giovanni Antonio was Bartolommeo Torri, the scion of a not ignoble family in Arezzo, who, making his way to Rome, and placing himself under Don Giulio Clovio, a most excellent miniaturist, devoted himself in so thorough a manner to design and to the study of the nude, but most of all to anatomy, that he became an able master, and was held to be the best draughtsman in Rome. And it is not long since Don Silvano Razzi related to me that Don Giulio Clovio had told him in Rome, after having praised this young man highly, the very thing that he has often declared to me--namely, that he had turned him out of his house for no other reason but his filthy anatomy, for he kept so many limbs and pieces of men under his bed and all over his rooms, that they poisoned the whole house. Besides this, by neglecting himself and thinking that living like an unwashed philosopher, accepting no rule of life, and avoiding the society of other men, was the way to become great and immortal, he ruined himself completely; for nature will not tolerate the unreasonable outrages that some men at times do to her. Having therefore fallen ill at the age of twenty-five, Bartolommeo returned to Arezzo, in order to regain his health and to seek to build himself up again; but he did not succeed, for he continued his usual studies and the same irregularities, and in four months, a little after the death of Giovanni Antonio, he died and went to join him.
The loss of this young man was an infinite grief to the whole city, for if he had lived, to judge from the great promise of his works, he was like to do extraordinary honour to his native place and to all Tuscany; and whoever sees any of the drawings that he made when still a mere lad, stands marvelling at them and full of compassion for his untimely death.