Vasari's Lives of the Artist

TRULY GREAT is the pleasure of those who find one of their ancestors and of their own family to have been distinguished and famous in some profession, whether that of arms, or of letters, or of painting, or any other noble calling whatsoever; and those men who find some honorable mention of one of their forefathers in history, if they gain nothing else thereby, have an incitement to virtue and a bridle to restrain them from doing anything unworthy of a family which has produced illustrious and very famous men. How great is this pleasure, as I said at the beginning, I have experienced for myself in finding that one among my ancestors, Lazzaro Vasari, was famous as a painter in his day not only in his native place, but throughout all Tuscany; and that certainly not without reason, as I could clearly prove, if it were permissible for me to speak as freely of him as I have spoken of others. But, since I was born of his blood, it might be readily believed that I had exceeded all due bounds in praising him ; wherefore, leaving on one side the merits of the man himself and of the family, I will simply tell what I cannot and should not under any circumstances withhold, if I would not fall short of the truth, on which all history hangs.

Lazzaro Vasari, then, a painter of Arezzo, was very much the friend of Piero della Francesca of Borgo a San Sepolcro, and ever held acquiantance with him while Piero was working, as it has been said, in Arezzo. And, as it often comes to pass, this friendship brought him nothing but advantage, for the reason that, whereas Lazzaro had formerly devoted himself only to making little figures for certain works according to the custom of those times, he was persuaded by Piero della Francesca to set himself to do bigger things. His first work in fresco was a S. Vincent in S. Domenico at Arezzo, in the second chapel on the left as one enters the church ; and at his feet he painted himself and his young son Giorgio kneeling, clothed in honourable costumes of those times, and recom mending themselves to the Saint, because the boy had inadvertently cut his face with a knife. Although there is no inscription on this work, yet certain memories of old men belonging to our house, and the fact that it contains the Vasari arms, enable us to attribute it to him without a doubt. Of this there must certainly have been some record in that convent, but their papers and everything else have been destroyed many times by soldiers, and I do not marvel at the lack of records. The manner of Lazzaro was so similar to that of Piero Borghese, that very little difference could be seen between one and the other. Now it was very much the custom at that time to paint various things, such as the quarterings of arms, on the caparisons of horses, according to the rank of those who bore them ; and in this work Lazzaro was an excellent master, and the rather as it was his province to make very graceful little figures, which were very well suited to such caparisons. Lazzaro wrought for Niccolo Piccino and for his soldiers and captains many things full of stories and arms, which were held in great price, with so much profit for himself, that the gains that he drew from this work enabled him to recall to Arezzo many of his brothers, who were living at Cortona and working at the manufacture of earthenware vases. He also brought into his house his nephew, Luca Signorelli of Cortona, his sister's son, whom he placed, by reason of his good intelligence, with Piero Borghese, to the end that he might learn the art of painting; which he contrived to do very well, as will be told in the proper place.

Lazzaro, then, devoting himself continually to the study of art, became every day more excellent, as is shown by some very good drawings by his hand that are in our book. And because he took much pleasure in depicting certain natural effects full of emotions, in which he expressed very well weeping, laughing, crying, fear, trembling, and the like, his pictures are mostly full of such inventions; as may be seen in a little chapel painted in fresco by his hand in San Gimignano at Arezzo, where there is a Crucifix, with the Madonna, St. John, and the Magdalene at the foot of the Cross, in various attitudes, and weeping so naturally, that they acquired credit and fame for him among his fellow-citizens. For the Company of San Antonio, in the same city, he painted a cloth banner that is borne in processions, on which he wrought Jesus Christ at the Column, naked and bound and so lifelike, that He appears to be trembling, and, with His shoulders all drawn together, to be enduring with incredible humility and patience the blows that two Jews are giving Him. One of these, firmly planted on his feet, is plying his scourge with both his hands, turning his back towards Christ in an attitude full of cruelty. The other is seen in profile, raising himself on tip-toe; and grasping the scourge with his hands, and gnashing his teeth, he is wielding it with so great rage that words are powerless to express it. Both these men Lazzaro painted with their garments torn, the better to reveal the nude, contenting himself with covering after a fashion their private and less honorable parts. This work painted on cloth has lasted all these years--which truly makes me marvel--right up to our own day; and by reason of its beauty and excellence the men of that Company caused a copy to be made of it by the French Prior, as we will relate in the proper place.

At Perugia, also, Lazzaro wrought some stories of the Madonna, with a Crucifix, in a chapel beside the Sacristy of the Church of the Servi. In the Pieve of Montepulciano he executed a predella with little figures, and at Castiglione Aretino he painted a panel in distemper in S. Francesco; together with many other works, which, for the sake of brevity, I refrain from describing, more particularly many chests that are in the houses of citizens, which he painted with little figures. In the Palace of the Guelphs in Florence, among the ancient arms, there may be seen some caparisons wrought very well by him. He also painted a banner for the Company of San Sebastiano; containing the said Saint at the column, with certain angels crowning him ; but it is now spoilt and all eaten away by time.

In Lazzaro's time there was one who made glass windows in Arezzo, Fabiano Sassoli, a young Aretine of great excellence in that profession, as is proved by those of his works that are in the Vescovado, the Abbey, the Pieve, and other places in that city; but he knew little of design, and he was very far from reaching the excellence of those that Parri Spinelli made. Wherefore he determined that, even as he knew well how to fire, to put together, and to mount the glass, so he would make some work that should also be passing good with regard to the painting; and he caused Lazzaro to execute for him two cartoons of his own invention, in order to make two windows for the Madonna delle Grazie. Having obtained these from Lazzaro, who was his friend and a courteous craftsman, he made the said windows, which turned out so beautiful and so well wrought that there are not many to which they have to give precedence. In one there is a very beautiful Madonna ; and in the other, which is by far the better of the two, there is the Resurrection of Christ, with an armed man in foreshortening in front of the Sepulchre; and it is a marvel, considering the small size of the window and consequently of the picture, how those figures can appear so large in so small a space. Many other things could I tell of Lazzaro, who was a very good draughtsman, as may be seen from certain drawings in our book; but I think it best for me to pass them by.

Lazzaro was a pleasant person and very witty in his speech; and although he was much given to pleasure, nevertheless he never strayed from the path of right living. His life lasted seventy-two years, and he left a son called Giorgio, who occupied himself continually with the ancient Aretine vases of terracotta; and at the time when Messer Gentile of Urbino, Bishop of Arezzo, was dwelling in that city, Giorgio rediscovered the method of giving red and black colors to terracotta vases, such as those that the ancient Aretines made up to the time of King Porsena. Being a most industrious person, he made large vases with the potter's wheel, one braccio and a half in height, which are still to be seen in his house. Men say that while searching for vases in a place where he thought that the ancients had worked, he found three arches of their ancient furnaces three braccia below the surface in a field of clay near the bridge at Calciarella, a place called by that name ; and round these he found some of the mixture for making the vases, and many broken ones, with four that were whole. These last were given by Giorgio, through the mediation of the Bishop, to the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici on his visiting Arezzo; wherefore they were the source and origin of his entering into the service of that most exalted family, in which he remained ever afterwards. Giorgio worked very well in relief, as may be seen from some heads by his hand that are in his house. He had live sons, who all followed the same calling ; two of them, Lazzaro and Bernardo, were good craftsmen, of whom the latter died very young in Rome ; and in truth, by reason of his intelligence, which is known to have been dexterous and ready, if death had not snatched him so prematurely from his house, he would have brought honour to his native place.

The elder Lazzaro died in 1452, and his son, Giorgio, died in 1484 at the age of sixty-eight ; and both were buried in the Pieve of Arezzo at the foot of their own Chapel of San Giorgio, where the following verses were set up after a time in praise of Lazzaro:





Finally, the last Giorgio Vasari, writer of this history, in gratitude for the benefits for which he has to thank in great measure the excellence of his ancestors, having received the principal chapel of the said Pieve as a gift from his fellow citizens and from the Wardens of Works and Canons, as was told in the Life of Pietro Laurati, and having brought it to the condition that has been described, has made a new tomb in the middle of the choir, which is behind the altar; and in this he has laid the bones of the said Lazzaro the elder and Giorgio the elder, having re moved them from their former resting-place, and likewise those of all the other members of the said family, both male and female; and thus he has made a new burial-place for all the descendants of the house of Vasari. In like manner, the body of his mother (who died in Florence in the year 1557), after having remained for some years in S. Croce, has been deposited by him in the said tomb, according to her own desire, together with Antonio, her husband and his father, who died of plague at the end of the year 1527. In the predella that is below the panel of the said altar there are portraits from nature, made by the said Giorgio, of Lazzaro, of the elder Giorgio, his grandfather, of his father Antonio, and of his mother Monna Maddalena de' Tacci. And let this be the end of the Life of Lazzaro Vasari, painter of Arezzo.

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