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LIFE OF BENVENUTO GAROFALO

Part 1 of:

LIVES OF BENVENUTO GAROFALO AND GIROLAMO DA CARPI PAINTERS OF FERRARA, AND OF OTHER LOMBARDS


Vasari's Lives of the Artists




IN THIS PART OF THE LIVES that we are about to write we shall give a brief account of the best and most eminent painters, sculptors, and architects who have lived in Lombardy in our time, after Mantegna, Costa, Boccaccino of Cremona, and Francia of Bologna ; for I am not able to write the life of each in detail, and it seems to me enough to enumerate their works. And even this I would not have set myself to do, nor to give a judgment on those works, if I had not first seen them; but since, from the year 1542 down to this present year of 1566, I had not travelled, as I did before, over almost the whole of Italy, nor seen the above-mentioned works and the others that had appeared in great numbers during that period of four-and-twenty years, I resolved, before writing of them, being almost at the end of this my labor, to see them and judge of them with my own eyes. Wherefore, after the conclusion of the above-mentioned nuptials of the most illustrious Lord Don Francesco de' Medici, Prince of Florence and Siena, my master, and of her serene Highness Queen Joanna of Austria, on account of which I had been much occupied for two years on the ceiling of the principal hall of their Palace, I resolved, without sparing any expense or fatigue, to revisit Rome, Tuscany, part of the March, Umbria, Romagna, Lombardy, and Venice with all her domain, in order to re-examine the old works and to see the many that have been executed from the year 1542 onward. And so, having made a record of the works that were most notable and most worthy to be put down in writing, in order not to do wrong to the talents of many craftsmen or depart from that sincere truthfulness which is expected from those who write history of any kind, I shall proceed without bias of mind to write down all that is wanting in any part of what has been already written, without disturbing the order of the story, and then to give an account of the works of some who are still living, and have worked or are still working excellently well; for it appears to me that so much is demanded by the merits of many rare and noble craftsmen.

Let me begin, then, with the men of Ferrara. Benvenuto Garofalo was born at Ferrara in the year 1481, to Piero Tisi, whose elders had their origin in Padua. He was born, I say, so inclined to painting, that, when still but a little boy, while going to school to learn reading, he would do nothing but draw; from which exercise his father, who looked on painting as a folly, sought to divert him, but was never able. Wherefore that father, having seen that he must second the inclination of that son of his, who would never do anything day and night but draw, finally placed him with Domenico Panetti, a painter of some repute at that time, although his manner was dry and laboured, in Ferrara. With that Domenico Benvenuto had been some little time, when, going once to Cremona, he happened to see in the principal chapel of the Duomo in that city, among other works by the hand of Boccaccio Boccaccino, a painter of Cremona, who had painted the tribune there in fresco, a Christ seated on a throne surrounded by four Saints, and giving the Benediction. Whereupon, that work having pleased him, he placed himself by means of some friends under Boccaccino, who was at that time executing in the same church, likewise in fresco, some stories of the Madonna, as has been said in his Life, in competition with the painter Altobello, who was painting in the same church, opposite to Boccaccino, some stories of Jesus Christ, which are very beautiful and truly worthy to be praised.

Now, after Benvenuto had been two years in Cremona, and had made much progress under the discipline of Boccaccino, he went off in the year 1500, at the age of nineteen, to Rome, where, having placed himself with Giovanni Baldini, a Florentine painter of passing good skill, who possessed many very beautiful drawings by various excellent masters, he was constantly practising his hand on those drawings whenever he had time, and particularly at night. Then, after he had been fifteen months with that master and had seen to his great delight the works of Rome, he travelled for a time over various parts of Italy, and finally made his way to Mantua. There he stayed two years with the painter Lorenzo Costa, serving him with such lovingness, that Lorenzo, after that period of two years, in order to reward him, placed him in the service of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, for whom Costa himself was working. But Benvenuto had not been long with the Marquis, when, his father Piero falling ill in Ferrara, he was forced to return to that city, where he stayed afterwards for four years together, executing many works by himself alone, and some in company with the Dossi.

Then, in the year 1505, being sent for by Messer Geronimo Sagrato, a gentleman of Ferrara, who was living in Rome, Benvenuto returned there with the greatest willingness, and particularly from a desire to see the miracles that were being related of Raffaello da Urbino and of the Chapel of Julius painted by Buonarroti. But when Benvenuto had arrived in Rome, he was struck with amazement, and almost with despair, by seeing the grace and vivacity that the pictures of Raffaello revealed, and the depth in the design of Michelagnolo. Wherefore he cursed the manners of Lombardy, and that which he had learned with so much study and effort at Mantua, and right willingly, if he had been able, would he have purged himself of all that knowledge; but he resolved, since there was no help for it, that he would unlearn it all, and, after the loss of so many years, change from a master into a disciple. And so he began to draw from such works as were the best and the most difficult, and to study with all possible diligence those greatly celebrated manners, and gave his attention to scarcely any other thing for a period of two whole years ; by reason of which he so changed his method, transforming his bad manner into a good one, that notice was taken of him by the craftsmen. And, what was more, he so went to work with humility and every kind of loving service, that he became the friend of Raffaello da Urbino, who, being very courteous and not ungrateful, taught Benvenuto many things, and always assisted and favoured him.

If Benvenuto had pursued his studies in Rome, without a doubt he would have done things worthy of his beautiful genius; but he was constrained, I know not by what cause, to return to his own country. In taking leave of Raffaello, he promised that he would, as that master advised him, return to Rome, where Raffaello assured him that he would give him more than enough in the way of work, and that in honourable undertakings. Having then arrived in Ferrara, Benvenuto settled the affairs and despatched the business that had caused him to return; and he was preparing himself to make his way back to Rome, when the Lord Duke Alfonso of Ferrara set him to decorate a little chapel in the Castle, in company with other Ferrarese painters. That work finished, his departure was again delayed by the great courtesy of M. Antonio Costabili, a Ferrarese gentleman of much authority, who gave him an altar-piece to paint in oils for the high-altar of the Church of S. Andrea; which finished, he was forced to execute another for S. Bartolo, a convent of Cistercian Monks, wherein he painted the Adoration of the Magi, which was beautiful and much extolled. He then painted another for the Duomo, full of figures many and various, and two others that were placed in the Church of S. Spirito, in one of which is the Virgin in the air with the Child in her arms, and some other figures below, and in the other the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

In executing those works, remembering at times how he had turned his back on Rome, he felt the bitterest regret; and he had resolved at all costs to return thither, when, his father Piero's death taking place, all his plans were broken off; for, finding himself burdened with a sister ready for a husband and a brother fourteen years of age, and his affairs in disorder, he was forced to compose his mind and resign himself to live in his native place. And so, after parting company with the Dossi, who had worked with him up to that time, he painted by himself in the Church of S. Francesco, in a little chapel, the Raising of Lazarus, a work filled with a variety of good figures, and pleasant in colouring, with attitudes spirited and vivacious, which brought him much commendation. In another chapel in the same church he painted the Massacre of the Innocents, cruelly done to death by Herod, so well and with such spirited movements in the soldiers and other figures, that it was a marvel. Very well depicted, in addition, are different expressions in the great variety of heads, such as terror in the mothers and nurses, death in the infants, and cruelty in the slayers, and many other things, which gave infinite satisfaction. It is worthy of remark that in executing that work Benvenuto did a thing that up to that time had never been done in Lombardy namely, he made models of clay, the better to see the shadows and lights, and availed himself of a figure-model made of wood, jointed in such a way that the limbs moved in every direction, which he arranged as he wished, in various attitudes, with draperies over it. But what is most important is that he copied every least detail from life and nature, as one who knew that the true way is to observe and imitate the reality. For the same church he executed the altarpiece of a chapel; and on a wall he painted in fresco Christ taken by the multitude in the Garden.

For S. Domenico, in the same city, he painted two altarpieces in oils; in one is the Miracle of the Cross and S. Helen, and in the other is S. Peter Martyr with a good number of very beautiful figures, wherein it is evident that Benvenuto departed considerably from his first manner, making it bolder and less laboured. For the Nuns of S. Salvestro he painted an altar picture of Christ praying to His Father on the Mount, while the three Apostles are lower down, sleeping. For the Nuns of S. Gabriello he executed an Annunciation, and for those of S. Antonio, in the altarpiece of their high altar, the Resurrection of Christ. For the high altar of the Frati Ingesuati, in the Church of S. Girolamo, he painted Jesus Christ in the Manger, with a choir of Angels on a cloud, held to be very beautiful. In S. Maria del Vado, in an altarpiece by the same hand, very well conceived and colored, is Christ ascending into Heaven, with the Apostles standing in contemplation of Him. For the Church of S. Giorgio, a seat of the Monks of Monte Oliveto, without the city, he painted an altarpiece in oils of the Magi adoring Christ and offering to Him myrrh, incense, and gold; and this is one of the best works that Benvenuto ever executed in all his life.

All these works much pleased the people of Ferrara, by reason of which he executed pictures almost without number for their houses, and many others for monasteries and for the townships and villas round about the city; and, among others, he painted the Resurrection of Christ in an altarpiece for Bondeno. And, finally, he executed in fresco with beautiful and fantastic invention, in the Refectory of S. Andrea, many figures that are bringing the Old Testament into accord with the New. But, since the works of this master are numberless, let it be enough to have spoken of those that are the best.

Girolamo da Carpi having received his first instructions in painting from Benvenuto, as will be related in his Life, they painted in company the facade of the house of the Muzzarelli, in the Borgo Nuovo, partly in chiaroscuro and partly in colors, with some things done in imitation of bronze. They painted together, likewise, both within and without, the Palace of Coppara, a place of recreation belonging to the Duke of Ferrara; for which lord Benvenuto executed many other works, both by himself and in company with other painters.

Then, having lived a long time in the determination that he would not take a wife, in the end, after separating from his brother and growing weary of living alone, at the age of forty-eight he took one; but he had scarcely had her a year, when, falling grievously ill, he lost the sight of his right eye, and was in fear and peril of the other. However, having recommended himself to God and made a vow that he would always dress in grey, as he afterwards did, by the grace of God he preserved the sight of the other eye, insomuch that the works executed by him at the age of sixty-five were so well done, and with such diligence and finish, that it was a marvel. Wherefore on one occasion, when the Duke of Ferrara showed to Pope Paul III a Triumph of Bacchus in oils, five braccia in length, and the Calumny of Apelles, painted by Benvenuto at that age after the designs of Raffaello da Urbino, which pictures are now over certain chimney-pieces belonging to his Excellency, that Pontiff was struck with astonishment that an old man of such an age, with only one eye, should have executed works so large and so beautiful.

On every feast-day for twenty whole years Benvenuto worked for the love of God in the Convent of the Nuns of S. Bernardino, where he executed many works of importance in oils, in distemper, and in fresco; which was certainly a marvellous thing, and a great proof of his true and good nature, for in that place he had no competition, and nevertheless put no less study and diligence into his labour than he would have done at any other more frequented place. Those works are passing good in composition, with beautiful expressions in the heads, not confused, and executed in a truly sweet and good manner.

For all the disciples that Benvenuto had, although he taught them everything that he knew with no ordinary willingness, in order to make some of them excellent masters, he never had any success with a single one of them, and, in place of being rewarded by them for his lovingness at least with gratitude of heart, he never received anything from them save vexations; wherefore he used to say that he had never had any enemies but his own disciples and assistants. In the year 1550, being now old, and the malady returning to his eye, he became wholly blind, and he lived thus for nine years; which misfortune he bore with a patient mind, resigning himself completely to the will of God. Finally, when he had come to the age of seventy-eight, thinking at last that he had lived too long in that darkness, and rejoicing in death, in the hope of going to enjoy eternal light, he finished the course of his life on the 6th of September in the year 1559, leaving a son called Girolamo, who is a very gentle person, and a daughter.

Benvenuto was a very honest creature, fond of a jest, pleasant in his conversation, patient and calm in all his adversities. As a young man he delighted in fencing and playing the lute, and in his friendships he was loving beyond measure and prodigal with his services. He was the friend of the painter Giorgione da Castelfranco, Tiziano da Cadore, and Giulio Romano, and most affectionate towards all the men of art in general; and to this I can bear witness, for on the two occasions when I was at Ferrara in his time I received from him innumerable favors and courtesies. He was buried with honor in the Church of S. Maria del Vado, and was celebrated in verse and prose by many choice spirits no less than his talents deserved. But it has not been possible to obtain Benvenuto's portrait, and therefore there has been placed at the head of these Lives of the Lombard painters that of Girolamo da Carpi, whose Life we are now about to write.



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