Portrait of Dante. Intarsia. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
NO SMALL ERROR do those fathers of families make who do not allow the minds of their children to run the natural course of their childhood, and do not suffer them to follow the calling that is most in accordance with their taste; for to try to turn them to something for which they have no inclination is manifestly to prevent them from ever being excellent in anything, because we almost always find that those who labor at something that they do not like make little progress in any occupation whatsoever. On the other hand, those who follow the instinct of nature generally become excellent and famous in the arts that they pursue; as was seen clearly in Giuliano da Maiano.
The father of this man, after living a long time on the hill of Fiesole, in the part called Maiano, working at the trade of stone-cutter, finally betook himself to Florence, where he opened a shop for the sale of dressed stone, keeping it furnished with the sort of work that is apt very often to be called for without warning by those who are erecting some building. Living in Florence, then, there was born to him a son, Giuliano, whom his father, growing convinced in the course of time that he had a good intelligence, proposed to make into a notary, for it appeared to him that his own occupation of stonecutting eas too laborious and too unprofitable an exercise. But this did not come to pass, because, although Giuliano went to a grammar school for a little, his thoughts were never there, and in consequence he made no progress; nay, he played truant very often, and showed that he had his mind wholly set on sculpture, although at first he applied himself to the calling of joiner and also gave attention to drawing.
It is said that in company with Giusto and Minore, masters of intarsia, he wrought the seats of the Sacristy of the Nunziata, and likewise those of the choir that is beside the chapel, and many things in the Badia of Florence and in San Marco; and that, having acquired a name through these works, he was summond to Pisa, in the Duomo of which he wrought the seat that is beside the high-altar, in which the priest, the deacon, and the sub-deacon sit when Mass is being sung; making intarsia on the back of this seat, with tinted and shaded woods, the three prophets that are seen therein. In this work he availed himself of Guido del Servellino and Maestro Domenico di Mariotto, joiners of Pisa, to whom he taught the art so well that they afterwards wrought the greater part of that choir both with carvings and with intarsia work; which choir has been finished in our own day, with a manner no little better, by Batista del Cervelliera of Pisa, a man truly ingenious and fanciful.
But to return to Giuliano; he made the presses of the Sacristy of Santa Maria del Fiore, which were held at that time to be admirable examples of intarsia and inlaid work. Now, while Giuliano thus continued to devote himself to intarsia, to sculpture, and to architecture, Filippo di Ser Brunellesco died; whereupon, being chosen by the Wardens of Works to succeed him, he made the borders, incrusted with black and white marble, which are round the circular windows below the vault of the cupola; and at the corners he placed the marble pilasters on which Baccio d'Agnolo afterwards laid the architrave, frieze, and cornice, as will be told below. It is true that, as it appears from some designs by his hand that are in our book, he wished to make another arrangement of frieze, cornice, and gallery, with pediments on each of the eight sides of the cupola; but he had not time to put this into execution, for, being carried away by an excess of work from one day to another, he died.
Before this happened, however, he went to Naples and designed the architecture of the magnificent Palace at Poggio Reale for King Alfonso, with the beautiful fountains and conduits that are in the courtyard. In the city, likewise, he made designs for many fountains, some for the houses of noblemen and some for public squares, with beautiful and fanciful inventions; and he had the said Palace of Poggio Reale all wrought with paintings by Piero del Donzello and his brother Polito. Working in sculpture likewise, for the said King Alfonso, then Duke of Calabria, he wrought scenes in low relief over a door (both within and without) in the great hall of the Castel of Naples; and he made a marble gate for the castel after the Corinthian Order, with an infinite number of figures, giving to that work the form of a triumphal arch, on which stories fromthe life of that King and some of his victories are carved in marble. Giuliano also wrought the decorations of the Porta Capovana, making therein many varied and beautiful trophies; wherefore he well deserved that great love should be felt for him by that King, who, rewarding him liberally for his labours, enriched his descendants.
Giuliano had taught to his nephew Benedetto the arts of intarsia and architecture, and something about working in marble; and Benedetto was living in Florence, devoting himself to working in intarsia, because this brought him greater gains than the other arts did. Now Giuliano was summoned to Rome by Messer Antonio Rosello of Arezo, Secretary to Pope Paul II, to enter the service of that Pontiff. Having gone thither, he designed the loggie of travertine in the first court of the Palace of San Pietro, with three ranges of columns, of which the first is on the lowest floor, where there are now the Signet Office and other offices; the second is above this, where the Datary and other prelates live; and the third and last is where those rooms are that look out on the court of San Pietro, which he adorned with gilded ceilings and other ornatments. From his design, likewise, were made the marble loggie from which the Pope gives his benediction--a very great work, as may still be seen today. But the most stupendous and marvellous work that he made was the palace that he built for that Pope, together with the Church of San Marco in Rome, for which there was used an infinite quantity of travertine blocks, said to have been excavated from certain vineyards near the Arch of Constantine, where they served as buttresses for the foundations of that part of the Colosseum which is now in ruins, perchance because of the weakening of that edifice.
Giuliano was sent by the same Pontiff to the Madonna of Loreto, where he rebuilt the foundations and greatly enlarged the body of the church, which had formerly been small and built over piers in rustic work. He did not go higher than the stringcourse that was there already; but he summond his nephew Benedetto to that place, and he, as will be told, afterwards raised the cupola. Being then forced to return to Naples in order to finish the works that he had begun, Giuliano received a commission from King Alfonso for a gate near the castle, which was to include more than eighty figures, which Benedeto had to execute in Florence; but the whole remained unfinished by reason of the death of that King. There are still some relics of these figures in the Misericordia in Florence, and there were others in our own day in the Canto alle Macine; but I do not know where these are now to be found. Before the death of the King, however, Giuliano died in Naples at the age of seventy, and was greatly honored with rich obsequies; for the King had fifty men clothed in mourning, who accompanied Giuliano to the grave, and then he gave orders that a marble tomb should be made for him.
The continuation of his work was left to Polito, who completed the conduits for the waters of Poggio Reale. Benedetto, devoting himself afterwards to sculpture, surpassed his uncle Giuliano in excellence, as will be told; and in his youth he was the rival of a sculptor named Modanino da Modena, who worked in terracotta, and who wrought for the said Alfonso a Pieta' with an infinite number of figures in the round, made of terracotta and colored, which were executed with very great vivacity, and were placed by the King in the Church of Monte Oliveto, a very highly honored monastery in the city of Naples. In this work the said King is portrayed on his knees, and he appears truly more than alive; wherefore Modanino was remunerated by him with very great rewards. But when the King died, as it has been said, Polito and Benedetto returned to Florence, where, no long time after, Polito followed Giuliano into eternity. The sculptures and pictures of these men date about the year of our salvation 1447.