Madonna and Child, c. 1270. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
AMONG THE OLD PAINTERS who were much alarmed by the praises rightly given by men to Cimabue and to his disciple Giotto, whose good work in painting was making their glory shine throughout all Italy, was one Margaritone, painter of Arezzo, who, with the others who in that unhappy century were holding the highest rank in painting, recognized that their works were little less than wholly obscuring his own fame. Margaritone, then, being held excellent among the other painters of these times who were working after the Greek manner, wrought many panels in distemper at Arezzo, and he painted in fresco in even more pictures, but in a long time and with much fatigue almost the whole Church of S. Clemente, Abbey of the Order of Camaldoli, which is today all in ruins and thrown down, together with many other buildings and a strong fortress called S. Chimenti, for the reason that Duke Cosimo de' Medici, not only on that spot but right round that city, pulled down many buildings and the old walls (which were restored by Guido Pietramalesco, formerly Bishop and Patron of that city); in order to rebuild the latter with connecting wings and bastions, much stronger and smaller than they were, and in consequence more easy to guard and with few men. There were, in the said pictures, many figures both small and great, and although they were wrought after the Greek manner, it was recognized, none the less, that they had been made with good judgment and lovingly; to which witness is borne by works by the same man's hand which have survived in that city, and above all a panel that is now in S. Francesco, in the Chapel of the Conception, with a modern frame, wherein is a Madonna held by these friars in great veneration.
He made in the same church, also after the Greek manner, a great crucifix which is now placed in that chapel where there is the Office of the Wardens of Works; this is wrought on the planking, with the Cross outlined, and of this sort he made many in that city. For the Nuns of S. Margherita he wrought a work that is today set up against the tramezzo of the church namely, a canvas fixed on a panel, wherein are scenes with small figures from the life of Our Lady and of S. John the Baptist, in considerably better manner than the large, and executed with more diligence and grace. This work is notable, not only because the said small figures are so well made that they look like miniatures, but also because it is a marvel to see that a work on canvas has been preserved for three hundred years. He made throughout the whole city an infinity of pictures, and at Sargiano, a convent of the Frati de' Zoccoli, a S. Francis portrayed from nature on a panel, whereon he placed his name, as on a work, in his judgment, wrought better than was his wont. Next, having made a large Crucifix on wood, painted after the Greek manner, he sent it to Florence to Messer Farinata degli Uberti, a most famous citizen, for the reason that he had, among other noble deeds, freed his country from imminent ruin and peril. This Crucifix is today in S. Croce, between the Chapel of the Peruzzi and that of the Giugni. In S. Domenico in Arezzo, a church and convent built by the Lords of Pietramala in the year 1275, as their arms still prove, he wrought many works, and then returned to Rome (where he had already been held very dear by Pope Urban IV), to the end that he might do certain works in fresco at his commission in the portico of S. Pietro; these were in the Greek manner, and passing good for those times.
Next, having made a S . Francis on a panel at Ganghereto, a place above Terra Nuova in Valdarno, his spirit grew exalted and he gave himself to sculpture, and that with so much zeal that he succeeded much better than he had done in painting, because, although his first sculptures were in Greek manner, as four wooden figures show that are in a Deposition from the Cross in the Prieve, and some other figures in the round placed in the Chapel of S. Francesco over the baptismal font, none the less he adopted a better manner after he had seen in Florence the works of Arnolfo and of the other then most famous sculptors. Wherefore, having returned to Arezzo in the year 1275, in the wake of the Court of Pope Gregory, who passed through Florence on his return from Avignon to Rome, there came to him opportunity to make himself more known, for the reason that this Pope died in Arezzo, after having presented thirty thousand crowns to the Commune to the end that there might be finished the building of the Vescovado, formerly begun by Maestro Lapo and little advanced, and the Aretines, besides making the Chapel of S. Gregorio (where Margaritone afterwards made a panel) in the Vescovado, in memory of the said Pontiff, also ordained that a tomb of marble should be made for him by the same man in the said Vescovado. Putting his hand to the work, he brought it to completion, including therein the portrait of the Pope from nature, done both in marble and in painting, in a manner that it was held the best work that he had ever yet made. Next, work being resumed on the building of the Vescovado, Margaritone carried it very far on, following the design of Lapo; but he did not, however, deliver it finished, because a few years later, in the year 1289, the wars between the Florentines and the Aretines were renewed, by the fault of Guglielmino Ubertini, Bishop and Lord of Arezzo, assisted by the Tarlati da Pietramala and by the Pazzi di Valdarno, although evil came to them thereby, for they were routed and slain at Campaldino; and there was spent in that war all the money left by the Pope for the building of the Vescovado. And therefore the Aretines ordained that in place of this there should serve the impost paid by the district (thus do they call a tax), as a particular revenue for that work; which impost has lasted up to our own day, and continues to last.
Now returning to Margaritone: from what is seen in his works, as regards painting, he was the first who considered what a man must do when he works on panels of wood, to the end that they may stay firm in the joinings, and that they may not show fissures and cracks opening out after they have been painted; for he was used to put over the whole surface of the panels a canvas of linen cloth, attached with a strong glue made from shreds of parchment and boiled over a fire and then over the said canvas he spread gesso, as is seen in many panels by him and by others. He wrought, besides, on gesso mingled with the same glue, friezes and diadems in relief and other ornaments in the round; and he was the inventor of the method of applying Armenian bole, and of spreading gold-leaf thereon and burnishing it. All these things, never seen before, are seen in many of his works, and in particular in the Pieve of Arezzo, in an altar front wherein are stories of S. Donatus, and in S. Agnesa and S. Niccolo in the same city.
Finally, he wrought many works in his own country, which went abroad; some of which are at Rome, in S. Giovanni and in S. Pietro, and some at Pisa, in S. Caterina, where, in the tramezzo of the church, there is set up over an altar a panel with S. Catherine on it, and many scenes from her life with little figures, and a S. Francis with many scenes on a panel, on a ground of gold. And in the upper Church of S. Francesco d' Assisi there is a Crucifix by his hand, painted in the Greek manner, on a beam that crosses the church. All which works were in great esteem among the people of that age, although today by us they are not esteemed save as old things, good when art was not, as it is today, at its height. And seeing that Margaritone applied himself also to architecture, although I have not made mention of any buildings made with his design, because they are not of importance, I will yet not forbear to say that he, according to what I find, made the design and model of the Palazzo de' Governatori in the city of Ancona, after the Greek manner, in the year 1270; and what is more, he made in sculpture, on the principal front, eight windows, whereof each one has, in the space in the middle, two columns that support in the middle two arches, over which each window has a scene in half-relief that reaches from the said small arches up to the top of the window; a scene, I say, from the Old Testament, carved in a kind of stone that is found in that district. Under the said windows, on the fagade, there are certain words that are understood rather at discretion than because they are either in good form or rightly written, wherein there is read the date and in whose time this work was made. By the hand of the same man, also, was the design of the Church of S. Ciriaco in Ancona. Margaritone died at the age of seventy-seven, disgusted, so it is said, to have lived so long, seeing the age changed and the honors with the new craftsmen. He was buried in the Duomo Vecchio without Arezzo, in a tomb of travertine, now gone to ruin in the destruction of that church; and there was made for him this epitaph:HIC JACET ILLE BONUS PICTURA MARGARITONUS, CUI REQUIEM DOMINUS TRADAT UBIQUE PIUS.
The portrait of Margaritone, by the hand of Spinello, is in the Story of the Magi, in the said Duomo, and was copied by me before that church was pulled down.