Part 13: The Funeral

Vasari's Lives of the Artists

NEXT, in the picture which came td-.ce towards the door that 1ed into the cloister, was Michelagnolo makm on account of the siege o Florence, the fortifications of the hill of on Miniato, which were held to be impregnable and a marvellous work. This was by the hand of Lorenzo Sciorini, a pupil of Bronzino and ayoung man of excellent promise.

This lowest part, or, so to speak, the base of the whole struck re had at every corner a pedestal that projected, aid upon every ped was a statue larger than life, which had beneath itanother, as it were s jugated and vanquished, of similar size, but each c(. ns t rameci m a and extravagant attitude. The first, on the rigtf hand going towards the high-altar, was a young man, slender and the very presentment pure spirit, and of a most lively beauty, represent? 1 ? Genius, wi - little wings over the temples, in the guise wherein a * times Me painted; and beneath this young man, wrought with jncredi was a marvellous figure with asses' ears, represent! 11 ? Ignorance, mortal enemy of Genius. These two statues were^ ^ Vincenzio Danti of Perugia, of whom and of his works, \\f nicn are rel among the young modern sculptors, we shall speak at \g rea ' ter another place. Upon the next pedestal, which, being on the righ '* . n( approach towards the high-altar, looked towards the new i " acns y ,. ~, . ,. .p.. , ,. , , . ^d of religion woman representing Christian Piety, which, being compose b and every other excellence, is nothing less than an aggregate.^ c virtues that we have called the Theological, and of those that ere 01 J/UP genius by the Gentiles the Moral; wherefore it was right that, since " 5 of a Christian, adorned by most saintly character, was being c -f ' by Christians, a seemly and honourable place should be given Piety, which is concerned with the law of God and the salvation : T lacking seeing that all other ornaments of body and mind, where she is are to be held in little estimation, or rather, none. This figure, AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! beneath her, prostrate and trampled under foot by her, Vice, or rather, Impiety, was by the hand of Valerio Cioli, who is a young man of ability and fine spirit, and deserves the name of a very judicious and diligent sculptor. Opposite to this, on the side towards the old sacristy, was another similar figure made with much judgment to represent Minerva, or rather, Art; for the reason that it may be said with truth that after excellence of character and life, which must always hold the first place among the good, it was Art that gave to this man not only honour and profit, but also so much glory, that he may be said to have enjoyed in his lifetime such fruits as able and illustrious men have great difficulty in wresting even after death from the grasp of Fame, by means of their finest works; and, what is more, that he so vanquished envy, that by common consent, without any contradiction, he has obtained the rank and fame of the best and highest excellence. And for this reason this figure had beneath her feet Envy, who was an old woman lean and withered, with the eyes of a viper; in short, with features that all breathed out venom and poison, besides which she was girt with serpents, and had a viper in her hand. These two statues were by the hand of a boy of very tender years, called Lazzaro Calamech of Carrara, who at the present day, although still a mere lad, has given in some works of painting and sculpture convincing proofs of a beautiful and most lively genius. By the hand of Andrea Calamech, the uncle of the above-mentioned Lazzaro, and pupil of Ammanati, were the two statues placed upon the fourth pedestal, which was opposite to the organ and looked towards the principal doors of the church. The first of these was made to represent Study, for the reason that those who exert themselves little and sluggishly can never acquire repute, as Michelagnolo did, who from his early boy- hood, from fifteen to ninety years of age, as has been seen above, never ceased to labour. This statue of Study, which was well in keeping with that great man, was a bold and vigorous youth, who had at the end of the arms, just above the joint of the hands, two little wings signifying rapidity and frequency of working; and he had prostrate beneath him, as a prisoner, Idleness or Indolence, who was a sluggish and weary woman, heavy and somnolent in her whole attitude.

These four figures, disposed in the manner that has been described, made a very handsome and magnificent composition, and had all the appearance of marble, because a coat of white had been laid over the clay, which resulted in a very beautiful effect. From this level, upon which the above-named figures rested, there rose another base, likewise rect- angular and about four braccia high, but smaller in length and breadth than that below by the extent of the projection and cornice-work upon which those figures rested; and on every side this had a painted com- partment six braccia and a half in length and three in height. Above this rose a platform in the same manner as that below, but smaller; and upon every corner, on the projection of a socle, sat a figure of the size of life, or rather more. These were four women, who, from the instruments that they had, were easily recognized as Painting, Sculpture, Archi- tecture, and Poetry; placed there for reasons that have been perceived in the narration of Michelagnolo's Life.

Now, going from the principal door of the church towards the high altar, in the first picture of the second range of the catafalque namely, above the scene in which, as has been related, Lorenzo de' Medici is receiving Michelagnolo into his garden there was painted in a most beautiful manner, to suggest Architecture, Michelagnolo in the presence of Pope Pius IV, with a model in his hand of the stupendous pile of the Cupola of S. Pietro in Rome. This scene, which was much extolled, was painted by Piero Francia, a Florentine painter, with beautiful manner and invention; and the statue, or rather, image of Architecture, which was on the left hand of this scene, was by the hand of Giovanni di Benedetto of Castello, who with so much credit to himself, as has been related, executed also the Tiber, one of the two Rivers that were on the front part of the catafalque. In the second picture, continuing to go forward on the right hand towards the lateral door that leads out of the church, was seen (to suggest Painting) Michelagnolo painting that so much but never sufficiently extolled Judgment: that Judgment, I mean, which is an exemplar in foreshortenings and all the other difficulties of art. This picture, which was executed by Michele di Ridolfo's young men with much diligence and grace, had likewise, on the left hand (namely, at the corner looking towards the new sacristy), its appropriate image, a statue of Painting, wrought by Battista del Cavaliere, a young man no less excellent in sculpture than remarkable for his goodness, modesty, and character. In the third picture, facing towards the high-altar (in that, namely, which was above the epitaph already mentioned), there was to be seen, to suggest Sculpture, Michelagnolo speaking with a woman, who by many signs could be recognized as Sculpture; and it appeared that he was taking counsel with her. Michelagnolo had about him some of the most excellent works that he executed in sculpture; and the woman held a little tablet with these words of Boethius:


Beside that picture, which was the work of Andrea del Minga, and executed by him with beautiful invention and manner, there was on the left hand the statue of Sculpture, wrought very well by the sculptor Antonio di Gino Lorenzi. In the fourth of those four scenes, which faced towards the organ, there could be seen, to suggest Poetry, Michelagnolo all intent on writing some composition, and about him the Nine Muses, marvellous in their grace and beauty and with their distinctive garments, according as they are described by the poets, and before them Apollo with the lyre in his hand, his crown of laurel on his head, and another crown in the hand, which he made as if to place on the head of Michel- agnolo. Near the gladsome and beautiful composition of this scene, painted in a very lovely manner, with most vivacious and spirited atti- tudes, by Giovan Maria Butteri, there was on the left hand the statue of Poetry, the work of Domenico Poggini, a man much practised not only in sculpture and in striking impressions of coins and medals with great beauty, but also in working in bronze and likewise in poetry.

Of such a kind, then, was the ornamentation of the catafalque, which so diminished from course to course that it was possible to walk round each, and it was much after the likeness of the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome ; although perchance, from being rectangular, it rather resembled the Septizonium of Severus, not that near the Campidoglio, which is commonly so called in error, but the true one, which is to be seen in stamp in the " Nuove Rome," near the Baths of Antoninus. Up to this point the catafalque had three levels; where the Rivers lay was the first, the second where the pairs of figures rested, and the third where the single figures had their feet. From this last level rose a base, or rather, socle, one braccio high, and much less in length and breadth than that last level; upon the projections of that base sat the above-named single figures, and around it could be read these words:


Upon this base stood a pyramid nine braccia high, on two sides of which (namely, that which looked towards the principal door, and that which faced towards the high-altar), at the foot, were two ovals with the head of Michelagnolo portrayed from nature in relief and executed very well by Santi Buglioni. At the summit of the pyramid was a ball in due proportion with the pyramid, such as might have contained the ashes of him who was being honoured, and upon the ball was a figure of Fame, larger than life and in the likeness of marble, and in the act, as it were, of taking flight, and at the same time of causing the praises and glory of that great craftsman to resound throughout the world through a trumpet which branched into three mouths. That Fame was by the hand of Zanobi Lastricati, who, besides the labors that he had as proveditor for the whole work, desired also not to fail to show, with much honor to himself, the virtue of his hand and brain. In all, from the level of the ground to the head of the Fame, the height, as has been related, was twenty-eight braccia.

Besides the catafalque described above, the whole church was draped with black baize and serge, hung not on the columns in the centre, as is usual, but on the chapels that are all around; and there was no space between the pilasters that enclose those chapels and correspond to the columns, that had not some adornment in painting, which, making an ingenious, pleasing, and beautiful display, caused marvel and at the same time the greatest delight.

Now, to begin with one end: in the space of the first chapel that is beside the high altar, as you go towards the old sacristy, was a picture six braccia in height and eight in length, in which, with novel and as it were poetical invention, was Michelagnolo in the centre, already come to the Elysian fields, where, on his right hand, were figures considerably larger than life of the most famous and most highly celebrated sculptors and painters of antiquity. Each of these could be recognized by some notable sign; Praxiteles by the Satyr that is in the Vigna of Pope Julius III, Apelles by the portrait of Alexander the Great, Zeuxis by a little panel on which were figured the grapes that deceived the birds, and Parrhasius with the covering counterfeited in painting over his picture; and, even as these, so the others were known by other signs. On the left hand were those who have been illustrious in these arts in our own centuries, from Cimabue to the present day. Thus Giotto could be recognized there by a little panel on which was seen the portrait of Dante as a young man, in the manner in which he may be seen in S. Croce, painted by Giotto himself; Masaccio by his portrait from life, Donatello likewise by his portrait, and also by his Zuccone from the Campanile, which was by his side, and Filippo Brunelleschi by the representation of his Cupola of S. Maria del Fiore; and there were portrayed from life, without other signs, Fra Filippo, Taddeo Gaddi, Paolo Uccello, Fra Giovanni Agnolo, Jacopo da Pontormo, Francesco Salviati, and others. All these were about him with the same expressions of welcome as the ancients, full of love and admiration, in the same manner as Virgil was received by the other poets on his return, according to the fable of the divine poet Dante, from whom, in addition to the invention, there was taken also the verse that could be read in a scroll both above and in the hand of the River Arno, which lay at the feet of Michelagnolo, most beautiful in features and in attitude :


This picture, by the hand of Alessandro Allori, the pupil of Bronzino, an excellent painter and a not unworthy disciple and pupil of so great a master, was consummately extolled by all those who saw it. In the space of the Chapel of the most holy Sacrament, at the head of the transept, there was in a picture, five braccia in length and four in breadth, Michelagnolo with all the school of the arts about him, little children, boys, and young men of every age up to twenty-four, who were offering to him, as to a being sacred and divine, the first fruits of their labors, such as pictures, sculptures, and models; and he was receiving them courteously, and was instructing them in the matters of art, while they were listening most intently and gazing upon him with expressions and attitudes truly full of beauty and grace. And, to tell the truth, the whole composition of this picture could not have been, in a certain sense, better done, nor could anything more beautiful have been desired in any of the figures, wherefore Battista, the pupil of Pontormo, who had done the work, received infinite praise for it; and the verses that were to be read at the foot of the scene, ran thus:


Going, then, from the place where was the picture described above, towards the principal doors of the church, almost at the corner and just before arriving at the organ, in a picture six braccia long and four high that was in the space of a chapel, there was depicted the extraordinary and unexampled favour that was paid to the rare genius of Michelagnolo by Pope Julius III, who, wishing to avail himself in certain buildings of the judgment of that great man, had him summoned to his presence at his villa, where, having invited him to sit by his side, they talked a good time together, while Cardinals, Bishops, and other personages of the Court, whom they had about them, remained constantly standing. This event, I say, was seen to have been depicted with such fine composition and so much relief, and with such liveliness and spirit in the figures, that perchance it might not have turned out better from the hands of an eminent, aged, and well-practised master; wherefore Jacopo Zucchi, a young man, the pupil of Giorgio Vasari, who executed the work in a beautiful manner, proved that a most honourable result could be expected from him. Not far from this, on the same side (namely, a little below the organ), Giovanni Strada, an able Flemish painter, had depicted in a picture six braccia long and four high the story of Michelagnolo's going to Venice at the time of the siege of Florence; where, living in that quarter of that most noble city which is called the Giudecca, the Doge Andrea Gritti and the Signoria sent some gentlemen and others to visit him and make him very great offers. In representing that event the above-named painter showed great judgment and much knowledge, which did him great honour, both in the whole composition and in every part of it, for in the attitudes, the lively expressions of the faces, and the movements of every figure, were seen invention, design, and excellent grace.

Now, returning to the high altar, and facing towards the new sacristy : in the first picture found there, which came in the space of the first chapel, there was depicted by the hand of Santi Titi, a young man of most beautiful judgment and much practised in painting both in Florence and in Rome, another signal favour paid to the genius of Michelagnolo, as I believe I mentioned above, by the most illustrious Lord, Don Francesco de' Medici, Prince of Florence, who, happening to be in Rome about three years before Michelagnolo died, and receiving a visit from him, the moment that Buonarroti entered the Prince rose to his feet, and then, in order to do honour to that great man and to his truly venerable age, with the greatest courtesy that ever young Prince showed, insisted although Michelagnolo, who was very modest, protested against it that he should sit in his own chair, from which he had risen, standing afterwards on his feet to hear him with the attention and reverence that children are wont to pay to a well-beloved father. At the feet of the Prince was a boy, executed with great diligence, who had in his hands a mazzocchio,* or Ducal cap, and around them were some soldiers dressed in ancient fashion, and painted with much spirit and a beautiful manner ; but beyond all the rest, most beautifully wrought, most lifelike and most natural were the Prince and Michelagnolo, insomuch that it appeared as if the old man were in truth speaking, and the young man most intently listening to his words.

In another picture, nine braccia in height and twelve in length, which was opposite to the Chapel of the Sacrament, Bernardo Timante Buontalenti, a painter much beloved and favoured by the most illustrious Prince, had figured with most beautiful invention the Rivers of the three principal parts of the world, come, as it were, all grieving and sorrowful, to lament with Arno on their common loss and to console him ; and these Rivers were the Nile, the Ganges, and the Po. The Nile had as a symbol a crocodile, and, to signify the fertility of his country, a garland of ears of corn; the Ganges, a gryphon-bird and a chaplet of gems; the Po, a swan and a crown of black amber. These Rivers, having been conducted into Tuscany by the Fame, who was to be seen on high, as it were in flight, were standing round Arno, who was crowned with cypress and held his vase, drained empty, uplifted with one hand, and in the other a branch of cypress, and beneath him was a lion. And, to signify that the soul of Michelagnolo had flown to the highest felicity in Heaven, the judicious painter had depicted in the air a Splendor representing the celestial light, towards which the blessed soul, in the form of a little Angel, was winging its way; with this lyric verse:


At the sides, upon two bases, were two figures in the act of holding open a curtain within which, so it appeared, were the above-named Rivers, the soul of Michelagnolo, and the Fame; and each of those two figures had another beneath it. That which was on the right hand of the Rivers, representing Vulcan, had a torch in the hand; and the figure representing Hatred, which had the neck under Vulcan's feet in an atti- tude of great constraint, and as it were struggling to writhe free, had as symbol a vulture, with this verse:


And that because things superhuman, and almost divine, should in no way be regarded with envy or hatred. The other, representing Aglaia, one of the Three Graces and wife of Vulcan, to signify Proportion, had in her hand a lily, both because flowers are dedicated to the Graces, and also because the lily is held to be not inappropriate to the rites of death. The figure which was lying beneath Aglaia, and which was painted to represent Disproportion, had as symbol a monkey, or rather, ape, and above her this verse:


And under the Rivers were these two other verses :


This picture was held to be very beautiful in the invention, in the composition of the whole scene and the loveliness of the figures, and in the beauty of the verses, and because the painter honoured Michelagnolo with this his labour, not by commission, but spontaneously and with such assistance as his own merit enabled him to obtain from his courteous and honourable friends; and for this reason he deserved to be even more highly commended.

In another picture, six braccia in length and four in height, near the lateral door that leads out of the church, Tommaso da San Friano, a young painter of much ability, had painted Michelagnolo as Ambassador of his country at the Court of Pope Julius II; as we have related that he went, and for what reasons, sent by Soderini. Not far distant from the above-named picture (namely, a little below that lateral door which leads out of the church), in another picture of the same size, Stefano Fieri, a pupil of Bronzino and a young man of great diligence and industry, had painted a scene that had in truth happened several times in Rome not long before namely, Michelagnolo seated in a room by the side of the most illustrious Lord Duke Cosimo, who stood conversing with him; of all which enough has been said above.

Over the said black draperies with which, as has been told, the whole church was hung all round, wherever there were no painted scenes or pictures, there were in each of the spaces of the chapels images of death, devices, and other suchlike things, all different from those that are generally made, and very fanciful and beautiful. Some of these, as it were lamenting that they had been forced to deprive the world of such a man, had these words in a scroll :


And near them was a globe of the world, from which had sprung a lily, which had three flowers and was broken in the middle, executed with most beautiful fantasy and invention by the above-named Alessandro Allori. There were other Deaths, also, depicted with other inventions, but that one was most extolled upon whose neck, as she lay prostrate on the ground, Eternity, with a palm in the hand, had planted one of her feet, and, regarding her with a look of disdain, appeared to be saying to her: " Be it necessity or thy will, thou hast done nothing, for in spite of thee, come what may, Michelagnolo shall live." The motto ran thus:


And all this was the invention of Vasari.

I will not omit to say that each of these Deaths had on either side the device of Michelagnolo, which was three crowns, or rather, three circlets, intertwined together in such a manner, that the circumference of one passed through the centre of the two others, and so with each ; which sign Michelagnolo used either to suggest that the three professions of sculpture, painting, and architecture are interwoven one with another and so bound together, that each of them receives benefit and adornment from the others, and they neither can nor should be separated; or, indeed, being a man of lofty genius, he may have had a more subtle meaning. But the Academicians, considering him to have been perfect in all these three professions, and that each of these had assisted and embellished the other, changed his three circlets into three crowns intertwined together, with the motto :


Which was intended to signify that in those three professions the crown of human perfection was justly due to him.

On the pulpit from which Varchi delivered the funeral oration, which was afterwards printed, there was no ornamentation, because, that work having been executed in bronze, with scenes in half-relief and low- relief, by the excellent Donatello, any adornment that might have been added to it would have been by a great measure less beautiful. But on the other, which is opposite to the first, although it had not yet been raised on the columns, there was a picture, four braccia in height and little more than two in width, wherein there was painted with beautiful invention and excellent design, to represent Fame, or rather, Honour, a young man in a most beautiful attitude, with a trumpet in the right hand, and with the feet planted on Time and Death, in order to show that fame and honour, in spite of death and time, preserve alive to all eternity those who have laboured valiantly in this life. This picture was by the hand of Vincenzio Danti, the sculptor of Perugia, of whom we have spoken, and will speak again elsewhere.

The church having been embellished in such a manner, adorned with lights, and filled with a countless multitude, for everyone had left every other care and flocked together to such an honourable spectacle, there entered behind the above-named Lieutenant of the Academy, accom- panied by the Captain and Halberdiers of the Duke's Guard, the Consuls and the Academicians, and, in short, all the painters, sculptors, and architects of Florence. After all these had sat down between the cata- falque and the high-altar, where they had been awaited for a good while by an infinite number of lords and gentlemen, who had been accom- modated with seats according to the rank of each, there was begun a most solemn Mass for the dead, with music and ceremonies of every kind. Which finished, Varchi mounted the above-mentioned pulpit, who had never performed such an office since he did it for the most illustrious Lady Duchess of Ferrara, the daughter of Duke Cosimo; and there, with that elegance, those modes of utterance, and that voice which were the peculiar attributes of that great man in oratory, he recounted the praises and merits, life and works of the divine Michelagnolo Buonarroti.

Of a truth, what great good fortune it was for Michelagnolo that he did not die before our Academy was created, whereby his funeral rites were celebrated with so much honour and such magnificent and honour- able pomp ! So, also, it must be considered most fortunate for him that it happened that he passed from this to an eternal and most blessed life before Varchi, seeing that he could not have been extolled by any more eloquent and learned man. That funeral oration by M. Benedetto Varchi was printed a short time afterwards, as was also, not long after that, another equally beautiful oration, likewise in praise of Michelagnolo and of painting, composed by the most noble and most learned M. Leonardo Salviati, at that time a young man of about twenty-two years of age, and of a rare and happy genius in all manner of compositions, both Latin and Tuscan, as is known even now, and will be better known in the future, to all the world. And what shall I say, what can I say, that would not be too little, of the capacity, goodness, and wisdom of the very reverend Lord Lieutenant, the above-named Don Vincenzio Borghini? Save that it was with him as their chief, their guide, and their counsellor, that the eminent men of the Academy and Company of Design celebrated those obsequies; for the reason that, although each of them was competent to do much more in his art than he did, nevertheless no enterprise is ever carried to a perfect and praiseworthy end save when one single man, in the manner of an experienced pilot and captain, has authority and power over all others. And since it was not possible that the whole city should see that funeral pomp in one day, by order of the Duke it was all left standing many weeks, for the satisfaction of his people and of the foreigners who came from neighboring places to see it.

We shall not give in this place the great multitude of epitaphs and verses, both Latin and Tuscan, composed by many able men in honour of Michelagnolo ; both because' they would require a work to themselves, and because they have been written down and published by other writers elsewhere. But I will not omit to say in this last part, that after all the honours described above the Duke ordained that an honourable place should be given to Michelagnolo for his tomb in S. Croce, in which church he had purposed in his lifetime to be buried, because the sepulchre of his ancestors was there. And to Leonardo, the nephew of Michelagnolo, his Excellency gave all the marbles, both white and variegated, for that tomb, which was allotted to Battista Lorenzi, an able sculptor, to execute after the design of Giorgio Vasari, together with the head of Michelagnolo. And since there are to be three statues there, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, one of these was allotted to the above-named Battista, one to Giovanni dell' Opera, and the last to Valerio Cioli, Florentine sculptors; which statues are in process of being fashioned together with the tomb, and soon they will be seen finished and set in their places. The cost, over and above the marbles received from the Duke, has been borne by the same Leonardo Buonarroti. But his Excellency, in order not to fail in any respect in doing honor to that great man, will cause to be placed in the Duomo, as he has previously thought to do, a memorial with his name, besides the head, even as there are to be seen there the names and images of the other eminent Florentines.

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists

This Web Site Created and Maintained by Adrienne DeAngelis