Madonna and Child. Glass, painted and gilded. 1408. Turin, Museo Civico di Arte Antica.

LORENZO MONACO (1370-1425)

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists

FOR A GOOD and religious person, I believe, there must be great contentment in having ready to his hand some honorable exercise, whether that of letters, or of music, or of painting, of of any other liberal or mechanical arts, such as are not blameworthy, but rather useful and helpful to other men; for the reason that after the divine offices the time passes honorably with the delight that is taken in the sweet labors of these pleasant exercises. And to this it may be added that not only is he esteemed and held in price by others the while that he lives, provided that they be not envious and malign, but that he is also honored after death by all men, by reason of his works and of the good name that he leaves to those who survive him.

And in truth one he who spends his time in this manner, lives in quiet contemplation and without being molested by those ambitious desires which are almost always seen, to their shame and loss, in the idle and unoccupied, who are for the most part ignorant. And even if it comes about that our virtuous man is sometimes smitten by the malign, so powerful is the force of virtue that time covers up and buries the malice of the wicked, and the virtuous man, throughout the ages that follow, remains ever famous and illustrious.

Don Lorenzo, then, a painter of Florence, was a monk of the Order of Camaldoli in the Monastery of the Angeli, which monastery was founded in the year 1294 by Fra Guittone d'Arezzo, of the Militant Order of the Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ, or rather, as the monks of that Order were vulgarly called, of the Joyous Friars; and he applied himself in his earliest years to design and to painting with so great zeal, that he was afterwards deservedly numbered among the best of the age in that exercise.

The first worlds of this painter-monk, who held to the manner of Taddeo Gaddi and his disciples, were in his Monastery of the Angeli, where, among many other things, he painted the panel of the high altar, which is still seen today in their church, and which was completely finished, as it may be seen from letters written below on the ornament, in the year 1413, when it was set in place. On a panel, likewise, which was in the Monastery of San Benedetto, of the same Order of Camaldoli, which was outside the Porta a Pinto and was destroyed in 1529, in the siege of Florence, Don Lorenzo painted a Coronation of Our Lady, even as he had also done in the panel for his own Church of the Angeli; and this panel, painted for San Benedetto, is today in the first cloister of the said Monastery of the Angeli, in the Chapel of the Alberti, on the right hand. About the same time, or perchance before, in Santa Trinita at Florence, he painted in fresco the Chapel of the Ardinghelli, with its panel, which was much praised at the time; and there he made from nature the portraits of Dante and of Petrarca.

In San Piero Maggiore he painted the Chapel of the Fioravanti, and the panel in a chapel in San Piero Scheraggio; and in the said church of Santa Trinita he painted the Chapel of the Bartolini. In San Jacopo Sopra Arno, also, there is seen a panel by his hand, very well wrought and executed with infinite diligence according to the manner of those times. In the Certosa without Florence, likewise, he painted some pictures with good mastery; and in San Michele in Pisa, a monastery of his Order, he painted some panels that are passing good. And in Florence, in the Church of the Romiti [Church of the Hermits] (also belonging to the Order of the Camaldoli), which, being in ruins together with the monastery, has to-day left no memory but the name to that quarter on the other side of the Arno, which is called Camaldoli from the name of that holy place, among other works, he painted a Crucifix on panel, with a St. John, which were held very beautiful. Finally, falling sick of a cruel imposthume, which kept him suffering for many months, he died at the age of fifty-five, and was honorably buried by his fellow-monks, as his virtues deserved, in the chapterhouse of their monastery.

And because it often happens, as experience shows, that from one single germ, with time and by means of the study and intelligence of men, there spring up many, in the said Monastery of the Angeli, where in former times the monks ever applied themselves to painting and to design, not only was the said Don Lorenzo excellent among them, but many men excellent in the matters of design also flourished there for a long space of time, both before and after him. Wherefore it appears to me by no means right to pass over in silence one Don Jacopo, a Florentine, who lived long before the said Don Lorenzo, for the reason that, even as he was a very good and very worthy monk, so was he a better writer of large letters than any who lived either before or after him, not only in Tuscany, but in all Europe, as it is clearly proved not only by the twenty very large volumes of choral books that he left in his monastery, which are the most beautiful, as regards the writing, as well as the largest that there are perchance in Italy, but also by a infinity of others which are to be found in Rome, in Venice, and in many other places, and above all in San Michele and in San Mattia di Murano, a monastery of his Order of Camaldoli; for which works this good father well deserved, many years after he had passed to a better life, not only that Don Paolo Orlandini, a very learned monk of the same monastery, should celebrate him with many Latin verses, but that his right hand, wherewith he wrote the said books, should be preserved with much veneration in a shrine, as it still is, together with that of another monk called Don Silvestro, who, according tot he standard of those times, illuminated the said books no less excellently than Don Jacopo had written them.

And I, who have seen the many times, remain in a marvel that they were executed with so much design and with so much diligence in those times, when the arts of design were little less than lost; for the works of these monks date about the year of our salvation 1350, more or less, as it may be seen in each of the said books. It is said, and some old men still remember it, that when Pope Leo X came to Florence he wished to see the said books and examine them carefully, remembering that he had heard them much praised to Lorenzo de'Medici the Magnificent, his father; and that after he had looked at them with attention and admiration, as they all lay open on the desks of the choir, he said, "If they were according to the Roman Church, and not, as they are, according to the monastic use and ordering of Camaldoli, we would be pleased to take some volumes of them for San Pietro in Rome, giving just recompense to the monks"; in which church there were formerly, and perhaps there still are, two others of them by the hand of the same monks, both very beautiful. In the same Monastery of the Angeli there are many ancient embroideries, wrought with very beautiful manner and with much design by the ancient fathers of that place, while they were living in perpetual enclosure under the name not of monks but of hermits, without ever issuing from the monastery, in such wise as do the sisters and nuns of our own day; which enclosure lasted until the year 1470.

But to return to Don Lorenzo; he taught Francesco Fiorentino, who, after his death, painted the shrine that is on the Canto di Santa Maria Novella, at the head of the Via della Scala, on the way to the Scala del Papa; and he taught another disciple, a Pisan, who painted a Madonna, St. Peter, St. John the Baptist, St. Francis, and St. Ranieri, and three scenes with little figures on the predella of the altar, in the Church of San Francesco at Pisa, in the Chapel of Rutilio di Ser Baccio Maggiolini; and this work, painted in 1315, was held passing good for something wrought in distemper. In my book of drawings I have, by the hand of Don Lorenzo, the Theological Virtues done in chiaroscuro with good design and beautiful and graceful manner, insomuch that they are peradventure better than the drawings of any other master whatsoever of those times. A passing good painter in the time of Don Lorenzo was Antonio Vite of Pistoia, who besides may other works--as it has been said in the Life of Starnina--painted, in the Palace of the Ceppo at Prato, the life of Francesco di Marco, Founder of that holy place.

From De Vere, vol. 2, pp 55-58, 1912

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