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Drunken Satyr. 1522-1533.

FRA GIOVANNI AGNOLO MONTORSOLI (1506-1563)


Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists


TO ONE MICHELE D' AGNOLO OF POGGIBONSO, in the village of Montorsoli, which is three miles distant from Florence on the road to Bologna, where he had a good farm of some size, there was born a male child, to whom he gave the name of his father, Agnolo. That child, growing up, and having an inclination for design, as could be readily seen, was placed by his father, according to the advice of friends, to learn stone-cutting under some masters who worked at the quarries of Fiesole, almost opposite to Montorsoli. Agnolo continuing to ply the chisel with those masters, in company with Francesco del Tadda, who was then a lad, and with others, not many months had passed before he knew very well how to handle the tools and to execute many kinds of work in that profession. Having then contracted a friendship by means of Francesco del Tadda with Maestro Andrea, a sculptor of Fiesole, the genius of the child so pleased that master, that he conceived an affection for him, and began to teach him; and thus he kept him in his workshop for three years.

After which time, his father Michele being dead, Agnolo went off in company with other young stone-cutters to Rome, where, having been set to work on the building of S. Pietro, he carved some of those rosettes that are in the great cornices which encircle the interior of that temple, with much profit to himself and a good salary. Having then departed from Rome, I know not why, he placed himself in Perugia with a master stone-cutter, who at the end of a year left him in charge of all his works. But, recognizing that to stay at Perugia was not the life for him, and that he was not learning, he went off, when the opportunity to depart presented itself, to work on the tomb of M. Raffaello Maffei, called II Volterrano, at Volterra; and in that work, which was being made in marble, he carved some things which showed that his genius was destined some day to achieve a good result. Which labour finished, hearing that Michelagnolo Buonarroti was setting to work at that time on the buildings of the sacristy and library of S. Lorenzo the best carvers and stone-cutters that could be found, he went off to Florence; where, having been likewise set to work, among the first things that he did were some ornaments from which Michelagnolo recognized that he was a young man of most beautiful and resolute genius, and that, moreover, he could do more in one day by himself alone than the oldest and best practised masters could do in two. Wherefore he caused to be given to him, boy as he was, the same salary as the older men were drawing.

These buildings being then suspended in the year 1527 on account of the plague and for other reasons, Agnolo, not knowing what else to do, went to Poggibonzi, from which place his father and grandfather had their origin; and there he remained for a time with M. Giovanni Norchiati, his uncle, a pious and well-lettered man, doing nothing but draw and study. But in the end, seeing the world turned topsy-turvy, a desire came to him to become a monk, and to give his attention in peace to the salvation of his soul, and he went to the Hermitage of Camaldoli. There, making trial of that life, and not being able to endure the dis- comforts, fastings, and abstinences, he did not stay long; but neverthe- less, during the time that he was there, he became very dear to those Fathers, for he was of an excellent disposition. And during that time his diversion was to carve heads of men and of various animals, with beautiful and fanciful inventions, on the ends of the staves, or rather, sticks, that those holy Fathers carry when they go from Camaldoli to the Hermitage or for recreation into the forest, at which time they have a dispensation from silence. Having departed from the Hermitage with the leave and good-will of the Principal, he went off to La Vernia, as one who was drawn at all costs to become a monk, and stayed there awhile, frequenting the choir and mixing with those Fathers ; but that life, also, did not please him, and, after having received information about the life in many religious houses of Florence and Arezzo, he left La Vernia and went to those places. And finally, not being able to settle in any other in such a manner as to have facilities for attending both to drawing and to the salvation of his soul, he became a friar in the Ingesuati at Florence, without the Porta a Pinti, and was received by them very willingly; for they gave their attention to making windows of glass, and they hoped that he would be of great assistance and advantage to them in that work.

Now those Fathers, according to the custom of their life and rule, do not say Mass, and keep for that purpose a priest to say Mass every morning; and they had at that time as their chaplain a certain Fra Martino of the Servite Order, a person of passing good judgment and character. That Fra Martino, having recognized the young man's genius, reflected that he was little able to exercise it among those Fathers, who do nothing but say Paternosters, make windows of glass, distil waters, and lay out gardens, with other suchlike pursuits, and do not study or give their attention to letters; and he contrived to say and do so much that the young man, going forth from the Ingesuati, assumed the habit among the Servite Friars of the Nunziata in Florence on the seventh day of October in the year 1530, receiving the name of Fra Giovanni Agnolo. In the next year, 1531, having learned in the meanwhile the ceremonies and offices of that Order, and studied the works of Andrea del Sarto that are in that place, he made what they call his profession; and in the year following, to the full satisfaction of those Fathers and the contentment of his relatives, he chanted his first Mass with much pomp and honour. Then, the images in wax of Leo, Clement, and others of that most noble family, which had been placed there as votive offerings, having been destroyed during the expulsion of the Medici by some young men who were rather mad than valorous, the friars determined that these should be made again, and Fra Giovanni Agnolo, with the help of some of those men who gave their attention to the work of fashioning such images, restored some that were old and consumed by time, and made anew those of Pope Leo and Pope Clement, which are still to be seen there, and a short time afterwards those of the King of Bosnia and of the old Lord of Piombino. And in these works Fra Giovanni Agnolo made no little proficience.

Meanwhile, Michelagnolo being in Rome with Pope Clement, who desired that the work of S. Lorenzo should be continued, and had therefore had him summoned, his Holiness asked him to find a young man who might restore some ancient statues in the Belvedere, which were broken. Whereupon Buonarroti, remembering Fra Giovanni Agnolo, proposed him to the Pope, and his Holiness demanded him in a brief from the General of the Servite Order, who gave him up because he could not do otherwise, and very unwillingly. Arriving in Rome, then, the friar, labouring in the rooms of the Belvedere that were given to him by the Pope to live and work in, restored the left arm that was wanting to the Apollo and the right arm of the Laocoon, which statues are in that place, and likewise gave directions for restoring the Hercules. And, since the Pope went almost every morning to the Belvedere for recreation and to say the office, the friar made his portrait in marble, and that so well that the work brought him much praise, and the Pope conceived a very great affection for him, particularly because he saw him to be very studious of the matters of art, and heard that he used to draw all night in order to have new things every morning to show to the Pope, who much delighted in them. During that time, a canonicate having fallen vacant at S. Lorenzo, a church in Florence built and endowed by the House of Medici, Fra Giovanni Agnolo, who by that time had laid aside the friar's habit, obtained it for M. Giovanni Norchiati, his uncle, who was chaplain in the above-named church.

Finally, Pope Clement, having determined that Buonarroti should return to Florence to finish the works of the sacristy and library of S. Lorenzo, gave him orders, since many statues were wanting there, as will be told in the Life of Michelagnolo himself, that he should avail himself of the most able men that could be found, and particularly of Fra Giovanni Agnolo, employing the same methods as had been adopted by Antonio da San Gallo in order to finish the works of the Madonna di Loreto. Having therefore made his way with the Frate to Florence, Michelagnolo, in executing the statues of Duke Lorenzo and Duke Giuliano, employed the Frate much in polishing them and in executing certain difficult undercuttings; with which occasion Fra Giovanni Agnolo learned many things from that truly divine man, standing with attention to watch him at work, and observing every least thing. Now among other statues that were wanting to the completion of that work, there were lacking a S. Cosimo and a S. Damiano that were to be one on either side of the Madonna, and Michelagnolo gave the S. Damiano to Raffaello da Montelupo to execute, and to the Frate the S. Cosimo, commanding the latter that he should work in the same rooms where he himself had worked and was still working.

Having therefore set his hand with the greatest zeal to that work, the Frate made a large model of the figure, which was retouched by Buonarroti in many parts; indeed, Michelagnolo made with his own hand the head and the arms of clay, which are now at Arezzo, held by Vasari among his dearest treasures in memory of that great man. There were not wanting many envious persons who blamed Michelagnolo for his action, saying that in allotting that statue he had shown little judgment, and had made a bad choice; but the result afterwards proved, as will be related, that Michelagnolo had shown excellent judgment, and that the Frate was an able man. When Michelagnolo, with the assistance of Fra Giovanni Agnolo, had finished and placed in position the statues of Duke Giuliano and Duke Lorenzo, being summoned by the Pope, who wished that arrangements should be made for executing in marble the facade of S. Lorenzo, he went to Rome; but he had not made a long stay there, when, Pope Clement dying, everything was left unfinished. At Florence the statue of the Frate, unfinished as it was, together with the other works, was thrown open to view, and was very highly extolled; and in truth, whether it was his own study and diligence, or the assistance of Michelagnolo, it proved in the end to be an excellent figure, and the best that Fra Giovanni Agnolo ever made among all that he executed in the whole of his life, so that it was truly worthy to be placed where it was.

Buonarroti, being freed by the death of the Pope from his engagements at S. Lorenzo, turned his attention to discharging his obligations in connection with the tomb of Pope Julius II; but, since he had need of assistance for this, he sent for the Frate. But Fra Giovanni Agnolo did not go to Rome until he had finished entirely the image of Duke Alessandro for the Nunziata, which he executed in a manner different from the others, and very beautiful, in the form in which that lord may still be seen, clad in armour and kneeling on a Burgundian helmet, and with one hand to his breast, in the act of recommending himself to the Madonna there. That image finished, he then went to Rome, and was of great assistance to Michelagnolo in the work of the above-mentioned tomb of Julius II.

Meanwhile Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici heard that Cardinal de Tournon had to take a sculptor to France to serve the King, and he proposed to him Fra Giovanni Agnolo, who, being much exhorted with good reasons by Michelagnolo, went with that same Cardinal de Tournon to Paris. Arriving there, he was introduced to the King, who received him very willingly, and shortly afterwards assigned to him a good allowance, with the command that he should execute four large statues. Of these the Frate had not yet finished the models, when, the King being far away and occupied in fighting with the English on the borders of his kingdom, he began to be badly treated by the treasurers, not being able to draw his allowances and have whatever he desired, according as had been ordained by the King. At which feeling great disdain for it appeared to him that in proportion as these arts and the men of the arts were esteemed by that magnanimous King, even so they were disprized and put to shame by his Ministers he departed, notwithstanding that the treasurers, who became aware of his displeasure, paid him his overdue allowances down to the last farthing. It is true that before setting out he gave both the King and the Cardinal to know by means of letters that he wished to go away.

Having therefore gone from Paris to Lyons, and from there through Provence to Genoa, he had not been long there when, in company with some friends, he went to Venice, Padua, Verona, and Mantua, seeing with great pleasure buildings, sculptures, and pictures, and at times drawing them; but above all did the pictures of Giulio Romano in Mantua please him, some of which he drew with care. Then, having heard at Ferrara and Bologna that his fellow-friars of the Servite Order were holding a General Chapter at Budrione, he went there in order to see again many who were his friends, and in particular the Florentine Maestro Zaccheria, whom he loved most dearly. At his entreaty Fra Giovanni Agnolo made in a day and a night two figures in clay of the size of life, a Faith and a Charity, which, made in the semblance of white marble, served to adorn a temporary fountain contrived by him with a great vessel of copper, which continued to spout water during the whole day when the Chapter was held, to his great credit and honor.

Having returned with the above-named Maestro Zaccheria from Budrione to Florence, he made in his own Servite Convent, likewise of clay, and placed in two niches of the chapter-house, two figures larger than life, Moses and S. Paul, which brought him much praise. Being then sent to Arezzo by Maestro Dionisio, the General of the Servites at that time, who was afterwards made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III, and who felt himself much indebted to Angelo, the General at Arezzo, who had brought him up and taught him the appreciation of letters, Fra Giovanni Agnolo executed for that General of Arezzo a beautiful tomb of grey sandstone in S. Piero in that city, with many carvings and some statues, and upon a sarcophagus the above-named General Angelo taken from life, and two nude little boys in the round, who are weeping and extinguishing the torches of human life, with other ornaments, which render that work very beautiful. It was not yet completely finished, when, being summoned to Florence by the proveditors for the festive preparations that Duke Alessandro was then causing to be made for the visit to that city of the Emperor Charles V, who was returning victorious from Tunis, the Frate was forced to depart. Having arrived in Florence, he made on the Ponte a S. Trinita, upon a great base, a figure of eight braccia, representing the River Arno lying down, which from its attitude appeared to be rejoicing with the Rhine, the Danube, the Bagradas, and the Ebro, statues executed by others, over the coming of his Majesty; which Arno was a very good and beautiful figure. On the Canto de' Carnesecchi the same master made a figure, twelve braccia high, of Jason, Leader of the Argonauts, but this, being of immoderate size, and the time short, did not prove to have the perfection of the first; nor, indeed, did the figure of August Gladness that he made on the Canto alia Cuculia. But, everyone remembering the shortness of the time in which he executed those works, they won much honor and fame for him both from the craftsmen and from all others.

Having then finished the work at Arezzo, and hearing that Girolamo Genga had a work to execute in marble at Urbino, the Frate went to seek him out; but, not having come to any agreement, he took the road to Rome, and, after staying there but a short time, went on to Naples, in the hope that he might have to make the tomb of Jacopo Sannazzaro, a gentleman of Naples, and a truly distinguished and most rare poet. Sannazzaro had built at Margoglino, a very pleasant place with a most beautiful view at the end of the Chiaia, on the shore, a magnificent and most commodious habitation, which he enj oyed during his lifetime ; and, coming to his death, he left that place, which has the form of a convent, with a beautiful little church, to the Order of Servite Friars, enjoining on Signer Cesare Mormerio and the Lord Count d'Aliffe, the executors of his will, that they should erect his tomb in that church, built by himself, which was to be administered by the above-named friars. When the making of it came to be discussed, Fra Giovanni Agnolo was proposed by the friars to the above-named executors; and to him, after he had gone to Naples, as has been related, that tomb was allotted, for his models had been judged to be no little better than the many others that had been made by various sculptors, the price being a thousand crowns. Of which having received a good portion, he sent to quarry the marbles Francesco del Tadda of Fiesole, an excellent carver, whom he had commissioned to execute all the squared work and carving that had to be done in that undertaking, in order to finish it more quickly.

While the Frate was preparing himself to make that tomb, the Turkish army having entered Puglia and the people of Naples being in no little alarm on that account, orders were given that the city should be fortified, and for that purpose there were appointed four men of importance and of the best judgment. These men, wishing to make use of competent architects, turned their thoughts to the Frate; but he, having heard some rumor of this, and not considering that it was right for a man of religion, such as he was, to occupy himself with affairs of war, gave the executors to understand that he would do the work either in Carrara or in Florence, and that at the appointed time it would be finished and erected in its place. Having then made his way from Naples to Florence, he straightway received a command from the Signora Donna Maria, the mother of Duke Cosimo, that he should finish the S. Cosimo that he had previously begun under the direction of Buonarroti, for the tomb of the elder Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent. Whereupon he set his hand to it, and finished it; and. that done, since the Duke had already caused to be constructed a great part of the conduits for the great fountain of his villa at Castello, and that fountain was to have at the top, as a crowning ornament, a Hercules in the act of crushing Antaeus, from whose mouth there was to issue, in place of breath, a jet of water rising to some height, the Frate was commissioned to make for this a model of considerable size; which pleasing his Excellency, it was ordained that he should execute it and should go to Carrara to quarry the marble.

To Carrara the Frate went very willingly, hoping with that opportunity to carry forward the above-mentioned tomb of Sannazzaro, and in particular a scene with figures in half-relief. While Fra Giovanni Agnolo was there, then, Cardinal Doria wrote from Genoa to Cardinal Cibo, who happened to be at Carrara, saying that, since Bandinelli had not finished the statue of Prince Doria, and would now never finish it, he should contrive to obtain for him some able man, a sculptor, who might do it, for the reason that he had the charge of pressing on that work. Which letter having been received by Cibo, who had long had knowledge of the Frate, he did his utmost to send him to Genoa ; but he steadfastly declared that he could not and would not serve his most reverend Highness until he had fulfilled the promise and obligation by which he was bound to Duke Cosimo.

While these matters were being discussed, he had carried the tomb of Sannazzaro well forward, and had blocked out the marble for the Hercules; and he then went with the latter to Florence. There he brought it with much promptitude and study to such a condition, that it would have been but little toil for him to finish it completely if he had continued to work at it. But a rumour having arisen that the marble was not proving to be by any means as perfect a work as the model, and that the Frate was likely to find difficulty in fitting together the legs of the Hercules, which did not correspond with the torso, Messer Pier Francesco Riccio, the majordomo, who was paying the Frate his allowance, let himself be swayed by that more than a serious man should have done, and began to proceed very cautiously with his payments, trusting too much to Bandinelli, who was leaning with all his weight against Fra Giovanni Agnolo, in order to avenge himself for the wrong which it appeared to him that master had done to him by promising that he would make the statue of Doria when once free of his obligation to the Duke. It was also thought that the favor of Tribolo, who was executing the ornaments of Castello, was no advantage to the Frate. However that may have been, perceiving himself to be badly treated by Riccio, and being a proud and choleric man, he went off to Genoa. There he received from Cardinal Doria and from the Prince the commission for the statue of that Prince, which was to be placed on the Piazza Doria; to which having set his hand, yet without altogether neglecting the tomb of Sannazzaro, while Tadda was executing the squared work and the carvings at Carrara, he finished it to the great satisfaction of the Prince and the people of Genoa. But, although that statue had been made to be placed on the Piazza Doria, nevertheless the Genoese made so much ado, that, to the despair of the Frate, it was placed on the Piazza della Signoria, notwithstanding that he said that he had fashioned it to stand by itself on a pedestal, and that therefore it could not look well or have its proper effect against a wall. And, to tell the truth, nothing worse can be done than to set up a work made for one place in some other place, seeing that the craftsman accommodates himself in the process of his labor, with regard to the lights and view-points, to the position in which his work, whether sculpture or painting, is to be placed. After this the Genoese, seeing the scenes and figures made for the tomb of Sannazzaro, and much liking them, desired that the Frate should execute a S. John the Evangelist for their Cathedral Church; which, when finished, pleased them so much that it filled them with stupefaction.



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