Quattro Santi Coronati. 1408/1413. Orsanmichele, Florence.
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
NANNI D'ANTONIO DI BANCO was not only rich enough by patrimony, but also by no means humble in origin, yet, delighting in sculpture, he was not only not ashamed to learn and practise it, but took no small pride therein, and made so much advance that his fame will ever endure; and it will be all the more celebrated in proportion as men know that he applied himself to this noble art not through necessity, but through a true love of the art itself. This man, who was one of the disciples of Donato [Donatello], although I have place him before his master because he died long before him, was a somewhat sluggish person, but modest, humble, and kindly in his dealings.
There is by his hand, in Florence, the St. Philip of marble which is on a pilaster on the outside of the Oratory of Orsanmichele. This work was at first allotted to Donato by the Guild of Shoemakers, and then, since they could not agree with him about the price, it was transferred, as though in despite of Donato, to Nanni, who promised that he would take whatsoever payment they might give him, and would ask no other.
But the business fell out otherwise, for, when the statue was finished and set in its place, he asked a much greater price for his work than Donato had done at the beginning; wherefore the valuation of it was referred by both parties to Donato, the Consuls of that Guild believing firmly that he, out of envy at not having made it, would value it at much less than if it were his own work; but they were disappointed in their belief,for Donato judged that much more should be paid to Nanni for his state than he had demanded. Being in no way willing to abide by this judgment, the Consuls made an outcry and said to Donato: "Why dost thou, after undertaking to make this work at a smaller price, value it higher when made by the hand of another, and constrain us to give him more for it than he himself demands? For thou knowest, even as we do also, that from thy hands it would have come out much better." Donato answered, laughing: "This good man is not my equal in the art, and endures much more fatigue than I do in working: wherefore, if you wish to give him satisfaction, like the just men that I take you for, you are bound to pay him for the time that he has spent." And thus the award of Donato was carried into effect, both parties having agreed to abide by it.
This work stands well enough, and has good grace and liveliness in the head; the draperies are not hard, and are in no wise badly arranged about the figure. In another niche below this one there are four saints in marble, which the same Nanni was commissioned to make by the Guild of Smiths, Carpenters, and Masons; and it is said that, having finished them all in the round and detached one from another, and having prepared the niche, it was with great difficulty that he could get even three of them into it, for he had made some of them in attitudes with the arms outstretched; and that he besought Donato, in grief and despair, to consent with his counsel to repair his own misfortune and lack of foresight. And Donato, laughing over the mischance, answered: "If thou wilt promise to pay for a supper for me and all my apprentices, I will undertake to get the saints into the niche without any trouble." This Nanni promised to do right willingly, and Donato sent him to Prato, to take certain measurements and to do some other business that would take him some days.
Whereupon, Nanni having departed, Donato, with all his disciples and apprentices, set to work and cut some of the statues down in the shoulders and some in the arms, in such wise that he contrived to group them close together, each making place for the other, while he made a hand appear over the shoulders of one of them. And thus the judgment of Donato, having joined them harmoniously together, concealed the error of Nanni so well that they still show, in that place where they were fixed, most manifest signs of concord and brotherhood; and anyone who does not know the circumstance sees nothing of the error.
Nanni, finding on his return that Donato had corrected everything and put all his disorder to rights, rendered him infinite thanks, and with great goodwill paid for the supper for him and his pupils. Under the feet of these four saints, in the ornament of the shrine, there is a scene in marble and in half-relief, wherein a sculptor is carving a boy with great animation, and a master is building, with two men assisting him; and all these little figures are seen to be very well grouped and intent on what they are doing.
In the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore, on the left side as one enters the church by the central door, there is an Evangelist by the hand of the same man, which is a passing good figure for those times. It is also reputed that the St. Lo which is without the said Oratory of Orsanmichele, and which was made for the Guild of Farriers, is by the hand of the same Nanni, and likewise the marble shrine, in the base of which, at the foot, there is a scene wherein St. Lo, the Farrier, is shoeing a frenzied horse, so well made that Nanni deserved much praise for it; and he would have deserved and obtained much greater praise with other works, if he had not died, as he did, while still young. None the less, by reason of these few works Nanni was held a passing good sculptor; and being a citizen, he obtained many offices in his native city of Florence, and because he bore himself like a just and reasonable man both in these and in all his other affairs, he was greatly beloved. He died of colic in the year 1430, at the age of forty-seven.