LINK TO BIB Birth of the Virgin. 1342. Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.


Vasari's Lives of the Artists

PIETRO LAURATI [LORENZETTI], an excellent painter of Siena, proved in his life how great is the contentment of the truly able, who feel that their works are prized both at home and abroad, and who see themselves sought after by all men, for the reason that in the course of his life he was sent for and held dear throughout all Tuscany, having first become known through the scenes that he painted in fresco for the Scala, a hospital in Siena, wherein he imitated in such wise the manner of Giotto, then spread throughout all Tuscany, that it was believed with great reason that he was destined, as afterwards came to pass, to become a better master than Cimabue and Giotto and the others had been; for the figures that represent the Virgin ascending the steps of the Temple, accompanied by Joachim and Anna, and received by the priest, and then in the Marriage, are so beautifully adorned, so well draped, and so simply wrapped in their garments, that they show majesty in the air of the heads, and a most beautiful manner in their bearing. By reason of this work, which was the first introduction into Siena of the good method of painting, given light to the many beautiful intellects which have flourished in that city in every age, Pietro was invited to Monte Oliveto di Chiusuri, where he painted a panel in distemper that is placed today in the portico below the church. In Florence, next, opposite to the lefthand door of the Church of Santo Spirito, on the corner where today there is a butcher, he painted a shrine which, by reason of the softness of the heads and of the sweetness that is seen in it, deserved the highest praise from every discerning craftsman.

Going from Florence to Pisa, he wrought in the Campo Santo, on the wall that is beside the principal door, all the lives of the Holy Fathers, with expressions so lively and attitudes so beautiful that he equaled Giotto and gained thereby very great praise, having expressed in certain heads, both with drawing and with color, all that vivacity that the manner of those times was able to show. From Pisa he went to Pistoia, where he made a Madonna with some angels round her, very well grouped, on a panel in distemper, for the Church of San Francesco; and in the predella that ran below this panel, in certain scenes, he made certain little figures so lively and so vivid that in those times it was something marvelous; wherefore, since they satisfied himself no less than others, he thought fit to place thereon his name, with these words: PETRUS LAURATI DE SENIS.

Pietro was summoned, next, in the year 1355 [sic], by Messer Guglielmo, arch priest, and by the Wardens of Works of the Pieve of Arezzo, who were then Margarito Boschi and others; and in that church, built long before with better design and manner than any other that had been made in Tuscany up to that time, and all adorned with squared stone and with carvings, as it has been said, by the hand of Margaritone, he painted in fresco the apse and the whole great niche of the chapel of the high altar, making there twelve scenes from the life of Our Lady with figures large as life, beginning with the expulsion of Joachim from the Temple, up to the Nativity of Jesus Christ. In these scenes, wrought in fresco, may be recognized almost the same inventions (the lineaments, the air of the heads, and the attitudes of the figures) which had been characteristic of and peculiar to Giotto, his master. And although all this works is beautiful, what he painted on the vaulting of this niche is without doubt better than all the rest, for in representing the Madonna ascending into Heaven, besides making the Apostles each four braccia high, wherein he showed greatness of spirit and was the first to try to give grandness to the manner, he gave so beautiful an air to the heads and so great loveliness to the vestments that in those times nothing more could have been desired.

Likewise, in the faces of a choir of angels who are flying in the air round the Madonna, dancing with graceful movements, and appearing to sing, he painted a gladness truly angelic and divine, above all because he made the angels sounding diverse instruments, with their eyes all fixed and intent on another choir of angels, who, supported by a cloud in the form of an almond, are bearing the Madonna to Heaven, with beautiful attitudes and all surrounded by rainbows. This work, seeing that it rightly gave pleasure, was the reason that he was commissioned to make in tempera the the panel for the high altar of the aforesaid Pieve; wherein, in five parts, with figures as far as the knees and large as life, he made Our Lady with the Child in her arms, and St. John the Baptist and St. Matthew on the one side, and on the other the Evangelist and St. Donatus, with many little figures in the predella and in the border of the panel above, all truly beautiful and executed in very good manner.

This panel, after I had rebuilt the high altar of the aforesaid Pieve completely anew, at my own expense and with my own hand, was set up over the altar of San Cristofano at the foot of the church. Nor do I wish to grudge the labor of saying in this place, with this occasion and not wide of the subject, that I, moved by Christian piety and by the affection that I bear towards this venerable and ancient collegiate church, and for the reason that in it, in my earliest childhood, I learnt my first lessons, and that it contains the remains of my fathers: moved, I say, by these reasons, and by it appearing to me that it was wellnigh deserted, I have restored it in a manner that it can be said that it has returned from death to life; for besides changing it from a dark to a well-lit church by increasing the windows that were there before and by making others, I have also removed the choir, which, being in front, used to occupy a great part of the church, and to the great satisfaction of those reverend canons I have placed it behind the high altar.

This new altar, standing by itself, has on the panel in front a Christ calling Peter and Andrew from their nets, and on the side towards the choir it has, on another panel, St. George slaying the Dragon. On the sides are four pictures, and in each of these are two saints as large as life. Then above, and below in the predella, there is an infinity of other figures, which, for brevityUs sake, are not enumerated. The ornamental frame of this altar is thirteen braccia high, and the predella is two braccia high. And because within it is hollow, and one ascends to it by a staircase through an iron wicket very conveniently arranged, there are preserved in t many venerable relics, which can be seen from without through two gratings that are in the front part; and among others there is the head of St. Donatus, Bishop and Protector of that city, and in a coffer of variegated marble, three braccia long, which I have had restored, are the bones of four Saints. And the predella of the altar, which surrounds it all right round in due proportion, has in front of it the tabernacle, or rather ciborium, of the Sacrament, made of carved wood and all gilt, about three braccia high; which tabernacle is quite round and can be seen as well from the side of the choir as from in front. And because I have spared no labor and no expense, considering myself bound to act thus in honor of God, this work, in my judgment, has in all those ornaments of gold, of carvings, of paintings, of marbles, of travertines, of variegated marbles, of porphyries, and of other stones, the best that could be got together by me in that place.

But returning now to Pietro Laurati; that panel finished whereof there has been talk above, he wrought in San Pietro in Rome many works which were afterwards destroyed in making the new building of San Pietro. He also wrought some works in Cortona and in Arezzo, besides those that have been mentioned, and some others in the church of Sante Fiora e Lucilla, a monastery of Black Friars, and in particular, in a chapel, a St. Thomas who is putting his hand on the wound in the breast of Christ.

A disciple of Pietro was Bartolommeo Bolognini of Siena, who wrought many panels in Siena and other places in Italy, and in Florence there is one by his hand on the altar of the Chapel of San Silvestro in Santa Croce. The pictures of these men date about the year of our salvation 1350; and in my book, so many times cited, there is seen a drawing by the hand of Pietro, wherein a shoemaker who is sewing, with a simple but very natural lineaments, shows very great expression and the characteristic manner of Pietro, the portrait of whom, by the hand of Bartolommeo Bologhini, was in a panel in Siena, when I copied it from the original in the manner that is seen above.

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