Vasari's Lives of the Artists

Among the many natives of Lombardy who have been endowed with the gracious gift of design, with a lively spirit of invention, and with a particular manner of making beautiful landscapes in their pictures, we should rate as second to none, and even place before all the rest, Francesco Mazzuoli of Parma, who was bountifully endowed by Heaven with all those parts that are necessary to make a supreme painter, insomuch that he gave to his figures, in addition to what has been said of many others, a certain nobility, sweetness, and grace in the attitudes which belonged to him alone. To his heads, likewise, it is evident that he gave all the consideration that is needful; and his manner has therefore been studied and imitated by innumerable painters, because he shed on art a light of grace so pleasing, that his works will always be held in great price, and himself honored by all students of design. Would to God that he had always pursued the studies of painting, and had not sought to pry into the secrets of congealing mercury in order to become richer than Nature and Heaven had made him; for then he would have been without an equal, and truly unique in the art of painting, whereas, by searching for that which he could never find, he wasted his time, wronged his art, and did harm to his own life and fame.

Francesco was born at Parma in the year 1504, and because he lost his father when he was still a child of tender age, he was left to the care of two uncles, brothers of his father, and both painters, who brought him up with the greatest lovingness, teaching him all those praiseworthy ways that befit a Christian man and a good citizen. Then, having made some little growth, he had no sooner taken pen in hand in order to learn to write, than he began, spurred by Nature, who had consecrated him at his birth to design, to draw most marvellous things; and the master who was teaching him to write, noticing this and perceiving to what heights the genius of the boy might in time attain, persuaded his uncles to let him give his attention to design and painting. Whereupon, being men of good judgment in matters of art, although they were old and painters of no great fame, and recognizing that God and Nature had been the boy's first masters, they did not fail to take the greatest pains to make him learn to draw under the discipline of the best masters, to the end that he might acquire a good manner. And coming by degrees to believe that he had been born, so to speak, with brushes in his fingers, on the one hand they urged him on, and on the other, fearing lest overmuch study might perchance spoil his health, they would sometimes hold him back. Finally, having come to the age of sixteen, and having already done miracles of drawing, he painted a S. John baptizing Christ, of his own invention, on a panel, which he executed in such a manner that even now whoever sees it stands marvelling that such a work should have been painted so well by a boy. This picture was placed in the Nunziata, the seat of the Frati de' Zoccoli at Parma. Not content with this, however, Francesco resolved to try his hand at working in fresco, and therefore painted a chapel in S. Giovanni Evangelista, a house of Black Friars of S. Benedict; and since he succeeded in that kind of work, he painted as many as seven.

But about that time Pope Leo X sent Signor Prospero Colonna with an army to Parma, and the uncles of Francesco, fearing that he might perchance lose time or be distracted, sent him in company with his cousin, Girolamo Mazzuoli, another boy-painter, to Viadana, a place belonging to the Duke of Mantua, where they lived all the time that the war lasted; and there Francesco painted two panels in distemper. One of these, in which are S. Francis receiving the Stigmata, and S. Chiara, was placed in the Church of the Frati de' Zoccoli; and the other, which contains a Marriage of S. Catharine, with many figures, was placed in S. Piero. And let no one believe that these are works of a young beginner, for they seem to be rather by the hand of a full-grown master.

The war finished, Francesco, having returned with his cousin to Parma, first completed some pictures that he had left unfinished at his departure, which are in the hands of various people. After this he painted a panel picture in oils of Our Lady with the Child in her arms, with S. Jerome on one side and the Blessed Bernardino da Feltro on the other, and in the head of one of these figures he made a portrait of the patron of the picture, which is so wonderful that it lacks nothing save the breath of life. All these works he executed before he had reached the age of nineteen.

Then, having conceived a desire to see Rome, like one who was on the path of progress and heard much praise given to the works of good masters, and particularly to those of Raffaello and Michelagnolo, he spoke out his mind and desire to his old uncles, who, thinking that such a wish was not otherwise than worthy of praise, said that they were content that he should go, but that it would be well for him to take with him some work by his own hand, which might serve to introduce him to the noblemen of that city and to the craftsmen of his profession. This advice was not displeasing to Francesco, and he painted three pictures, two small and one of some size, representing in the last the Child in the arms of the Madonna, taking some fruits from the lap of an Angel, and an old man with his arms covered with hair, executed with art and judgment, and pleasing in colur. Besides this, in order to investigate the subtleties of art, he set himself one day to make his own portrait, looking at himself in a convex barber's mirror. And in doing this, perceiving the bizarre effects produced by the roundness of the mirror, which twists the beams of a ceiling into strange curves, and makes the doors and other parts of buildings recede in an extraordinary manner, the idea came to him to amuse himself by counterfeiting everything. Thereupon he had a ball of wood made by a turner, and, dividing it in half so as to make it the same in size and shape as the mirror, set to work to counterfeit on it with supreme art all that he saw in the glass, and particularly his own self, which he did with such lifelike reality as could not be imagined or believed. Now everything that is near the mirror is magnified, and all that is at a distance is diminished, and thus he made the hand engaged in drawing somewhat large, as the mirror showed it, and so marvellous that it seemed to be his very own. And since Francesco had an air of great beauty, with a face and aspect full of grace, in the likeness rather of an angel than of a man, his image on that ball had the appearance of a thing divine. So happily, indeed, did he succeed in the whole of this work, that the painting was no less real than the reality, and in it were seen the lustre of the glass, the reflection of every detail, and the lights and shadows, all so true and natural, that nothing more could have been looked for from the brain of man.

Having finished these works, which were held by his old uncles to be out of the ordinary, and even considered by many other good judges of art to be miracles of beauty, and having packed up both pictures and portrait, he made his way to Rome, accompanied by one of the uncles. There, after the Datary had seen the pictures and appraised them at their true worth, the young man and his uncle were straightway introduced to Pope Clement, who, seeing the works and the youthfulness of Francesco, was struck with astonishment, and with him all his Court. And afterwards his Holiness, having first shown him much favour, said that he wished to commission him to paint the Hall of the Popes, in which Giovanni da Udine had already decorated all the ceiling with stucco-work and painting. And so, after presenting his pictures to the Pope, and receiving various gifts and marks of favour in addition to his promises, Francesco, spurred by the praise and glory that he heard bestowed upon him, and by the hope of the profit that he might expect from so great a Pontiff, painted a most beautiful picture of the Circumcision, which was held to be extraordinary in invention on account of three most fanciful lights that shone in the work; for the first figures were illuminated by the radiance of the countenance of Christ, the second received their light from others who were walking up some steps with burning torches in their hands, bringing offerings for the sacrifice, and the last were revealed and illuminated by the light of the dawn, which played upon a most lovely landscape with a vast number of buildings. This picture finished, he presented it to the Pope, who did not do with it what he had done with the others; for he had given the picture of Our Lady to Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, his nephew, and the mirror-portrait to Messer Pietro Aretino, the poet, who was in his service, but the picture of the Circumcision he kept for himself; and it is believed that it came in time into the possession of the Emperor. The mirror-portrait I remember to have seen, when quite a young man, in the house of the same Messer Pietro Aretino at Arezzo, where it was sought out as a choice work by the strangers passing through that city. Afterwards it fell, I know not how, into the hands of Valerio Vicentino, the crystal engraver, and it is now in the possession of Alessandro Vittoria, a sculptor in Venice, the disciple of Jacopo Sansovino.

But to return to Francesco; while studying in Rome, he set himself to examine all the ancient and modern works, both of sculpture and of painting, that were in that city, but held those of Michelagnolo Buonarroti and Raffaello da Urbino in supreme veneration beyond all the others; and it was said afterwards that the spirit of that Raffaello had passed into the body of Francesco, when men saw how excellent the young man was in art, and how gentle and gracious in his ways, as was Raffaello, and above all when it became known how much Francesco strove to imitate him in everything, and particularly in painting. Nor was this study in vain, for many little pictures that he painted in Rome, the greater part of which afterwards came into the hands of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, were truly marvellous; and even such is a round picture with a very beautiful Annunciation, executed by him for Messer Agnolo Cesis, which is now treasured as a rare work in the house of that family. He painted a picture, likewise, of the Madonna with Christ, some Angels, and a S. Joseph, which are beautiful to a marvel on account of the expressions of the heads, the colouring, and the grace and diligence with which they are seen to have been executed. This work was formerly in the possession of Luigi Gaddi, and it must now be in the hands of his heirs.

Hearing the fame of this master, Signor Lorenzo Cibo, Captain of the Papal Guard, and a very handsome man, had a portrait of himself painted by Francesco, who may be said to have made, not a portrait, but a living figure of flesh and blood. Having then been commissioned to paint for Madonna Maria Bufolini of Citta' di Castello a panel picture which was to be placed in S. Salvatore del Lauro, in a chapel near the door, Francesco painted in it a Madonna in the sky, who is reading and has the Child between her knees, and on the earth he made a figure of S. John, kneeling on one knee in an attitude of extraordinary beauty, turning his body, and pointing to the Infant Christ; and ying asleep on the ground, in foreshortening, is a S. Jerome in Penitence.

But he was prevented from bringing this work to completion by the ruin and sack of Rome in 1527, which was the reason not only that the arts were banished for a time, but also that many craftsmen lost their lives. And Francesco, also, came within a hair's breadth of losing his, seeing that at the beginning of the sack he was so intent on his work, that, when the soldiers were entering the houses, and some Germans were already in his, he did not move from his painting for all the uproar that they were making; but when they came upon him and saw him working, they were so struck with astonishment at the work, that, like the gentlemen that they must have been, they let him go on. And thus, while the impious cruelty of those barbarous hordes was ruining the unhappy city and all its treasures, both sacred and profane, without showing respect to either God or man, Francesco was provided for and greatly honoured by those Germans, and protected from all injury. All the hardship that he suffered at that time was this, that he was forced, one of them being a great lover of painting, to make a vast number of drawings in water-colours and with the pen, which formed the payment of his ransom. But afterwards, when these soldiers changed their quarters, Francesco nearly came to an evil end, because, going to look for some friends, he was made prisoner by other soldiers and compelled to pay as ransom some few crowns that he possessed. Wherefore his uncle, grieved by that and by the fact that this disaster had robbed Francesco of his hopes of acquiring knowledge, honor, and profit, and seeing Rome almost wholly in ruins and the Pope the prisoner of the Spaniards, determined to take him back to Parma. And so he set Francesco on his way to his native city, but himself remained for some days in Rome, where he deposited the panel-picture painted for Madonna Maria Bufolini with the Friars of the Pace, in whose refectory it remained for many years, until finally it was taken by Messer Giulio Bufolini to the church of his family in Cittˆ di Castello.

Having arrived in Bologna, and finding entertainment with many friends, and particularly in the house of his most intimate friend, a saddler of Parma, Francesco stayed some months in that city, where the life pleased him, during which time he had some works engraved and printed in chiaroscuro, among others the Beheading of S. Peter and S. Paul, and a large figure of Diogenes. He also prepared many others, in order to have them engraved on copper and printed, having with him for this purpose one Maestro Antonio da Trento; but he did not carry this intention into effect at the time, because he was forced to set his hand to executing many pictures and other works for gentlemen of Bologna. The first picture by his hand that was seen at Bologna was a S. Rocco of great size in the Chapel of the Monsignori in S. Petronio; to which Saint he gave a marvellous aspect, making him very beautiful in every part, and conceiving him as somewhat relieved from the pain that the plague-sore in the thigh gave him, which he shows by looking with uplifted head towards Heaven in the act of thanking God, as good men do in spite of the adversities that fall upon them. This work he executed for one Fabrizio da Milano, of whom he painted a portrait from the waist upwards in the picture, with the hands clasped, which seems to be alive; and equally real, also, seems a dog that is there, with some landscapes which are very beautiful, Francesco being particularly excellent in this respect.

He then painted for Albio, a physician of Parma, a Conversion of S. Paul, with many figures and a landscape, which was a very choice work. And for his friend the saddler he executed another picture of extraordinary beauty, containing a Madonna turned to one side in a lovely attitude, and several other figures. He also painted a picture for Count Giorgio Manzuoli, and two canvases n gouache, with some little figures, all graceful and well executed, for Maestro Luca dai Leuti.

One morning about this time, while Francesco was still in bed, the aforesaid Antonio da Trento, who was living with him as his engraver, opened a strong box and robbed him of all the copper-plate engravings, woodcuts, and drawings that he possessed; and he must have gone off to the Devil, for all the news that was ever heard of him. The engravings and woodcuts, indeed, Francesco recovered, for Antonio had left them with a friend in Bologna, perchance with the intention of reclaiming them at his convenience; but the drawings he was never able to get back. Driven almost out of his mind by this, he returned to his painting, and made a portrait, for the sake of money, of I know not what Count of Bologna. After that he painted a picture of Our Lady, with a Christ who is holding a globe of the world. The Madonna has a most beautiful expression, and the Child is also very natural; for he always gave to the faces of children a vivacious and truly childlike air, which yet reveals that subtle and mischievous spirit that children often have. And he attired the Madonna in a very unusual fashion, clothing her in a garment that had sleeves of yellowish gauze, striped, as it were, with gold, which gave a truly beautiful and graceful effect, revealing the flesh in a natural and delicate manner; besides which, the hair is painted so well that there is none better to be seen. This picture was painted for Messer Pietro Aretino, but Francesco gave it to Pope Clement, who came to Bologna at that time; then, in some way of which I know nothing, it fell into the hands of Messer Dionigi Gianni, and it now belongs to his son, Messer Bartolommeo, who has been so accommodating with it that it has been copied fifty times, so much is it prized.

The same master painted for the Nuns of S. Margherita, in Bologna, a panel-picture containing a Madonna, S. Margaret, S. Petronio, S. Jerome, and S. Michael, which is held in vast veneration, as it deserves, since in the expressions of the heads and in every other part it is as fine as all the other works of this painter. He made many drawings, likewise, and in particular some for Girolamo del Lino, and some for Girolamo Fagiuoli, a goldsmith and engraver, who desired them for engraving on copper; and these drawings are held to be full of grace. For Bonifazio Gozzadino he painted his portrait from life, with one of his wife, which remained unfinished. He also began a picture of Our Lady, which was afterwards sold in Bologna to Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo, who has it in the new house built by himself at Arezzo, together with many other noble pictures, works of sculpture, and ancient marbles.

When the Emperor Charles V was at Bologna to be crowned by Clement VII, Francesco, who went several times to see him at table, but without drawing his portrait, made a likeness of that Emperor in a very large picture in oils, wherein he painted Fame crowning him with laurel, and a boy in the form of a little Hercules offering him a globe of the world, giving him, as it were, the dominion over it. This work, when finished, he showed to Pope Clement, who was so pleased with it that he sent it and Francesco together, accompanied by the Bishop of Vasona, then Datary, to the Emperor; at which his Majesty, to whom it gave much satisfaction, hinted that it should be left with him. But Francesco, being ill advised by an insincere or injudicious friend, refused to leave it, saying that it was not finished; and so his Majesty did not have it, and Francesco was not rewarded for it, as he certainly would have been. This picture, having afterwards fallen into the hands of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, was presented by him to the Cardinal of Mantua; and it is now in the guardaroba of the Duke of that city, with many other most noble and beautiful pictures.

After having been so many years out of his native place, as we have related, during which he had gained much experience in art, without accumulating any store of riches, but only of friends, Francesco, in order to satisfy his many friends and relatives, finally returned to Parma. Arriving there, he was straightway commissioned to paint in fresco a vault of some size in the Church of S. Maria della Steccata; but since in front of that vault there was a flat arch which followed the curve of the vaulting, making a sort of facade, he set to work first on the arch, as being the easier, and painted therein six very beautiful figures, two in color and four in chiaroscuro. Between one figure and another he made some most beautiful ornaments, surrounding certain rosettes in relief, which he took it into his head to execute by himself in copper, taking extraordinary pains over them.

At this same time he painted for the Chevalier Baiardo, a gentleman of Parma and his intimate friend, a picture of a Cupid, who is fashioning a bow with his own hand, and at his feet are seated two little boys, one of whom catches the other by the arm and laughingly urges him to touch Cupid with his finger, but he will not touch him, and shows by his tears that he is afraid of burning himself at the fire of Love. This picture, which is charming in color, ingenious in invention, and executed in that graceful manner of Francesco's that has been much studied and imitated, as it still is, by craftsmen and by all who delight in art, is now in the study of Signor Marc' Antonio Cavalca, heir to the Chevalier Baiardo, together with many drawings of every kind by the hand of the same master, all most beautiful and highly finished, which he has collected. Even such are the many drawings, also by the hand of Francesco, that are in our book; and particularly that of the Beheading of S. Peter and S. Paul, of which, as has been related, he published copper-plate engravings and woodcuts, while living in Bologna. For the Church of S. Maria de' Servi he painted a panel-picture of Our Lady with the Child asleep in her arms, and on one side some Angels, one of whom has in his arms an urn of crystal, wherein there glitters a Cross, at which the Madonna gazes in contemplation. This work remained unfinished, because he was not well contented with it; and yet it is much extolled, and a good example of his manner, so full of grace and beauty.

Meanwhile Francesco began to abandon the work of the Steccata, or at least to carry it on so slowly that it was evident that he was not in earnest. And this happened because he had begun to study the problems of alchemy, and had quite deserted his profession of painting, thinking that he would become rich quicker by congealing mercury. Wherefore, wearing out his brain, but not in imagining beautiful inventions and executing them with brushes and colour-mixtures, he wasted his whole time in handling charcoal, wood, glass vessels, and other suchlike trumperies, which made him spend more in one day than he earned by a week's work at the Chapel of the Steccata. Having no other means of livelihood, and being yet compelled to live, he was wasting himself away little by little with those furnaces; and what was worse, the men of the Company of the Steccata, perceiving that he had completely abandoned the work, and having perchance paid him more than his due, as is often done, brought a suit against him. Thereupon, thinking it better to withdraw, he fled by night with some friends to Casal Maggiore. And there, having dispersed a little of the alchemy out of his head, he painted a panel-picture for the Church of S. Stefano, of Our Lady in the sky, with S. John the Baptist and S. Stephen below. Afterwards he executed a picture, the last that he ever painted, of the Roman Lucretia, which was a thing divine and one of the best that were ever seen by his hand; but it has disappeared, however that may have happened, so that no one knows where it is.

By his hand, also, is a picture of some nymphs, which is now in the house of Messer Niccolo' Bufolini at Cittˆ di Castello, and a child's cradle, which was painted for Signora Angiola de' Rossi of Parma, wife of Signor Alessandro Vitelli, and is likewise at Citta' di Castello.

In the end, having his mind still set on his alchemy, like every other man who has once grown crazed over it, and changing from a dainty and gentle person into an almost savage man with long and unkempt beard and locks, a creature quite different from his other self, Francesco went from bad to worse, became melancholy and eccentric, and was assailed by a grievous fever and a cruel flux, which in a few days caused him to pass to a better life. And in this way he found an end to the troubles of this world, which was never known to him save as a place full of annoyances and cares. He wished to be laid to rest in the Church of the Servite Friars, called La Fontana, one mile distant from Casal Maggiore; and he was buried naked, as he had directed, with a cross of cypress upright on his breast. He finished the course of his life on the 24th of August, in the year 1540, to the great loss of art on account of the singular grace that his hands gave to the pictures that he painted.

Francesco delighted to play on the lute, and had a hand and a genius so well suited to it that he was no less excellent in this than in painting. It is certain that if he had not worked by caprice, and had laid aside the follies of the alchemists, he would have been without a doubt one of the rarest and most excellent painters of our age. I do not deny that working at moments of fever heat, and when one feels inclined, may be the best plan. But I do blame a man for working little or not at all, and for wasting all his time over cogitations, seeing that the wish to arrive by trickery at a goal to which one cannot attain, often brings it about that one loses what one knows in seeking after that which it is not given to us to know. If Francesco, who had from nature a spirit of great vivacity, with a beautiful and graceful manner, had persisted in working every day, little by little he would have made such proficience in art, that, even as he gave a beautiful, gracious, and most charming expression to his heads, so he would have surpassed his own self and the others in the solidity and perfect excellence of his drawing.

He left behind him his cousin Girolamo Mazzuoli, who, with great credit to himself, always imitated his manner, as is proved by the works by his hand that are in Parma. At Viadana, also, whither he fled with Francesco on account of the war, he painted, young as he was, a very beautiful Annunciation on a little panel for S. Francesco, a seat of the Frati de' Zoccoli; and he painted another for S. Maria ne' Borghi. For the Conventual Friars of S. Francis at Parma he executed the panel-picture of their high-altar, containing Joachim being driven from the Temple, with many figures. And for S. Alessandro, a convent of nuns in that city, he painted a panel with the Madonna in Heaven, the Infant Christ presenting a palm to S. Giustina, and some Angels drawing back a piece of drapery, with S. Alexander the Pope and S. Benedict. For the Church of the Carmelite Friars he painted the panel-picture of their high-altar, which is very beautiful, and for S. Sepolcro another panel-picture of some size. In S. Giovanni Evangelista, a church of nuns in the same city, are two panel-pictures by the hand of Girolamo, of no little beauty, but not equal to the doors of the organ or to the picture of the high altar, in which is a most beautiful Transfiguration, executed with much diligence. The same master has painted a perspective-view in fresco in the refectory of those nuns, with a picture in oils of the Last Supper of Christ with the Apostles, and fresco-paintings in the Chapel of the High-Altar in the Duomo. And for Madama Margherita of Austria, Duchess of Parma, he has made a portrait of the Prince Don Alessandro, her s on, in full armour, with his sword over a globe of the world, and an armed figure of Parma kneeling before him.

In a chapel of the Steccata, at Parma, he has painted in fresco the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit, and on an arch similar to that which his cousin Francesco painted he has executed six Sibyls, two in colour and four in chiaroscuro; while in a niche opposite to that arch he has painted the Nativity of Christ, with the Shepherds adoring Him, which is a very beautiful picture, although it was left not quite finished. For the high altar of the Certosa, without Parma, he has painted a panel-picture with the three Magi; a panel for S. Piero, an abbey of Monks of S. Bernard, at Pavia; another for the Duomo of Mantua, at the commission of the Cardinal; and yet another panel for S. Giovanni in the same city, containing a Christ in a glory of light, surrounded by the Apostles, with S. John, of whom He appears to be saying, "Sic eum volo manere," etc.; while round this panel, in six large pictures, are the miracles of the same S. John the Evangelist.

In the Church of the Frati Zoccolanti, on the left hand, there is a large panel picture of the Conversion of S. Paul, a very beautiful work, by the hand of the same man. And for the high altar of S. Benedetto in Pollirone, a place twelve miles distant from Mantua, he has executed a panel picture of Christ in the Manger being adored by the Shepherds, with Angels singing. He has also painted--but I do not know exactly at what time--a most beautiful picture of five Loves, one of whom is sleeping, and the others are despoiling him, one taking away his bow, another his arrows, and the others his torch, which picture belongs to the Lord Duke Ottavio, who holds it in great account by reason of the excellence of Girolamo. This master has in no way fallen short of the standard of his cousin Francesco, being a fine painter, gentle and courteous beyond belief; and since he is still alive, there are seen issuing from his brush other works of rare beauty, which he has constantly in hand.

A close friend of the aforesaid Francesco Mazzuoli was Messer Vincenzio Caccianimici, a gentleman of Bologna, who painted and strove to the best of his power to imitate the manner of Francesco. This Vincenzio was a very good colorist, so that the works which he executed for his own pleasure, or to present to his friends and various noblemen, are truly well worthy of praise; and such, in particular, is a panel-picture in oils, containing the Beheading of S. John the Baptist, which is in the chapel of his family in S. Petronio. This talented gentleman, by whose hand are some very beautiful drawings in our book, died in the year 1542.

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