Groundplan of the Villa Farnesina. 
Rome. 1511.



Vasari's Lives of the Artists

Among all the gifts that Heaven distributes to mortals, none, in truth, can or should be held in more account than talent, with calmness and peace of soul, for the first makes us for ever immortal, and the second blessed. He, then, who is endowed with these gifts, in addition to the deep gratitude that he should feel towards God, must make himself known among other men almost as a light amid darkness. And even so, in our own times, did Baldassarre Peruzzi, a painter and architect of Siena, of whom we can say with certainty that the modesty and goodness which were revealed in him were no mean offshoots of that supreme serenity for which the minds of all who are born in this world are ever sighing, and that the works which he left to us are most honorable fruits of that true excellence which was infused in him by Heaven.

Now, although I have called him above, Baldassarre of Siena, because he was always known as a Sienese, I will not withhold that even as seven cities contended for Homer, each claiming that he was her citizen, so three most noble cities of Tuscany--Florence, Volterra, and Siena--have each held that Baldassarre was her son. But, to tell the truth, each of them has a share in him, seeing that Antonio Peruzzi, a noble citizen of Florence, that city being harassed by civil war, went off, in the hope of a quieter life, to Volterra; and after living some time there, in the year 1482 he took a wife in that city, and in a few years had two children, one a boy, called Baldassarre, and the other a girl, who received the name of Virginia. Now it happened that war pursued this man who sought nothing but peace and quiet, and that no long time afterwards Volterra was sacked; whence Antonio was forced to fly to Siena, and to live there in great poverty, having lost almost all that he had.

Meanwhile Baldassarre, having grown up, was for ever associating with persons of ability, and particularly with goldsmiths and draughtsmen; and thus, beginning to take pleasure in the arts, he devoted himself heart and soul to drawing. And not long after, his father being now dead, he applied himself to painting with such zeal, that in a very short time he made marvellous progress therein, imitating living and natural things as well as the works of the best masters. In this way, executing what work he could find, he was able to maintain himself, his mother, and his sister with his art, and to pursue the studies of painting.

His first work--apart from some things at Siena, not worthy of mention--was in a little chapel near the Porta Fiorentina at Volterra, wherein he executed some figures with such grace, that they led to his forming a friendship with a painter of Volterra, called Piero, who lived most of his time in Rome, and going off with that master to that city, where he was doing some work in the Palace for Alexander VI. But after the death of Alexander, Maestro Piero working no more in that place, Baldassarre entered the workshop of the father of Maturino, a painter of no great excellence, who at that time had always plenty of work to do in the form of commonplace commissions. That painter, then, placing a panel primed with gesso before Baldassarre, but giving him no scrap of drawing or cartoon, told him to make a Madonna upon it. Baldassarre took a piece of charcoal, and in a moment, with great mastery, he had drawn what he wished to paint in the picture; and then, setting his hand to the colouring, in a few days he painted a picture so beautiful and so well finished, that it amazed not only the master of the workshop, but also many painters who saw it; and they, recognizing his ability, contrived to obtain for him the commission to paint the Chapel of the High Altar in the Church of S. Onofrio, which he executed in fresco with much grace and in a very beautiful manner. After this, he painted two other little chapels in fresco in the Church of S. Rocco a Ripa. Having thus begun to be in good repute, he was summoned to Ostia, where he painted most beautiful scenes in chiaroscuro in some apartments of the great tower of the fortress; in particular, a hand-to-hand battle after the manner in which the ancient Romans used to fight, and beside this a company of soldiers delivering an assault on a fortress, wherein the attackers, covered by their shields, are seen making a beautiful and spirited onslaught and planting their ladders against the walls, while the men within are hurling them back with the utmost fury. In this scene, also, he painted many antique instruments of war, and likewise various kinds of arms; with many other scenes in another hall, which are held to be among the best works that he ever made, although it is true that he was assisted in this work by Cesare da Milano.

After these labors, having returned to Rome, Baldassarre formed a very strait friendship with Agostino Chigi of Siena, both because Agostino had a natural love for every man of talent, and because Baldassarre called himself a Sienese. And thus, with the help of so great a man, he was able to maintain himself while studying the antiquities of Rome, and particularly those in architecture, wherein, out of rivalry with Bramante, in a short time he made marvellous proficience, which afterwards brought him, as will be related, very great honor and profit. He also gave attention to perspective, and became such a master of that science, that we have seen few in our own times who have worked in it as well as he. Pope Julius II having meanwhile built a corridor in his Palace, with an aviary near the roof, Baldassarre painted there, in chiaroscuro, all the months of the year and the pursuits that are practised in each of them. In this work may be seen an endless number of buildings, theatres, amphitheatres, palaces, and other edifices, all distributed with beautiful invention in that place. He then painted, in company with other painters, some apartments in the Palace of S. Giorgio for Cardinal Raffaello Riario, Bishop of Ostia; and he painted a facade opposite to the house of Messer Ulisse da Fano, and also that of the same Messer Ulisse, wherein he executed stories of Ulysses that brought him very great renown and fame.

Even greater was the fame that came to him from the model of the Palace of Agostino Chigi, executed with such beautiful grace that it seems not to have been built, but rather to have sprung into life; and with his own hand he decorated the exterior with most beautiful scenes in terretta. The hall, likewise, is adorned with rows of columns executed in perspective, which, with the depth of the intercolumniation, cause it to appear much larger. But what is the greatest marvel of all is a loggia that may be seen over the garden, painted by Baldassarre with scenes of the Medusa turning men into stone, such that nothing more beautiful can be imagined; and then there is Perseus cutting off her head, with many other scenes in the spandrels of that vaulting, while the ornamentation, drawn in perspective with colours, in imitation of stucco, is so natural and lifelike, that even to excellent craftsmen it appears to be in relief. And I remember that when I took the Chevalier Tiziano, a most excellent and honoured painter, to see that work, he would by no means believe that it was painted, until he had changed his point of view, when he was struck with amazement. In that place are some works executed by Fra Sebastiano Viniziano, in his first manner; and by the hand of the divine Raffaello, as has been related, there is a Galatea being carried off by sea-gods.

Baldassarre also painted, beyond the Campo di Fiore, on the way to the Piazza Giudea, a most beautiful facade in terretta with marvellous perspectives, for which he received the commission from a Groom of the Chamber to the Pope; and it is now in the possession of Jacopo Strozzi, the Florentine. In like manner, he wrought for Messer Ferrando Ponzetti, who afterwards became a Cardinal, a chapel at the entrance of the Church of the Pace, on the left hand, with little scenes from the Old Testament, and also with some figures of considerable size; and for a work in fresco this is executed with much diligence. But even more did he prove his worth in painting and perspective near the high altar of the same church, where he painted a scene for Messer Filippo da Siena, Clerk of the Chamber, of Our Lady going into the Temple, ascending the steps, with many figures worthy of praise, such as a gentleman in antique dress, who, having dismounted from his horse, with his servants waiting, is giving alms to a beggar, quite naked and very wretched, who may be seen asking him for it with pitiful humility. In this place, also, are various buildings and most beautiful ornaments; and right round the whole work, executed likewise in fresco, are counterfeited decorations of stucco, which have the appearance of being attached to the wall with large rings, as if it were a panel painted in oils.

And in the magnificent festival that the Roman people prepared on the Campidoglio when the baton of Holy Church was given to Duke Giuliano de' Medici, out of six painted scenes which were executed by six different painters of eminence, that by the hand of Baldassarre, twenty-eight braccia high and fourteen broad, showing the betrayal of the Romans by Julia Tarpeia, was judged to be without a doubt better than any of the others. But what amazed everyone most was the perspective view or scenery for a play, which was so beautiful that it would be impossible to imagine anything finer, seeing that the variety and beautiful manner of the buildings, the various loggie, the extravagance of the doors and windows, and the other architectural details that were seen in it, were so well conceived and so extraordinary in invention, that one is not able to describe the thousandth part.

For the house of Messer Francesco di Norcia, on the Piazza de' Farnesi, he made a very graceful door of the Doric Order; and for Messer Francesco Buzio he executed, near the Piazza degl' Altieri, a very beautiful facade, in the frieze of which he painted portraits from life of all the Roman Cardinals who were then alive, while on the wall itself he depicted the scenes of Caesar receiving tribute from all the world, and above he painted the twelve Emperors, who are standing upon certain corbels, being foreshortened with a view to being seen from below, and wrought with extraordinary art. For this whole work he rightly obtained vast commendation. In the Banchi he executed the escutcheon of Pope Leo, with three children, that seemed to be alive, so tender was their flesh. For Fra Mariano Fetti, Friar of the Piombo, he made a very beautiful S. Bernard in terretta in his garden at Montecavallo. And for the Company of S. Catherine of Siena, on the Strada Giulia, in addition to a bier for carrying the dead to burial, he executed many other things, all worthy of praise. In Siena, also, he gave the design for the organ of the Carmine; and he made some other works in that city, but none of much importance.

Later, having been summoned to Bologna by the Wardens of Works of S. Petronio, to the end that he might make the model for the facade of that church, he made for this two large ground-plans and two elevations, one in the modern manner and the other in the German; and the latter is still preserved in the Sacristy of the same S. Petronio, as a truly extraordinary work, since he drew that building in such sharply-detailed perspective that it appears to be in relief. In the house of Count Giovan Battista Bentivogli, in the same city, he made several drawings for the aforesaid structure, which were so beautiful, that it is not possible to praise enough the wonderful expedients sought out by this man in order not to destroy the old masonry, but to join it in beautiful proportion with the new. For the Count Giovan Battista mentioned above he made the design of a Nativity with the Magi, in chiaroscuro, wherein it is a marvellous thing to see the horses, the equipage, and the courts of the three Kings, executed with supreme beauty and grace, as are also the walls of the temples and some buildings round the hut. This work was afterwards given to be coloured by the Count to Girolamo Trevigi, who brought it to fine completion. Baldassarre also made the design for the door of the Church of S. Michele in Bosco, a most beautiful monastery of the Monks of Monte Oliveto, without Bologna; and the design and model of the Duomo of Carpi, which was very beautiful, and was built under his direction according to the rules of Vitruvius. And in the same place he made a beginning with the Church of S. Niccola, but it was not finished at that time, because Baldassarre was almost forced to return to Siena in order to make designs for the fortifications of that city, which were afterwards carried into execution under his supervision.

He then returned to Rome, where, after building the house that is opposite to the Farnese Palace, with some others within that city, he was employed in many works by Pope Leo X. That Pontiff wished to finish the building of S. Pietro, begun by Julius II after the design of Bramante, but it appeared to him that the edifice was too large and lacking in cohesion; and Baldassarre made a new model, magnificent and truly ingenious, and revealing such good judgment, that some parts of it have since been used by other architects. So diligent, indeed, was this craftsman, so rare and so beautiful his judgment, and such the method with which his buildings were always designed, that he has never had an equal in works of architecture, seeing that, in addition to his other gifts, he combined that profession with a good and beautiful manner of painting. He made the design of the tomb of Adrian VI, and all that is painted round it is by his hand; and Michelagnolo, a sculptor of Siena, executed that tomb in marble, with the help of our Baldassarre.

When the Calandra, a play by Cardinal Bibbiena, was performed before the same Pope Leo, Baldassarre made the scenic setting, which was no less beautiful--much more so, indeed--than that which he had made on another occasion, as has been related above. In such works he deserved all the greater praise, because dramatic performances, and consequently the scenery for them, had been out of fashion for a long time, festivals and sacred representations taking their place. And either before or after (it matters little which) the performance of the aforesaid Calandra, which was one of the first plays in the vulgar tongue to be seen or performed, in the time of Leo X, Baldassarre made two such scenes, which were marvellous, and opened the way to those who have since made them in our own day. Nor is it possible to imagine how he found room, in a space so limited, for so many streets, so many palaces, and so many bizarre temples, loggie, and various kinds of cornices, all so well executed that it seemed that they were not counterfeited, but absolutely real, and that the piazza was not a little thing, and merely painted, but real and very large. He designed, also, the chandeliers and the lights within that illuminated the scene, and all the other things that were necessary, with much judgment, although, as has been related, the drama had fallen almost completely out of fashion. This kind of spectacle, in my belief, when it has all its accessories, surpasses any other kind, however sumptuous and magnificent.

Afterwards, at the election of Pope Clement VII in the year 1524, he prepared the festivities for his coronation. He finished with peperino-stone the front of the principal chapel, formerly begun by Bramante, in S. Pietro; and in the chapel wherein is the bronze tomb of Pope Sixtus, he painted in chiaroscuro the Apostles that are in the niches behind the altar, besides making the design of the Tabernacle of the Sacrament, which is very graceful.

Then in the year 1527, when the cruel sack of Rome took place, our poor Baldassarre was taken prisoner by the Spaniards, and not only lost all his possessions, but was also much maltreated and outraged, because he was grave, noble, and gracious of aspect, and they believed him to be some great prelate in disguise, or some other man able to pay a fat ransom. Finally, however, those impious barbarians having found that he was a painter, one of them, who had borne a great affection to Bourbon, caused him to make a portrait of that most rascally captain, the enemy of God and man, either letting Baldassarre see him as he lay dead, or giving him his likeness in some other way, with drawings or with words. After this, having slipped from their hands, Baldassarre took ship to go to Porto Ercole, and thence to Siena; but on the way he was robbed of everything and stripped to such purpose, that he went to Siena in his shirt. However, he was received with honor and reclothed by his friends, and a little time afterwards he was given a provision and a salary by the Commonwealth, to the end that he might give his attention to the fortification of that city. Living there, he had two children; and, besides what he did for the public service, he made many designs of houses for his fellow-citizens, and the design for the ornament of the organ, which is very beautiful, in the Church of the Carmine.

Meanwhile, the armies of the Emperor and the Pope had advanced to the siege of Florence, and his Holiness sent Baldassarre to the camp to Baccio Valori, the Military Commissary, to the end that Baccio might avail himself of his services for the purposes of his operations and for the capture of the city. But Baldassarre, loving the liberty of his former country more than the favour of the Pope, and in no way fearing the indignation of so great a Pontiff, would never lend his aid in any matter of importance. The Pope, hearing of this, for a short time bore him no little ill-will; but when the war was finished, Baldassarre desiring to return to Rome, Cardinals Salviati, Trivulzi, and Cesarino, to all of whom he had given faithful service in many works, restored him to the favor of the Pope and to his former appointments. He was thus able to return without hindrance to Rome, where, not many days after, he made for the Signori Orsini the designs of two very beautiful palaces, which were built on the way to Viterbo, and of some other edifices for Apuglia. But meanwhile he did not neglect the studies of astrology, nor those of mathematics and the others in which he much delighted, and he began a book on the antiquities of Rome, with a commentary on Vitruvius, making little by little illustrative drawings beside the writings of that author, some of which are still to be seen in the possession of Francesco da Siena, who was his disciple, and among them some papers with drawings of ancient edifices and of the modern manner of building.

While living in Rome, also, he made the design for the house of the Massimi, drawn in an oval form, with a new and beautiful manner of building; and for the facade he made a vestibule of Doric columns showing great art and good proportion, with a beautiful distribution of detail in the court and in the disposition of the stairs; but he was not able to see this work finished, for he was overtaken by death.

And yet, although the talents and labours of this noble craftsman were so great, they brought much more benefit to others than to himself; for, while he was employed by Popes, Cardinals, and other great and rich persons, not one of them ever gave him any remarkable reward. That this should have happened is not surprising, not so much through want of liberality in such patrons, although for the most part they are least liberal where they should be the very opposite, as through the timidity and excessive modesty, or rather, to be more exact in this case, the lack of shrewdness of Baldassarre. To tell the truth, in proportion as one should be discreet with magnanimous and liberal Princes, so should one always be pressing and importunate with such as are miserly, unthankful, and discourteous, for the reason that, even as in the case of the generous importunate asking would always be a vice, so with the miserly it is a virtue, and with such men it is discretion that would be the vice.

In the last years of his life, then, Baldassarre found himself poor and weighed down by his family. Finally, having always lived a life without reproach, he fell grievously ill, and took to his bed; and Pope Paul III, hearing this, and recognizing too late the harm that he was like to suffer in the loss of so great a man, sent Jacopo Melighi, the accountant of S. Pietro, to give him a present of one hundred crowns, and to make him most friendly offers. However, his sickness increased, either because it was so ordained, or, as many believe, because his death was hastened with poison by some rival who desired his place, from which he drew two hundred and fifty crowns of salary; and, the physicians discovering this too late, he died, very unwilling to give up his life, more on account of his poor family than for his own sake, as he thought in what sore straits he was leaving them. He was much lamented by his children and his friends, and he received honorable burial, next to Raffaello da Urbino, in the Ritonda, whither he was followed by all the painters, sculptors, and architects of Rome, doing him honour and bewailing him; with the following epitaph:


The name and fame of Baldassarre became greater after his death than they had been during his lifetime; and then, above all, was his talent missed, when Pope Paul III resolved to have S. Pietro finished, because men recognized how great a help he would have been to Antonio da San Gallo. For, although Antonio had to his credit all that is to be seen executed by him, yet it is believed that in company with Baldassarre he would have done more towards solving some of the difficulties of that work. The heir to many of the possessions of Baldassarre was Sebastiano Serlio of Bologna, who wrote the third book on architecture and the fourth on the antiquities of Rome with their measurements; in which works the above-mentioned labors of Baldassarre were partly inserted in the margins, and partly turned to great advantage by the author. Most of these writings of Baldassarre came into the hands of Jacomo Melighino of Ferrara, who was afterwards chosen by Pope Paul as architect for his buildings, and of the aforesaid Francesco da Siena, his former assistant and disciple, by whose hand is the highly renowned escutcheon of Cardinal Trani in Piazza Navona, with some other works. From this Francesco we received the portrait of Baldassarre, and information about some matters which I was not able to ascertain when this book was published for the first time. Another disciple of Baldassarre was Virgilio Romano, who executed a facade with some prisoners in sgraffito-work in the centre of the Borgo Nuovo in his native city, and many other beautiful works.

From the same master, also, Antonio del Rozzo, a citizen of Siena and a very excellent engineer, learnt the first principles of architecture; and Baldassarre was followed, in like manner, by Riccio, a painter of Siena, who, however, afterwards imitated to no small extent the manner of Giovanni Antonio Sodoma of Vercelli. And another of his pupils was Giovan Battista Peloro, an architect of Siena, who gave much attention to mathematics and cosmography, and made with his own hand mariner's compasses, quadrants, many irons and instruments for measuring, and likewise the ground-plans of many fortifications, most of which are in the possession of Maestro Giuliano, a goldsmith of Siena, who was very much his friend. This Giovan Battista made for Duke Cosimo de' Medici a plan of Siena, all in relief and altogether marvellous, with the valleys and the surroundings for a mile and a half round--the walls, the streets, the forts, and, in a word, a most beautiful model of the whole place. But, since he was unstable by nature, he left Duke Cosimo, although he had a good allowance from that Prince; and, thinking to do better, he made his way into France, where he followed the Court without any success for a long time, and finally died at Avignon. And although he was an able and well-practised architect, yet in no place are there to be seen any buildings erected by him or after his design, for he always stayed such a short time in any one place, that he could never bring anything to completion; wherefore he consumed all his time with designs, measurements, models, and caprices. Nevertheless, as a follower of our arts, he has deserved to have record made of him.

Baldassarre drew very well in every manner, with great judgment and diligence, but more with the pen, in watercolors, and in chiaroscuro, than in any other way, as may be seen from many drawings by his hand that belong to different craftsmen. Our book, in particular, contains various drawings; and in one of these is a scene full of invention and caprice, showing a piazza filled with arches, colossal figures, theatres, obelisks, pyramids, temples of various kinds, porticoes, and other things, all after the antique, while on a pedestal stands a Mercury, round whom are all sorts of alchemists with bellows large and small, retorts, and other instruments for distilling, hurrying about and giving him a clyster in order to purge his body--an invention as ludicrous as it is beautiful and bizarre.

Friends and intimate companions of Baldassarre, who was always courteous, modest, and gentle with every man, were Domenico Beccafumi of Siena, an excellent painter, and Il Capanna, who, in addition to many other works that he painted in Siena, executed the facade of the house of the Turchi and another that is on the Piazza.

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