Young River God with three putti. Louvre, Paris.
ALTHOUGH those men are generally the most celebrated who have executed some work excellently well, nevertheless, if the works already accomplished by any man foreshadow those that he did not achieve as likely to have been numerous and much more rare, if some accident, unforeseen and out of the common use, had not happened to interrupt him, it is certain that such a man, wherever there may be one willing to be just in his appreciation of the talent of another, will be rightly extolled and celebrated both on the one count and on the other, and as much for what he would have done as for what he did. The sculptor Vinci, therefore, should not suffer on account of the short duration of his life, or be robbed thereby of the praise due to him from the judgment of those who shall come after us, considering that he was only in the first bloom both of his life and of his studies at the time when he produced and gave to the world that which everyone admires, and was like to bring forth fruits in greater abundance, if a hostile tempest had not destroyed both the fruits and the tree.
I remember having said in another place that in the township of Vinci, in the lower Valdarno, there lived Ser Piero, the father of Leonardo da Vinci, most famous of painters. To this Ser Piero, after Leonardo, there was born, as his youngest son, Bartolommeo, who, living at Vinci and attaining to manhood, took for his wife one of the first maidens of that township. Bartolommeo was desirous of having a male child, and spoke very often to his wife of the greatness of the genius with which his brother Leonardo had been endowed, praying God that He should make her worthy that from her there might be born in his house another Leonardo, the first being now dead. In a short time, therefore, according to his desire, there was born to him a gracious boy, to whom he wished to give the name of Leonardo; but, being advised by his relatives to revive the memory of his father, he gave him the name of Piero. Having come to the age of three years, the boy had a most beautiful countenance, with curly locks, and showed great grace in every movement, with a quickness of intelligence that was marvellous; insomuch that Maestro Giuliano del Carmine, an excellent astrologer, and with him a priest devoted to chiromancy, who were both close friends of Bartolommeo, having arrived in Vinci and lodged in Bartolommeo's house, looking at the forehead and hand of the boy, revealed to the father, both the astrologer and the chiromancer together, the greatness of his genius, and predicted that in a short time he would make extraordinary proficience in the mercurial arts, but that his life would also be very short. And only too true was their prophecy, for both in the one part and in the other (when one would have sufficed), in his life as well as in his art, it needs must be fulfilled.
Then, continuing to grow, Piero had his father as his master in letters, but of himself, without any master, giving his attention to drawing and to making various little puppets in clay, he showed that the divine inclination of his nature recognized by the astrologer and the chiromancer was already awakening and beginning to work in him. By reason of which Bartolommeo judged that his prayer had been heard by God ; and, believing that his brother had been restored to him in his son, he began to think of removing Piero from Vinci and taking him to Florence. Having then done this without delay, he placed Piero, who was now twelve years of age, with Bandinelli in Florence, flattering himself that Baccio, having been once the friend of Leonardo, would take notice of the boy and teach him with diligence; besides which, it seemed to him that Piero delighted more in sculpture than in painting. But afterwards, coming very often to Florence, he recognized that Bandinelli was not answering with deeds to his expectations, and was not taking pains with the boy or showing interest in him, although he saw him to be willing to learn. For which reason Bartolommeo took him away from Bandinelli, and entrusted him to Tribolo, who appeared to him to make more effort to help those who were seeking to learn, besides giving more attention to the studies of art and bearing even greater affection to the memory of Leonardo.
Tribolo was executing some fountains at Castello, the villa of his Excellency; and thereupon Piero, beginning once more his customary drawing, through having there the competition of the other young men whom Tribolo kept about him, set himself with great ardour of spirit to study day and night, being spurred by his nature, which was desirous of excellence and honour, and being even more kindled by the example of the others like himself whom he saw constantly around him. Wherefore in a few months he made such progress, that it was a marvel to everyone; and, having begun to gain some experience with the chisels, he sought to see whether his hand and his tools would obey in practice the thoughts within him and the designs formed in his brain. Tribolo, perceiving his readiness, and having had a water-basin of stone made at that very time for Cristofano Rinieri, gave to Piero a small piece of marble, from which he was to make for that water-basin a boy that should spurt forth water from the private part. Piero, taking the marble with great gladness, first made a little model of clay, and then executed the work with so much grace, that Tribolo and the others ventured the opinion that he would become one of those who are counted as rare in that art. Tribolo then gave him a Ducal Mazzocchio* to make in stone, to be placed over an escutcheon with the Medici balls, for Messer Pier Francesco Riccio, the major-domo of the Duke; and he made it with two children with their legs intertwined together, who are holding the Mazzocchio in their hands and placing it upon the escutcheon, which is fixed over the door of a house that the majordomo then occupied, opposite to S. Giuliano, near the Priests of S. Antonio. When this work was seen, all the craftsmen of Florence formed the same judgment that Tribolo had pronounced before.
After this, he carved a boy squeezing a fish that is pouring water from its mouth, for the fountains of Castello. And then, Tribolo having given him a larger piece of marble, Piero made from it two children who are embracing each other and squeezing fishes, causing water to spout from their mouths. These children were so graceful in the heads and in their whole persons, and executed with so beautiful a manner in the legs, arms, and hair, that already it could be seen that he would have been able to execute the most difficult work to perfection. Taking heart, therefore, and buying a piece of grey-stone, two braccia and a half in length, which he took to his house on the Canto alia Briga, Piero began to work at it in the evenings, after returning from his labors, at night, and on feast-days, insomuch that little by little he brought it to completion. This was a figure of Bacchus, who had a Satyr at his feet, and with one hand was holding a cup, while in the other he had a bunch of grapes, and his head was girt with a crown of grapes; all after a model made by himself in clay. In this and in his other early works Piero showed a marvellous facility, which never offends the eye, nor is it in any respect disturbing to him who beholds it. This Bacchus, when finished, was bought by Bongianni Capponi, and his nephew Lodovico Capponi now has it in a courtyard in his house.
The while that Piero was executing these works, few persons as yet knew that he was the nephew of Leonardo da Vinci; but his labors making him well known and renowned, by this means his parentage and his birth were likewise revealed. Wherefore ever afterwards, both from his connection with his uncle and from his own happy genius, wherein he resembled that great man, he was called by everyone not Piero, but Vinci.
Now Vinci, while occupied in this manner, had often heard various persons speaking of the things connected with the arts to be seen in Rome, and extolling them, as is always done by everyone; wherefore a great desire had been kindled in him to see them, hoping to be able to derive profit by beholding not only the works of the ancients, but also those of Michelagnolo, and even the master himself, who was then alive and residing in Rome. He went thither, therefore, in company with some friends; but after seeing Rome and all that he wished, he returned to Florence, having reflected judiciously that the things of Rome were as yet too profound for him, and should be studied and imitated not so early in his career, but after a greater acquaintance with art.
At that time Tribolo had finished a model for the shaft of the fountain in the labyrinth, in which are some Satyrs in low-relief, four masks in half-relief, and four little boys in the round, who are seated upon certain caulicoles. Vinci having then returned, Tribolo gave him this shaft to do, and he executed and finished it, making in it some delicate designs not employed by any other but himself, which greatly pleased all who saw them. Then, having had the whole marble tazza of that fountain finished, Tribolo thought of placing on the edge of it four children in the round, lying down and playing with their arms and legs in the water, in various attitudes; and these he intended to cast in bronze. Vinci, at the commission of Tribolo, made them of clay, and they were afterwards cast in bronze by Zanobi Lastricati, a sculptor and a man very experienced in matters of casting; and they were placed not long since around the fountain, where they make a most beautiful effect.
There was in daily intercourse with Tribolo one Luca Martini, the proveditor at that time for the building of the Mercato Nuovo, who, praising highly the excellence in art and the fine character of Vinci, and desiring to help him, provided him with a piece of marble two-thirds of a braccio in height and one and a quarter in length. Vinci, taking the marble, made with it a Christ being scourged at the Column, in which the rules of low-relief and of design may be seen to have been well observed; and in truth it made everyone marvel, considering that he had not yet reached the age of seventeen, and had made in five years of study that proficience in art which others do not achieve save after length of life and great experience of many things.
At this time Tribolo, having undertaken the office of superintendent of the drains in the city of Florence, ordained in that capacity that the drain in the old Piazza, di S. Maria Novella should be raised from the ground, in such a way that, becoming more capacious, it might be better able to receive all the waters that ran into it from various quarters. For this work, then, he commissioned Vinci to make the model of a great mask of three braccia, which with its open mouth might swallow all the rain-water. Afterwards, by order of the Ufficiali della Torre, the work was allotted to Vinci, who, in order to execute it more quickly, summoned to his aid the sculptor Lorenzo Marignolli. In company with this master he finished it, making it from a block of hard-stone; and the work is such that it adorns the whole Piazza, with no small advantage to the city.
It now appeared to Vinci that he had made such proficience in art, that it would be a great benefit to him to see the principal works in Rome, and to associate with the most excellent craftsmen living there; wherefore, an occasion to go there presenting itself, he seized it readily. There had arrived from Rome an intimate friend of Michelagnolo Buonarroti, Francesco Bandini, who, having come to know Vinci by means of Luca Martini, and having praised him highly, caused him to make a model of wax for a tomb of marble that he wished to erect in his chapel in S. Croce; and shortly afterwards, on returning to Rome, Vinci having spoken his mind to Luca Martini, Bandini took him in his company. There Vinci remained a year, studying all the time, and executed some works worthy of remembrance. The first was a Christ on the Cross in low-relief, rendering up His spirit to His Father, which was copied from a design done by Michelagnolo. For Cardinal Ridolfi he added to an antique head a breast in bronze, and made a Venus of marble in low-relief, which was much extolled. For Francesco Bandini he restored an ancient horse, of which many pieces were wanting, and made it complete. And in order to give some proof of gratitude, where he could, to Luca Martini, who was writing to him by every courier, and continually recommending him to Bandini, it seemed good to Vinci to make a copy in wax, in the round and two-thirds (of a braccio) in height, of the Moses of Michelagnolo that is on the tomb of Pope Julius II in S. Pietro in Vincula, than which there is no more beautiful work to be seen; and so, having made the Moses of wax, he sent it as a present to Luca Martini.
At the time when Vinci was living in Rome and executing the works mentioned above, Luca Martini was made by the Duke of Florence proveditor of Pisa, and in his office he did not forget his friend, and therefore wrote to him that he was preparing a room for him and was providing a block of marble of three braccia, so that he might return from Rome at his pleasure, seeing that while with him he should want for nothing. Vinci, attracted by this prospect and by the love that he bore to Luca, resolved to depart from Rome and to take up his abode for some time in Pisa, where he looked to find opportunities of practising his hand and making trial of his ability. Having therefore gone to Pisa, he found that the marble was already in his room, prepared according to the orders of Luca; but, on proceeding to begin to carve from it an upright figure, he perceived that the marble had in it a crack that diminished it by a braccio. Wherefore, having resolved to change it into a recumbent figure, he made a young River God holding a vase that is pouring out water, the vase being upheld by three children, who are assisting the River God to pour the water forth; and beneath his feet runs a copious stream of water, in which may be seen fishes darting about and water-fowl flying in various parts. This River God finished, Vinci made a present of it to Luca, who presented it to the Duchess, to whom it was very dear; and then, her brother Don Garzia di Toledo being at that time in Pisa, whither he had gone by galley, she gave it to that brother, who accepted it with much pleasure for the fountains of his garden in the Chiaia at Naples.
In those days Luca Martini was writing some observations on the Commedia of Dante, and he pointed out to Vinci the cruelty described by Dante, which the Pisans and Archbishop Ruggieri showed towards Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, causing him to die of hunger with his four sons in the tower that is therefore called the Tower of Hunger; whereby he offered to Vinci the occasion for a new work and the idea of a new design. Wherefore, while he was still working at the River God described above, he set his hand to making a scene in wax more than a braccio in height and three-quarters in breadth, to be cast in bronze, in which he represented two of the Count's sons already dead, one in the act of expiring, and the fourth overcome by hunger and near his end, but not yet reduced to the last breath; with the father in a pitiful and miserable attitude, blind and heavy with grief, and groping over the wretched bodies of his sons stretched upon the ground. In this work Vinci displayed the excellence of design no less than did Dante the perfection of poetry in his verses, for no less compassion is stirred by the attitudes shaped in wax by the sculptor in him who beholds them, than is roused in him who listens to the words and accents imprinted on the living page by the poet. And in order to mark the place where the event happened, he made at the foot of the scene the River Arno, which occupies its whole width, for the above-named tower is not far distant from the river in Pisa; while upon that tower he placed an old woman, naked, withered, and fearsome, representing Hunger, much after the manner wherein Ovid describes her. The wax model finished, he cast the scene in bronze, and it gave consummate satisfaction, being held by the Court and by everyone to be no ordinary work.
Duke Cosimo was then intent on enriching and beautifying the city of Pisa, and he had already caused the Piazza del Mercato to be built anew, with a great number of shops around it, and had placed in the centre a column ten braccia high, upon which, according to the design of Luca, was to stand a statue representing Abundance. Martini, there- fore, having spoken to the Duke and presented Vinci to his notice, easily obtained for him from his Excellency the commission for that statue, the Duke being always eager to assist men of talent and to bring fine intellects forward. Vinci executed a statue of travertine, three braccia and a half in height, which was much extolled by everyone; for at the feet of the figure he placed a little child, who assists her to support the Cornucopia, carved with much softness and facility, although the stone is rough and difficult to work.
Luca afterwards sent to Carrara to have a block of marble quarried five braccia in height and three in breadth, from which Vinci, who had once seen some sketches by Michelagnolo of Samson slaying a Philistine with the jawbone of an ass, proposed to make two figures of five braccia from his own fancy, after that subject. Whereupon, while the marble was on its way, he set himself to make several models, all varying one from another, and then fixed on one of them; and after the block had arrived he began to carve it, and carried it well on, imitating Michelagnolo in cutting his conception and design little by little out of the stone, without spoiling it or making any sort of error. He executed all the perforation in this work, whether undercut or at an easy angle, with great facility, laborious as it was, and the manner of the whole work was very delicate. But since the labour was very fatiguing, he sought to distract himself with other studies and works of less importance; and thus he executed during the same time a little tablet of marble in low relief, in which he represented Our Lady with Christ, S. John, and S. Elizabeth, which was held, as it still is, to be a rare work. This came into the hands of the most illustrious Duchess, and it is now among the choice things in the study of the Duke.
He then set his hand to a scene of marble, one braccio high and one and a half wide, partly in half-relief and partly in low-relief, in which he represented the restoration of Pisa by the Duke, who is in the work present in person at the restoration of that city, which is being pressed forward by his presence. Round the Duke are figures of his virtues; in particular a Minerva representing his wisdom and also the arts revived by him in that city of Pisa, who is surrounded by many evils and natural defects of the site, which besiege her on every side, and afflict her in the manner of enemies; but from all these that city has since been delivered by the above-mentioned virtues of the Duke. All these virtues round the Duke, with all the evils round Pisa, were portrayed by Vinci in his scene with most beautiful gestures and attitudes ; but he left it unfinished, to the great regret of those who saw it, on account of the perfection of the things in it that were completed.
The fame of Vinci having grown and spread abroad by reason of these works, the heirs of Messer Baldassarre Turini da Pescia besought him that he should make a model of a marble tomb for Messer Baldassarre; which finished, it pleased them, whereupon they made an agreement that the tomb should be executed, and Vinci sent Francesco del Tadda, an able master of marble carving, to have the marble quarried at Carrara. And when that master had sent him a block of marble, Vinci began a statue, and carved out of the stone a figure blocked out in such a manner that one who knew not the circumstances would have said that it was certainly blocked out by Michelagnolo.
The name of Vinci was now very great, and his genius was admired by all, being much more perfect than could have been expected in one so young, and it was likely to grow even more and to become greater, and to equal that of any other man in his art, as his own works bear witness, without any other testimony; when the term prescribed for him by Heaven, being now close at hand, interrupted all his plans, and caused his rapid progress to cease at one blow, not suffering that he should climb any higher, and depriving the world of many excellent works of art with which, had Vinci lived, it would have been adorned. It happened at this time, while Vinci was intent on the tomb of another, not knowing that his own was preparing, that the Duke had to send Luca Martini to Genoa on affairs of importance; and Luca, both because he loved Vinci and wished to have him in his company, and also in order to give him some diversion and recreation, and to enable him to see Genoa, took him with him on his journey. There, while Martini was transacting his business, at his suggestion Messer Adamo Centurioni commissioned Vinci to execute a figure of S. John the Baptist, of which he made the model. But soon he was attacked by fever, and, to increase his distress, at the same time his friend was also taken away from him; perchance to provide a way in which fate might be fulfilled in the life of Vinci. For it became necessary that Luca, in the interests of the business entrusted to him, should go to Florence to find the Duke; wherefore he parted from his sick friend, to the great grief of both the one and the other, leaving him in the house of the Abate Nero, to whom he straitly recommended him, although Piero was very unwilling to remain in Genoa. But Vinci, feeling himself growing worse every day, resolved to have himself removed from Genoa ; and, having caused an assistant of his own, called Tiberio Cavalieri, to come from Pisa, with his help he had himself carried to Livorno by water, and from Livorno to Pisa in a litter. Arriving in Pisa at the twenty-second hour in the evening, all exhausted and broken by the journey, the sea-voyage, and the fever, during the night he had no repose, and the next morning, at the break of day, he passed to the other life, not having yet reached the age of twenty-three.
The death of Vinci was a great grief to all his friends, and to Luca Martini beyond measure; and it grieved all those who had hoped to see from his hands such works as are not often seen. And Messer Benedetto Varchi, who was much the friend of his abilities and of those of every master, afterwards wrote the following sonnet in memory of his fame:
Come potro da me, se tu non presti O forza, o tregua al mio gran duolo interne, Soffrirlo in pace mai, Signer superno, Che fin qui nuova ognor pena mi desti? Dunque de 1 miei piu' cari or quegli, or questi, Verde sen voli all' alto Asilo eterno, Ed io canuto in questo basso inferno A pianger sempre e lamentarmi resti ? Sciolgami almen tua gran bontade quinci, Or che reo fato nostro, o sua ventura, Ch' era ben degno d' altra vita, e gente, Per far piii ricco il cielo, e la scultura Men bella, e me col buon Martin dolente, N' ha privi, o pieta, del secondo Vinci.