Detail. Enea Piccolomini leaves for the Council of Basel. 1502/1508. Fresco. Piccolomini Library, Duomo, Siena.
EVEN AS MANY are assisted by fortune without being endowed with much talent, so, on the contrary, there is an infinite number of able men who are persecuted by an adverse and hostile fortune; whence it is clearly manifest that she acknowledges as her children those who depend upon her without the aid of any talent, since it pleases her to exalt by her favor certain men who would never be known through their own merit; which is seen in Pinturicchio of Perugia, who, although he made many works and was assisted by various helpers, nevertheless had a much greater name than his works deserved. However, he was a man who had much practice in large works, and ever kept many assistants to aid him in his labors. Now, having worked at many things in his early youth under his master Pietro da Perugia,* [* Pietro Perugino] receiving a third of all that was earned, he was summoned to Siena by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini to paint the library made by Pope Pius II in the Duomo of that city. It is true, indeed, that the sketches and cartoons for all the scenes that he painted there were by the hand of Raffaello da Urbino, then a youth, who had been his companion and fellow disciple under the same Pietro, whose manner the said Raffaello had mastered very well. One of these cartoons is still to be seen at the present day in Siena, and some of the sketches, by the hand of Raffaello, are in our book.
Now the stories in this work, wherein Pinturicchio was aided by many pupils and assistants, all of the school of Pietro, were divided into ten pictures. In the first is painted the scene when the said Pope Pius II was born to Silvio Piccolomini and Vittoria, and was called Eneas, in the year 1405, in Valdorcia, at the township of Corsignano, which is now called Pienza after the name of that Pope, who afterwards enriched it with buildings and made it a city ; and in this picture are portraits from nature of the said Silvio and Vittoria. In the same is the scene when, in company with Cardinal Domenico of Capranica, he is crossing the Alps, which are covered with ice and snow, on his way to the Council of Bale. In the second the Council is sending Eneas on many embassies --namely, to Argentina (three times), to Trent, to Constance, to Frankfurt, and to Savoy. In the third is the sending of the same ^Eneas by the Antipope Felix as ambassador to the Emperor Frederick III, with whom the ready intelligence, the eloquence, and the grace of Eneas found so much favor that he was given the poet's crown of laurel by Frederick himself, who made him his Protonotary, received him into the number of his friends, and appointed him his First Secretary. In the fourth he is sent by Frederick to Eugenius IV, by whom he was made Bishop of Trieste, and then Archbishop of Siena, his native city. In the fifth scene the same Emperor, who is about to come to Italy to receive the crown of Empire, is sending Eneas to Telamone, a port of the people of Siena, to meet his wife, Leonora, who was coming from Portugal. In the sixth Eneas is going to Calistus IV,* [* This seems to be an error for Calistus III.] at the bidding of the said Emperor, to induce him to make war against the Turks ; and in this part, Siena being harassed by the Count of Pittigliano and by others at the instigation of King Alfonso of Naples, that Pontiff is sending him to treat for peace. This effected, war is planned against the Orientals; and he, having returned to Rome, is made a Cardinal by the said Pontiff. In the seventh, Calistus being dead, Eneas is seen being created Supreme Pontiff, and called Pius II.
In the eighth the Pope goes to Mantua for the Council about the expedition against the Turks, where the Marquis Lodovico receives him with most splendid pomp and incredible magnificence. In the ninth the same Pope is placing in the catalogue of saints or, as the saying is, canonizing Catherine of Siena, a holy woman and nun of the Preaching Order. In the tenth and last, while preparing a vast expedition against the Turks with the help and favor of all the Christian Princes, Pope Pius dies at Ancona; and a hermit of the Hermitage of Camaldoli, a holy man, sees the soul of the said Pontiff being borne by Angels into Heaven at the very moment of his death, as may also be read. Afterwards, in the same picture, the body of the same Pope is seen being borne from Ancona to Rome by a vast and honourable company of lords and prelates, who are lamenting the death of so great a man and so rare and holy a Pontiff. The whole of this work is full of portraits from the life, so numerous that it would be a long story to recount their names; and it is all painted with the finest and most lively colors, and wrought with various ornaments of gold, and with very well designed partitions in the ceiling. Below each scene is a Latin inscription, which describes what is contained therein. In the centre of this library the said Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, nephew of the Pope, placed the three Graces of marble, ancient and most beautiful, which are still there, and which were the first antiquities to be held in price in those times. This library, wherein are all the books left by the said Pius II, was scarcely finished, when the same Cardinal Francesco, nephew of the aforesaid Pontiff, Pius II, was created Pope, choosing the name of Pius III in memory of his uncle. Over the door of that library, which opens into the Duomo, the same Pinturicchio painted in a very large scene, occupying the whole extent of the wall, the Coronation of the said Pope Pius III, with many portraits from life; and beneath it may be read these words:
PIUS III SENENSIS, PII SECUNDI NEPOS, MDIII, SEPTEMBRIS XXI, APERTIS ELECTUS SUFFRAGIIS, OCTAVO OCTOBRIS CORONATUS EST.
When Pinturicchio was working with Pietro Perugino and painting at Rome in the time of Pope Sixtus, he had also been in the service of Domenico della Rovere, Cardinal of San Clemente; wherefore the said Cardinal, having built a very beautiful palace in the Borgo Vecchio, charged Pinturicchio to paint the whole of it, and to make on the facade the coat of arms of Pope Sixtus, with two little boys as supporters. The same master executed certain works for Sciarra Colonna in the Palace of S. Apostolo; and no long time after namely, in the year 1484 Innocent VIII, the Genoese, caused him to paint certain halls and loggie in the Palace of the Belvedere, where, among other things, by order of that Pope, he painted a loggia full of landscapes, depicting therein Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Venice, and Naples, after the manner of the Flemings; and this, being a thing not customary at that time, gave no little satisfaction. In the same place, over the principal door of entrance, he painted a Madonna in fresco. In S. Pietro, in the chapel that contains the Lance which pierced the side of Christ, he painted a panel in distemper, with the Madonna larger than life, for the said Innocent VIII; and he painted two chapels in the Church of S. Maria del Popolo, one for the aforesaid Domenico della Rovere, Cardinal of San Clemente, who was afterwards buried therein, and the other for Cardinal Innocenzio Cibo, wherein he also was afterwards buried; and in each of these chapels he portrayed the Cardinal who had caused him to paint it. In the Palace of the Pope he painted certain rooms that look out upon the courtyard of S. Pietro, the ceilings and paintings of which were renovated a few years ago by Pope Pius IV. In the same palace Alexander VI caused Pinturicchio to paint all the rooms that he occupied, together with the whole of the Borgia Tower, wherein he wrought stories of the liberal arts in one room, besides decorating all the ceilings with stucco and gold; but, since they did not then know the method of stucco work that is now in use, the aforesaid ornaments are for the most part ruined. Over the door of an apartment in the said palace he portrayed the Signora Giulia Farnese in the countenance of a Madonna, and, in the same picture, the head of Pope Alexander in a figure that is adoring her.
Bernardino was much given to making gilt ornaments in relief for his pictures, to satisfy people who had little understanding of his art with the more showy lustre that this gave them, which is a most barbarous thing in painting. Having then executed a story of S. Catherine in the said apartments, he depicted the arches of Rome in relief and the figures in painting, insomuch that, the figures being in the foreground and the buildings in the background, the things that should recede stand out more prominently than those that should strike the eye as the larger a very grave heresy in our art.
In the Castello di S. Angelo he painted a vast number of rooms with grotesques; and in the Great Tower, in the garden below, he painted stories of Pope Alexander, with portraits of the Catholic Queen, Isabella; Niccolo Orsino, Count of Pittigliano; Gianjacomo Trivulzi, and many other relatives and friends of the said Pope, in particular Caesar Borgia and his brother and sisters, with many talented men of those times. At Monte Oliveto in Naples, in the Chapel of Paolo Tolosa, there is a panel with an Assumption by the hand of Pinturicchio. This master made an infinite number of other works throughout all Italy, which, since they are of no great excellence, and wrought in a superficial manner, I will pass over in silence. Pinturicchio used to say that a painter could only give the greatest relief to his figures when he had it in himself, without owing anything to principles or to others. He also made works in Perugia, but these were few. In the Araceli he painted the Chapel of S. Bernardino ; and in S. Maria del Popolo, where, as we have said, he painted the two chapels, he made the four Doctors of the Church on the vaulting of the principal chapel.
Afterwards, having reached the age of fifty-nine, he was commissioned to paint the Nativity of Our Lady on a panel in S. Francesco at Siena. To this he set his hand, and the friars assigned to him a room to live in, which they gave to him, as he wished, empty and stripped of everything, save only a huge old chest, which appeared to them too awkward to remove. But Pinturicchio, like the strange and whimsical man that he was, made such an outcry at this, and repeated it so often, that finally in despair the friars set themselves to carry it away. Now their good fortune was such, that in removing it there was broken a plank which contained 500 Roman ducats of gold; at which Pinturicchio was so displeased, and felt so aggrieved at the good luck of those poor friars, that it can hardly be imagined nay, he took it so much to heart, being unable to get it out of his thoughts, that it was the death of him. His pictures date about the year 1513.
A companion and friend of Pinturicchio, although he was a much older man, was Benedetto Buonfiglio, a painter of Perugia, who executed many works in company with other masters in the Papal Palace at Rome. In the Chapel of the Signoria in Perugia, his native city, he painted scenes from the life of S. Ercolano, Bishop and Protector of that city, and in the same place certain miracles wrought by S. Louis. In S. Domenico he painted the story of the Magi on a panel in distemper, and many saints on another. In the Church of S. Bernardino he painted a Christ in the sky, with S. Bernardino himself, and a multitude below. In short, this master was in no little repute in his native city before Pietro Perugino had come to be known.
Another friend of Pinturicchio, associated with him in not a few of his works, was Gerino Pistoiese, who was held to be a diligent colorist and a faithful imitator of the manner of Pietro Perugino, with whom he worked nearly up to his death. He did little work in his native city of Pistoia; but for the Company of the Buon Gesu' in Borgo San Sepolcro he painted a Circumcision in oil on a panel, which is passing good. In the Pieve of the same place he painted a chapel in fresco; and on the bank of the Tiber, on the road that leads to Anghiari, he painted another chapel, also in fresco, for the Commune. And he painted still another chapel in the same place, in S. Lorenzo, an abbey of the Monks of Camaldoli. By reason of all these works he made so long a stay in the Borgo that he almost adopted it as his home. He was a sorry fellow in matters of art, laboring with the greatest difficulty, and toiling with such pains at the execution of a work, that it was a torture to him.
At this same time there was a painter in the city of Foligno, Niccolo Alunno, who was held to be excellent, for it was little the custom before Pietro Perugino's day to paint in oil, and many were held to be able men who did not afterwards justify this opinion. Niccolo therefore gave no little satisfaction with his works, since, although he only painted in distemper, he portrayed the heads of his figures from life, so that they appeared alive, and his manner won considerable praise. In S. Agostino at Foligno there is a panel by his hand with a Nativity of Christ, and a predella with little figures. At Assisi he painted a banner that is borne in processions, besides the panel of the high altar in the Duomo, and another panel in S. Francesco. But the best painting that Niccolo ever did was in a chapel in the Duomo, where, among other things, there is a Pieta', with two angels who are holding two torches and weeping so naturally, that I do not believe that any other painter, however excellent, would have been able to do much better. In the same place he also painted the facade of S. Maria degli Angeli, besides many other works of which there is no need to make mention, it being enough to have touched on the best. And let this be the end of the Life of Pinturicchio, who, besides his other qualities, gave no little satisfaction to many princes and lords because he finished and delivered his works quickly, which is their pleasure, although such works are perchance less excellent than those that are made slowly and deliberately.