LINK TO BIB
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist."Circa 1512-1515." Ringling Museum of Art,
Sarasota, Florida.



LIFE OF GIOVANNI ANTONIO LICINIO OF PORDENONE (1483-1539),
AND OF OTHER PAINTERS OF FRIULI


Vasari's Lives of the Artists




IT WOULD SEEM, as has been remarked already in the same connection, that Nature, the kindly mother of the universe, sometimes presents the rarest things to certain places that never had any knowledge of such gifts, and that at times she creates in some country men so much inclined to design and to painting, that, without masters, but only by imitating living and natural objects, they become most excellent. And it also happens very often that when one man has begun, many set themselves to work in competition with him, and labor to such purpose, without seeing Rome, Florence, or any other place full of notable pictures, but merely through rivalry one with another, that marvellous works are seen to issue from their hands. All this may be seen to have happened more particularly in Friuli, where, in our own day, in consequence of such a beginning, there has been a vast number of excellent painters--a thing which had not occurred in those parts for many centuries.

While Giovanni Bellini was working in Venice and teaching his art to many, as has been related, he had two disciples who were rivals one with another--Pellegrino da Udine, who, as will be told, was afterwards called Da San Daniele, and Giovanni Martini of Udine. Let us begin, then, by speaking of Giovanni. He always imitated the manner of Bellini, which was somewhat crude, hard, and dry; nor was he ever able to give it sweetness or softness, although he was a diligent and finished painter. This may have happened because he was always making trial of certain reflections, half-lights, and shadows, with which, cutting the relief in the middle, he contrived to define light and shade very abruptly, in such a way that the colouring of all his works was always crude and unpleasant, although he strove laboriously with his art to imitate Nature. By the hand of this master are numerous works in many places in Friuli, particularly in the city of Udine, in the Duomo of which there is a panel-picture executed in oils, of S. Mark seated with many figures round him, which is held to be the best of all that he ever painted. There is another on the altar of S. Ursula in the Church of the Friars of S. Pietro Martire, wherein the first-mentioned Saint is standing with some of her virgins round her, all painted with much grace and beautiful expressions of countenance. This Giovanni, besides being a passing good painter, was endowed by Nature with beauty and grace of features and an excellent character, and, what is most desirable, with such foresight and power of management, that, after his death, in default of heirs male, he left an inheritance of much property to his wife. And she, being, so I have heard, a lady as shrewd as she was beautiful, knew so well how to manage her life after the death of her husband, that she married two very beautiful daughters into the richest and most noble houses of Udine.

Pellegrino da San Daniele, who was a rival of Giovanni, as has been related, and a man of greater excellence in painting, received at baptism the name of Martino. But Giovanni Bellini, judging that he was destined to become, as he afterwards did, a truly rare master of art, changed his name from Martino to Pellegrino.[I.e., singular or rare.] And even as his name was changed, so he may be said by chance to have changed his country, since, living by preference at San Daniele, a township ten miles distant from Udine, and spending most of his time in that place, where he had taken a wife, he was called ever afterwards not Martino da Udine, but Pellegrino da San Daniele. He painted many pictures in Udine, and some may still be seen on the doors of the old organ, on the outer side of which is painted a sunken arch in perspective, containing a S. Peter seated among a multitude of figures and handing a pastoral staff to S. Ermacora the Bishop. On the inner side of the same doors, likewise, in some niches, he painted the four Doctors of the Church in the act of studying. For the Chapel of S. Giuseppe he executed a panel picture in oils, drawn and coloured with much diligence, in the middle of which is S. Joseph standing in a beautiful attitude, with an air of dignity, and beside him is Our Lord as a little Child, while S. John the Baptist is below in the garb of a little shepherd boy, gazing intently on his Master. And since this picture is much extolled, we may believe what is said of it--namely, that he painted it in competition with the aforesaid Giovanni, and that he put forward every effort to make it, as it proved to be, more beautiful than that which Giovanni painted of S. Mark, as has been related above. Pellegrino also painted at Udine, for the house of Messer Pre Giovanni, intendant to the illustrious Signori della Torre, a picture of Judith from the waist upwards, with the head of Holofernes in one hand, which is a very beautiful work. By the hand of the same man is a large panel in oils, divided into several pictures, which may be seen on the high-altar of the Church of S. Maria in the town of Civitale, at a distance of eight miles from Udine; and in it are some heads of virgins and other figures with great beauty of expression. And in his township of San Daniele, in a chapel of S. Antonio, he painted in fresco scenes of the Passion of Jesus Christ, and that so finely that he well deserved to be paid more than a thousand crowns for the work. He was much beloved for his talents by the Dukes of Ferrara, and, in addition to other favours and many gifts, he obtained through their good offices two Canonicates in the Duomo of Udine for two of his relatives.

Among his pupils, of whom he had many, making much use of them and rewarding them liberally, was one of Greek nationality, a man of no little ability, who had a very beautiful manner and imitated Pellegrino closely. But Luca Monverde of Udine, who was much beloved by Pellegrino, would have been superior to the Greek, if he had not been snatched from the world prematurely when still a mere lad; although one work by his hand was left on the high-altar of S. Maria delle Grazie in Udine, a panel picture in oils, his first and last, in which, in a recess in perspective, there is a Madonna seated on high with the Child in her arms, painted by him with a soft gradation of shadow, while on the level surface below there are two figures on either side, so beautiful that they show that if he had lived longer he would have become truly excellent.

Another disciple of the same Pellegrino was Bastianello Florigorio, who painted a panel picture that is over the high-altar of S. Giorgio in Udine, of a Madonna in the sky surrounded by an endless number of little angels in various attitudes, all adoring the Child that she holds in her arms; while below there is a very well executed landscape. There is also a very beautiful S. John, and a S. George in armour and on horseback, who, foreshortened in a spirited attitude, is slaying the Dragon with his lance; while the Maiden, who is there on one side, appears to be thanking God and the glorious Virgin for the succour sent to her. In the head of the S. George Bastianello is said to have made his own portrait. He also painted two pictures in fresco in the Refectory of the Friars of S. Pietro Martire: in one is Christ seated at table with the two disciples at Emmaus, and breaking the bread with a benediction, and in the other is the death of S. Peter Martyr. The same master painted in fresco in a niche on a corner of the Palace of M. Marguando, an excellent physician, a nude man in foreshortening, representing a S. John, which is held to be a good painting. Finally, he was forced through some dispute to depart from Udine, for the sake of peace, and to live like an exile in Civitale.

Bastianello had a crude and hard manner, because he much delighted in drawing works in relief and objects of Nature by candle-light. He had much beauty of invention, and he took great pleasure in executing portraits from life, making them truly beautiful and very like; and at Udine, among others, he made one of Messer Raffaello Belgrado, and one of the father of M. Giovan Battista Grassi, an excellent painter and architect, from whose loving courtesy we have received much particular information touching our present subject of Friuli. Bastianello lived about forty years.

Another disciple of Pellegrino was Francesco Floriani of Udine, who is still alive and is a very good painter and architect, like his younger brother, Antonio Floriani, who, thanks to his rare abilities in his profession, is now in the service of his glorious Majesty the Emperor Maximilian. Some of the pictures of that same Francesco were to be seen two years ago in the possession of the Emperor, who was then a King; one of these being a Judith who has cut off the head of Holofernes, painted with admirable judgment and diligence. And in the collection of that monarch there is a book of pen-drawings by the same master, full of lovely inventions, buildings, theatres, arches, porticoes, bridges, palaces, and many other works of architecture, all useful and very beautiful.

Gensio Liberale was also a disciple of Pellegrino, and in his pictures, among other things, he imitated every sort of fish excellently well. This master is now in the service of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, a splendid position, which he deserves, for he is a very good painter.

But among the most illustrious and renowned painters of the territory of Friuli, the rarest and most famous in our day--since he has surpassed those mentioned above by a great measure in the invention of scenes, in draughtsmanship, in boldness, in mastery over colour, in fresco work, in swiftness of execution, in strength of relief, and in every other department of our arts--is Giovanni Antonio Licinio, called by some Cuticello. This master was born at Pordenone, a township in Friuli, twenty-five miles from Udine; and since he was endowed by nature with a beautiful genius and an inclination for painting, he devoted himself without any teacher to the study of natural objects, imitating the style of Giorgione da Castelfranco, because that manner, seen by him many times in Venice, had pleased him much. Now, having learnt the rudiments of art, he was forced, in order to save his life from a pestilence that had fallen upon his native place, to take to flight; and thus, passing many months in the surrounding country, he executed various works in fresco for a number of peasants, gaining at their expense experience of using color on plaster. Wherefore, since the surest and best method of learning is practice and a sufficiency of work, it came to pass that he became a well-practised and judicious master of that kind of painting, and learned to make colors produce the desired effect when used in a fluid state, which is done on account of the white, which dries the plaster and produces a brightness that ruins all softness. And so, having mastered the nature of colors, and having learnt by long practice to work very well in fresco, he returned to Udine, where he painted for the altar of the Nunziata, in the Convent of S. Pietro Martire, a panel-picture in oils containing the Madonna at the moment of receiving the Salutation from the Angel Gabriel; and in the sky he made a God the Father surrounded by many little boys, who is sending down the Holy Spirit. This work, which is executed with good drawing, grace, vivacity, and relief, is held by all craftsmen of judgment to be the best that he ever painted.

In the Duomo of the same city, on the balustrade of the organ, below the doors already painted by Pellegrino, he painted a story of S. Ermacora and Fortunatus, also in oils, graceful and well designed. In the same city, in order to gain the friendship of the Signori Tinghi, he painted in fresco the facade of their palace; in which work, wishing to make himself known and to prove what a master he was of architectural invention and of working in fresco, he made a series of compartments and groups of varied ornaments full of figures in niches; and in three great spaces in the centre of the work he painted scenes with figures in colors, two spaces, high and narrow, being on either side, and one square in shape in the middle; and in the latter he painted a Corinthian column planted with its base in the sea, with a Siren on the right hand, holding the column upright, and a nude Neptune on the left supporting it on the other side; while above the capital of the column there is a Cardinal's hat, the device, so it is said, of Pompeo Colonna, who was much the friend of the owners of that palace. In one of the two other spaces are the Giants being slain with thunderbolts by Jove, with some dead bodies on the ground very well painted and most beautifully foreshortened. On the other side is a Heaven full of Gods, and on the earth two Giants who, club in hand, are in the act of striking at Diana, who, defending herself in a bold and spirited attitude, is brandishing a blazing torch as if to burn the arms of one of them.

At Spelimbergo, a large place fifteen miles above Udine, the balustrade and the doors of the organ in the great church are painted by the hand of the same master; on the outer side of one door is the Assumption of Our Lady, and on the inner side S. Peter and S. Paul before Nero, gazing at Simon Magus in the air above; while on the other door there is the Conversion of S. Paul, and on the balustrade the Nativity of Christ.

Through this work, which is very beautiful, and many others, Pordenone came into repute and fame, and was summoned to Vicenza, whence, after having executed some works there, he made his way to Mantua, where he coloured a facade in fresco with marvellous grace for M. Paris, a gentleman of that city. Among other beautiful inventions which are in that work, much praise is due to a frieze of antique letters, one braccio and a half in height, at the top, below the cornice, among which, passing in and out of them, are many little children in various attitudes, all most beautiful.

That work finished, he returned in great credit to Vicenza, and there, besides many other works, he painted the whole of the tribune of S. Maria di Campagna, although by reason of his departure a part remained unfinished, which was afterwards finished with great diligence by Maestro Bernardo da Vercelli. In the same church he painted two chapels in fresco: one with stories of S. Catherine, and the other with the Nativity of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi, both being worthy of the highest praise. He then painted some poetical pictures in the beautiful garden of M. Barnaba dal Pozzo, a doctor; and, in the said Church of S. Maria di Campagna, the picture of S. Augustine, which is on the left hand as one enters the church. All these most beautiful works brought it about that the gentlemen of that city persuaded him to take a wife there, and always held him in vast veneration.

Going afterwards to Venice, where he had formerly executed some works, he painted a wall of S. Geremia, on the Grand Canal, and a panel picture in oils for the Madonna del Orto, with many figures, making a particular effort to prove his worth in the S. John the Baptist. He also painted many scenes in fresco on the facade of the house of Martin d'Anna on the same Grand Canal; in particular, a Curtius on horseback in foreshortening, which has the appearance of being wholly in the round, like the Mercury flying freely through the air, not to speak of many other things that all prove his ability. That work pleased the whole city of Venice beyond measure, and Pordenone was therefore extolled more highly than any other man who had ever worked in the city up to that time.

Among other reasons that caused him to give an incredible amount of effort to all his works, was his rivalry with the most excellent Tiziano; since, setting himself to compete with him, he hoped by means of continual study and by a bold and resolute method of working in fresco to wrest from the hands of Tiziano that sovereignty which he had gained with so many beautiful works; employing, also, unusual methods outside the field of art, such as that of being obliging and courteous and associating continually and of set purpose with great persons, making his interests universal, and taking a hand in everything. And, in truth, this rivalry was a great assistance to him, for it caused him to devote the greatest zeal and diligence in his power to all his works, so that they proved worthy of eternal praise.

For these reasons, then, he was commissioned by the Wardens of S. Rocco to paint in fresco the chapel of that church, with all the tribune. Setting his hand, therefore, to this work, he painted a God the Father in the tribune, with a vast number of children in various beautiful attitudes, radiating from Him. In the frieze of the same tribune he painted eight figures from the Old Testament, with the four Evangelists in the angles, and the Transfiguration of Christ over the high altar; and in the two lunettes at the sides are the four Doctors of the Church. By the hand of the same master are two large pictures in the middle of the church: in one is Christ healing an endless number of the sick, all very well painted, and in the other is S. Christopher carrying Jesus Christ on his shoulders. On the wooden tabernacle of the same church, wherein the vessels of silver are kept, he painted a S. Martin on horseback, with many beggars who are bringing votive offerings, in a building in perspective.

This work, which was much extolled and brought him honor and profit, was the reason that M. Jacopo Soranzo, having become his intimate friend, caused him to be commissioned to paint the Sala de' Pregai in competition with Tiziano; and there he executed many pictures with figures seen foreshortened from below, which are very beautiful, together with a frieze of marine monsters painted in oils round that hall. These works made him so dear to the Senate, that as long as he lived he always received an honourable salary from them. And since, out of rivalry, he always sought to do work in places where Tiziano had also worked, he painted for S. Giovanni di Rialto a S. John, as Almoner, giving alms to beggars, and also placed on an altar a picture of S. Sebastian, S. Rocco, and other saints, which was very beautiful, but yet not equal to the work of Tiziano, although many, more out of malignity than out of a love for the truth, exalted that of Giovanni Antonio. The same master painted in the cloister of S. Stefano many scenes in fresco from the Old Testament, and one from the New, divided one from another by various Virtues; and in these figures he displayed amazing foreshortenings, in which method of painting he always delighted, seeking to introduce them into his every composition with no fear of difficulties, and making them more ornate than any other painter.

Prince Doria had built a palace on the seashore in Genoa, and had commissioned Perino del Vaga, a very celebrated painter, to paint halls, apartments, and ante-chambers both in oils and in fresco, which are quite marvellous for the richness and beauty of the paintings. But seeing that Perino was not then giving much attention to the work, and wishing to make him do by the spur of emulation what he was not doing by himself, he sent for Pordenone, who began with an open terrace, wherein, following his usual manner, he executed a frieze of children, who are hurrying about in very beautiful attitudes and unloading a barque full of merchandise. He also painted a large scene of Jason asking leave from his uncle to go in search of the Golden Fleece. But the Prince, seeing the difference that there was between the work of Perino and that of Pordenone, dismissed the latter, and summoned in his place Domenico Beccafumi of Siena, an excellent painter and a rarer master than Pordenone. And he, glad to serve so great a Prince, did not scruple to leave his native city of Siena, where there are so many marvellous works by his hand; but he did not paint more than one single scene in that palace, because Perino brought everything to completion by himself.

Giovanni Antonio then returned to Venice, where he was given to understand that Ercole, Duke of Ferrara, had brought a great number of masters from Germany, and had caused them to begin to make fabrics in silk, gold, floss-silk, and wool, for his own use and pleasure, but that he had no good designers of figures in Ferrara, since Girolamo da Ferrara had more ability for portraits and separate things than for difficult and complicated scenes, which called for great power of art and design; and that he should enter the service of that Prince. Whereupon, desiring to gain fame no less than riches, he departed from Venice, and on reaching Ferrara was received with great warmth by the Duke. But a little time after his arrival, being attacked by a most grievous affliction of the chest, he took to his bed with the doom of death upon him, and, growing continually worse and finding no remedy, within three days or little more he finished the course of his life, at the age of fifty-six. This seemed a strange thing to the Duke, and also to Pordenone's friends; and there were not wanting men who for many months believed that he had died of poison. The body of Giovanni Antonio was buried with honour, and his death was a grief to many, particularly in Venice, for the reason that he was ready of speech and the friend and companion of many, and delighted in music; and his readiness and grace of speech came from his having given attention to the study of Latin. He always made his figures grand, and was very rich in invention, and so versatile that he could imitate everything very well; but he was, above all, resolute and most facile in works in fresco.

A disciple of Pordenone was Pomponio Amalteo of San Vito, who won by his good qualities the honor of becoming the son-in-law of his master. This Pomponio, always following that master in matters of art, has acquitted himself very well in all his works, as may be seen at Udine from the doors of the new organ, painted in oils, on the outer side of which is Christ driving the traders from the Temple, and on the inner side the story of the Pool of Bethesda and the Resurrection of Lazarus. In the Church of S. Francesco, in the same city, there is a panel picture in oils by the hand of the same man, of S. Francis receiving the Stigmata, with some very beautiful landscapes, and with a sunrise from which, in the midst of some rays of the greatest splendour, there radiates the celestial light, which pierces the hands, feet, and side of S. Francis, who, kneeling devoutly and full of love, receives it, while his companion lies on the ground, in foreshortening, all overcome with amazement. Pomponio also painted in fresco for the Friars of La Vigna, at the end of their refectory, Jesus Christ between the two disciples at Emmaus. In the township of San Vito, his native place, twenty miles distant from Udine, he painted in fresco the Chapel of the Madonna in the Church of S. Maria, in so beautiful a manner, and so much to the satisfaction of all, that he has won from the most reverend Cardinal Maria Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia and Lord of San Vito, the honor of being enrolled among the nobles of that place.

I have thought it right in this Life of Pordenone to make mention of these excellent craftsmen of Friuli, both because it appears to me that their talents deserve it, and to the end that it may be recognized in the account to be given later how much more excellent are those who, after such a beginning, have lived since that day, as will be related in the Life of Giovanni Ricamatori of Udine, to whom our age owes a very great obligation for his works in stucco and his grotesques.

But returning to Pordenone; after the works mentioned above as having been executed by him at Venice in the time of the most illustrious Gritti, he died, as has been related, in the year 1540. And because he was one of the most able men that our age has possessed, and for the reason, above all, that his figures seem to be in the round and detached from their walls, and almost in relief, he can be numbered among those who have rendered assistance to art and benefit to the world.



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