I AM aware that it is commonly held as a fact by most writers that sculpture, as well as painting, was naturally discovered originally by the people of Egypt, and also that there are others who attribute to the Chaldeans the first rough carvings of statues and the first reliefs. In like manner there are those who credit the Greeks with the invention of the brush and of colouring. But it is my opinion that design, which is the foundation of both arts, and the very soul which conceives and nourishes in itself every part of the intelligence, came into full existence at the time of the origin of all things, when the Most High, after creating the world and adorning the heavens with shining lights, descended through the limpid air to the solid earth, and by shaping man, disclosed the first form of sculpture and painting in the charming invention of things. Who will deny that from this man, as from a living example, the ideas of statues and sculpture, and the questions of pose and of outline, first took form; and from the first pictures, whatever they may have been, arose the first ideas of grace, unity, and the discordant concords made by the play of lights and shadows?
Thus the first model from which the first image of man arose was a clod of earth, and not without reason, for the Divine Architect of time and of nature, being all perfection, wished to demonstrate, in the imperfection of His materials, what could be done to improve them, just as good sculptors and painters are in the habit of doing, when, by adding additional touches and removing blemishes, they bring their imperfect sketches to such a state of completion and of perfection as they desire. God also endowed man with a bright flesh colour, and the same shades may be drawn from the earth, which supplies materials to counterfeit everything which occurs in painting. It is indeed true that it is impossible to feel absolutely certain as to what steps men took for the imitation of the beautiful works of Nature in these arts before the flood, although it appears most probable that even then they practised all manner of painting and sculpture; for Belus, son of the proud Nimrod, about 200 years after the flood, had a statue made, from which idolatry afterwards arose; and his celebrated daughter-in-law, semiramis, queen of Babylon, in the building of that city, introduced among the ornaments there coloured representations from life of divers kinds of animals, as well as of herself and of her husband Ninus, with bronze statues of her father, her mother-in-law, and her grandmother, as Diodorus relates, calling them Jove, Juno, and Ops, Greek names, which did not then exist. It was, perhaps, from these statues that the Chaldeans learned to make the images of their gods. It is recorded in Genesis how IO years later, when Rachel was fleeing from Mesopotamia with her husband Jacob, she stole the idols of her father Laban.
Nor were the Chaldeans singular in making statues and paintings, for the Egyptians also had theirs, devoting great pains to those arts, as is shown by the marvellous tomb of that king of remote antiquity, Osymandyas, described at length by Diodorus, and, as the severe command of Moses proves, when, on leaving Egypt, he gave orders that no images should be made to God, upon pain of death. Moses also, after having ascended the Mount, and having found a golden calf manufactured and adored by his people, was greatly troubled at seeing divine honours accorded to the image of a beast; so that he not offly broke it to powder, but, in the punishment of so great a fault, caused the Levites to put to death many thousands of the false Israelites who had committed this idolatry. But as the sin consisted in adoring idols and not in making them, it is written in Exodus that the art of design and of making statues, not only in marble but in all kinds of metal, was given by the mouth of God himself to Bezaleel, of the tribe of Judah, and to Aholiab, of the tribe of Dan, who made the two cherubim of gold, the candlesticks, the veil, and the borders of the sacer- dotal vestments, together with a number of other beautiful things in the tabernacle, for no other purpose than to induce people to contemplate and adore them. From the things seen before the flood, the pride of man found the means to make statues of those whose fame they desired to remain immortal in the world; and the Greeks5 who assign a different origin to this, say that the Ethiopians invented the first statues, according to Diodorus, the Egyptians imitated these, while the Greeks followed the Egyptians. From this time until Homer's day it is clear that sculpture and painting were perfect, as we may see from the description of Achilles' shield by that divine poet, who represents it with such skill that the image of it is presented to our minds as clearly as if we had seen the thing itself. Lactantius Firmianus attributes the credit of the invention to Prometheus, who like God fashioned the human form out of clay. But according to Pliny this art was introduced into Egypt by Gyges of Lydia, who, on seeing his shadow cast by the fire, at once drew an outline of himself on the wall with a piece of coal. For some time after that it was the custom to draw in outline only, without any colouring, Pliny again being our authority. Colour was afterwards introduced by Fhilocles of Egypt with considerable pains, and also by Cleanthes and Ardices of Corinth and by Telephanes of Sicyon.
Cleophantes of Corinth was the first of the Greeks to use colours, and Apollodorus was the first to introduce the brush. Polygnotus of Thasos, Zeuxis and Timagoras of Chalcis, Pytheus and Aglaophon followed them, allmost celebrated, and after them came the renowned Apelles who was so highly esteemed and honoured for his skill by Alexander the Great, for his wonderful delineation of Calumny and Favour, as Lucian relates. Almost all the painters and sculptors were of high excellence, being frequently endowed by heaven, not only with the additional gift of poetry, as we read in Pacuvius, but also with that of philosophy. Metrodorus is an instance in point, for he was equally skilled as a philosopher and as a painter, and when Apelles was sent by the Athenians to Paulus Aemilius to adorn his triumph he remained to teach philosophy to the general's sons. Sculpture was thus generally practised in Greece, where there flourished a number of excellent artists, among them being Phidias of Athens, Praxiteles and Polycletus, very great masters, Lysippus and Pyrgoteles who were of considerable skill in engraving, and Pygmalion in ivory carving in relief, it being recorded of him that he obtained life by his prayers for the figure of a maid carved by him. The ancient Greeks and Romans also honoured and rewarded painting, since they granted the citizenship and very great honours to those who excelled in this art. Painting flourished in Rome to such an extent that Fabius gave a name to his family, subscribing himself in the beautiful things he did in the Temple of Safety as Fabius the Painter.
By public decree slaves were prohibited from practising painting, and so much honour was continually accorded by the people to the art and to artists that rare works were sent to Rome among the spoils to appear in their triumphs; excellent artists who were slaves obtained their liberty and received notable rewards from the republic. The Romans bore such a reverence for the art, that when the city of Syracuse was sacked Marcellus gave orders that his men should treat with respect a famous artist there, and also that they should be careful not to set fire to a quarter in which there was a very fine picture. This was afterwards carried to Rome to adorn his triumph. To that city in the course of time almost all the spoils of the world were brought, and the artists themselves gathered there beside their excellent works. By such means Rome became an exceedingly beautiful city, more richly adorned by the statues of foreign artists than by those made by natives. It is known that in the little island city of Rhodes there were more than 30,000 statues, in bronze and marble, nor did the Athenians possess less, while those of Olympus and Delphi were even more numerous, and those of Corinth were without number, all being most beautiful and of great price. Does not every one know how Nicomedes, king of Lycia, expended almost all the wealth of his people owing to his passion for a Venus by the hand of Praxiteles? Did not Attalus do the same? who without an afterthought expended more than 6ooo sesterces to have a picture of Bacchus painted by Aristides. This picture was placed by Lucius Mummius, with great pomp in the temple of Ceres, as an ornament to Rome. But although the nobility of this art was so highly valued, it is uncertain to whom it owes its origin.
As I have already said, it is found in very ancient times among the Chaldeans, some attribute the honour to the Ethiopians, while the Greeks claim it for themselves. Besides this there is good reason for supposing that the Tuscans may have had it earlier, as our own Leon Battista Alberti asserts, and weighty evidence in favour of this view is supplied by the marvellous tomb of Porsena at Chiusi, where not long ago some tiles of terracotta were found under the ground, between the walls of the Labyrinth, containing some figures in half relief, so excellent and so delicately fashioned that it is easy to see that art was not in its infancy at that time, for to judge by the perfection of these specimens it was nearer its zenith than its origin. Evidence to the same purport is supplied every day by the quantity of pieces of red and black Aretine vases, made about the same time, to judge by the style, with light carvings and small figures and scenes in bas-relief, and a quantity of small round masks, cleverly made by the masters of that age, and which prove the men of the time to have been most skilful and accomplished in that art. Further evidence is afforded by the statues found at Viterbo at the beginning of the pontificate of Alexander VI., showing that sculpture was valued and had advanced to no small state of perfection in Tuscany. Although the time when they were made is not exactly known, yet from the style of the figures and from the manner of the tombs and of the buildings, no less than by the inscriptions in Tuscan letters, it may be conjectured with great reason that they are of great antiquity, and that they were made at a time when such things were highly valued. But what clearer evidence can be desired than the discovery made in our own day in the year I554 of a bronze figure representing the Chimera of Bellerophon, during the excavation for the fortifications and walls of Arezzo.(1) This figure shows to what perfection the art had arrived among the Tuscans, in this Etruscan style. Some small letters carved on a paw are presumed, in the absence of a knowledge of the Etruscan Ianguage, to give the master's name, and perhaps the date. This figure, on account of its beauty and antiquity, has been placed by Duke Cosimo in a chamber in his palace in the new suite of rooms where I painted the deeds of Pope Leo X.
The Duke also possesses a number of small bronze figures of similar character which were found in the same place. But as the antiquity of the works of the Greeks, Ethiopians, Chaldeans, and Tuscans is equally doubtful, like our own or even more so, and because it is necessary in such matters to base one's opinions on conjectures, although these are not so ill founded that one is in danger of going very far astray, yet I think that anyone who will take the trouble to consider the matter carefully will arrive at the same conclusion as I have, that art owes its origin to Nature herself, that this beautiful creation the world supplied the first model, while the original teacher was that divine intelligence which has not only made us superior to the other animals, but like God Himself, if I may venture to say it. In our own time it has been seen, as I hope to show quite shortly, that simple children, roughly brought up in the wilderness, have begun to draw by themselves, impelled by their own natural genius, instructed solely by the example of these beautiful paintings and sculptures of Nature. Much more then is it probable that the first men, being less removed from their divine origin, were more perfect, possessing a brighter intelligence, and that with Nature as a guide, a pure intellect for master, and the lovely world as a model, they originated these noble arts, and by gradually improving them brought them at length, from small beginnings, to perfection.
(1) Now in the Museo Archeologico, Florence.
I do not deny that there must have been an originator, since I know quite well that there must have been a beginning at some time, due to some individual. Neither will I deny that it is possible for one person to help another, and to teach and open the way to design, colour, and relief, because I know that our art consists entirely of imitation, first of Nature, and then, as it cannot rise so high of itself, of those things which are produced from the masters with the greatest reputation. But I will say that to declare absolutely it was one man or another is a very dangerous and perhaps unnecessary task, since we have seen the true and original root of all. The works which constitute the life and fame of artists decay one after the other by the ravages of time. Thus the artists themselves are unknown, as there was no one to write about them and could not be, so that this source of knowledge was not granted to posterity. But when writers began to commemorate things made before their time, they were unable to speak of those of which they had seen no notice, so that those who came nearest to these were the last of whom no memorial remains: Thus Homer is by common consent admitted to be the first of the poets, not because there were none before him, for there were, although they were not so excellent, and in his own works this is clearly shown, but because all knowledge of these, such as they were, had been lost two thousand years before.
But we will now pass over these matters, which are too vague on account of their antiquity, and we will proceed to deal with clearer questions, namely, the rise of the arts to perfection, their decline and their restoration or rather renaissance, and here we stand on much firmer ground. The practice of the arts began late in Rome, if the first figures were, as reported, the image of Ceres made of the metal of the possessions of Spurius Cassius, who was condemned to death without remorse by his own father, because he was plotting to make himself king. But although the arts of painting and sculpture continued to flourish until the death of the last of the twelve Caesars, yet they did not maintain that perfection and excellence which had characterised them before, as we see by the buildings of the time under successive emperors. The arts declined steadily from day to day, until at length by a gradual process they entirely lost all perfection of design. Clear testimony to this is afforded by the works in sculpture and architecture produced in Rome in the time of Constantine, notably in the triumphal arch made for him by the Roman people at the Colosseum, where we see, that for lack of good masters not only did they make use of marble reliefs carved in the time of Trajan, but also of spoils brought to Rome from various places, Those who recognise the excellence of these bas-reliefs, statues, the columns, the cornices and other ornaments which belong to another epoch will perceive how rude are the portions done to fill up gaps by sculptors of the day. Very rude also are some scenes of small figures in marble below the reliefs and the pediment, representing victories, while between the side arches there are some rivers, also very crude, and so poor that they leave one firmly under the impression that the art of sculpture had begun to decline even before the coming of the Goths and other barbarous and foreign nations who combined to destroy all the superior arts as well as Italy.
It is true that architecture suffered less at that time than the other arts of design. The bath erected by Constantine at the entrance of the principal portico of the Lateran contains, in addition to its porphyry columns, capitals carved in marble and beautifully carved double bases taken from elsewhere, the whole composition of the building being very well conceived. On the other hand, the stucco, the mosaic and some incrvstations of the walls made by the masters of the time are not equal to those which had been taken away for the most part from the temples of the gods of the heathen, and which Constantine caused to be placed in the same building. Constantine observed the same methods, according to report, with the garden of Aequitius in building the temple which he afterwards endowed and gave to Christian priests. In like manner the magnificent church of S. Giovanni Lateran, built by the same emperor, may serve as evidence of the same fact, namely, that sculpture had already greatly declined in his time, because the figures of the Saviour and of the twelve apostles in silver, which he caused to be made, were very base works, executed without art and with very little design. In addition to this, it is only necessary to examine the medals of this emperor, and other statues made by the sculptors of his day, which are now at the capitol, to perceive clearly how far removed they are from the perfection of the medals and statues of the other emperors there. All these things prove that sculpture had greatly declined long before the coming of the Goths to Italy. Architecture, as I have said, maintained its excellence at a higher though not at the highest level. Nor is this a matter for surprise, since large buildings were almost entirely constructed of spoils, so that it was easy for the architects in great measure to imitate the old in making the new, since they had the former continually before their eyes. This was an easier task for them than for the sculptors, as the art of imitating the good figures of the ancients had declined. A good illustration of the truth of this statement is afforded by the church of the chief of the apostles in the Vatican, which is rich in columns, bases, capitals, architraves, cornices, doors and other incrustations and ornaments which were all taken from various places and buildings, erected before that time in very magnificent style. The same remarks apply to Santa Croce at Jerusalem, which Constantine erected at the entreaty of his mother, Helena; to San Lorenzo outside the walls, and to Santa Agnesa, built by the same emperor at the request of his daughter Constance.
Who also is not aware that the font which served for the baptism of the latter and of one of her sisters, was ornamented with fragments of much greater antiquity? such as the porphyry pillar carved with beautiful figures and some marble candelabra exquisitely carved with leaves, and children in bas-relief of extraordinary beauty? In short, by these and many other signs, it is clear to what an extent sculpture had declined in the time of Constantine, and with it the other superior arts. If anything was required to complete their ruin it was supplied by the departure of Constantine from Rome when he transferred the seat of government to Byzantium, as he took with him to Greece not only all the best sculptors and other artists of the age, such as they were, but also a quantity of statues and other beautiful works of sculpture.
After the departure of Constantine, the Caesars whom he left in Italy were continually building in Rome and elsewhere, endeavouring to make their works as good as possible, but as we see, sculpture, painting and architecture were steadily going from bad to worse. This arose perhaps from the fact that when human affairs begin to decline, they grow steadily worse until the time comes when they can no longer deteriorate any further. In the time of Pope Liberius the architects of the day took considerable pains to produce a masterpiece when they built S. Maria Maggiore, but they were not very happy in the result, because although the building, which is also mostly constructed of spoils, is of very fair proportions, it cannot be denied that, not to speak of other defects, the spaces running round the church above the co!umns, decorated with stucco and painting, are of very poor design, and that many other things to be seen there leave no doubt as to the imperfection of the arts. Many years later, when the Christians were suffering persecution under Julian the Apostate, a church was erected on the Celian Hill to SS. John and Paul, the martyrs, in so inferior a style to the others mentioned above that it is quite clear that at that time, art had all but entirely disappeared. The edifices erected in Tuscany at the same time bear out this view to the fullest extent. To take one example among many: the church outside the walls of Arezzo, built to St. Donato, bishop of that city, who suffered martyrdom with Hilarion the monk, under the same Julian the Apostate, is in no way superior to those mentioned above. It cannot be contended that such a state of affairs was due to anything but the lack of good architects, since the church in question, which is still standing,1 has eight sides, and was built of the spoils of the theatre, colosseum and other buildings erected in Arezzo before it was converted to the Christian faith. No expense was spared, and it was adorned with columns of granite, porphyry and variegated marble taken from ancient buildings. For my own part, I have no doubt, seeing the expense incurred, that if the Aretines had possessed better architects they would have produced something marvellous, since what they actually accomplished proves that they spared nothing in order to make this building as magnificent and c6mplete as possible. But as architecture had lost less of its excellence than the other arts, as I have so often said before, some good things may be seen there. At the same period the church of S. Maria in Grado 2 was enlarged in honour of St. Hilarion, who had lived in the city a long time before he accompanied Donato to receive the palm of martyrdom. But as Fortune, when she has brought men to the top of the wheel, either for amusement or because she repents, usually turns them to the bottom, it came to pass after these things that almost all the barbarian nations rose in divers parts of the world against the Romans, the result being the speedy fall of that great empire, and the destruction of everything, notably of Rome herself. That fall involved the complete destruction of the most excellent artists, sculptors, painters and architects, burying them and their arts under the debris and ruins of that most celebrated city. The first to go were painting and sculpture, as being arts which served rather for pleasure than for utility, the other art, namely architecture, being necessary and useful for the welfare of the body, continued in use, but not in its perfection and purity.
(1) The church was built in the eleventh century. It was fortified by Filippo Strozzi in 1554 against the Emperor Charles V., and was destroyed in 1561 by order of Duke Cosimo to make way for new fortifications.
(2) More usually known as the Pieve.
The very memory of painting and sculpture would have speedily disappeared had they not represented before the eyes of the rising generations, the distinguished men of another age who had been honoured thereby. Some of these were commemorated by effigies and by inscriptions placed on public and private buildings, such as amphitheatres, theatres, baths, aqueducts, temples, obelisks, colosseums, pyramids, arches, reservoirs and treasuries, yes, and even on the very tombs. The majority of these were destroyed and obliterated by the savage barbarians, who had nothing human about them but their shape and name. Among others there were the Visigoths, who having made Alaric their king, invaded Italy and twice sacked Rome without respecting anything. The Vandals who came from Africa with Genseric, their king, did the like. But he, not content with his plunder and booty and the cruelties he inflicted, led into servitude the people there, to their infinite woe, and with them Eudoxia the wife of the Emperor Valentinian, who had only recently been assassinated by his own soldiers. These men had greatly degenerated from the ancient Roman valour, because a great while before, the best of them had all gone to Constantinople with the Emperor Constantine, and those left behind were dissolute and abandoned. Thus true men and every sort of virtue perished at the same time; laws, habits, names and tongues suffered change, and these varied misfortunes, collectively and singly, debased and degraded every fine spirit and every lofty soul. But the most harmful and destructive force which operated against these fine arts was the fervent zeal of the new Christian religion, which, after long and sanguinary strife, had at length vanquished and abolished the old faith of the heathen, by means of a number of miracles and by the sincerity of its acts. Every effort was put forth to remove and utterly extirpate the smallest things from which errors might arise, and thus not only were the marvellous statues, sculptures, paintings, mosaics and ornaments of the false pagan gods destroyed and thrown down, but also the memorials and honours of countless excellent persons, to whose distinguished merits statues and other memorials had been set up in public by a most virtuous antiquity. Besides all this, in order to build churches for the use of the Christians, not only were the most honoured temples of the idols destroyed, but in order to ennoble and decorate S. Pietro' with more ornaments than it then possessed, they took away the stone columns from the mold of Hadrian, now the castle of Sant'Angelo, as well as many other things which we now see in ruins.
(1) This should be San Paolo.
Now, although the Christian religion did not act thus from any hatred for talent, but only in order to condemn and overthrow the heathen gods, yet the utter ruin of these honourable professions, which entirely lost their form, was none the less entirely due to this burning zeal. That nothing might be wanting to these grave disasters there followed the rage of Totila against Rome, who destroyed the walls, ruined all the most magnificent and noble buildings with fire and sword, burned it from one cnd to another, and having stripped it of every living creature left it a prey to the flames, so that for the space of eighteen days not a living soul could be found there. He utterly destroyed the marvellous statues, paintings, mosaics and stuccos, so that he left Rome not only stripped of every trace of her former majesty, but destitute of shape and life. The ground floors of the palaces and other buildings had been adorned with paintings, stuccos and statues, and these were buried under the debris, so that many good things have come to light in our own day. Those who came after, judging everything to be ruined, planted vineyards over them so that these ruined chambers remained entirely underground, and the moderns have called them grottos and the paintings found there grotesques. The Ostrogoths being exterminated by Narses, the ruins of Rome were inhabited in a wretched fashion when after an interval of a hundred years there came the Emperor Constans II. of Constantinople, who was received in a friendly manner by the Romans. However, he dissipated, plundered and carried away everything that had been left in the wretched city of Rome, abandoned rather by chance than by the deliberate purpose of those who had laid it waste. It is true that he was not able to enjoy this booty, for being driven to Sicily by a storm at sea, he was killed by his followers, a fate he richly deserved, and thus lost his spoils, his kingdom and his life. But as if the troubles of Rome had not been sufficient, for the things which had been taken away could never return, there came an army of Saracens to ravage that island, who carried away the property of the Sicilians and the spoils of Rome to Alexandria, to the infinite shame and loss of Italy and of all Christendom. Thus what the popes had not destroyed, notably St. Gregory, who is said to have put under the ban all that remained of the statues and of the spoils of the buildings, perished finally through the instrumentality of this traitorous Greek. Not a trace or a vestige of any good thing remained, so that the generations which followed being rude and coarse, particularly in painting and sculpture, yet feeling themselves impelled by nature and inspired by the atmosphere of the place, set themselves to produce things, not indeed according to the rules of art, for they had none, but as they were instructed by their own intelligence.
The arts of design having arrived at this pitch, both before and during the time that the Lonibards ruled Italy, they subsequently grew gradually worse and worse, until at length they reached the lowest depths of baseness. An instance of their utter tastelessness and crudity may be seen in some figures in the Byzantine style over the door in the portico of S. Pietro at Rome, in memory of some holy fathers who had disputed for Holy Church in certain councils. Further evidence is supplied by a number of examples in the same style in the city and in the whole of the Exarchate of Ravenna, notably some in S. Maria Rotonda outside that city,' which were made shortly after the Lombards were driven from Italy. I will not deny that there is one very notable and marvellous thing in this church, and that is the vaulting or cupola which covers it, which is ten braccia2 across and serves as the roof of the building, and yet is of a single piece and so large that it appears impossible that a stone of this description, weighing more than 200,000 pounds, could be placed so high up. But to return to our point, the masters of that day produced nothing but shapeless and clumsy things which may still be seen to-day. It was the same with architecture, for it was necessary to build, and as form and good methods were lost by the death of good artists and the destruction of good buildings, those who devoted themselves to this profession built erections devoid of order or measure, and totally deficient in grace, proportion or principle. Then new architects arose who created that style of building, for their barbarous nations, which we call Gothic, and produced some works which are ridiculous to our modern eyes, but appeared admirable to theirs. This lasted until a better form somewhat similar to the good antique manner was discovered by better artists, as is shown by the oldest churches in Italy which are not antique, which were built by them, and by the palaces erected for Theoderic, King of Italy, at Ravenna, Pavia, and Modena, though the style is barbarous and rather rich and grand than well conceived or really good.
(1) Known today as the Mausoleum of Theoderic.
(2) May be considered roughly to represent about two feet; literally translated it means an arm.
The same may be said of Santo Stefano at Rimini and of San Martino at Ravenna, of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in the same city built by Galla Placidia about the year of grace 438, of San Vitale which was built in the year 547, and of the abbey of Classi di fuori, and indeed of many other monasteries and churches built after the time of the Lombards. All these buildings, as I have said, are great and magnificent, but the architecture is very rude. Among them are many abbeys in France built to St. Benedict and the church and monastery of Monte Cassino, the church of San Giovanni Battista at Monza built by that Theodelinda, Queen of the Goths, to whom St. Gregory the Pope wrote his dialogues. In this place that queen caused the history of the Lombards to be painted. We thus see that they shaved the backs of their heads, wore their hair thick in front, and were dyed to the chin. Their clothes were of linen, like those worn by the Angles and Saxons, and they wore a mantle of divers colours; their shoes were open to the toes and bound above with small leather straps. Similar to the churches enumerated above were the church of San Giovanni, Pavia, built by Gundeberga, daughter of Theodelinda, and the church of San Salvatore in the same city, built by Aribert, the brother of the same queen, who succeeded Rodoald, husband of Gundeberga, in the government; the church of San Ambrogio at Pavia, built by Grimoald, king of the Lombards, who drove from the kingdom Aripert's son Pentharit. This Pentharit being restored to his throne after Grimoald's death built a nunnery at Pavia called the Monasterio Nuovo, in honour of Our Lady and of St. Agatha, and the queen built another dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Pertica outside the walls. Cunipert, Pentharit's son, likewise built a monastery and church to St George called di Coronate in a similar style, on the spot where he had won a great victory over Alachis. Not unlike these was the church which the Lombard king Luitprand, who lived in the time of King Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, built at Favia, called San Piero, in Cieldauro, or that which Desiderius, who succeeded Astolf, built to San Piero Clivate in the diocese of Milan; or the monastery of San Vincenzo at Milan, or that of Santa Giulia at Brescia, because all of them were exceedingly costly, but in a most ugly and characterless style.
In Florence the style of architecture improved slightly somewhat later, the church of Sant' Apostolo built by Charlemagne, although small, being very beautiful, because the shafts of the columns, although made up of pieces, are very graceful and beautifully formed, and the capitals and the arches for the vaulting of the side aisles show that some good architect was left in Tuscany, or had arisen there. In fine the architecture of this church is such that Pippo di Ser Brunellesco did not disdain to make use of it as his model in designing the churches of Santo Spirito and San Lorenzo in the same city. The same progress may be noticed in the church of San Marco at Venice, not to speak of that of San Giorgio Maggiore erected by Giovanni Morosini in the year 978. San Marco was begun under the Doge Giustiniano and Giovanni Particiaco near to San Teodosio, when the body of the Evangelist was brought from Alexandria to Venice. After the Doge's palace and the church had suffered severely from a series of fires, it was rebuilt upon the same foundations in the Byzantine style as it stands today, at a great cost and with the assistance of many architects, in the time of the Doge Domenico Selvo, in the year 973, the columns being brought from the places where they could be obtained.1 The construction was continued until the year 1140, Messer Piero Polani being then Doge, from the plans of several masters who were all Greeks, as I have said. Erected at the same time, and also in the Byzantine style, were the seven abbeys built in Tuscany by Count Uugh, Marquis of Brandenburg, such as the Badia of Florence, the abbey of Settimo, and the others. All these structures and the vestiges of others which are not standing bear witness to the fact that architecture maintained its footing though in a very bastard form far removed from the good antique style. Further evidence is afforded by a number of old palaces erected in Florence of Tuscan work after the destruction of Fiesole, but the measurements of the very elongated doors and the windows and the sharp-pointed arches after the manner of the foreign architects of the day, denote some amount of barbarism. Subsequently, in 1013, the art appears to have received an access of vigour in the rebuilding of the beautiful church of S. Miniato on the Mount in the time of M. Alibrando,2 citizen and bishop of Florence, for, in addition to the marble ornamentation both within and without, the facade shows that the Tuscan architects were making efforts to imitate, so far as they were able, the good ancient order in the doors, windows, columns, arches and cornices, which they perceived in part in the very ancient church of San Giovanni in their city. At the same period, pictorial art, which had all but disappeared, seems to have made some progress, as is shown by a mosaic in the principal chapel of the same church of S. Miniato.
(1)San Marco Was begun under Pietro Orseolo in 976. Selvo did not become Doge until 1071. (2) Ildebrando.
From such beginnings design and a general improvement in the arts began to make headway in Tuscany, as in the year 1016 when the Pisans began to erect their Duomo. (2) For at that time it was a considerable undertaking to build such a church, with its five aisles and almost entiiely constructed of marble both inside and out. This church, built from the plans and under the direction of Buschetto, a Greek from Dulichium and a most remarkable architect for his time, was erected and adorned by the Pisans when at the zenith of their power with an endless quantity of spoils brought by sea from various distant parts, as the columns, bases, capitals, cornices and other stones there of every description, amply demonstrate. Now since all these things were of all sizes, great, medium, and small, Busclietto displayed great judgment and skill in adapting them to their places, so that the whole building is excellently devised in every part, both within and without. Amongst other things he devised the facade very cleverly, which is made up of a series of stages, gradually diminishing toward the top and consisting of a great number of columns, adorning it with other carved columns and antique statues. He carried out the principal doors of that facade in the same style, beside one of which, that of the Carroccio, lie afterwards received honourable burial, with three epitaphs, one being in Latin verse, not unlike other things of the time:Quod vix mille boum possent juga juncta movere, Et quod vix potuit per mare ferre ratis Buschetti nisu, quod erat mirabile visu, Dena puellarum turba levavit onus.
As I have mentioned the church of S. Apostolo at Florence above, I will here give an inscription which may be read on a marble slab on one of the sides of the high altar, which runs:VIII. v. Die vi. Aprilis in resurrectione Domini Karolus Francorum Rex a Roma revertens, ingressus Florentiam cum magno gaudio et tripudio succeptus, civium copiam torqueis aureis decoravit. Ecclesia Sanctorum Apostolorum in altari inclusa est lamina plumbea, in qua descripta apparet praefata fundatio et consecratio facta per Archiepiscopum Turpinum, testibus Rolando et Uliverio.
(1) The date of the mosaic is 1297. (2) It was begun in 1063.
The edifice of the Duomo at Pisa gave a new impulse to the minds of many men in all Italy, and especially in Tuscany, and led to the foundation in the city of Pistoia in 1032 of the church of San Paolo, in the presence of St. Atto, the bishop there, as a Contemporary deed relates,(1) and indeed of many other buildings, a mere mention of which would occupy too much space.
I must not forget to mention either, how in the course of time the round church of San Giovanni was erected at Pisa in the year 1060, opposite the Duomo and on the same piazza.(2) A marvellous and almost incredible statement in connection with this church is that of an ancient record in a book of the Opera of the Duomo, that the columns, pillars and vaulting were erected and completed in fifteen days and no more. The same book, which may be examined by anyone, relates that an impost of a penny a hearth was exacted for the building of the temple, but it does not state whether this was to be of gold or of base metal. The same book states that there were 34,000 hearths in Pisa at that time. It is certain that the work was very costly and presented formidable difficulties, especially the vaulting of the tribune, which is pear-shaped and covered outside with lead. The exterior is full of columns, carving, scenes, and the middle part of the frieze of the doorway contains figures of Christ and the twelve apostles in half-relief and in the Byzantine style.
About the same time, namely in 1061, the Lucchese, in emulation of the Pisans, began the church of San Martino at Lucca, from the designs of some pupils of Buschetto, there being no other artists then in Tuscany. The facade has a marble portico in front of it contaimng many ornaments and carvings in honour of Pope Alexander II., who had been bishop of the city just before he was raised to the pontificate. Nine lines in Latin relate the whole history of the building and of the Pope, repeated in some antique letters carved in marble between the doors of the portico. The facade also contains some figures and a number of scenes in half-relief under the portico relating to the life of St. Martin executed in marble and in the Byzantine style. But the best things there, over one of these doors, were done by Niccola Pisano, 170 years later, and com- pleted in 1233, as will be related in the proper place, Abellenato and Aliprando being the craftsmen at the beginning, as some letters carved in marble in the same place fully relate.
(1)Atto was not consecrated bishop until 1133, and the land for the church was bought in 1136. (2) The Baptistery was began in 1153 by Diotisalvi. (3)They represent eleven saints.(4)The facade is of 1204.
The figures by Niccola Pisano show to what an extent sculpture was improved by him. Most of the buildings erected in Italy from this time until the year 1250 were similar in character to these, for architecture made little or no apparent progress in all these years, but remained stationary, the same rude style being retained. Many examples of this may be seen today, but I will not now enumerate them, because I shall refer to them again as the occasion presents itself.
The admirable sculptures and paintings buried in the ruins of Italy remained hidden or unknown to the men of this time who were engrossed in the rude productions of their own age, in which they used no sculptures or paintings except such as were produced by the old artists of Greece, who still survived, making images of clay or stone, or painting grotesque figures and only colouring the general outline. These artists were invited to Italy for they were the best and indeed the only representatives of their profession. With them they brought the mosaic, sculpture, and painting as they understood them, and thus they taught their own rough and clumsy style to the Italians, who practised the art in this fashion up to a certain time, as I shall relate.
As the men of the age were not accustomed to see any excellence or greater perfection than the things thus produced, they greatly admired them, and considered them to be the type of perfection, barbarous as they were. Yet some rising spirits, aided by some quality in the air of certain places, so far purged themselves of this crude style that in 1250 Heaven took compassion on the fine minds that the Tuscan soil was producing every day, and directed them to the original forms. For although the preceding generations had before them the remains of arches, colossi, statues, pillars or carved stone columns which were left after the plunder, ruin and fire which Rome had passed through, yet they could never make use of them or derive any profit from them until the period named. Those who came after were able to distinguish the good from the had, and abandoning the old style they began to copy the ancients with all ardour and industry. That the distinction I have made between old and ancient may be better understood, I will explain that I call ancient the things produced before Constantine at Corinth, Athens, Rome and other renowned cities, until the days of Nero, Vespasian, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus; the old works are those which are due to the surviving Greeks from the days of St. Silvester, whose art consisted rather of tinting than of painting. For the original artists of exccllence had perished in the wars, as I have said, and the surviving Greeks, of the old and not the ancient manner, could only trace profiles on a ground of colour. Countless mosaics done by these Greeks in every part of Italy bear testimony to this, and every old church of Italy possesses examples, notably the Duomo of Pisa, San Marco at Venice and yet other places. Thus they produced a constant stream of figures in this style, with frightened eyes, outstretched hands and on the tips of their toes, as in San Miniato outside Florence between the door of the sacristy and that of the convent, and in Santo Spirito in the same city, all the side of the cloister towards the church, and in Arezzo in S. Gitiliano and S. Bartolommeo and other churches, and at Rome in old San Pietro in the scenes about the windows, all of which are more like monsters than the representation of anything existing.
They also produced countless sculptures, such as those in bas reliefstill over the door of San Michele on the piazza Padella at Florence, and in Ognissanti, and in many places, in tombs and ornaments for the doors of churches, where there are some figures acting as corbels to carry the roof, so rude and coarse, so grossly made, and in such a rough style, that it is impossible to imagine worse.
Up to the present, I have discoursed upon the origin of sculpture and painting, perhaps more at length than was necessary at this stage. I have done so, not so much because I have been carried away by my love for the arts, as because I wish to be of service to the artists of our own day, by showing them how a small beginning leads to the highest elevation, and how from so noble a situation, this possible to fall to utterest ruin, and consequently, how these arts resemble nature as shown in our human bodies; and have their birth, growth, age and death, and I hope by this means they will be enabled more easily to recognise the progress of the renaissance of the arts, and the perfection to which they have attained in our own time. And again, if ever it happens, which God forbid, that the arts should once more fall to a like ruin and disorder, through the negligence of man, the malignity of the age, or the decree of Heaven, which does riot appear to wish that the things of this world should remain stationary, these labours of mine, such as they are (if they are worthy of a happier fate), by means of the things discussed before, and by those which remain to be said, may maintain the arts in life, or, at any rate, encourage the better spirits to provide them with every assistance, so that, by my good will and the labours of such men, they may have an abundance of those aids and embellishments which, if I may speak the truth freely, they have lacked until now.
But it is now time to come to the life of Giovanni Cimabue, who originated the new method of design and painting, so that it is right that his should be the first of the Lives. And here I may remark that I shall follow the schools rather than a chronological order. And in describing the appearance and the features of the artists, I shall be brief, because their portraits, which I have collected at great expense, and with much labour and diligence, will show what manner of men they were to look at much hetter than any description could ever do. If some portraits are missing, that is not my fault, but because they are not to be found anywhere. If it cliarice that some of the portraits do not appear to be exactly like others which are extant, it is necessary to reflect that a portrait of a man of eighteen or twenty years can never be like one made fifteen or twenty years later, and, in addition to this, portraits in black and white are never so good as those which are coloured, besides which the engravers, who do not know design, always take something from the form, because they are never able to reproduce those small details which constitute the excellence of a work, or to copy that perfection which is rarely, if ever, to be found in wood engravings. To conclude, the reader will be able to appreciate the amount of labour, expense, and care which I have bestowed upon this matter when he sees that I have got the best that I could.
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