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Self-portrait. ca. 1525/1530. Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence.

FRANCESCO PRIMATICCIO (1504-1576)

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists


HAVING TREATED hitherto of such of our craftsmen as are no longer alive among us of those, namely, who have lived from 1200 until this year of 1567 and having set Michelagnolo Buonarroti in the last place for many reasons, although two or three have died later than he, I have thought that it cannot be otherwise than a praiseworthy labor to make mention likewise in this our work of many noble craftsmen who are alive, and, for their merits, most worthy to be highly extolled and to be numbered among these last masters. This I do all the more willingly because they are all very much my friends and brothers, and the three most eminent are already so far advanced in years, that, having come to the furthest limit of old age, little more can be expected from them, although they still continue by a sort of habit to occupy themselves with some work. After these I will also make brief mention of those who under their discipline have become such, that they hold the first places among the craftsmen of our own day ; and of others who in like manner are advancing towards perfection in our arts.

Beginning, then, with Francesco Primaticcio, to go on afterwards to Tiziano Vecelli and Jacopo Sansovino: I have to record that the said Francesco, born in Bologna of the noble family of the Primaticci, much celebrated by Fra Leandro Alberti and by Pontano, was apprenticed in his early boyhood to commerce. But, that calling pleasing him little, not long afterwards, being exalted in mind and spirit, he set himself to practise design, to which he felt himself inclined by nature; and so, giving his attention to drawing, and at times to painting, no long time passed before he gave proof that he was likely to achieve an excellent result. Going afterwards to Mantua, where at that time Giulio Romano was working at the Palace of the Te for Duke Federigo, he employed such interest that he was set, in company with many other young men who were with Giulio, to labor at that work. There, attending to the studies of art with much industry and diligence for a period of six years, he learned very well to handle colors and to work in stucco ; wherefore, among all the other young men who were laboring in the work of that Palace, Francesco came to be held one of the most excellent, and the best of all at drawing and coloring. This may be seen in a great chamber, round which he made two friezes of stucco, one above the other, with a great abundance of figures that represent the ancient Roman soldiery; and in the same Palace, likewise, he executed many works in painting that are to be seen there, after the designs of the above-named Giulio. Through these works Primaticcio came into such favour with that Duke, that, when King Francis of France heard with what quantity of ornaments he had caused the work of the Palace to be executed, and wrote to him that at all costs he should send him a young man able to work in painting and stucco, the Duke sent him Francesco Primaticcio, in the year 1531. And although the year before that the Florentine painter Rosso had gone into the service of the same King, as has been related, and had executed many works there, and in particular the pictures of Bacchus and Venus, Psyche and Cupid, nevertheless the first works in stucco that were done in France, and the first labors in fresco of any account, had their origin, it is said, from Primaticcio, who decorated in this manner many chambers, halls, and loggie for that King.

Liking the manner of this painter, and his procedure in every matter, the King sent him in the year 1540 to Rome, to contrive to obtain certain antique marbles; in which Primaticcio served him with such diligence, that in a short time, what with heads, torsi, and figures, he bought one hundred and twenty-five pieces. And at that same time he caused to be molded by Jacopo Barozzi of Vignuola, and by others, the bronze horse that is on the Campidoglio, a great part of the scenes on the Column, the statue of Commodus, the Venus, the Laocoon, the Tiber, the Nile, and the statue of Cleopatra, which are in the Belvedere; to the end that they might all be cast in bronze. Rosso having meanwhile died in France, and a long gallery therefore remaining unfinished which had been begun after his designs and in great part adorned with stucco work and pictures, Primaticcio was recalled from Rome; whereupon he took ship with the above-mentioned marbles and moulds of antique figures, and returned to France. There, before any other thing, he cast according to those moulds and forms a great part of those antique figures, which came out so well, that they might be the originals; as may be seen in the Queen's garden at Fontainebleau, where they were placed, to the vast satisfaction of that King, who made in that place, one might say, another Rome. I will not omit to say that Primaticcio, in executing those statues, employed masters so excellent in the art of casting, that those works came out not only light, but with a surface so smooth, that it was hardly necessary to polish them.

This work done, Primaticcio was commissioned to give completion to the gallery that Rosso had left unfinished; whereupon he set his hand to it, and in a short time delivered it finished with as many works in stucco and painting as have ever been executed in any place. Wherefore the King, finding that he had been well served in the period of eight years that this master had worked for him, had him placed among the number of his chamberlains; and a short time afterwards, which was in the year 1544, he made him Abbot of S. Martin, considering that Francesco deserved no less. But for all this Francesco has never ceased to have many works in stucco and in painting executed in the service of his King and of the others who have governed that kingdom after Francis I. Among others who have assisted him in this, he has been served, to say nothing of many of his fellow-Bolognese, by Giovan Battista, the son of Bartolommeo Bagnacavallo, who has proved not less able than his father in many scenes and other works of Primaticcio's that he has carried into execution. Another who has served him for a considerable time is one Ruggieri da Bologna, who is still with him. In like manner, Prospero Fontana, a painter of Bologna, was summoned to France not long since by Primaticcio, who intended to make use of him; but, having fallen ill to the danger of his life immediately after his arrival, he returned to Bologna.

To tell the truth, these two, Bagnacavallo and Fontana, are able men, and I, who have made considerable use both of the one and of the other, of the first at Rome, and of the second at Rimini and Florence, can declare this with certainty. But of all those who have assisted the Abbot Primaticcio, none has done him more honor than Niccolo da Modena, of whom mention has been made on another occasion, for by the excellence of his art this master has surpassed all the others. Thus he executed with his own hand, after the designs of the Abbot, a hall called the Ballroom, with such a vast number of figures, that it appears scarcely possible that they could be counted, and all as large as life and colored in so bright a manner, that in the harmony of the fresco-colors they appear like work in oils. After this work he painted in the Great Gallery, likewise from the designs of the Abbot, sixty stories of the life and actions of Ulysses, but with a coloring much darker than the pictures in the Ballroom. This came about because he used no other colors but the earths in the pure state in which they are produced by Nature, without mixing with them, it may be said, any white, and so heavily loaded with darks in the deep parts, that these have extraordinary relief and force; besides which, he executed the whole work with such harmony, that it appears almost as if painted in one and the same day. Wherefore he merits extraordinary praise, particularly because he executed it in fresco, without ever retouching it "secco," as many at the present day are accustomed to do. The vaulting of this gallery, likewise, is all wrought in stucco and painting, executed with much diligence by the men mentioned above and other young painters, but still after the designs of the Abbot; as is also the old Hall, and likewise a lower gallery that is over the pond, which is most beautiful and better adorned with lovely works than any other part of that place; but to attempt to speak of it at any length would make too long a story.

At Meudon the same Abbot Primaticcio has made innumerable decorations for the Cardinal of Lorraine in a vast palace belonging to him, called the Grotto, a place so extraordinary in size, that, after the likeness of similar edifices of the ancients, it might be called the Thermae, by reason of the vast number and grandeur of the loggie, staircases, and apartments, both public and private, that are there; and, to say nothing of other particulars, most beautiful is a room called the Pavilion, for it is all adorned with compartments and mouldings of stucco that are wrought with a view to being seen from below, and filled with a number of figures foreshortened in the same manner, which are very beautiful. Beneath this, then, is a large room with some fountains wrought in stucco, and full of figures in the round and compartments formed of shells and other products of the sea and natural objects, which are marvellous things and beautiful beyond measure; and the vaulting, likewise, is all most excellently wrought in stucco by the hand of Domenico del Barbiere, a Florentine painter, who is excellent not only in this kind of relief, but also in design, so that in some works that he has coloured he has given proofs of the rarest ability. In the same place, also, many figures of stucco in the round have been executed by a sculptor likewise of our country, called Ponzio, who has acquitted himself very well. But, since the works that have been executed in those places in the service of those lords are innumerable in their variety, I must touch only on the principal works of the Abbot, in order to show how rare he is in painting, in design, and in matters of architecture; although, in truth, it would not appear to me an excessive labor to enlarge on the particular works, if I had some true and clear information about them, as I have about works here. With regard to design, Primaticcio has been and still is most excellent, as may be seen from a drawing by his hand painted with the signs of the heavens, which is in our book, sent to me by Francesco himself; and I, both for love of him and because it is a thing of absolute perfection, hold it very dear.

King Francis being dead, the Abbot remained in the same place and rank with King Henry, and served him as long as he lived; and afterwards he was created by King Francis II Commissary-General over all the buildings of the whole kingdom, in which office, one of great honor and much repute, there had previously acted the father of Cardinal della Bordagiera and Monseigneur de Villeroy. Since the death of Francis II, he has continued in the same office, serving the present King, by whose order and that of the Queen Mother Primaticcio has made a beginning with the tomb of the above-named King Henry, making in the center of a six-sided chapel the sepulchre of the King himself, and at four sides the sepulchres of his four children; while at one of the other two sides of the chapel is the altar, and at the other the door. And since there are going into this work innumerable statues in marble and bronzes and a number of scenes in low-relief, it will prove worthy of all these great Kings and of the excellence and genius of so rare a craftsman as is this Abbot of S. Martin, who in his best years has been most excellent and versatile in all things that pertain to our arts, seeing that he has occupied himself in the service of his lords not only in buildings, paintings, and stucco-work, but also in the preparations for many festivals and masquerades, with most beautiful and fantastic inventions.

He has been very liberal and most loving towards his friends and relatives, and likewise towards the craftsmen who have served him. In Bologna he has conferred many benefits on his relatives, and has bought honorable dwellings for them and made them commodious and very ornate, as is that wherein there now lives M. Antonio Anselmi, who has for wife one of the nieces of our Abbot Primaticcio, who has also given in marriage another niece, the sister of the first-named, with honor and a good dowry. Primaticcio has always lived not like a painter and craftsman, but like a nobleman, and, as I have said, he has been very loving towards our craftsmen. When, as has been related, he sent for Prospero Fontana, he despatched to him a good sum of money, to the end that he might be able to make his way to France. This sum, having fallen ill, Prospero was not able to pay back or return by means of his works and labors; wherefore I, passing in the year 1563 through Bologna, recommended Prospero to him in this matter, and such was the courtesy of Primaticcio, that before I departed from Bologna I saw a writing by the hand of the Abbot in which he made a free gift to Prospero of all that sum of money which he had in hand for that purpose. For which reasons the affection that he has won among craftsmen is such, that they address and honor him as a father.

Now, to say something more of Prospero, I must record that he was once employed with much credit to himself in Rome, by Pope Julius III, at his Palace, at the Vigna Giulia, and at the Palace of the Campo Marzio, which at that time belonged to Signer Balduino Monti, and now belongs to the Lord Cardinal Ernando de' Medici, the son of Duke Cosimo. In Bologna the same master has executed many works in oils and in fresco, and in particular an altarpiece in oils in the Madonna del Baracane, of a S. Catherine who is disputing with philosophers and doctors in the presence of the Tyrant, which is held to be a very beautiful work. And the same Prospero has painted many pictures in fresco in the principal chapel of the Palace where the Governor lives.

Much the friend of Primaticcio, likewise, is Lorenzo Sabatini, an excellent painter; and if he had not been burdened with a wife and many children, the Abbot would have taken him to France, knowing that he has a very good manner and great mastery in all kinds of work, as may be seen from many things that he has done in Bologna. And in the year 1566 Vasari made use of him in the festive preparations that were carried out in Florence for the above-mentioned nuptials of the Prince and her serene Highness Queen Joanna of Austria, causing him to execute, in the vestibule that is between the Sala dei Dugento and the Great Hall, six figures in fresco that are very beautiful and truly worthy to be praised. But since this able painter is constantly making progress, I shall say nothing more about him, save that, attending as he does to the studies of art, a most honorable result is expected from him.

Now, in connection with the Abbot and the other Bolognese of whom mention has been made hitherto, I shall say something of Pellegrino Bolognese, a painter of the highest promise and most beautiful genius. This Pellegrino, after having attended in his early years to drawing the works by Vasari that are in the refectory of S. Michele in Bosco at Bologna, and those by other painters of good name, went in the year 1547 to Rome, where he occupied himself until the year 1550 in drawing the most noteworthy works; executing during that time and also afterwards, hi [sic] the Castello di S. Angelo, some things in connection with the works that Perino del Vaga carried out. In the center of the vaulting of the Chapel of S. Dionigi, in the Church of S. Luigi de' Franzesi, he painted a battle scene in fresco, in which he acquitted himself in such a manner, that, although Jacopo del Conte, a Florentine painter, and Girolamo Siciolante of Sermoneta had executed many works in the same chapel, Pellegrino proved to be in no way inferior to them; nay, it appears to many that he acquitted himself better than they did in the boldness, grace, coloring, and design of those his pictures. By reason of this Monsignor Poggio afterwards availed himself much of Pellegrino, for he had erected a palace on the Esquiline Hill, where he had a vineyard, without the Porta del Popolo, and he desired that Pellegrino should execute some figures for him on the facade, and then that he should paint the interior of a loggia that faces towards the Tiber, which he executed with such diligence, that it is held to be a work of much beauty and grace. In the house of Francesco Formento, between the Strada del Pellegrino and the Parione, he painted in a courtyard a facade and two figures besides. By order of the ministers of Pope Julius III, he executed a large escutcheon, with two figures, in the Belvedere; and without the Porta del Popolo, in the Church of S. Andrea, which that Pontiff had caused to be built, he painted a S. Peter and a S. Andrew, which two figures were much extolled, and the design of the S. Peter is in our book, together with other sheets drawn with much diligence by the same hand.

Being then sent to Bologna by Monsignor Poggio, he painted for him in his palace there many scenes in fresco, among which is one that is most beautiful, wherein from the many figures, both nude and clothed, and the lovely composition of the scene, it is evident that he surpassed himself, insomuch that he has never done any work since better than this In S. Jacopo, in the same city, he began to paint a chapel likewise for Cardinal Poggio, which was afterwards finished by the above-mentioned Prospero Fontana. Being then taken by the Cardinal of Augsburg to the Madonna of Loreto, Pellegrino decorated for him a chapel most beautifully with stucco-work and pictures. On the vaulting, within a rich pattern of compartments in stucco, are the Nativity of Christ and His Presentation in the arms of Simeon at the Temple; and in the centre, in particular, is the Transfiguration of the Saviour on Mount Tabor, and with Him Moses, Elias, and the Disciples. In the altarpiece that is above the altar, he painted S. John the Baptist baptizing Christ; and in this he made a portrait of the above-named Cardinal, kneeling. On one of the facades at the sides he painted S. John preaching to the multitude, and on the other the Beheading of the same Saint. In the forecourt below the church he painted stories of the Judgment, and some figures in chiaroscuro in the place where the Theatines now have their Confessional.

Being summoned not long afterwards to Ancona by Giorgio Morato, he painted for the Church of S. Agostino a large altarpiece in oils of Christ baptized by S. John, with S. Paul and other Saints on one side, and in the predella a good number of little figures, which are full of grace. For the same man he made in the Church of S. Ciriaco sul Monte a very beautiful ornament in stucco for the altar-piece of the high altar, and within it a Christ of five braccia in full relief, which was much extolled. In like manner, he has made in the same city a very large and very beautiful ornament of stucco for the high-altar of S. Domenico, and he would also have painted the altar picture, but he had a difference with the patron of that work, and it was given to Tiziano Vecelli to execute, as will be related in the proper place. Finally, having undertaken to decorate in the same city of Ancona the Loggia de' Mercanti, which faces on one side over the seashore and on the other towards the principal street of the city, Pellegrino has adorned the vaulting, which is a new structure, with pictures and many large figures in stucco; in which work since he has exerted all the effort and study possible to him, it has turned out in truth full of beauty and grace, for the reason that, besides that all the figures are beautiful and well executed, there are some most lovely foreshortenings of nudes, in which it is evident that he has imitated with much diligence the works of Buonarroti that are in the Chapel in Rome.

Now, since there are not in those parts any architects or engineers of account, or any who know more than he does, Pellegrino has taken it upon himself to give his attention to architecture and to the fortifying of places in that province; and, as one who has recognized that painting is more difficult and perhaps less advantageous than architecture, setting his painting somewhat on one side, he has executed many works for the fortification of Ancona and for many other places in the States of the Church, and particularly at Ravenna. Finally, he has made a beginning with a palace for the Sapienza, at Pavia, for Cardinal Borromeo. And at the present day, since he has not wholly abandoned painting, he is executing a scene in fresco, which will be very beautiful, in the refectory of S. Giorgio at Ferrara, for the Monks of Monte Oliveto; and of this Pellegrino himself not long ago showed me the design, which is very fine. But, seeing that he is a young man of thirty-five, and is constantly making more and more progress and advancing towards perfection, this much about him must suffice for the present. In like manner, I shall be brief in speaking of Orazio Fumaccini, a painter likewise from Bologna, who has executed in Rome, as has been related, above one of the doors of the Hall of Kings, a scene that is very fine, and in Bologna many much-extolled pictures; for he also is young, and he is acquitting himself in such a manner, that he will not be inferior to his elders, of whom we have made mention in these our Lives.

The men of Romagna, also, spurred by the example of the Bolognese, their neighbors, have executed many noble works in our arts; for, besides Jacopone da Faenza, who, as has been related, painted the tribune of S. Vitale in Ravenna, there have been and still are many others after him who are excellent. Maestro Luca de' Longhi of Ravenna, a man of good, quiet, and studious nature, has painted in his native city of Ravenna and in the surrounding country many very beautiful panel pictures in oils and portraits from nature; and of much charm, among others, are two little altarpieces that he was commissioned not long since to paint for the Church of the Monks of Classe by the Reverend Don Antonio da Pisa, then Abbot of that Monastery; to say nothing of an infinite number of other works that this painter has executed. And, to tell the truth, if Maestro Luca had gone forth from Ravenna, where he has always lived and still lives with his family, being assiduous and very diligent, and of fine judgment, he would have become a very rare painter, because he has executed his works, as he still does, with patience and study; and to this I can bear witness, who know how much proficience he made during my sojourn of two months in Ravenna, both practising and discussing the matters of art; nor must I omit to say that a daughter of his, still but a little girl, called Barbara, draws very well, and has begun to do some work in color with no little grace and excellence of manner.

A rival of Luca, for a time, was Livio Agresti of Forli, who, after he had executed for Abbot de' Grassi in the Church of the Spirito Santo some scenes in fresco and certain other works, departed from Ravenna and made his way to Rome. There, attending with much study to design, he became a well-practised master, as may be seen from some facades and other works in fresco that he executed at that time; and his first works, which are in Narni, have in them not a little of the good. In a chapel of the Church of the Santo Spirito, in Rome, he has painted a number of figures and scenes in fresco, which are executed with much industry and study, so that they are rightly extolled by everyone. That work was the reason, as has been related, that there was allotted to him one of the smaller scenes that are over the doors in the Hall of Kings in the Palace of the Vatican, in which he acquitted himself so well, that it can bear comparison with the others. The same master has executed for the Cardinal of Augsburg seven pieces with scenes painted on cloth of silver, which have been held to be very beautiful in Spain, where they have been sent by that same Cardinal as presents to King Philip, to be used as hangings in a chamber. Another picture on cloth of silver he has painted in the same manner, which is now to be seen in the Church of the Theatines at Forli'. Finally, having become a good and bold draughtsman, a well-practised colorist, fertile in the composition of scenes, and universal in his manner, he has been invited by the above- named Cardinal with a good salary to Augsburg, where he is constantly executing works worthy of much praise.

But most rare among the other men of Romagna, in certain respects, is Marco da Faenza (for only so, and not otherwise, is he called), for the reason that he has no ordinary mastery in the work of fresco, being bold, resolute, and of a terrible force, and particularly in the manner and practice of making grotesques, in which he has no equal at the present day, nor one who even approaches his perfection. His works may be found throughout all Rome; and in Florence there is by his hand the greater part of the ornaments of twenty different rooms that are in the Ducal Palace, and the friezes of the ceiling in the Great Hall of that Palace, which was painted by Giorgio Vasari, as will be fully described in the proper place ; not to mention that the decorations of the principal court of the same Palace, made in a short time for the coming of Queen Joanna, were executed in great part by the same man. And this must be enough of Marco, he being still alive and in the flower of his growth and activity.

In Parma there is at the present day in the service of the Lord Duke Ottavio Farnese, a painter called Miruolo, a native, I believe, of Romagna, who, besides some works executed in Rome, has painted many scenes in fresco in a little palace that the same Lord Duke has caused to be built in the Castle of Parma. There, also, are some fountains constructed with fine grace by Giovanni Boscoli, a sculptor of Montepulciano, who, having worked in stucco for many years under Vasari in the Palace of the above-named Lord Duke Cosimo of Florence, has finally entered the service of the above-mentioned Lord Duke of Parma, with a good salary, and has executed, as he continues constantly to do, works worthy of his rare and most beautiful genius. In the same cities and provinces, also, are many other excellent and noble craftsmen; but, since they are still young, we shall defer to a more convenient time the making of that honorable mention of them that their talents and their works may have merited.

And this is the end of the works of Abbot Primaticcio. I will add that, he having had himself portrayed in a pen-drawing by the Bolognese painter Bartolommeo Passerotto, who was very much his friend, that portrait has come into our hands, and we have it in our book of drawings by the hands of various excellent painters.



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