LINK TO BIB
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (att.). Portrait of Girolamo Benivieni. ca. 1510/20. 

National Gallery, London.



RIDOLFO (1483-1561),
DAVID (1452-1525),
and BENEDETTO (1458-1497) GHIRLANDAJO
PAINTERS OF FLORENCE

Vasari's Lives of the Artists




ALTHOUGH IT APPEARS in a certain sense impossible that one who imitates some man excellent in our arts, and follows in his footsteps, should not become in great measure like him, nevertheless it may be seen that very often the brothers and sons of persons of singular ability do not follow their kinsmen in this respect, but fall away strangely from their standard. Which comes to pass, I think, not because there are not in them, through their blood, the same fiery spirit and the same genius, but rather from another reason that is, from overmuch ease and comfort and from an over-abundance of means, which often prevent men from becoming industrious and assiduous in their studies. Yet this rule is not so fixed that the contrary does not sometimes happen.

David and Benedetto Ghirlandajo, although they had very good parts and could have followed their brother Domenico in the matters of art, yet did not do so, for the reason that after the death of that same brother they strayed away from the path of good work, one of them, Benedetto, spending a long time as a wanderer, and the other distilling his brains away vainly in the study of mosaic. David, who had been much beloved by Domenico, and who loved him equally, both living and dead, finished after his death, in company with his brother Benedetto, many works begun by Domenico, and in particular the altarpiece of the high altar in S. Maria Novella, that is, the part at the back, which now faces the choir; and some pupils of the same Domenico finished the predella in little figures, Niccolaio painting with great diligence, below the figure of S. Stephen, a disputation of that Saint, while Francesco Granacci, Jacopo del Tedesco, and Benedetto executed the figures of S. Antonino, Arch- bishop of Florence, and S. Catharine of Siena. And they painted an altar picture of S. Lucia that is in that place, with the head of a friar, near the centre of the church; and many other paintings and pictures that are in the houses of various individuals.

After having been several years in France, where he worked and earned not a little, Benedetto returned to Florence with many privileges and presents that he had received from that King in testimony of his talents. And finally, after having given his attention not only to painting but also to miniatures, he died at the age of fifty.

David, although he drew and worked much, yet did not greatly surpass Benedetto: and this may have come about from his being too prosperous, and from not keeping his thoughts fixed on art, who is never found save by him who seeks her, and, when found, must not be abandoned, or she flies away. By the hand of David, in the garden of the Monks of the Angeli in Florence, at the head of a path that is opposite to a door that leads into that garden, are two figures in fresco at the foot of a Crucifix namely, S. Benedict and S. Romualdo with some other similar works, little worthy to have any record made of them. But, while David himself would not give attention to art, it was not a little to his credit that he caused his nephew Ridolf o, the son of Domenico, to devote himself to it with all diligence, and set him on the right way; for that Ridolfo, who was under the care of David, being a lad of beautiful genius, was placed by him to practise painting, and provided with all facilities for study by his uncle, who repented too late that he had not studied that art, and had spent all his time on mosaic. David executed on a thick panel of walnut-wood, which was to be sent to the King of France, a Madonna in mosaic, with some Angels about her, which was much extolled. And, living at Montaione, a township in Valdelsa, where he had furnaces, glass, and wood at his command, he executed there many works in glass and mosaic, and in particular some vases, which were presented to the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, the elder, and three heads, that of S. Peter, that of S. Laurence, and that of Giuliano de' Medici, on a dish of copper, which are now in the guardaroba of the Duke.

Meanwhile Ridolfo, drawing from the cartoon of Michelagnolo, was held to be one of the best draughtsmen thus employed, and was therefore much beloved by everyone, and particularly by Raff aello Sanzio of Urbino, who at that time, also being a young man of great reputation, was living in Florence, as has been related, in order to learn art. After Ridolfo had studied from that cartoon, and had become well-practised in painting under Fra Bartolommeo di San Marco, he already knew so much, accord- ing to the judgment of the best masters, that Raff aello, when about to go to Rome at the summons of Pope Julius II, left him to finish the blue drapery and other little things that were wanting in the picture of a Madonna that he had painted for some gentlemen of Siena ; which picture Ridolfo, after he had finished it with much diligence, sent to Siena. And Raffaello had not been long in Rome before he sought in many ways to attract Ridolfo to that city, but he, having never been out of sight of the Cupola, as the saying goes, and not being able to reconcile himself to living out of Florence, never accepted any proposal made to him that would interfere with his living in that city.

For the Convent of the Nuns of Ripoli Ridolfo painted two altarpieces in oils: in one the Coronation of Our Lady, and in the other a Madonna surrounded by certain Saints. For the Church of S. Gallo he painted in an altar-piece Christ bearing the Cross, with a good number of soldiers, and the Madonna and the other Maries, who are weeping in company with John, while Veronica is offering the Sudarium to Christ; all showing force and animation. That work, in which are many very beautiful heads, taken from life and executed with lovingness, acquired a great name for Ridolfo; and in it are portrayed his father and some lads who were working with him, and, of his friends, Poggino, Scheggia, and Nunziata, the head of the last-named being very lifelike. That Nunziata, although he was a puppet-painter, was in some things a person of distinction, and above all in preparing fireworks and the girandole that were made every year for the festival of S. John; and, since he was an amusing and facetious person, everyone took great pleasure in conversing with him. A citizen once saying to him that he was displeased with certain painters who could paint nothing but lewd things, and that he therefore wished him to paint a picture of a Madonna that might be seemly, well advanced in years and not likely to provoke lascivious thoughts, Nunziata painted him one with a beard. Another meaning to ask from him a Christ on the Cross for a ground-floor room where he lived in summer, and not being able to say anything but "I want a Christ on the Cross for summer," Nunziata, who saw him to be a simpleton, painted him one in breeches.

But to return to Ridolfo. Having been commissioned to paint the Nativity of Christ in an altarpiece for the Monastery of Cestello, he exerted himself much, in order to surpass his rivals, and executed that work with the greatest diligence and labor at his command, painting therein the Madonna, who is adoring the Infant Christ, S. Joseph, and two figures, S. Francis and S. Jerome, kneeling. He also made there a most beautiful landscape, very like the Sasso della Vernia, where S. Francis received the Stigmata, and above the hut some Angels that are singing; and the whole work was very beautiful in coloring, and passing good in relief. About the same time, after executing an altarpiece that went to Pistoia, he set his hand to two others for the Company of S. Zanobi, which is beside the canonical buildings of S. Maria del Fiore; which altar-pieces were to stand on either side of the Annunciation that Mariotto Albertinelli had formerly painted there, as was related in his Life. Ridolfo, then, carried the two pictures to completion with great satisfaction to the men of that Company, painting in one S. Zanobi restoring a boy to life in the Borgo degli Albizzi in Florence, which is a very lively and spirited scene, for there are in it many heads portrayed from life, and some women who show very vividly their joy and astonishment at seeing the boy reviving and the spirit returning to him. In the other is the scene of the same S. Zanobi being carried dead by six Bishops from S. Lorenzo, where he was first buried, to S. Maria del Fiore, when, passing through the Piazza di S. Giovanni, an elm that was there, all withered, on the spot where there is now a column of marble, with a cross upon it in memory of the miracle, was no sooner touched (through the will of God) by the coffin wherein was the holy corpse, than it put forth leaves again and burst into bloom; which picture was no less beautiful than the others by Ridolfo mentioned above.

Now those works were executed by that painter while his uncle David was still alive, and that good old man took the greatest pleasure in them, thanking God that he had lived so long as to see the art of Domenico come to life again, as it were, in Ridolfo. But finally, being seventy-four years of age, while he was preparing, old as he was, to go to Rome to take part in the holy Jubilee, he fell ill and died in the year 1525, and received burial from Ridolfo in S. Maria Novella, where the others of the Ghirlandajo family lie.

Ridolfo had a brother called Don Bartolommeo in the Angeli, a seat of the Monks of Camaldoli in Florence, who was a truly religious, upright, and worthy man ; and Ridolfo, who loved him much, painted for him in the cloister that opens into the garden that is, in the loggia where there are the stories of S. Benedict painted in verdaccio by the hand of Paolo Uccello, on the right hand as one enters by the door of the garden a scene in which that same Saint, seated at table with two Angels beside him, is waiting for bread to be sent for him into the grotto by Romanus, but the Devil has cut the cord with stones; and the same Saint investing a young man with the habit. But the best figure of all those that are on that little arch, is the portrait of a dwarf who stood at the door of the monastery at that time. In the same place, over the holy-water font at the entrance into the church, he painted in fresco colors a Madonna with the Child in her arms, and some Angels about her, all very beautiful. And in the cloister that is in front of the chapterhouse, in a lunette over the door of a little chapel, he painted in fresco S. Romualdo with the Church of the Hermitage of Camaldoli in his hand: and not long afterwards a very beautiful Last Supper that is at the head of the refectory of the same monks, which he did at the commission of Don Andrea Doffi the Abbot, who had been a monk of that monastery, and who had his own portrait painted in a corner at the foot.

Ridolfo also executed three very beautiful stories of the Madonna, which have the appearance of miniatures, on a predella in the little Church of the Misericordia, in the Piazza di S. Giovanni. And for Matteo Cini, in a little tabernacle on the corner of his house, near the Piazza di S. Maria Novella, he painted Our Lady, S. Matthew the Apostle, and S. Dominic, with two little sons of that Matteo on their knees, portrayed from life; which work, although small, is very beautiful and full of grace. For the Nuns of S. Girolamo, of the Order of S. Francesco de' Zoccoli, on the heights of S. Giorgio, he painted two altarpieces; in one is S. Jerome in Penitence, very beautiful, with a Nativity of Jesus Christ in the lunette above, and in the other, which is opposite to the first, is an Annunciation, and in the lunette above S. Mary Magdalene partaking of the Communion. In the Palace that is now the Duke's he painted the chapel where the Signori used to hear Mass, executing in the centre of the vaulting the most Holy Trinity, and in the other compartments some little Angels who are holding the Mysteries of the Passion, with some heads representing the twelve Apostles. In the four corners he painted the four Evangelists in whole-length figures, and at the head the Angel Gabriel bringing the Annunciation to the Virgin, depicting in a kind of landscape the Piazza della Nunziata in Florence as far as the Church of S. Marco; and all this work is executed excellently well, with many beautiful ornaments. When it was finished, he painted in an altarpiece, which was placed in the Pieve of Prato, Our Lady presenting the Girdle to S. Thomas, who is with the other Apostles. For Ognissanti, at the commission of Monsignor de' Bonafe, Director of the Hospital of S. Maria Nuova, and Bishop of Cortona, he executed an altarpiece with Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, and S. Romualdo; and for the same patron, having served him well, he painted some other works, of which there is no need to make mention. He then copied the three Labors of Hercules (which Antonio del Pollaiuolo had formerly painted in the Palace of the Medici), for Giovan Battista della Palla, who sent them to France.

After he had executed these and many other pictures, Ridolfo, happening to have in his house all the appliances for working in mosaic which had belonged to his uncle David and his father Domenico, and having also learned something of that work from the uncle, determined that he would try to do some work in mosaic with his own hand. Which having done, and finding that he was successful, he undertook to decorate the arch that is over the door of the Nunziata, wherein he made the Angel bringing the Annunciation to Our Lady. But, since he had not the patience for putting together all those little pieces, he never again did any work in that field of art.

For a little church of the Company of Woolcarders at the head of the Campaccio, he painted in an altarpiece the Assumption of the Madonra, with a choir of Angels, and the Apostles about the Sepulchre. But by misadventuie, the room in which the picture was having been filled in the year of the siege with green broom for making fascines, the damp so softened the gesso that it all peeled away; wherefore Ridolfo had to repaint it, and made in it his own portrait. At the Pieve of Giogoli, in a tabernacle that is on the high road, he painted Our Lady with two Angels; and in another tabernacle opposite to a mill of the Eremite Fathers of Camaldoli, which is on the Ema, beyond the Certosa, he painted many figures in fresco. By reason of all which works, Ridolfo, finding himself sufficiently employed, and living comfortably with a good income, would by no means rack his brains to do all that he could have done in painting, but rather became disposed to live like a gentleman and take life as it came.

For the visit of Pope Leo to Florence, he executed in company with his young men and assistants all the festive preparations in the house of the Medici, and decorated the Sala del Papa and the adjoining rooms, causing the chapel to be painted by Pontormo, as has been related. In like manner, for the nuptials of Duke Giuliano and Duke Lorenzo he executed the decorations and some scenery for comedies; and, since he was much beloved by those lords for his excellence, he received many offices by their means, and was elected to the Collegio as an honoured citizen. Ridolfo did not disdain also to make pennons, standards, and other suchlike things in plenty, and I remember having heard him say that three times he had painted the banners of the Potenze, which used every year to hold tournaments and keep the city festive. In short, all sorts of works used to be executed in his shop, so that many young men frequented it, each learning that which pleased him best.

Thus Antonio del Ceraiolo, having been with Lorenzo di Credi, was then with Ridolf o, and afterwards, having withdrawn by himself, executed many works and portraits from life. In S. Jacopo tra Fossi there is by the hand of this Antonio an altarpiece, with S. Francis and S. Mary Magdalene at the foot of a Crucifix; and in the Church of the Servites, behind the high altar, a S. Michelagnolo copied from that by Ghirlandajo in the Ossa of S. Maria Nuova.

Another disciple of Ridolfo, who acquitted himself very well, was Mariano da Pescia, by whose hand is a picture of Our Lady, with the Infant Christ, S. Elizabeth, and S. John, executed very well, in the above- mentioned chapel of the Palace, which Ridolfo had previously painted for the Signoria. The same Mariano painted in chiaroscuro the whole house of Carlo Ginori, in the street which takes its name from that family, executing there stories from the life of Samson, in a very beautiful manner. And if this painter had enjoyed a longer life than he did, he would have become an excellent master.

A disciple of Ridolfo, likewise, was Toto del Nunziata, who painted for S. Piero Scheraggio, in company with his master, an altarpiece of Our Lady, with the Child in her arms, and two Saints.

But dear beyond all the others to Ridolfo was a disciple of Lorenzo di Credi, who was also with Andrea del Ceraiolo, called Michele, a young man of an excellent nature, who executed his works with boldness and without effort. This Michele, then, following the manner of Ridolfo, approached him so closely that, whereas at the beginning he received from his master a third of his earnings, they came to execute their works in company, and shared the profits. Michele looked upon Ridolfo always as a father, and loved him, and also was so beloved by him, that, as one belonging to Ridolfo, he has ever been and still is known by no other name but Michele di Ridolfo. These two, I say, loving each other like father and son, executed innumerable works in company. First, for the Church of S. Felice in Piazza, a place then belonging to the Monks of Camaldoli, they painted in an altarpiece Christ and Our Lady in the air, who are praying to God the Father for the people below, where some Saints are kneeling. In S. Felicita they painted two chapels in fresco, despatching them in an able manner; in one is the Dead Christ with the Maries, and in the other the Assumption of Our Lady, with some Saints. For the Church of the Nuns of S. Jacopo delle Murate they executed an altar-piece at the commission of Bishop de' Bonafe of Cortona: and for the Convent of the Nuns of Ripoli another altarpiece with Our Lady and some Saints. For the Chapel of the Segni, below the organ ir the Church of S. Spirit o, they painted, likewise in an altarpiece, Our Lady, S. Anne, and many other Saints; for the Company of the Neri a picture of the Beheading of S. John the Baptist; and for the Monachine in Borgo S. Friano an altarpiece of the Annunciation. In another altarpiece, for S. Rocco at Prato, they painted S. Rocco, S. Sebastian, and between them Our Lady; and likewise, for the Company uf S. Bastiano, beside S. Jacopo sopra Arno, they executed an altarpiece containing Our Lady, S. Sebastian, and S. James; with another for S. Martino alia Palma. And, finally, they painted for S. Alessandro Vitelli a S. Anne in a picture that was sent to Citta di Castello, and placed in the chapel of that lord in S. Fiorido. But, since the works and pictures that issued from Ridolfo's shop were without number, and even more so the portraits from life, I shall say only that a portrait was made by him of Signor Cosimo de' Medici when he was very young, which was a most beautiful work, and very true to life; which picture is still preserved in the guardaroba of his Excellency. Ridolfo was a rapid and resolute painter in certain kinds of work, and particularly in festive decorations; and thus, for the entry of the Emperor Charles V into Florence, he executed in ten days an arch at the Canto alia Cuculia, and another arch in a very short time at the Porta al Prato for the coming of the most illustrious Lady, Duchess Leonora, as will be related in the Life of Battista Franco. At the Madonna di Vertigli, a seat of the Monks of Camaldoli, without the township of Monte Sansovino, Ridolfo, having with him the above-named Battista Franco and Michele, executed in chiaroscuro, in a little cloister, all the stories of the life of Joseph; in the church, the altarpieces of the high-altar, and a Visitation of Our Lady in fresco, which is as beautiful as any work in fresco that Ridolfo ever painted. But lovely beyond all others, in the venerable aspect of the countenance, is the figure of S. Romualdo, which is on that high-altar. They also executed other pictures there, but it must suffice to have spoken of these. Ridolfo painted grotesques on the vaulting of the Green Chamber in the Palace of Duke Cosimo, and some landscapes on the walls, which much pleased the Duke.

Finally, having grown old, Ridolfo lived a very happy life, having his daughters married, and seeing his sons well started in the affairs of commerce in France and at Ferrara. And, although afterwards he found himself so oppressed by the gout that he stayed always in the house or had to be carried in a chair, nevertheless he bore that infirmity with great patience, and also some misfortunes suffered by his sons. Old as he was, he felt a great love for the world of art, and insisted on being told of, and at times on seeing, those works that he heard much praised, such as buildings, pictures, and other suchlike things that were being executed every day; and one day that the Lord Duke was out of Florence, having had himself carried in his chair into the Palace, he dined there and stayed the whole day, gazing at that Palace, which was so changed and transformed from what it was before, that he did not recognize it; and in the evening, when going away, he said: "I die happy, because I shall be able to carry to our craftsmen in the next world the news that I have seen the dead restored to life, the ugly rendered beautiful, and the old made young." Ridolfo lived seventy-five years, and died in the year 1560; and he was buried with his forefathers in S. Maria Novella.

His disciple Michele, who, as I have said, is called by no other name than Michele di Ridolfo, has painted in fresco, since Ridolfo left the world of art, three great arches over certain gates of the city of Florence; at S. Gallo, Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, and S. Cosimo, which are executed with very beautiful mastery; at the Porta al Prato, other similar figures; and, at the Porta alia Croce, Our Lady, S. John the Baptist, and S. Ambrogio; with altarpieces and pictures without number, painted with good mastery. And I, on account of his goodness and capacity, have employed him several times, together with others, in the works of the Palace, with much satisfaction to myself and everyone besides. But that which pleases me most in him, in addition to his being a truly honest, orderly, and God-fearing man, is that he has always in his workshop a good number of young men, whom he teaches with incredible lovingness. A disciple of Ridolfo, also, was Carlo Portelli of Loro in the Valdarno di Sopra, by whose hand are some altarpieces and innumerable pictures in Florence; as in S. Maria Maggiore, in S. Felicita, in the Nunnery of Monticelli, and, at Cestello, the altarpiece of the Chapel of the Baldesi on the right hand of the entrance into the church, wherein is the Martyrdom of S. Romolo, Bishop of Fiesole.



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