Head of a Man. Sotheby's sale, 27 January 2010.


Vasari's Lives of the Artists

VERY OFTEN DO WE SEE in the sciences of learning and in the more liberal of the manual arts, that those men who are melancholy are the most assiduous in their studies and show the greatest patience in supporting the burden of their labors; so that there are few of that disposition who do not become excellent in such professions. Even so did Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, a painter of Florence, whose cast of countenance was so cold and woeful that he looked like the image of melancholy; and such was the power of this humor over him that he gave little thought to anything but matters of art, with the exception of his household cares, through which he endured most grievous anxieties, although he had enough to live in comfort. He worked at the art of painting under Lorenzo di Credi for four-and-twenty years, living with him, honoring him always, and rendering him every sort of service. Having become during that time a very good painter, he showed afterwards in all his works that he was a most faithful disciple of his master and a close imitator of his manner. This was seen from his first paintings, in the Church of the Osservanza on the hill of San Miniato without Florence, for which he painted a panel picture copied from the one that Lorenzo had executed for the Nuns of S. Chiara, containing the Nativity of Christ, and no less excellent than the one of Lorenzo.

Afterwards, having left his master, he painted for the Church of S. Michele in Orto, at the commission of the Guild of Vintners, a S. Martin in oils, robed as a Bishop, which gave him the name of a very good master. And since Giovanni Antonio had a vast veneration for the works and the manner of Fra Bartolommeo di San Marco, and made great efforts to approach that manner in his coloring, it may be seen from a panel which he began but did not finish, not being satisfied with it, how much he imitated that painter. This panel remained in his house during his lifetime as worthless: but after his death it was sold as a piece of old rubbish to Sinibaldo Gaddi, and he had it finished by Santi Titi dal Borgo, then a mere boy, and placed it in a chapel of his own in S. Domenico da Fiesole. In this work are the Magi adoring Jesus Christ, who is in the lap of His Mother, and in one corner is his own portrait from life, which is a passing good likeness.

He then painted for Madonna Alfonsina, the wife of Piero de' Medici, a panel picture that was placed as a votive offering over the altar of the Chapel of the Martyrs in the Camaldolite Church at Florence: in which picture he painted the Crucifixion of S. Arcadio and other martyrs with their crosses in their arms, and two figures, half covered with draperies and half naked, kneeling with their crosses on the ground, while in the sky are some little angels with palms in their hands. This work, which was painted with much diligence, and executed with good judgment in the colouring and in the heads, which are very lifelike, was placed in the above-mentioned Camaldolite Church; but that monastery was taken on account of the siege of Florence from those Eremite Fathers, who used devoutly to celebrate the Divine offices in the church, and was afterwards given to the Nuns of S. Giovannino, of the Order of the Knights of Jerusalem, and finally destroyed; and the picture, being one which may be numbered among the best works that Sogliani painted, was placed by order of the Lord Duke Cosimo in one of the chapels of the Medici family in S. Lorenzo.

The same master executed for the Nuns of the Crocetta a Last Supper colored in oils, which was much extolled at that time. And in a shrine in the Via de' Ginori, he painted in fresco for Taddeo Taddei a Crucifix with Our Lady and S. John at the foot, and in the sky some angels lamenting Christ, very lifelike--a picture truly worthy of praise, and a well-executed example of work in fresco. By the hand of Sogliani, also, is a Crucifix in the Refectory of the Abbey of the Black Friars in Florence, with angels flying about and weeping with much grace; and at the foot the Madonna, S. John, S. Benedict, S. Scholastica, and other figures. For the Nuns of the Spirito Santo, on the hill of San Giorgio, he painted two pictures that are in their church, one of S. Francis, and the other of S. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary and a sister of that Order. For the Company of the Ceppo he painted the banner for carrying in processions, which is very beautiful, representing on the front of it the Visitation of Our Lady, and on the other side S. Niccolo' the Bishop, with two children dressed as Flagellants, one of whom holds his book and the other the three balls of gold. On a panel in S. Jacopo sopra Arno he painted the Trinity, with an endless number of little boys, S. Mary Magdalene kneeling, S. Catherine, S. James, and two figures in fresco standing at the sides, S. Jerome in Penitence and S. John; and in the predella he made his assistant, Sandrino del Calzolaio, execute hree scenes, which won no little praise.

On the end wall of the Oratory of a Company in the township of Anghiari, he executed on panel a Last Supper in oils, with figures of the size of life; and on one of the two adjoining walls (namely, the sides) he painted Christ washing the feet of the Apostles, and on the other a servant bringing two vessels of water. The work is held in great veneration in that place, for it is indeed a rare thing, and one that brought him both honor and profit. A picture that he executed of a Judith who had cut off the head of Holofernes, being a very beautiful work, was sent to Hungary. And likewise another, in which was the Beheading of S. John the Baptist, with a building in perspective for which he had copied the exterior of the Chapter-house of the Pazzi, which is in the first cloister of S. Croce, was sent as a most beautiful work to Naples by Paolo da Terrarossa, who had given the commission for it. For one of the Bernardi, also, Sogliani executed two other pictures, which were placed in a chapel in the Church of the Osservanza at San Miniato, containing two lifesize figures in oils--S. John the Baptist and S. Anthony of Padua. But as for the panel that was to stand between them, Giovanni Antonio, being dilatory by nature and leisurely over his work, lingered over it so long that he who had given the commission died: wherefore that panel, which was to contain a Christ lying dead in the lap of His Mother, remained unfinished.

After these things, when Perino del Vaga, having departed from Genoa on account of his resentment against Prince Doria, was working at Pisa, where the sculptor Stagio da Pietrasanta had begun the execution of the new chapels in marble at the end of the nave of the Duomo, together with that space behind the high-altar, which serves as a sacristy, it was ordained that the said Perino, as will be related in his Life, with other masters, should begin to fill up those adornments of marble with pictures. But Perino being recalled to Genoa, Giovanni Antonio was commissioned to set his hand to the pictures that were to adorn the aforesaid recess behind the high-altar, and to deal in his works with the sacrifices of the Old Testament, as symbols of the Sacrifice of the Most Holy Sacrament, which was there over the centre of the high-altar. Sogliani, then, painted in the first picture the sacrifice that Noah and his sons offered when they had gone forth from the Ark, and afterwards those of Cain and of Abel; which were all highly extolled, but above all that of Noah, because some of the heads and parts of the figures in it were very beautiful. The picture of Abel is charming for its landscapes, which are very well executed, and the head of Abel himself, which is the very presentment of goodness; but quite the opposite is that of Cain, which has the mien of a truly sorry villain. And if Sogliani had pursued the work with energy instead of being dilatory, he would have been charged by the Warden, who had given him his commission and was much pleased with his manner and character, to execute all the work in that Duomo, whereas at that time, in addition to the pictures already mentioned, he painted no more than one panel, which was destined for the chapel wherein Perino had begun to work; and this he finished in Florence, but in such wise that it pleased the Pisans well enough and was held to be very beautiful. In it are the Madonna, S. John the Baptist, S. George, S. Mary Magdalene, S. Margaret, and other saints. His picture, then, having given satisfaction, Sogliani received from the Warden a commission for three other panels, to which he set his hand, but did not finish them in the lifetime of that Warden, in whose place Bastiano della Seta was elected; and he, perceiving that the business was moving but slowly, allotted four pictures for the aforesaid sacristy behind the high-altar to Domenico Beccafumi of Siena, an excellent painter, who dispatched them very quickly, as will be told in the proper place, and also painted a panel there, and other painters executed the rest. Giovanni Antonio, then, working at his leisure, finished two other panels with much diligence, painting in each a Madonna surrounded by many saints. And finally, having made his way to Pisa, he there painted the fourth and last, in which he acquitted himself worse than in any other, either through old age, or because he was competing with Beccafumi, or for some other reason.

But the Warden Bastiano, perceiving the slowness of the man, and wishing to bring the work to an end, allotted the three other panels to Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo, who finished two of them, those that are beside the door of the facade. In the one nearer the Campo Santo is Our Lady with the Child in her arms, with S. Martha caressing Him. There, also, on their knees, are S. Cecilia, S. Augustine, S. Joseph, and S. Guido the Hermit, and in the foreground a nude S. Jerome, with S. Luke the Evangelist, and some little boys uplifting a piece of drapery, and others holding flowers. In the other, by the wish of the Warden, he painted another Madonna with her Son in her arms, S. James the Martyr, S. Matthew, S. Sylvester the Pope, and S. Turpe' the Chevalier. Having to paint the Madonna, and not wishing to repeat the same composition (although he had varied it much in other respects), he made her with Christ dead in her arms, and those saints as it were round a Deposition from the Cross; and on the crosses, planted on high and made of tree-trunks, are fixed two naked Thieves, surrounded by horses and ministers of the crucifixion, with Joseph, Nicodemus, and the Maries; all for the satisfaction of the Warden, who wished that in those new pictures there should be included all the saints that there had been in the past in the various dismantled chapels, in order to renew their memory in the new works. One picture was still wanting to complete the whole, and this was executed by Bronzino, who painted a nude Christ and eight saints. And in this manner were those chapels brought to completion, all of which Giovanni Antonio could have done with his own hand if he had not been so slow.

And since Sogliani had won much favor with the Pisans, after the death of Andrea del Sarto he was commissioned to finish a panel for the Company of S. Francesco, which the said Andrea left only sketched; which panel is now in the building of that Company on the Piazza di S. Francesco at Pisa. The same master executed some rows of cloth-hangings for the Wardens of Works of the aforesaid Duomo, and many others in Florence, because he took pleasure in doing that sort of work, and above all in company with his friend Tommaso di Stefano, a painter of Florence.

Being summoned by the Friars of S. Marco in Florence to paint a work in fresco at the head of their refectory, at the expense of one of their number, a lay-brother of the Molletti family, who had possessed a rich patrimony when in the world, Giovanni Antonio wished to paint there the scene of Jesus Christ feeding five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes, in order to make the most of his powers; and he had already made the design for it, with many women and children and a great multitude of other people, when the friars refused to have that story, saying that they wanted something definite, simple, and familiar. Whereupon, to please them, he painted the scene when S. Dominic, being in the refectory with his friars and having no bread, made a prayer to God, when the table was miraculously covered with bread, brought by two angels in human form. In this work he made portraits of many friars who were then in the convent, which have the appearance of life, and particularly that of the lay-brother of the Molletti family, who is serving at table. Then, in the lunette above the table, he painted S. Dominic at the foot of a Crucifix, with Our Lady and S. John the Evangelist, who are weeping, and at the sides S. Catherine of Siena and S. Antonino, Archbishop of Florence, a brother of their Order. All this, for a work in fresco, was executed with much diligence and a high finish; but Sogliani would have been much more successful if he had executed what he had designed, because painters express the conceptions of their own minds better than those of others. On the other hand, it is only right that he who pays the piper should call the tune. The design for the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes is in the hands of Bartolommeo Gondi, who, in addition to a large picture that he has by the hand of Sogliani, also possesses many drawings and heads painted from life on tinted paper, which he received from the wife of the painter, who had been very much his friend, after his death. And we, also, have in our book some drawings by the same hand, which are beautiful to a marvel.

Sogliani began for Giovanni Serristori a large panel-picture which was to be placed in S. Francesco dell' Osservanza, without the Porta a S. Miniato, with a vast number of figures, among which are some marvellous heads, the best that he ever made; but it was left unfinished at the death of the said Giovanni Serristori. Nevertheless, since Giovanni Antonio had received full payment, he finished it afterwards little by little, and gave it to Messer Alamanno di Jacopo Salviati, the son-in-law and heir of Giovanni Serristori; and he presented it, frame and all, to the Nuns of S. Luca, who have it over their high altar in the Via di S. Gallo.

Giovanni Antonio executed many other works in Florence, some of which are in the houses of citizens, and some were sent to various countries; but of these there is no need to make mention, for we have spoken of the most important. Sogliani was an upright person, very religious, always occupied with his own business, and never interfering with his fellow-craftsmen.

One of his disciples was Sandrino del Calzolaio, who painted the shrine that is on the Canto delle Murate, and, in the Hospital of the Temple, a S. John the Baptist who is assigning shelter to the poor; and he would have done more work, and good work, if he had not died as young as he did. Another of his disciples was Michele, who afterwards went to work with Ridolfo Ghirlandajo, whose name he took; and likewise Benedetto, who went with Antonio Mini, a disciple of Michelagnolo Buonarroti, to France, where he has executed many beautiful works. And another, finally, was Zanobi di Poggino, who has painted many works throughout the city.

In the end, being weary and broken in health after having been long tormented by the stone, Giovanni Antonio rendered up his soul to God at the age of fifty-two. His death was much lamented, for he had been an excellent man, and his manner had been much in favor, since he gave an air of piety to his figures, in such a fashion as pleases those who, delighting little in the highest and most difficult flights of art, love things that are seemly, simple, gracious, and sweet. His body was opened after his death, and in it were found three stones, each as big as an egg; but as long as he lived he would never consent to have them extracted, or to hear a word about them.

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