Processional banner. 1395/1400. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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LIFE OF SPINELLO ARETINO (c. 1345 - 1410)
PAINTER

Vasari's Lives of the Artists



LUCA SPINELLI having gone to dwell in Arezzo on one of the several occasions when the Ghibellines were driven out of Florence, there was born to him in that city a son, to whom he gave the name of Spinello, so much inclined by nature to be a painter, that almost without a master, while still a boy, he knew what many exercised under the discipline of the best masters do not know; and what is more, having had friendship with Jacopo di Casentino while he worked in Arezzo, and having learnt something from him, before he was twenty years of age he was by a long way a much better master, young as he was, than was Jacopo himself, already an old painter. Spinello, then, began to be reputed a good painter, and Messer Dardano Acciaiuoli, having caused the Church of S. Niccol6 to be built near the Sala del Papa, behind S. Maria Novella, in the Via della Scala, and having given burial therein to one his brother, a Bishop, caused him to paint the whole of that church in fresco with stories of S. Nicholas, Bishop of Bari; and he delivered it completely finished in the year 1334, having been at work on it two years without ceasing. In this work Spinello acquitted himself so well, both in the colouring and in the design, that up to our own day the colours had remained very well preserved and the excellence of the figures was clearly visible, when, a few years since, they were in great part spoilt by a fire that burst out unexpectedly in that church, which had been unwisely filled with straw by some foolish men who made use of it as a barn or storehouse for straw. Attracted by the fame of this work, Messer Barone Capelli, citizen of Florence, caused Spinello to paint in fresco, in the principal chapel of S. Maria Maggiore, many stories of the Madonna and some of S. Anthony the Abbot, and near these the consecration of that very ancient church, consecrated by Pope Paschal, second of that name; and all this Spinello wrought so well that it appears made all in one day, and not in many months, as it was.

Beside the said Pope is the portrait of Messer Barone himself from the life, in the dress of those times, made very well and with very good judgment. This chapel finished, Spinello painted in fresco, in the Church of the Carmine, the Chapel of S. James and S. John, the Apostles, wherein, among other things, there is wrought with much diligence the scene when the wife of Zebedee, mother of James, is demanding of Jesus Christ that He should cause one of her sons to sit on the right hand of the Father in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the other on the left; and a little beyond are seen Zebedee, James, and John abandoning their nets and following Christ, with liveliness and admirable manner. In another chajgel of the same church, which is beside the principal chapel, Spinello made, also in fresco, some stories of the Madonna, and the Apostles appearing to her miraculously before her death, and likewise the moment when she dies and is then borne to Heaven by the Angels. And because the scene was large and the diminutive chapel, which was not longer than ten braccia and not higher than five, would not contain the whole, and above all the Assumption of Our Lady herself, Spinello, with beautiful judgment, caused it to curve round within the length of the picture, on to a part where Christ and the Angels are receiving her. In a chapel in S. Trinita he made in fresco a very beautiful Annunciation; and in the Church of S. Apostolo, on the panel of the high altar, he made in distemper the Holy Spirit being sent down on the Apostles in tongues of fire. In S. Lucia de' Bardi, likewise, he painted a little panel, and another in S. Croce, larger, for the Chapel of S. Giovanni Battista, which was painted by Giotto.

After these works, being recalled to Arezzo by the sixty citizens who governed that place, by reason of the great name that he had acquired while working in Florence, he was made by the Commune to paint the story of the Magi in the Church of the Duomo Vecchio, without the city, and, in the Chapel of S. Gismondo, a S. Donatus who is slaying a serpent with his benediction. In like manner, he made diverse figures on many pilasters in that Duomo, and, on a wall, the Magdalene anointing the feet of Christ in the house of Simon; with other pictures, whereof there is no need to make mention, since that church, which was full of tombs, of bones of saints, and of other memorable things, is to-day wholly ruined. [l will say, indeed, to the end that there may at least remain this memory of it, that it was erected by the Aretines more than thirteen hundred years since, at the time when first they came into the faith of Jesus Christ, converted by S. Donatus, who was afterwards & Bishop of that city; and that it was dedicated to his name, and richly adorned, both within and without, with very ancient spoils. The ground- plan of this edifice, whereof we have discoursed at length in another place, was divided without into sixteen sides, and within into eight, and all were full of the spoils of those temples which before had been dedicated to the idols; and it was, in short, as beautiful as a temple thus made and very ancient can be, when it was destroyed.

After the many pictures made in the Duomo, Spinello painted in S. Francesco, in ihe Chapel of the Marsuppini, Pope Honorius con- firming and approving the Order of that Saint, and made there from nature the portrait of Innocent IV, from whatsoever source he had it. He painted also in the same church, in the Chapel of S. Michelagnolo, many stories of him, in the place where the bells are rung ; and a little below, in the Chapel of Messer Giuliano Baccio, an Annunciation, with other figures, which are much praised; all which works made in this church were wrought in fresco, with very resolute handling, from 1334 up to 1338. Next, in the Pieve of the same city, he painted the Chapel of S. Pietro e S. Paolo, and below it, that of S. Michelagnolo ; and, for the Confraternity of S. Maria della Misericordia, he painted in fresco, on the same side of the church, the Chapel of S. Jacopo e S.Filippo; found over the principal door of the Confraternity, which opens on to the square namely, on the arch he painted a Pieta, with a S. John, at the request of the Rectors of that Confraternity, which had its origin in the following way. A certain number of good and honorable citizens had begun to go about collecting alms for the poor who were ashamed to beg, and to succour them in all their needs: and in the year of the plague of 1348, by reason of the great name acquired by these good men for the Confraternity in assisting the poor and the sick, in burying the dead, and in doing other similar works of charity, so many were the legacies, the donations, and the inheritances that were left to it, that it inherited the third of the riches of Arezzo; and the same came to pass in the year 1383, when there was likewise a great plague. Spinello, then, belonging to this Company, it was often his turn to visit the sick, to bury the dead, and to do other similar pious exercises, such as the best citizens of that city have ever done and still do today; and in order to make some memorial of this in his pictures, he painted for that Company, on the facade of the Church of S. Laurentino e S. Pergentino, a Madonna who, having her mantle open in front, has under it the people of Arezzo, among whom are portrayed from life many of the chief men of the Confraternity, with their wallets on their shoulders and with wooden hammers in their hands, like to those that they use for knocking at the doors when they go seeking alms. In like manner, for the Company of the Annunciation he painted the great shrine that is without the church, and part of a portico that is opposite to it, and the panel of that Company, wherein there is likewise an Annunciation in distemper. A work of Spinello' s, likewise, is the panel which is now in the Church of the Nuns of S. Giusto, wherein a little Christ, who is in the arms of His mother, is marrying S. Catherine, together with six little scenes, with small figures, of her acts; and it is much praised.

Being next summoned to the famous Abbey of Camaldoli in the Casentino, in the year 1361, he made for the hermits of that place the panel of the high altar, which was removed in the year 1539, when, that church having been just rebuilt completely anew, Giorgio Vasari made a new panel, and painted in fresco the whole of the principal chapel of that abbey, and the tramezzo of the church, also in fresco, and two other panels. Summoned thence to Florence by Don Jacopo d' Arezzo, Abbot of S. Miniato sul Monte, of the Order of Monte Oliveto, Spinello painted on the vaulting and on the four walls of the sacristy of that monastery, besides the panel in distemper for the altar, many scenes in fresco of the life of S. Benedict, with great mastery and with much vivacity of colouring, learnt by him by means of long practice and of labouring continually with zeal and diligence, even as in truth all must do who wish to acquire any art perfectly.

After these works, the said Abbot departed from Florence, having been made Governor of the Monastery of S. Bernardo, of the same Order, in his own country, precisely when the building was almost wholly finished on the site conceded by the Aretines to those monks, just where there was the Colosseum; and he caused Spinello to paint in fresco two chapels that are beside the principal chapel, and two others that are one on either side of the door that leads into the choir, in the tramezzo * of the church. In one of these, which is beside the principal chapel, is an Annunciation in fresco, made with very great diligence, and on a wall beside it is the Madonna ascending the steps of the Temple, accompanied by Joachim and Anna. In the other chapel is a Christ Crucified, with the Madonna and S. John, who are bewailing Him, and a S. Bernard kneeling, who is adoring Him. He made, also, on that inner wall of the church where there is the altar of Our Lady, the Virgin herself with her Son in her arms, which was held a very beautiful figure ; together with many others that he made for that church, over the choir of which he painted Our Lady, S. Mary Magdalene, and S. Bernard, very vividly. In the Pieve of Arezzo, likewise, in the Chapel of S. Bartolommeo, he made many scenes of the life of that Saint; and opposite to it, in the other aisle, in the Chapel of S. Matteo (which is below the organ, and was painted by Jacopo di Casentino, his master), he made in certain medallions on the vaulting besides many stories of that Saint, which are passing good the four Evangelists in a bizarre manner, seeing that, making the busts and members human, he gave to S. John the head of an eagle, to Mark the head of a lion, to Luke that of an ox, and to Matthew alone the face of a man, or rather, of an angel.

Without Arezzo, also, in the Church of S. Stefano, erected by the Aretines on many columns of granite and of marble in order to honour and to preserve the memory of many martyrs who were put to death by Julian the Apostate on that spot, he painted many figures and scenes, with infinite diligence, and with such a manner of colouring that they had remained very fresh up to our own day, when, not many years since, they were ruined. But what was marvellous in that place, besides the stories of S. Stephen made with figures larger than life, was to see Joseph, in a story of the Magi, beside himself with joy at the coming of those Kings, on whom he was gazing with most beautiful manner, while they were opening their vessels full of treasures and were offering them to him. A Madonna in that same church, who is handing a rose to the Infant Christ, was and still is held in so great veneration among the Aretines, as being a very beautiful and devout figure, that without regard for any difficulty or expense, when the Church of S. Stefano was thrown to the ground, they cut the wall away round her, and, binding it together ingeniously, they bore her into the city and placed her in a little church, in order to honor her, as they do, with the same devotion that they showed to her before. Nor should this appear anything wonderful, because, it having been something peculiar and natural to Spinello to give to his figures a certain simple grace, which has much of the modest and the saintly, it appears that the figures that he made of saints, and above all of the Virgin, breathe out a certain quality of the saintly and the divine, which moves men to hold them in supreme reverence; as it may be seen, apart from the said figure, in the Madonna that is on the Canto degli Albergotti, and in that which is on an outer wall of the Pieve in the Seteria, and in one of the same sort, likewise, that is on the Canto del Canale. By the hand of Spinello, also, on a wall of the Hospital of Spirito Santo, is a scene of the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit, which is very beautiful; and so, too, are the two scenes below, wherein S. Cosimo and S. Damiano are cutting off a sound leg from a dead Moor, in order to attach it to a sick man, from whom they had cut off one that was mortified; and likewise the very beautiful "Noli me tangere," which is between those two works. In the Company of the Puraccioli, on the Piazza di S. Agostino, in a chapel, he made an Annunciation very well coloured, and in the cloister of that convent he wrought in fresco a Madonna, a S. James, and a S. Anthony; and he portrayed there a soldier in armour on his knees, with these words:

HOC OPUS FECIT FIERI

CLEMENS PUCCI DE MONTE CATINO, CUJUS CORPUS JACET HIC, ETC. ANNO 

DOMINI 1367, DIE 15 MENSIS MAIL

Likewise, with regard to the chapel that is in that church, with paintings of S. Anthony and other Saints, it is known by the manner that they are by the hand of Spinello, who, shortly afterwards, working in the Hospital of S. Marco (which is today the Monastery of the Nuns of S. Croce, by reason of their monastery, which was without the city, having been thrown to the ground), painted a whole portico with many figures, and portrayed there Pope Gregory IX from nature, to represent S. Gregory the Pope, who is standing beside a Misericordia.

The Chapel of S. Jacopo e S. Filippo, which is in S. Domenico in the same city, just as one enters the church, was wrought in fresco by Spinello with beautiful and resolute handling, as was also the half- length of S. Anthony painted on the fa9ade of his church, so beautiful that he appears alive, in the midst of four scenes of his life ; which same scenes, with many more also of the life of S. Anthony, likewise by the hand of Spinello, are in the Church of S. Giustino, in the Chapel of S. Antonio. In the Church of S. Lorenzo, on one side, he made some stories of the Madonna, and without the church he painted her seated, showing great grace in this work in fresco. In a little hospital opposite to the Nunnery of S. Spirito, near the gate that leads to Rome, he painted a portico entirely by his own hand, showing, in a Christ lying dead in the lap of the Maries, so great genius and judgment in painting, that he is recognized to have proved himself the peer of Giotto in design, and to have surpassed him by a long way in colouring. In the same place, also, he represented Christ seated, with a theological significance very ingeniously contrived, having placed the Trinity within a sun in such wise that from each of the three figures there are seen issuing the same rays and the same splendour. But to this work, to the great loss, truly, of the lovers of this art, there has befallen the same thing as to many others, for it was thrown to the ground in fortifying the city. Without the Church of the Company of the Trinita there is seen a shrine wrought very well in fresco by Spinello, containing the Trinity, S. Peter, and S. Cosimo and S. Damiano clothed in such garments as physicians used to wear in those times.

The while that these works were in progress, Don Jacopo d' Arezzo was made General of the Congregation of Monte Oliveto, nineteen years after he had caused many works to be wrought in Florence and in Arezzo, as it has been said above, by our Spinello; and living, according to the custom of these dignitaries, at Monte Oliveto Maggiore di Chiusuri in the district of Siena, as the most honored seat of that Order, he conceived a desire to have a very beautiful panel made in that place. Sending therefore for Spinello, by whom he had found himself very well served at another time, he caused him to paint in distemper the panel of the principal chapel, wherein Spinello made an infinite number of figures both great and small on a ground of gold, with much judgment; and an ornament being made for it afterwards, carved in half-relief, by Simone Cini, the Florentine, he made for it in certain parts, with gesso mixed with size and rather thick, or truly gelatinous, another ornament which turned out very beautiful, and which was afterwards all overlaid with gold by Gabriello Saracini, who wrote at the foot of the said panel these three names:


SIMONE CINI, THE FLORENTINE, MADE THE CARVING J GABRIELLO SARACINI 
OVERLAID IT WITH GOLD ; AND SPINELLO DI LUCA OF AREZZO PAINTED IT 
IN THE YEAR 1385. 

This work finished, Spinello returned to Arezzo, having received from that General and from the other monks, besides payment, many kindnesses ; but making no long stay there, because Arezzo was harassed by the Guelph and Ghibelline parties, and was sacked in those days, he betook himself with his family and his son Parri, who was studying painting, to Florence, where he had friends and relatives enough. There, without the Porta a S. Piero Gattolini, on the Strada Romana, where one turns to go to Pazzolatico, he painted an Annunciation, as it were to pass the time, in a shrine that today is half-ruined, and other pictures in another shrine near the hostelry of Galluzzo.

He was then summoned to Pisa in order to finish, below the stories of S. Ranieri in the Campo Santo, certain stories that were lacking in a space that had remained not painted; and in order to connect them together with those that had been made by Giotto, Simone Sanese, and Antonio Viniziano, he made in that place, in fresco, six stories of S. Petito and S. Epiro. In the first is S. Epiro, as a youth, being presented by his mother to the Emperor Diocletian, and being made General of the armies that were to march against the Christians; and also Christ appearing to him as he is riding, showing him a white Cross and commanding the Saint not to persecute Him. In another story there is seen the Angel of the Lord giving to that Saint, who is riding, the banner of the Faith with the white Cross on a field of red, which has been ever since the ensign of the Pisans, by reason of S. Epiro having prayed to God that He should give him a standard to bear against His enemies. Beside this story there is seen another, wherein, a fierce battle being contested between the Saint and the pagans, many angelsin armor are combating to the end that he may be victorious. Here Spinello wrought many things worthy of consideration for those times, when the art had as yet neither strength nor any good method of expressing vividly with color the conceptions of the mind; and such, among the many other things that are there, were two soldiers, who, having gripped each other by the beard with one hand, are seeking with their naked swords, which they have in the other hand, to rob each other of life, showing in their faces and in all the movements of their members the desire that each has to come out victorious, and how fearless and fiery of soul they are, and how courageous beyond all belief. And so, too, among those who are combating on horseback, that knight is very well painted who is pinning to the ground with his lance the head of his enemy, whom he has hurled backwards from his horse, all dismayed.

Another story shows the same Saint when he is presented to the Emperor Diocletian, who examines him with regard to the Faith, and afterwards causes him to be put to the torture, and to be placed in a furnace, wherein he remains unscathed, while the ministers of torture, who are showing great readiness there on every side, are burnt in his stead. And in short, all the other actions of that Saint are there, up to his beheading, after which his soul is borne to Heaven; and, for the last, we see the bones and relics of S. Petito being borne from Alexandria to Pisa. This whole work, both in coloring and in invention, is the most beautiful, the most finished, and the best executed that Spinello made, a circumstance which can be recognized from this, that it is so well preserved as to make everyone who sees it today marvel at its freshness.

Having finished this work in the Campo Santo, he painted many stories of S. Bartholomew, S. Andrew, S. James, and S. John, the Apostles, in a chapel in S. Francesco, which is the second from the principal chapel, and perchance he would have remained longer at work in Pisa, since in that city his works were known and rewarded; but seeing the city all in confusion and uproar by reason of Messer Pietro Gambacorti having been slain by the Lanfranchi, citizens of Pisa, he returned once again with all his family, being now old, to Florence, where, in the one year and no more that he stayed there, he made many stories of the lives and deaths of S. Philip and S. James in the Chapel of the Macchiavelli in S. Croce, dedicated to those Saints; and as for the panel for the said chapel, being desirous to return to Arezzo, his native city, or, to speak more exactly, held by him as his native city, he wrought it in Arezzo, and from there sent it finished in the year 1400.

Having returned there, then, at the age of seventy-seven or more, he was received lovingly by his relatives and friends, and was ever afterward cherished and honored up to the end of his life, which was at the age of ninety- two. And although he was very old when he returned to Arezzo, and, having ample means, could have done without working, yet, as one who was ever used to working, he knew not how to take repose, and undertook to make for the Company of S. Agnolo in that city certain stories of S. Michael, which he sketched in red on the intonaco of the wall, in that rough fashion wherein the old craftsmen used generally to do it; and in one corner, for a pattern, he wrought and colored completely a single story, which gave satisfaction enough. Then, having agreed on the price with those who had charge thereof, he finished the whole wall of the high altar, wherein he represented Lucifer fixing his seat in the North; and he made there the Fall of the Angels, who are being transformed into devils and raining down to earth; while in the air is seen a S. Michael, who is doing combat with the ancient serpent of seven heads and ten horns; and below, in the center, there is a Lucifer, already transformed into a most hideous beast.

And Spinello took so much pleasure in making him horrible and deformed, that it is said (so great, sometimes, is the power of imagination) that the said figure painted by him appeared to him in a dream, asking Spinello where he had seen him so hideous, and why he had offered him such an affront with his brushes; and that he, awaking from his sleep, being unable to cry out by reason of his fear, shook with a mighty trembling, insomuch that his wife, awaking, came to his rescue. But he was none the less thereby in peril his heart being much strained of dying on the spot by reason of such an accident; and although he lived a little afterwards, he was half mad, with staring eyes, and he slipped into the grave, leaving great sorrow to his friends, and to the world two sons, of whom one was Forzore, the goldsmith, who worked admirably at Florence in niello, and the other was Parri, who, imitating his father, labored continually at painting, and surpassed him by a long way in design. This sinister misfortune, for all that Spinello was old, was a great grief to the Aretines, who were robbed of the so great talent and excellence that were his. He died at the age of ninety-two, and was given burial at Arezzo in S. Agostino, where there is still seen today a tombstone with a coat of arms made according to his fancy, containing a hedgehog. Spinello knew much better how to draw than how to execute a painting, as it may be seen in our book of the drawings of diverse ancient painters, in two Evangelists in chiaroscuro and a S. Louis, drawn by his hand and very beautiful. And the portrait of the same man, which is seen above, was copied by me from one that was in the Duomo Vecchio before it was pulled down. His pictures date from 1380 up to 1400.


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