The Crucifixion. 1445. Palazzo Communale, Arezzo
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
PARRI DI SPINELLO SPINELLI, painter of Arezzo, having learnt the first principles of art from his own father, was brought to Florence by the agency of Messer Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo, and was received by Lorenzo Ghiberti into his school, where many young men were learning under his discipline: and since the doors of S. Giovanni were then being given their finish, he was put to labor on those figures, in company with many others, as it has been said above. And having, in this work, contracted a friendship with Masolino da Panicale, and being pleased with his method of drawing, he set about imitating him in many respects, as he also imitated in others the manner of Don Lorenzo degli Angeli.
Parri made his figures much longer and more slender than any painter who had lived before him, and whereas the others make them in the proportion of ten heads at most, he gave them eleven, and sometimes twelve; nor did this make them awkward, although they were slender and were ever bent in an arch either to the right side or to the left, for the reason that this, as it appeared to him, and as he himself said, gave them more vigor. The flow of his draperies was very delicate, with abundance of folds, which fell from the arms of his figures right down to the feet. He colored very well in distemper, and perfectly in fresco, and he was the first who, in working in fresco, ceased to use verdaccio below flesh colors, to be afterwards washed over with rosy flesh tints in chiaroscuro, in the manner of water colors, as Giotto and the other old masters had done. Parri, on the other hand, used body colors in making his grounds and tints, placing them with much discretion where it appeared to him that they would look best that is, the lights on the highest points, the middle tints towards the sides, and the darks on the outlines; with which method of painting he showed more facility in his works and gave longer life to pictures in fresco, seeing that, having laid the colors in their places, he would blend them together with a rather thick and soft brush, and would execute his works with so high a finish that nothing better can be desired; and his coloring has no equal.
Parri, then, having been absent many years from his country, was recalled by his relatives, after the death of his father, to Arezzo, where, besides many works which it would take too long to recount, he made some which do not in any way deserve to be passed over in silence. In the Duomo Vecchio he made in fresco three different figures of Our Lady; and within the principal door of that church, on the left hand as one enters, he painted in fresco a story of the Blessed Tommasuolo, a sack-cloth hermit and a holy man of that time. And since this man was wont to carry in his hand a mirror wherein he saw, so he declared, the Passion of Christ, Parri portrayed him in that story kneeling, with that mirror in his right hand, which he was holding uplifted towards Heaven. And painting Jesus Christ above on a throne of clouds, and round him all the Mysteries of the Passion, with most beautiful art he made them all reflected in that mirror, in such wise that not only the Blessed Tommasuolo but all who beheld that picture could see them, which invention was truly fanciful and difficult, and so beautiful that it taught those who came after him to counterfeit many things by means of mirrors. I Nor will I forbear to tell, now that I am dealing with this subject, what this holy man did once in Arezzo; and it is this. Laboring continually, without ever ceasing, to induce the Aretines to live at peace with one another, now preaching, and now foretelling many misadventures, he recognized finally that he was wasting his time. Whereupon, entering one day into the Palace where the Sixty were wont to assemble, the said Blessed Tommasuolo who saw them every day deliberating, and never coming to any resolution save such as injured the city when he saw that the Hall was full, placed a quantity of burning coals into a great fold in his robe, and, advancing with these towards the Sixty and all the other magistrates of the city, he threw them boldly at their feet, saying: "My lords, the fire is among you; take heed lest ruin come upon you; " and this said, he went his way. Such was the effect of the simplicity, and, as it pleased God, of the good counsel of that holy man, that the said action completely accomplished what his preachings and threatenings had never been able to do, insomuch that, becoming united among themselves no long time after, they governed that city for many years afterwards with much peace and quiet for all.
But returning to Parri: after the said work, he painted in fresco in a chapel of the Church and Hospital of S. Cristofano, beside the Company of the Nunziata, for Mona Mattea de' Testi, wife of Carcascion Florinaldi, who left a very good endowment to that little church; and there he made Christ Crucified, with many angels round Him and above Him, flying in a certain dark sky and weeping bitterly. At the foot of the Cross, on one side, are the Magdalene and the other Maries, who are holding the fainting Madonna in their arms: and on the other side are S. James and S. Christopher. On the walls he painted S. Catherine, S. Nicholas, the Annunciation, and Jesus Christ at the Column; and, in an arch over the door of the said church, a Pieta, S. John, and Our Lady. But the paintings within (save those of the chapel) have been spoilt, and the arch was pulled down in the substituting of a modern door of greystone, and in the making of a convent for one hundred nuns with the revenues of that Company. For this convent Giorgio Vasari made a most careful model, but it was afterwards altered, nay, reduced to the vilest form, by those who most unworthily had charge of so great a fabric. For it comes to pass very often that one stumbles against certain men, said to be very learned, but for the most part ignorant, who, under pretence of understanding, set themselves arrogantly many times to try to play the architect and to superintend; and more often than not they spoil the arrangements and the models of those who, having spent their lives in the study and practice of building, can act with judgment in works of architecture; and this brings harm to posterity, which is thus deprived of the utility, convenience, beauty, ornament, and grandeur that are requisite in buildings, and particularly in those that are to be used for the public service.
In the Church of S. Bernardo, also, a monastery of the Monks of Monte Oliveto, Parri painted two chapels, one on either side within the principal door. In that which is on the right hand, dedicated to the Trinity, he made a God the Father, who is supporting Christ Crucified in His arms, and above there is the Dove of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a choir of angels; and on one wall of the same chapel he painted some saints in fresco, perfectly. In the other, dedicated to Our Lady, is the Nativity of Christ, with some women who are washing Him in a little wooden tub, with a womanly grace marvellously well expressed. There are also some shepherds in the distance, who are guarding their sheep, clothed in the rustic dress of those times and very lifelike, and listening attentively to the words of the Angel, who is telling them to go to Nazareth. On the opposite wall is the Adoration of the Magi, with baggage, camels, giraffes, and all the Court of those three Kings, who, reverently offering their treasures, are adoring Christ, who is lying upon the lap of His mother. Besides this, he painted on the vaulting, and in the frontals of some arches outside, some very beautiful scenes in fresco.
It is said that while Parri was executing this work, Fra Bernardino da Siena, a friar of S. Francis and a man of holy life, was preaching in Arezzo, and that having brought many of his brother monks into the true religious life, and having converted many other persons, he caused Parri to make the model for the Church of Sargiano, which he was building for them; and that afterwards, having heard that many evil things were going on in a wood near a fountain, a mile distant from the city, he went there one morning, followed by the whole people of Arezzo, with a great wooden cross in his hand, such as he was wont to carry, and after preaching a solemn sermon he had the fountain destroyed and the wood cut down ; and a little later he caused a beginning to be made with a little chapel which was built there in honour of Our Lady, with the title of S. Maria delle Grazie, wherein he afterwards asked Parri to paint with his own hand, as he did, the Virgin in Glory, who, opening her arms, is covering under her mantle the whole people of Arezzo. This most holy Virgin afterwards worked and still continues to work many miracles in that place. The Commune of Arezzo has since caused a very beautiful church to be built in this place, accommodating within it the Madonna made by Parri, for which many ornaments of marble have been made, with some figures, both round and above the altar, as it has been said in the Lives of Luca della Robbia and of his nephew Andrea, and as it will be said in due succession in the Lives of those whose works adorn that holy place. No long time after, by reason of the devotion that he bore to that holy man, Parri portrayed the said S. Bernardino in fresco on a large pilaster in the Duomo Vecchio; in which place, in a chapel dedicated to the same Saint, he also painted him glorified in Heaven and surrounded by a legion of angels, with three half-length figures, one on either side Patience and Poverty and one above Chastity with which three virtues that Saint held company up to his death. Under his feet he had some Bishops' mitres and Cardinals' hats, in order to show that, laughing at the world, he had despised such dignities ; and below these pictures was portrayed the city of Arezzo, such as it was in those times. For the Company of the Nunziata, likewise, in a little chapel, or rather maesta,* without the Duomo, Parri made a Madonna in fresco, who, receiving the Annunciation from the Angel, is turning away all in terror; and in the sky on the vaulting, which is groined, he made angels, two in each angle, who, flying through the air and making music with various instruments, appear to be playing together, so that one almost hears a very sweet harmony ; and on the walls are four saints namely, two on each side. But the pictures wherein he showed best his power of varying the expression of his conception are seen on the two pilasters that support the arch in front, where the entrance is, for the reason that on one there is a very beautiful Charity, who is affectionately suckling one infant, fondling a second, and holding a third by the hand, while on the other there is Faith, painted in a new manner, holding the Chalice and the Cross in one hand, and in the other a cup of water, which she is pouring over the head of a boy, making him a Christian. All these figures are without doubt the best that Parri ever made in all his life, and even in comparison with the modern they are marvellous.
Within the city, in the Church of S. Agostino, in the choir of the friars, the same man painted many figures in fresco, which are known by the manner of the draperies, and by their being long, slender, and bent, as it has been said above. In the tramezzo of the Church of S. Giustino he painted in fresco a S. Martin on horseback, who is cutting off a piece of his garment to give it to a beggar, and two other saints. In the Vescovado, also, on the face of one wall, he painted an Annunciation, which today is half spoilt through having been exposed for many years. In the Pieve of the same city he painted the chapel which is now near the Office of Works; and this has been almost wholly ruined by damp. Truly unfortunate has this poor painter been with his works, seeing that almost the greater part of them have been destroyed, either by damp or by the ruin of the buildings. On a round column in the said Pieve he painted a S. Vincent in fresco; and in S. Francesco he made some saints round a Madonna in half-relief, for the family of the Viviani, with the Apostles on the arch above, receiving the Holy Spirit, and some other saints in the vaulting, and on one side Christ with the Cross on His shoulder, pouring blood from His side into the Chalice, and round Christ some angels very well wrought. Opposite to this, in the Chapel of the Company of Stone-cutters, Masons, and Carpenters, dedicated to the four Crowned Saints, he made a Madonna, and the said Saints with the instruments of those trades in their hands, and below, also in fresco, two scenes of their acts, and the Saints being beheaded and thrown into the sea. In this work there are very beautiful attitudes and efforts in the figures that are raising those bodies, placed in sacks, on their shoulders, in order to carry them to the sea, for there are seen in them liveliness and vivacity.
In S. Domenico, also, near the high altar, on the right hand wall, he painted in fresco a Madonna, S. Anthony, and S. Nicholas, for the family of the Alberti da Catenaia, of which place they were the Lords before its destruction, when they came to dwell, some in Arezzo and some in Florence. And that they are one and the same family is shown by the arms of both one and the other, which are the same; although it is true that to-day those of Arezzo are called, not "Degli Alberti," but "Da Catenaia," and those of Florence not " Da Catenaia," but " Degli Alberti." And I remember to have seen, and also read, that the Abbey of the Sasso which was in the mountains of Catenaia, and which has now been pulled down and rebuilt lower down towards the Arno was erected by the same Alberti for the Congregation of Camaldoli; and today it belongs to the Monastery of the Angeli in Florence, which acknowledges it as coming from the said family, which is among the noblest in Florence.
In the old Audience Chamber of the Fraternity of S. Maria della Misericordia, Parri painted a Madonna who has under her mantle the people of Arezzo, wherein he portrayed from the life those who then ruled that holy place, clothed according to the use of those times ; and among them one called Braccio, who is now called, when there is talk of him, Lazzaro Ricco, and who died in the year 1422, leaving all his riches and means to that place, which dispenses them in the service of God's poor, performing the holy works of mercy with much charity. On one side of this Madonna is S. Gregory the Pope, and on the other S. Donatus, Bishop and Protector of the people of Arezzo. And since those who then ruled that Fraternity had been very well served in this work by Parri, they caused him to make on a panel, in distemper, a Madonna with the Child in her arms, with some angels who are opening her mantle, beneath which is the said people; with S. Laurentino and S. Pergentino, the martyrs, below. This panel is brought out every year on the second day of June, and, after it has been borne in solemn procession by the men of the said Company as far as the church of the said Saints, there is placed over it a coffer of silver, wrought by the goldsmith Forzore, brother of Parri, within which are the bodies of the said SS. Laurentino and Pergentino; it is brought out, I say, and the said altar is made under covering of a tent in the Canto alia Croce, where the said church stands, because, being a small church, it would not hold ah 1 the people who assemble for this festival. The predella whereon the said panel rests contains the martyrdom of those two Saints, made with little figures, and so well wrought, that for a small work it is truly a marvel. In Borgo Piano, under the projection of a house, there is a shrine by the hand of Parri, within which is an Annunciation in fresco, which is much extolled; and in S. Agostino, for the Company of the Puraccioli, he made in fresco a very beautiful picture of S. Catherine, virgin and martyr. In the Church of Muriello, likewise, for the Fraternity of the Clerks, he painted a S. Mary Magdalene, three braccia high; and in S. Domenico, at the entrance of the door, where the bell ropes are, he painted in fresco the Chapel of S. Niccolo, making therein a large Crucifix with four figures, so well wrought that it seems made only yesterday. In the arch he painted two stories of S. Nicholas namely, his throwing the golden balls to the maidens, and his delivering two from death, while the executioner is seen apparelled and ready to cut off their heads, and very well wrought.
The while that Parri was making this work, he was set upon with weapons by some of his relatives, with whom he had a dispute about some dowry; but, since some other men ran up immediately, he was succoured in a manner that they did him no harm. But nevertheless, so it is said, the fright that he experienced brought it about that, besides making his figures bending over to one side, from that day onward he made them almost always with an expression of terror. And since he found himself many times attacked by slanderous tongues and torn by the tooth of envy, he made in that chapel a scene of tongues burning, with some devils round them that were heaping them with fire; and in the sky was Christ cursing them, and on one side these words: "To the false tongue."
Parri was very studious in the matters of art, and drew very well, as it is shown by many drawings by his hand, which I have seen, and in particular by a border of twenty scenes from the life of S. Donatus, made for a sister of his own, who embroidered very well; and this he is reputed to have done because there was a question of making adornments for the high altar of the Vescovado. And in our book there are some drawings by his hand, done very well with the pen. Parri was portrayed by Marco da Montepulciano, a disciple of Spinello, in the cloister of S. Bernardo in Arezzo. He lived fifty-six years, and he shortened his life by reason of being by nature melancholic, solitary, and too assiduous in the studies of his art and in his labors. He was buried in S. Agostino, in the same tomb wherein his father Spinello had been laid, and his death caused displeasure to all the men of culture who knew him.