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LIFE OF OF GHERARDO STARNINA (1360-1413)
PAINTER

Vasari's Lives of the Artists



VERILY he who journeys far from his own country, dwelling in those of other men, gains very often a disposition and character of a fine temper, for, in seeing abroad diverse honourable customs, even though he might be perverse in nature, he learns to be tractable, amiable, and patient, with much greater ease than he would have done by remaining in his own country. And in truth, he who desires to refine men in the life of the world need seek no other fire and no better touchstone than this, seeing that those who are rough by nature are made gentle, and the gentle become more gracious. Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina, painter of Florence, being nobler in blood than in nature, and very harsh and rough in his manners, brought more harm thereby on himself than on his friends; and more harm still would this have brought on him if he had not dwelt a long time in Spain, where he learnt gentleness and courtesy, seeing that in those parts he became in such wise contrary to that first nature of his, that on his returning to Florence an infinite number of those who bore him deadly hatred before his departure, received him on his return with very great lovingness, and ever after loved him very straitly, so thoroughly had he become gentle and courteous.

Gherardo was born in Florence in the year 1354, and growing up, as one who had an intellect inclined by nature to design, he was placed with Antonio Viniziano in order to learn to draw and to paint; and having in the course of many years not only learnt drawing and the practice of coloring, but also given proof of himself in certain works wrought with beautiful manner, he took his leave of Antonio, and beginning to work by himself he made in S. Croce, in the Chapel of the Castellani (which was given him to paint by Michele di Vanni, an honored citizen of that family), many stories in fresco of S. Anthony the Abbot, and also some of S. Nicholas the Bishop, with so great diligence and with so beautiful a manner that they caused him to become known to certain Spaniards, who were then staying in Florence on some business of their own, as an excellent painter, and what is more, caused them to take him into Spain to their King, who saw him and received him very willingly, and above all because there was then a dearth of good painters in that land. Nor was it a great labor to persuade him to leave his country, for the reason that, having had rough words with certain people in Florence after the affair of the Ciompi and after Michele di Lando had been made Gonfalonier, he was rather in peril of his life than othewise. Going, then, to Sgain, and executing many works for that King, he became, by reason of the great rewards that he gained for his labors, as rich and highly honored as any man of his own rank; wherefore, being desirous to make himself seen and known by his friends and relatives in that better state, he returned to his country, and was there much cherished and received lovingly by all the citizens.

Nor was it long before he was commissioned to paint the Chapel of S. Girolamo in the Carmine, where, making many stories of that Saint, he painted, in the story of Paola and Eustachio and Jerome, certain costumes that the Spaniards wore at that time, with very characteristic invention, and with an abundance of manners and conceptions in the attitudes of the figures. Among other things, painting a scene of S. Jerome learning his first letters, he made a master who has caused a boy to climb on the back of another and is beating him with his rod, in a manner that the poor lad, kicking out with his legs by reason of the great pain, appears to be howling and trying to bite the ear of the one who is holding him ; and all this Gherardo expressed gracefully and very charmingly, as one who was going on investigating on every side the things of nature. Likewise, in the scene where S. Jerome, at the point of death, is making his testament, he counterfeited some friars with beautiful and very ready manner; for while some are writing and others earnestly listening and gazing on him, they are all hanging with great affection on the words of their master.

This work having acquired for Starnina rank and fame among the craftsmen, and his ways of life, with the sweetness of his manners, bringing him very great reputation, the name of Gherardo was famous throughout all Tuscany nay, throughout all Italy when, being called to Pisa in order to paint in that city the Chapterhouse of S. Niccola, he sent thither in his stead Antonio Vite of Pistoia, in order not to leave Florence. This Antonio, having learnt the manner of Starnina under his teaching, wrought in that chapterhouse the Passion of Jesus Christ, and delivered it finished in that fashion wherein it is seen today, in the year 1403, to the great satisfaction of the Pisans. Stamina having then finished, as it has been said, the Chapel of the Pugliesi, and the Florentines being greatly pleased with the stories of S. Jerome that he made there, by reason of his having represented vividly many expressions and attitudes that had never been depicted up to that time by the painters who had lived before him, the Commune of Florence in the year when Gabriel Maria, Lord of Pisa, sold that city to the Florentines at the price of 200,000 crowns, after Giovanni Gambacorti had sustained a siege of thirteen months, and had at last agreed to the sale caused him to paint in memory of this, on the facade of the Palace of the Guelph party, a picture of S. Dionysius the Bishop, with two angels, and below him the city of Pisa, portrayed from nature ; in which work he used so great diligence in everything, and particularly in colouring it in fresco, that in spite of the air, the rains, and its being turned to the north, it has always remained and still remains at the present day a picture worthy of much praise, by reason of its having been preserved as fresh and beautiful as though it had only just been painted. Gherardo, then, having come by reason of this and of his other works into very great repute and fame, both in his own country and abroad, envious death, ever the enemy of noble actions, cut short in the finest period of his labour the infinite expectation of much greater works, for which the world was looking from him; for at the age of forty-nine he came unexpectedly to his end, and was buried with most honorable obsequies in the Church of S. Jacopo Sopra Arno.

Disciples of Gherardo were Masolino da Panicale, who was first an excellent goldsmith and afterwards a painter, and certain others, of whom, seeing that they were not very able men, there is no need to speak. The portrait of Gherardo is in the aforesaid story of S. Jerome, in one of the figures that are round that Saint when he is dying, in profile, with a cap wound round the head and wearing a buckled mantle. In our book are certain drawings by Gherardo, made with the pen on parchment, which are not otherwise than passing good.


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