Madonna and Child. 1410. Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK; gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
IT IS THE DUE of those craftsmen who, in order to acquire a name, put them- selves to much fatigue in painting, that their works should be placed, not in a dark and dishonourable position, wherefore they may be blamed by those who have no more understanding than this, but in some spot where, through the nobility of the place, through the lights, and through the air, they can be rightly seen and studied by all, as was and still is the public work of the chapel that Taddeo Bartoli, painter of Siena, wrought in the Palazzo della Signoria in Siena.
Taddeo, then, was the son of Bartolo di Maestro Fredi, who was a mediocre painter in his day and painted the whole wall (on the left hand as one enters) of the Pieve of San Gimignano with stories of the Old Testament; in which work, which in truth was not very good, there may still be read in the middle this epitaph:A.D. 1356, BARTOLUS MAGISTRI FREDI DE SENIS ME PINXIT.
At this time Bartolo must have been young, because in a panel containing the Circumcision of Our Lord, together with some saints, wrought likewise by him in the year 1388 in S. Agostino, in the same territory, on the left hand as one enters the church through the principal door, it is seen that he had a much better manner both in drawing and in coloring, seeing that some heads therein are beautiful enough, although the feet of those figures are in the ancient manner. In short, there are seen many other works by the hand of Bartolo in those parts.
But to return to Taddeo: the painting of the Chapel of the Palazzo della Signoria in his native city being entrusted to him, as it has been said, as the best master of those times, it was wrought by him with so great diligence, and so greatly honoured with regard to its situation, and paid for by the Signoria in such a manner, that Taddeo largely increased his glory and fame thereby; wherefore not only did he afterwards paint many panels in his own country, to his great honour and infinite profit, but he was invited with great favour and sought for from the Signoria of Siena by Francesco da Carrara, Lord of Padua, to the end that he might go, as he did, to paint certain works in that most noble city; where, particularly in the Arena and in the Santo, he wrought some panels and other works with much diligence, to his own great honour and to the satisfaction of that Lord and of the whole city. Returning afterwards to Tuscany, he wrought a panel in distemper, which inclines to the manner of Ugolino Sanese, in San Gimignano; and this panel is today behind the high altar of the Pieve, and faces the choir of the priests. Going next to Siena, he did not stay there long before he was invited by one of the Lanfranchi, the Warden of Works of the Duomo, to Pisa ; and betaking himself thither, he made in fresco, in the Chapel of the Nunziata, the scene when the Madonna ascends the steps of the Temple, at the head of which the priest is awaiting her in full canonicals a highly finished work. In the face of this priest he portrayed the said Warden of Works, and beside him his own self. This work finished, the same Warden of Works made him paint over the chapel in the Campo Santo a Madonna being crowned by Jesus Christ, with many angels in very beautiful attitudes and very well colored. In like manner, for the Chapel of the Sacristy of S. Francesco in Pisa Taddeo made a Madonna and some saints on a panel painted in distemper, placing thereon his name and the year when it was painted, which was the year 1394. And about this same time he wrought certain panels in distemper at Volterra, and a panel at Monte Oliveto, with a Hell in fresco on a wall, wherein he followed the invention of Dante in so far as relates to the division of the sins and to the form of the punishments, but in the place itself he either could not or would not imitate him, or knew not how. He also sent to Arezzo a panel that is in S. Agostino, wherein he portrayed Pope Gregory XI namely, the Pope who brought the Court back to Italy after it had been so many decades of years in France.
Returning after these works to Siena, he made no very long stay there, because he was called to work at Perugia in the Church of S. Domenico, where, in the Chapel of S. Caterina, he painted in fresco all the life of that Saint; and in S. Francesco, beside the door of the sacristy, he made some figures which, although today little can be discerned of them, are known to be by the hand of Taddeo, who held ever to one unchanging manner. A little time afterwards there befell the death of Biroldo, Lord of Perugia, who was murdered in the year 1398; whereupon Taddeo returned to Siena, where, labouring continually, he applied himself so zealously to the studies of his art, in order to become an able painter, that it can be affirmed, if perchance he did not realize his inten- tion, that this was certainly not by reason of any defect or negligence that he showed in his work, but rather through indisposition caused by an internal obstruction, which afflicted him in a manner that he could not attain to the fulness of his desire. Having taught the art to one his nephew, called Domenico, Taddeo died at the age of fifty-nine; and his pictures date about the year of our salvation 1410.
He left, then, as it has been said, Domenico Bartoli, his nephew and disciple, who, following the art of painting, painted with greater and better mastery, and in the scenes that he wrought he showed much more fertility, varying them in diverse ways, than his uncle had done. In the pilgrim's hall of the great hospital at Siena there are two large scenes, wrought in fresco by Domenico, wherein are seen perspectives and other adornments very ingeniously composed. Domenico is said to have been modest and gentle, and a man of singular amiability and most liberal courtesy; and this is said to have done no less honour to his name than the art of painting itself. His works date about the year of our Lord 1436, and the last were a panel containing an Annunciation in S. Trinita in Florence, and the panel of the high altar in the Church of the Carmine.
There lived at the same time and painted in almost the same manner, although he made the coloring more brilliant and the figures lower, one Alvaro di Piero, a Portuguese, who made many panels in Volterra, and one in S. Antonio in Pisa, and others in other places, whereof, seeing that they are of no great excellence, there is no need to make further record. In our book there is a drawing made with great mastery by Taddeo, wherein are Christ and two angels.