Detail. Timoteo Viti. Agony in the Garden. 1490/1500. Cleveland Museum of Art.
HAVING NOW TO WRITE, after the Life of the sculptor Andrea da Fiesole, the Lives of two excellent painters, Vincenzio da San Gimignano of Tuscany, and Timoteo da Urbino, I propose to speak first of Vincenzio, as the man whose portrait is above,[In the original edition of 1568.] and immediately afterwards of Timoteo, since they lived almost at one and the same time, and were both disciples and friends of Raffaello. Vincenzio, then, working in company with many others in the Papal Loggie for the gracious Raffaello da Urbino, acquitted himself in such a manner that he was much extolled by Raffaello and by all the others. Having therefore been set to work in the Borgo, opposite to the Palace of Messer Giovanni Battista dall' Aquila, with great credit to himself he painted on a facade a frieze in terretta, in which he depicted the Nine Muses, with Apollo in the centre, and above them some lions, the device of the Pope, which are held to be very beautiful. Vincenzio showed great diligence in his manner and softness in his coloring, and his figures were very pleasing in aspect; in short, he always strove to imitate the manner of Raffaello da Urbino, as may also be seen in the same Borgo, opposite to the Palace of the Cardinal of Ancona, from the facade of a house that was built by Messer Giovanni Antonio Battiferro of Urbino, who, in consequence of the strait friendship that he had with Raffaello, received from him the design for that facade, and also, through his good offices, many benefits and rich revenues at the Court. In this design, then, which was afterwards carried into execution by Vincenzio, Raffaello drew, in allusion to the name of the Battiferri, the Cyclopes forging thunderbolts for Jove, and in another part Vulcan making arrows for Cupid, with some most beautiful nudes and other very lovely scenes and statues.
The same Vincenzio painted a great number of scenes on a facade in the Piazza di S. Luigi de' Francesi at Rome, such as the Death of Caesar, a Triumph of Justice, and a battle of horsemen in a frieze, executed with spirit and much diligence; and in this work, close to the roof, between the windows, he painted some Virtues that are very well wrought. In like manner, on the facade of the Epifani, behind the Curia di Pompeo, and near the Campo di Fiore, he painted the Magi following the Star; with an endless number of other works throughout that city, the air and position of which seem to be in great measure the reason that men are inspired to produce marvellous works there. Experience teaches us, indeed, that very often the same man has not the same manner and does not produce work of equal excellence in every place, but makes it better or worse according to the nature of the place.
Vincenzio being in very good repute in Rome, there took place in the year 1527 the ruin and sack of that unhappy city, which had been the mistress of the nations. Whereupon, grieved beyond measure, he returned to his native city of San Gimignano; and there, by reason of the sufferings that he had undergone, and the weakening of his love for art, now that he was away from the air which nourishes men of fine genius and makes them bring forth works of the rarest merit, he painted some things that I will pass over in silence, in order not to veil with them the renown and the great name that he had honorably acquired in Rome. It is enough to point out clearly that violence turns the most lofty intellects roughly aside from their chief goal, and makes them direct their steps into the opposite path; which may also be seen in a companion of Vincenzio, called Schizzone, who executed some works i n the Borgo that were highly extolled, and also in the Campo Santo of Rome and in S. Stefano degl' Indiani, and who was likewise caused by the senseless soldiery to turn aside from art and in a short time to lose his life. Vincenzio died in his native city of San Gimignano, having had but little gladness in his life after his departure from Rome.
Timoteo, a painter of Urbino, was the son of Bartolommeo della Vite, a citizen of good position, and Calliope, the daughter of Maestro Antonio Alberto of Ferrara, a passing good painter in his day, as is shown by his works at Urbino and elsewhere. While Timoteo was still a child, his father dying, he was left to the care of his mother Calliope, with good and happy augury, from the circumstance that Calliope is one of the Nine Muses, and the conformity that exists between poetry and painting. Then, after he had been brought discreetly through his boyhood by his wise mother, and initiated by her into the studies of the simpler arts and likewise of drawing, the young man came into his first knowledge of the world at the very time when the divine Raffaello Sanzio was flourishing. Applying himself in his earliest years to the goldsmith's art, he was summoned by Messer Pier Antonio, his elder brother, who was then studying at Bologna, to that most noble city, to the end that he might follow that art, to which he seemed to be inclined by nature, under the discipline of some good master.
While living, then, in Bologna, in which city he stayed no little time, and was much honored and received by the noble and magnificent Messer Francesco Gombruti into his house with every sort of courtesy, Timoteo associated continually with men of culture and lofty intellect. Wherefore, having become known in a few months as a young man of judgment, and inclined much more to the painter's than to the goldsmith's art, of which he had given proofs in some very well-executed portraits of his friends and of others, it seemed good to his brother, wishing to encourage the young man's natural genius, and also persuaded to this by his friends, to take him away from his files and chisels, and to make him devote himself entirely to the study of drawing. At which he was very content, and applied himself straightway to drawing and to the labours of art, copying and drawing all the best works in that city; and establishing a close intimacy with painters, he set out to such purpose on his new road, that it was a marvel to see the progress that he made from one day to another, and all the more because he learnt with facility the most difficult things without any particular teaching from any appointed master. And so, becoming enamoured of his profession, and learning many secrets of painting merely by sometimes seeing certain painters of no account making their mixtures and using their brushes, and guided by himself and by the hand of nature, he set himself boldly to colouring, and acquired a very pleasing manner, very similar to that of the new Apelles, his compatriot, although he had seen nothing by his hand save a few works at Bologna. Thereupon, after executing some works on panel and on walls with very good results, guided by his own good intellect and judgment, and believing that in comparison with other painters he had succeeded very well in everything, he pursued the studies of painting with great ardor, and to such purpose, that in course of time he found that he had gained a firm footing in his art, and was held in good repute and vast expectation by all the world.
Having then returned to his own country, now a man twenty-six years of age, he stayed there for some months, giving excellent proofs of his knowledge. Thus he executed, to begin with, the altarpiece of the Madonna for the altar of S. Croce in the Duomo, containing, besides the Virgin, S. Crescenzio and S. Vitale; and there is a little Angel seated on the ground, playing on a viola with a grace truly angelic and a childlike simplicity expressed with art and judgment. Afterwards he painted another altarpiece for the high altar of the Church of the Trinita', together with a S. Apollonia on the left hand of that altar.
By means of these works and certain others, of which there is no need to make mention, the name and fame of Timoteo spread abroad, and he was invited with great insistence by Raffaello to Rome; whither having gone with the greatest willingness, he was received with that loving kindness that was as peculiar to Raffaello as was his excellence in art. Working, then, with Raffaello, in little more than a year he made a great advance, not only in art, but also in prosperity, for in that time he sent home a good sum of money. While working with his master in the Church of S. Maria della Pace, he made with his own hand and invention the Sibyls that are in the lunettes on the right hand, so much esteemed by all painters. That they are his is maintained by some who still remember having seen them painted; and we have also testimony in the cartoons which are still to be found in the possession of his successors. On his own account, likewise, he afterwards painted the bier and the dead body contained therein, with the other things, so highly extolled, that are around it, in the Scuola of S. Caterina da Siena; and although certain men of Siena, carried away by love of their own country, attribute these works to others, it may easily be recognized that they are the handiwork of Timoteo, both from the grace and sweetness of the colouring, and from other memorials of himself that he left in that most noble school of excellent painters.
Now, although Timoteo was well and honorably placed in Rome, yet, not being able to endure, as many do, the separation from his own country, and also being invited and urged every moment to come home by the counsels of his friends and by the prayers of his mother, now an old woman, he returned to Urbino, much to the displeasure of Raffaello, who loved him dearly for his good qualities. And not long after, having taken a wife in Urbino at the suggestion of his family, and having become enamored of his country, in which he saw that he was highly honored, besides the circumstance, even more important, that he had begun to have children, Timoteo made up his mind firmly never again to consent to go abroad, notwithstanding, as may still be seen from some letters, that he was invited back to Rome by Raffaello. But he did not therefore cease to work, and he made many works in Urbino and in the neighboring cities. At Forli' he painted a chapel in company with Girolamo Genga, his friend and compatriot; and afterwards he painted entirely with his own hand a panel that was sent to Citta' di Castello, and likewise another for the people of Cagli. At Castel Durante, also, he executed some works in fresco, which are truly worthy of praise, as are all the other works by his hand, which bear witness that he was a graceful painter in figures, landscapes, and every other field of painting. In Urbino, at the instance of Bishop Arrivabene of Mantua, he painted the Chapel of S. Martino in the Duomo, in company with the same Genga; but the altar panel and the middle of the chapel are entirely by the hand of Timoteo. For the same church, also, he painted a Magdalene standing, clothed in a short mantle, and covered below this by her own tresses, which reach to the ground and are so beautiful and natural, that the wind appears to move them; not to mention the divine beauty of the expression of her countenance, which reveals clearly the love that she bore to her Master.
In S. Agata there is another panel by the hand of the same man, with some very good figures. And for S. Bernardino, without that city, he made that work so greatly renowned that is at the right hand upon the altar of the Buonaventuri, gentlemen of Urbino; wherein the Virgin is represented with most beautiful grace as having received the Annunciation, standing with her hands clasped and her face and eyes uplifted to Heaven. Above, in the sky, in the center of a great circle of light, stands a little Child, with His foot on the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove, and holding in His left hand a globe symbolizing the dominion of the world, while, with the other hand raised, He gives the benediction; and on the right of the Child is an angel, who is pointing Him out with his finger to the Madonna. Below--that is, on the level of the Madonna, to her right--is the Baptist, clothed in a camel's skin, which is torn on purpose that the nude figure may be seen; and on her left is a S. Sebastian, wholly naked, and bound in a beautiful attitude to a tree, and wrought with such diligence that the figure could not have stronger relief nor be in any part more beautiful.
At the Court of the most illustrious Dukes of Urbino, in a little private study, may be seen an Apollo and two half-nude Muses by his hand, beautiful to a marvel. For the same patrons he executed many pictures, and made some decorations for apartments, which are very beautiful. And afterwards, in company with Genga, he painted some caparisons for horses, which were sent to the King of France, with such beautiful figures of various animals that they appeared to all who beheld them to have life and movement. He made, also, some triumphal arches similar to those of the ancients, on the occasion of the marriage of the most illustrious Duchess Leonora to the Lord Duke Francesco Maria, to whom they gave vast satisfaction, as they did to the whole Court; on which account he was received for many years into the household of that Duke, with an honorable salary.
Timoteo was a bold draughtsman, and even more notable for the sweetness and charm of his coloring, insomuch that his works could not have been executed with more delicacy or greater diligence. He was a merry fellow, gay and festive by nature, and most acute and witty in his sayings and discourses. He delighted in playing every sort of instrument, and particularly the lyre, to which he sang, improvising upon it with extraordinary grace. He died in the year of our salvation 1524, the fifty-fourth of his life, leaving his native country as much enriched by his name and his fine qualities as it was grieved by his loss. He left in Urbino some unfinished works, which were finished afterwards by others and show by comparison how great were the worth and ability of Timoteo.
In our book are some drawings by his hand, very beautiful and truly worthy of praise, which I received from the most excellent and gentle Messer Giovanni Maria, his son--namely, a pen sketch for the portrait of the Magnificent Giuliano de' Medici, which Timoteo made when Giuliano was frequenting the Court of Urbino and that most famous academy, a "Noli me tangere," and a S. John the Evangelist sleeping while Christ is praying in the Garden, all very beautiful.