Detail of funerary monument to Henry VII. Bronze. 1512/1518. Westminster Abbey, London.
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PIETRO TORRIGIANO (1472-1528)
SCULPTOR OF FLORENCE

Vasari's Lives of the Artists


GREAT IS THE POWER OF ANGER in the soul of one who is seeking, with arrogance and pride, to gain a reputation for excellence in some profession, when he sees rising in the same art, at a time when he does not expect it, some unknown man of beautiful genius, who not only equals him, but in time surpasses him by a great measure. Of such persons, in truth, it may be said that there is no iron that they would not gnaw in their rage, nor any evil which they would not do if they were able, for it seems to them too grievous an affront in the eyes of the world, that children whom they saw born should have reached maturity almost in one bound from their cradles. They do not reflect that every day one may see the will of young men, spurred on by zeal in their tender years, and exercised by them in continual studies, rise to infinite heights; while the old, led by fear, pride, and ambition, lose the cunning of their hands, so that the better they think to work, the worse they do it, and where they believe that they are advancing, they are going backwards. Wherefore, out of envy, they never give credit to the young for the perfection of their works, however clearly they may see it, on account of the obstinacy that possesses them.

And it is known from experience that when, in order to show what they can do, they exert themselves to the utmost of their power, they often produce works that are ridiculous and a mere laughing-stock. In truth, when craftsmen have reached the age when the eye is no longer steady and the hand trembles, their place, if they have saved the wherewithal to live, is to give advice to men who can work, for the reason that the arts of painting and sculpture call for a mind in every way vigorous and awake (as it is at the age when the blood is boiling), full of burning desire, and a capital enemy of the pleasures of the world. And whoever is not temperate with regard to the delights of the world should shun the studies of any art or science whatsoever, seeing that such pleasures and study can never agree well together. Since, therefore, these arts involve so many burdens, few, indeed, are they who attain to the highest rank; and those who start with eagerness from the post are greater in number than those who run well in the race and win the prize.

Now there was more pride than art, although he was very able, to be seen in Torrigiano, a sculptor of Florence, who in his youth was maintained by the elder Lorenzo de' Medici in the garden which that magnificent citizen possessed on the Piazza di S. Marco in Florence. This garden was in such wise filled with the best ancient statuary, that the loggia, the walks, and all the apartments were adorned with noble ancient figures of marble, pictures, and other suchlike things, made by the hands of the best masters who ever lived in Italy or elsewhere. And all these works, in addition to the magnificence and adornment that they conferred on that garden, were as a school or academy for the young painters and sculptors, as well as for all others who were studying the arts of design, and particularly for the young nobles; since the Magnificent Lorenzo had a strong conviction that those who are born of noble blood can attain to perfection in all things more readily and more speedily than is possible, for the most part, for men of humble birth, in hom there are rarely seen those conceptions and that marvellous genius which are perceived in men of illustrious stock. Moreover, the less highly born, having generally to defend themselves from hardship and poverty, and being forced in consequence to undertake any sort of work, however mean, are not able to exercise their intellect, or to attain to the highest degree of excellence. Wherefore it was well said by the learned Alciato when speaking of men of beautiful genius, born in poverty, who are not able to raise themselves, because, in proportion as they are impelled upwards by the wings of their genius, so are they held down by their poverty:


Ut me pluma levat, sic grave mergit onus.

Lorenzo the Magnificent, then, always favored men of genius, and particularly such of the nobles as showed an inclination for these our arts; wherefore it is no marvel that from that school there should have issued some who have amazed the world. And what is more, he not only gave the means to buy food and clothing to those who, being poor, would otherwise not have been able to pursue the studies of design, but also bestowed extraordinary gifts on any one among them who had acquitted himself in some work better than the others; so that the young students of our arts, competing thus with each other, thereby became very excellent, as I will relate.

The guardian and master of these young men, at that time, was the Florentine sculptor Bertoldo, an old and practised craftsman, who had once been a disciple of Donato. He taught them, and likewise had charge of the works in the garden, and of many drawings, cartoons, and models by the hand of Donato, Pippo,* [* Filippo Brunelleschi.] Masaccio, Paolo Uccello, Fra Giovanni, Fra Filippo, and other masters, both native and foreign. It is a sure fact that these arts can only be acquired by a long course of study in drawing and diligently imitating works of excellence; and whoever has not such facilities, however much he may be assisted by nature, can never arrive at perfection, save late in life.

But to return to the antiquities of the garden; they were in great part dispersed in the year 1494, when Piero, the son of the aforesaid Lorenzo, was banished from Florence, all being sold by auction. The greater part of them, however, were restored to the Magnificent Giuliano in the year 1512, at the time when he and the other members of the House of Medici returned to their country; and at the present day they are for the most part preserved in the guardaroba of Duke Cosimo. Truly magnificent was the example thus given by Lorenzo, and whenever Princes and other persons of high degree choose to imitate it, they will always gain everlasting honor and glory thereby; since he who assists and favours, in their noble undertakings, men of rare and beautiful genius, from whom the world receives such beauty, honor, convenience and benefit, deserves to live for ever in the minds and memories of mankind.

Among those who studied the arts of design in that garden, the following all became very excellent masters; Michelagnolo, the son of Lodovico Buonarroti; Giovan Francesco Rustici; Torrigiano Torrigiani; Francesco Granacci; Niccolo, the son of Jacopo* Soggi [* The name given in the text is Domenico.]; Lorenzo di Credi, and Giuliano Bugiardini; and, among the foreigners, Baccio da Montelupo, Andrea Contucci of Monte Sansovino, and others, of whom mention will be made in the proper places.

Torrigiano, then, whose Life we are now about to write, was as a student in the garden with those named above; and he was not only powerful in person, and proud and fearless in spirit, but also by nature so overbearing and choleric, that he was for ever tyrannizing over all the others both with words and deeds. His chief profession was sculpture, yet he worked with great delicacy in terracotta, in a very good and beautiful manner. But not being able to endure that any one should surpass him, he would set himself to spoil with his hands such of the works of others as showed an excellence that he could not achieve with his brain; and if these others resented this, he often had recourse to something stronger than words. He had a particular hatred for Michelagnolo, for no other reason than that he saw him attending zealously to the study of art, and knew that he used to draw in secret at his own house by night and on feast days, so that he came to succeed better in the garden than all the others, and was therefore much favoured by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Wherefore, moved by bitter envy, Torrigiano was always seeking to affront him, both in word and deed; and one day, having come to blows, Torrigiano struck Michelagnolo so hard on the nose with his fist, that he broke it, insomuch that Michelagnolo had his nose flattened for the rest of his life. This matter becoming known to Lorenzo, he was so enraged that Torrigiano, if he had not fled from Florence, would have suffered some heavy punishment.

Having therefore made his way to Rome, where Alexander VI was then pressing on the work of the Borgia Tower, Torrigiano executed in it a great quantity of stucco work, in company with other masters. Afterwards, money being offered in the service of Duke Valentino, who was making war against the people of Romagna, Torrigiano was led away by certain young Florentines; and, having changed himself in a moment from a sculptor to a soldier, he bore himself valiantly in those campaigns of Romagna. He did the same under Paolo Vitelli in the war with Pisa ; and he was with Piero de' Medici at the action on the Garigliano, where he won the right to arms, and the name of a valiant standard-bearer.

But in the end, recognizing that he was never likely to reach the rank of captain that he desired, although he deserved it, and that he had saved nothing in the wars, and had, on the contrary, wasted his time, he returned to sculpture. For certain Florentine merchants, then, he made small works in marble and bronze, little figures, which are scattered throughout the houses of citizens in Florence, and he executed many drawings in a bold and excellent manner, as may be seen from some by his hand that are in our book, together with others which he made in competition with Michelagnolo. And having been brought by those merchants to England, he executed there, in the service of the King, an endless number of works in marble, bronze, and wood, competing with some masters of that country, to all of whom he proved superior. For this he was so well and so richly rewarded, that, if he had not been as reckless and unbridled as he was proud, he might have lived a life of ease and ended his days in comfort; but what happened to him was the very opposite.

After this, having been summoned from England into Spain, he made many works there, which are scattered about in various places, and are held in great estimation; and, among others, he made a Crucifix of terracotta, which is the most marvellous thing that there is in all Spain. For a monastery of Friars of S. Jerome, without the city of Seville, he made another Crucifix; a S. Jerome in Penitence, with his lion, the figure of that Saint being a portrait of an old house-steward of the Botti family, Florentine merchants settled in Spain; and a Madonna with the Child. This last figure was so beautiful that it led to his making another like it for the Duke of Arcus, who, in order to obtain it, made such promises to Torrigiano, that he believed that it would make him rich for the rest of his life. The work being finished, the Duke gave him so many of those coins that are called " maravedis," which are worth little or nothing, that Torrigiano, to whose house there came two persons laden with them, became even more confirmed in his belief that he was to be a very rich man. But afterwards, having shown this money to a Florentine friend of his, and having asked him to count it and reckon its value in Italian coin, he saw that all that vast sum did not amount to thirty ducats; at which, holding himself to have been fooled, he went in a violent rage to where the figure was that he had made for the Duke, and wholly destroyed it. Whereupon that Spaniard, considering himself affronted, denounced Torrigiano as a heretic; on which account he was thrown into prison, and after being examined every day, and sent from one inquisitor to the other, he was finally judged to deserve the severest penalty. But this was never put into execution, because Torrigiano himself was plunged thereby into such melancholy, that, remaining many days without eating, and thus becoming very weak, little by little he put an end to his own life; and in this way, by denying himself his food, he avoided the shame into which he would perchance have fallen, for it was believed that he had been condemned to death.

The works of this master date about the year of our salvation, 1515, and he died in the year 1522.



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