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Detail. Ganymede riding the Eagle. Bronze, 1540-1550. Bargello, Florence.

NICCOLO' TRIBOLO (1500-1558)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists



RAFFAELLO the carpenter, surnamed Il Riccio de'Pericoli, who lived near the Canto a Monteloro in Florence, had born tohim in the year 1500, as he used to tell me himself, a male child, whom hewas pleased to call at baptism, like his own father, Niccolo'; and having perceived that the boy had a quick and ready intelligence and a lofty spirit, he determined, although he was but a poor artisan, that he should begin straight-way by learning to read and write well and cast accounts. Sending him to school, therefore, it came about, since the child was very vivacious and so high-spirited in his every action, that he was always cramped for room and was a very devil both among the other boys at school and everywhere else, always teasing and tormenting both himself and others, that he lost his own name of Niccolo and acquired that of Tribolo to such purpose, that he was called that ever afterwards by everyone.

Now, Tribolo growing, his father, in order both to make use of him and to curb the boy's exuberance, took him into his workshop and taught him his own trade; but having seen in a few months that he was ill suited for such a calling, being somewhat delicate, thin, and feeble in health, he came to the conclusion that if he wished to keep him alive, he must release him from the heavier labors of his craft and set him to woodcarving. Having heard that without design, the father of all the arts, the boy could not become an excellent master therein, Raffaello resolved that he should begin by devoting all his time to design, and therefore made him draw now cornices, foliage, and grotesques, and now other things necessary to such a profession. And having seen that in doing this the boy was well served both by his head and by his hand, and reflecting, like a man of judgment, that with him Niccolo could at best learn nothing else but to work by the square, Raffaello first spoke of this with the carpenter Ciappino, who was the very familiar friend of Nanni Unghero; and with his advice and assistance, he placed Niccolo for three years with the said Nanni, in whose workshop, where both joiner's work and carving were done, there were constantly to be found the sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, the painter Andrea del Sarto, and others, who afterwards became such able masters.

Now Nanni, who had in those days a passing good reputation for excellence, was executing many works both in joinery and in carving for the villa of Zanobi Bartolini at Rovezzano, without the Porta alla Croce, for the palace of the Bartolini, which Giovanni, the brother of that Zanobi, was having built at that time on the Piazza di Santa Trinita, and for the house and garden of the same man in Gualfonda; and Tribolo, who was made to work by Nanni without discretion, always having to handle saws, planes, and other common tools, and not being capable, by reason of the feebleness of his body, of such exertions, began to feel dissatisfied and to say to Riccio, when he asked for the cause of his discontent, that he did not think that he could remain with Nanni in that craft, and that therefore Raffaello should see to placing him with Andrea del Sarto or Jacopo Sansovino, whom he had come to know in Unghero's workshop, for the reason that with one or the other of them he hoped to do better and to be sounder in health. Moved by these reasons, then, and again with the advice and assistance of Ciappino, Riccio placed Tribolo with Jacopo Sansovino, who took him willingly, because he had known him in the workshop of Nanni Unghero, and had seen that he worked well in design and even better in relief.

Jacopo Sansovino, when Tribolo, now restored to health, went to work under him , was executing in the Office of Works of Santa Maria del Fiore, in competition with Benedetto da Rovezzano, Andrea da Fiesole, and Baccio Bandinelli, the marble statue of S. James the Apostle which is still to be seen at the present day at that place together with the others. And thus Tribolo, with these opportunities of learning, by working in clay and drawing with great diligence, contrived to make such proficience in that art, for which he felt a natural inclination, that Jacopo, growing to love him more and more every day, began to encourage him and to bring him forward by making him execute now one thing and now another. Whereupon, although Sansovino had in his workshop at that time Solosmeo da Settignano and Pippo del Fabro, young men of great promise, seeing that Tribolo, having added skill in the use of chisels to his good knowledge get working in clay and in wax, not only equaled them but surpassed them by a great measure, he began to make much use of him in his works. And after finishing the Apostle and a Bacchus that he made for the house of Giovanni Bartolini in Gualfonda, and undertaking to make for M. Giovanni Gaddi, his intimate friend, a chimney-piece and a waterbasin of hard sandstone for his house on the Piazza di Madonna, he caused some large figures of boys in clay, which were to go above the great cornice, to be made by Tribolo, who executed them so extraordinarily well, that M. Giovanni, having seen the beautiful manner and the genius of the young man, commissioned him to execute two medallions of marble, which, finished with great excellence, were afterwards placed over certain doors in the same house.

Meanwhile there was a commission to be given for a tomb, a work of great magnitude, for the King of Portugal; and since Jacopo had been the disciple of Andrea Contucci of Monte Sansovino , and had the reputation not only of having equaled his master, a man of great renown, but of having a manner even more beautiful, that work, through the good offices of the Bartolini , was allotted to him. Whereupon Jacopo made a most superb model of wood, all covered with scenes and figures of wax, which were executed for the most part by Tribolo; and these proving to be very beautiful, the young man's fame so increased that Matteo di Lorenzo Strozzi,Tribolo having now left Sansovino, thinking that he was by that time able to work by himself,commissioned him to make some children of stone, and shortly afterwards, being much pleased with them, two of marble that are holding a dolphin which pours water into a fish-pond, a work that is now to be seen at San Casciano, a place eight miles distant from Florence, in the villa of that M. Matteo.

While these works were being executed by Tribolo in Florence, M. Bartolommeo Barbazzi, a Bolognese gentleman who had gone there on some business, remembered that a search was being made in Bologna for a young man who could work well, to the end that he might be set to making figures and scenes of marble for the facade of San Petronio, the principal church of that city. Wherefore he spoke to Tribolo, and having seen some of his works, which pleased him, as also did the young man s ways and other qualities, he took him to Bologna, where Tribolo, with great diligence and with much credit to himself, in a short time made the two Sibyls of marble that were afterwards placed in the ornament of that door of San Petronio which leads to the Della Morte Hospital. These works finished, arrangements were being made to give him greater things to do, and he was receiving many proofs of love and affection from M. Bartolommeo, when the plague of the year 1525 began in Bologna and throughout all Lombardy; whereupon Tribolo, in order to avoid that plague, made his way to Florence.

After living there during all the time that this contagious and pestilential sickness lasted, he departed as soon as it had ceased, and returned, in obedience to a summons, to Bologna, where M. Bartolommeo, not allowing him to set his hand to any work for the facade, resolved, seeing that many of his friends and relatives had died, to have a tomb made for himself and for them. And so Tribolo, after finishing the model, which M. Bartolommeo insisted on seeing completed before he did anything else, went in person to Carrara to have the marbles excavated, intending to rough-hew them on the spot and to lighten them in such a manner, that they might not only be easier to transport, as indeed they were, but also that the figures might come out larger. In that place, in order not to waste his time, he blocked out two large children of marble, which were taken to Bologna with beasts of burden, unfinished as they were, together with the rest of the work; and after the death of M. Bartolommeo, which caused such grief to Tribolo that he returned to Tuscany, they were placed, with the other marbles, in a chapel in San Petronio, where they still are.

Having thus departed from Carrara, Tribolo, on his way back to Florence, stayed in Pisa to visit the sculptor Maestro Stagio da Pietrasanta, his very dear friend, who was executing in the Office of Works of the Duomo in that city two columns with capitals of marble all in open work, which were to stand one on either side of the high-altar and the Tabernacle of the Sacrament; and each of these was to have upon the capital an Angel of marble one braccio and three quarters in height, with a candelabrum in the hand. At the invitation of the said Stagio, having nothing else to do at that time, he undertook to make one of those Angels: which being finished with all the perfection that could be given to a delicate work of that size in marble, proved to be such that nothing more could have been desired, for the reason that the Angel, with the movement of his person, has the appearance of having stayed his flight in order to uphold that light, and the nude form has about it some delicate draperies which are so graceful in their effect, and look so well on every side and from every point of view, that words could not express their beauty. But, having consumed much time in executing this work, since he cared for nothing but his delight in art, and not having received for it from the Warden the payment that he expected, he resolved that he would not make the other Angel, and returned to Florence.

There he met with Giovan Battista della Palla, who at that time was not only causing all the sculptures and pictures that he could to be executed for sending to King Francis I in France, but was also buying antiques of all sorts and pictures of every kind, provided only that they were by the hands of good masters; and every day he was packing them up and sending them off. Now, at the very moment when Tribolo returned, Giovan Battista had an ancient vase of granite, of a very beautiful shape, which he wished to arrange in such a manner that it might serve for a fountain for that King. He therefore declared his mind to Tribolo, and what he proposed to have done; and he, setting to work, made him a Goddess of Nature, who, raising one arm, holds that vase, the foot of which she has upon her head, with the hands, the first row of breasts being adorned with some boys standing out entirely detached from the marble, who are in various most beautiful attitudes, holding certain festoons in their hands, while the next range of breasts is covered with quadrupeds, and at her feet are many different kinds of fishes. That figure was finished with such diligence and such perfection, that it well deserved, after being sent to France together with other works, to be held very dear by the King, and to be placed, as a rare thing, in Fontainebleau.

Afterwards, in the year 1529, when preparations were being made for the war against Florence and the siege, Pope Clement VII, wishing to study the exact site of the city and to consider in what manner and in what places his forces could be distributed to the best advantage, ordained that a plan of the city should be made secretly, with all the country for a mile around it,the hills, mountains, rivers, rocks, houses, churches, and other things, and also the squares and streets within, together with the walls and bastions surrounding it, and the other de fences. The charge of all this was given to Benvenuto di Lorenzo della Volpaia, an able maker of clocks and quadrants and a very fine astrologer, but above all a most excellent master in taking ground-plans. This Benvenuto chose Tribolo as his companion, and that with great judgment, for the reason that it was Tribolo who suggested that this plan, for the better consideration of the height of the mountains, the depth of the low-lying parts, and all other particulars, should be made in relief; the doing of which was not without much labor and danger, in that, staying out all night to measure the roads and to mark the number of braccia between one place and another, and also to measure the height of the summits of the belfries and towers, drawing intersecting lines in every direction by means of the compass, and going beyond the walls to completion. pare the height of the hills with that of the cupola, which they had marked as their center, they did not execute such a work save after many months; but they used great diligence, for they made it of cork, for the sake of lightness, and limited the whole plan to the space of four braccia, and measured everything to scale. Having then been finished in this manner , and being made in pieces, that plan was packed up secretly and smuggled out of Florence in some bales of wool that were going to Perugia, being consigned to one who had orders to send it to the Pope, who made use of it continually during the siege of Florence, keeping it in his chamber, and seeing from one day to another, from letters and dispatches, where and how the army was quartered, where skirmishes took place, and, in short, all the incidents, arguments, and discussions that occurred during that siege; all greatly to his satisfaction, for it was in truth a rare and marvelous work.

The war finished, during the progress of which Tribolo executed some works in clay for his friends, and for Andrea del Sarto, his dearest friend, three figures of wax in the round, of which Andrea availed himself in painting in fresco, on the Piazza, near the Condotta, portraits from nature of three captains who had fled with the pay-chests, depicted as hanging by one foot. Benvenuto, summoned by the Pope, went to Rome to kiss the feet of his Holiness, and was placed by him in charge of the Belvedere, with an honorable salary. In that office, having often conversations with the Pope, Benvenuto, when the occasion arose, did not fail to extol Tribolo as an excellent sculptor and to recommend him warmly; insomuch that, the siege finished, Clement made use of him. For, designing to give completion to the Chapel of Our Lady at Loreto, which had been begun by Leo and then abandoned on account of the death of Andrea Contucci of Monte Sansovino, he ordained that Antonio da San Gallo, who had the charge of executing that fabric, should summon Tribolo and set him to complete some of those scenes that Maestro Andrea had left unfinished.

Tribolo, then, thus summoned by San Gallo by order of Clement, went with all his family to Loreto, whither there likewise went Simone, called Mosca, a very rare carver of marble, Raffaello da Montelupo, Francesco da San Gabo the younger, Girolamo Ferrarese the sculptor, a disciple of Maestro Andrea, Simone Cioli, Ranieri da Pietrasanta, and Francesco del Tadda, all invited in order to finish that work. And to Tribolo, in the distribution of the labors, there fell, as the work of the greatest importance, a scene in which Maestro Andrea had represented the Marriage of Our Lady. Thereupon Tribolo made an addition to that scene, and had the notion of placing among the many figures that are standing watching the Marriage of the Virgin, one who in great fury is breaking his rod, because it had not blossomed; and in this he succeeded so well, that the suitor could not display with greater animation the rage that he feels at not having had the good fortune that he desired. Which work finished, and also that of the others, with great perfection, Tribolo had already made many models of wax with a view to executing some of those Prophets that were to go in the niches of that chapel, which was now built and completely finished, when Pope Clement, after seeing those works and praising them much, and particularly that of Tribolo, determined that they should all return without loss of time to Florence, in order to finish under the discipline of Michelangelo Buonarroti all those figures that were wanting in the sacristy and library of San Lorenzo, and the rest of the work, after the models of Michelangelo and with his assistance, with the greatest possible speed, to the end that, having finished the sacristy, they might all together be able, thanks to the proficience made under the discipline of so great a man, also to finish the facade of San Lorenzo.

And in order that there might be no manner of delay in doing this, the Pope sent Michelangelo back to Florence, and with him Fra Giovanni Angelo de' Servi, who had executed some works in the Belvedere, to the end that he might assist him in carving the marbles and might make some statues, according as he should receive orders from Michelangelo , who caused him to make a San Cosimo, which was to stand on one side of the Madonna , with a San Damiano, allotted to Montelupo, on the other. These commissions given, Michelangelo desired that Tribolo should make two nude statues, which were to be one on either side of that of Duke Giuliano, which he himself had already made; one was to be a figure of Earth crowned with cypress, weeping with bowed head and with the arms outstretched, and lamenting the death of Duke Giuliano, and the other a figure of Heaven with the arms uplifted, all smiling and joyful, and showing her gladness at the adornment and splendor that the soul and spirit of that lord conferred upon her. But Tribolo's evil fortune crossed him at the very moment when he was about to begin work on the statue of Earth; for, whether it was the change of air, or his feeble constitution, or because he had been irregular in his way of living, he fell ill of a grievous sickness, which, ending in a quartan fever, hung about him many months, to his infinite vexation, since he was tormented no less by his grief at having to abandon the work, and at seeing that the friar and Raffaello had taken possession of the field, than by the illness itself.

However , wishing to conquer that illness, in order not to be left behind by his rivals, whose name he heard celebrated more and more every day, feeble as he was, he made a large model of clay for the statue of Earth, and, when he had finished it, began to execute the work in marble, with such diligence and assiduity, that the statue could be seen already all cut out in front, when Fortune, who is always ready to oppose herself to any fair beginning, by the death of Clement at a moment when nothing seemed less likely, cut short the aspirations of all those excellent masters who were hoping to acquire under Michelangelo, besides boundless profits, immortal renown and everlasting fame. Stupified by this misfortune and robbed of all his spirit, and being also ill, Tribolo was living in utter despair, seeming not to beable either in Florence or abroad to hit upon anything that might be to his advantage; but Giorgio Vasari, who was always his friend and loved him from his heart, and helped him all that he could, consoled him, saying that he should not lose heart, because he would so contrive that Duke Alessandro would give him something to do, by means of the favor of the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, into whose service Giorgio had introduced him on terms of no little intimacy. Wherefore Tribolo, having regained a little courage, occupied himself, while measures were being taken to assist him, with copying in clay all the figures of marble in the Sacristy of San Lorenzo which Michelangelo had executed, namely, Dawn, Twilight, Day, and Night.

And he succeeded in doing them so well, that M. Giovan Battista Figiovanni, the Prior of San Lorenzo, to whom he presented the Night in return for having the sacristy opened for him, judging it to be a rare work, presented it to Duke Alessandro, who afterwards gave it to Giorgio Vasari, who was living with his Excellency, knowing that Giorgio gave his attention to such studies; which figure is now in his house at Arezzo, with other works of art. Having afterwards copied, likewise in clay, the Madonna made by Michelangelo for the same sacristy, Tribolo presented it to the above-named M. Ottaviano de' Medici, who had a most beautiful ornament in squared work made for it by Battista del Cinque, with columns, cornices, brackets, and other carvings very well executed.



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