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NICCOLO TRIBOLO (1500-1558)
Part 3


Vasari's Lives of the Artists



Not long before, the Duke had been seized with a desire to make a tomb for Signor Giovanni de' Medici, his father, and Tribolo, being eager to have the commission, made a very beautiful model for it, in competi with one that had been executed by Raffaello da Montelupo, who had the favor of Francesco di Sandro, the master of arms to his Excellency. And then, the Duke having resolved that the one to be put into execution should be Tribolo's, he went off to have the marble quarried at Carrara, where he also caused to be quarried the two basins for the loggie at Castello, a table, and many other blocks of marble. Meanwhile, Messer Giovan Battista da Ricasoli, now Bishop of Pistoia, being in Rome on business of the Lord Duke's, he was sought out by Baccio Bandinelli, who had just finished the tombs of Pope Leo X and Clement VII in the Minerva; and he was asked by Baccio to recommend him to his Excellency. Whereupon Messer Giovan Battista wrote to the Duke that Bandinelli desired to serve him, and his Excellency wrote in reply that on his return he should bring him in his company. And Bandinelli, having therefore arrived in Florence, so haunted the Duke in his audacity, making promises and showing him designs and models, that the tomb of the above-named Signor Giovanni, which was to have been made by Tribolo, was allotted to him; and so, taking some pieces of marble of Michelangelo's which were in the Via Mozza in Florence, he hacked them about without scruple and began the work. Wherefore Tribolo, on returning from Carrara, found that in consequence of his being too leisurely and good-natured, the commission had been taken away from him.

In the year when bonds of kinship were formed between the Lord Duke Cosimo and the Lord Don Pedro di Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca, at that time Viceroy of Naples, the Lord Duke taking Don Pedro's daughter, Signora Leonora, to wife, preparations were made in Florence for the nuptials, and Tribolo was given the charge of constructing a triumphal arch at the Porta al Prato, through which the bride, coming from Poggio, was to enter; which arch he made a thing of beauty, very ornate with columns, pilasters, architraves, great cornices, and pediments. That arch was to be all covered with figures and scenes, in addition to the statues by the hand of Tribolo; and all those paintings were executed by Battista Franco of Venice, Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, and Michele, his disciple. Now the principal figure that Tribolo made for this work, which was placed at the highest point in the center of the pediment, on a dado wrought in relief, was a woman five braccia high, representing Fecundity, with five little boys, three clinging to her legs, one on her lap, and another in her arms; and beside her, where the pediment sloped away, were two figures of the same size, one on either side. Of these figures, which were lying down, one was Security, leaning on a column with a light wand in her hand, and the other was Eternity, with a globe in her arms, and below her feet a white-haired old man representing Time, and holding in his arms the Sun and Moon. I shall say nothing as to the works of painting that were on that arch, because everyone may read about them for him self in the description of the festive preparations for those nuptials. And since Tribolo had particular charge of all decorations for the Palace of the Medici, he caused many devices to be executed in the lunettes of the vaulting of the court, with mottoes appropriate to the nuptials, and all those of the most illustrious members of the house of Medici, Besides this, he had a most sumptuous decoration made in the great open court, all full of stories; on one side of the Greeks and Romans, and on the other sides of deeds done by illustrious men of that house of Medici, which were all executed under the direction of Tribolo by the most excellent young painters that there were in Florence at that time, Bronzino, Pier Francesco di Sandro, Francesco Il Bacchiacca, Domenico Conti, Antonio di Domenico, and Battista Franco of Venice.

On the Piazza di San Marco, also, upon a vast pedestal ten braccia in height (in which Bronzino had painted two very beautiful scenes of the color of bronze on the socle that was above the cornices), Tribolo erected a horse of twelve braccia, with the forelegs in the air, and upon it an armed figure, large in proportion; and this figure, which had below it men dead and wounded, represented the most valorous Signor Giovanni de' Medici, the father of his Excellency. This work was executed by Tribolo with so much art and judgment, that it was admired by all who saw it, and what caused even greater marvel was the speed with which he finished it; among his assistants being the sculptor Santi Buglioni, who was crippled forever in one leg by a fall, and came very near dying. Under the direction of Tribolo, likewise, for the comedy that was performed, Aristotile da San Gallo executed marvelous scenery, being truly most excellent in such things, as will be told in his Life; and for the costumes in the interludes, which were the work of Giovan Battista Strozzi, who had charge of the whole comedy, Tribolo himself made the most pleasing and beautiful inventions that it is possible to imagine in the way of vestments, buskins, head-dresses, and other wearing apparel. These things were the reason that the Duke afterwards availed himself of Tribolo's ingenuity in many fantastic masquerades, as in that of the bears, in a race of buffaloes, in the masquerade of the ravens, and in others.

In like manner, in the year when there was born to the said Lord Duke his eldest son, the Lord Don Francesco, there was to be made in the Temple of San Giovanni in Florence a very magnificent decoration which was to be marvelous in its grandeur, and capable of accommodating one hundred most noble young maidens, who were to accompany the Prince from the Palace as far as the said temple, where he was to receive baptism. The charge of this was given to Tribolo, who, in company with Tasso, adapting himself to the place, brought it about that the temple, which in itself is ancient and very beautiful, had the appearance of a new temple designed very well in the modern manner, with seats all round it richly adorned with pictures and gilding. In the center, beneath the lantern, he made a great vase of carved woodwork with eight sides, the base of which rested on four steps, and at the corners of the eight sides were some large caulicoles, which springing from the ground, where there were some lions' paws, had at the top of them certain children of large size in various attitudes, who were holding with their hands the lip of the vase, and supporting with their shoulders some festoons which hung like a garland right round the space in the middle. Besides this, Tribolo had made in the middle of the vase a pedestal of wood with beautiful things of fancy round it, upon which, to crown the work, he placed the St. John the Baptist of marble, three braccia high, by the hand of Donatello, which was left by him in the house of Gismondo Martelli, as has been related in the Life of Donatello himself.

In short, this temple was adorned both within and without as well as could possibly be imagined, and the only part neglected was the principal chapel, where there is an old tabernacle with those figures in relief that Andrea Pisano made long ago; by reason of which it appeared that, every other part being made new, that old chapel spoilt all the grace that the other things together displayed. Wherefore the Duke, going one day to see those decorations, after praising everything like a man of judgment, and recognizing how well Tribolo had adapted himself to the situation and to every other feature of the place, censured one thing only, but that severely,that no thought had been given to the principal chapel. And then he ordained on the spot, like a person of resolute character and beautiful judgment, that all that part should be covered with a vast canvas painted in chiaroscuro, with St. John the Baptist baptizing Christ, and the people standing all around to see them or to be baptized, some taking off their clothes, and others putting them on again, in various attitudes: and above this was to be a God the Father sending down the Holy Spirit, with two fountains in the guise of river-gods, representing the Jor and the Dan, which, pouring forth water, were to form the Jordan.

Jacopo da Pontormo was requested to execute this work by Messer Pier Francesco Riccio, at that time majordomo to the Duke, and by Tribolo, but he would not do it, on the ground that he did not think that the time given, which was only six days, would be enough for him; and the same refusal was made by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Bronzino, and many others. Now at this time Giorgio Vasari, having returned from Bologna, was executing for Messer Bindo Altoviti the altarpiece of his chapel in SantU Apostolo at Florence, but he was not held in much consideration, although he had friendship with Tribolo and Tasso, because certain persons had formed a faction under the protection of the above-named Messer Pier Francesco Riccio, and whoever was not of that faction had no share in the favors of the Court, although he might be able and deserving. This was the reason that many who, with the aid of so great a Prince, would have become excellent, found themselves neglected, none being employed save those chosen by Tasso, who, being a gay person, got Riccio so well under his thumb with his jokes, that in certain affairs he neither proposed nor did anything save what was suggested by Tasso, who was architect to the Palace and did all the work.

These men, then, having a sort of suspicion of Giorgio, who laughed at their vanities and follies, and sought to make a position for himself rather by means of the studies of art than by favor, gave no thought to his claims; but he was commissioned by the Lord Duke to execute that canvas, with the subject described above. This work he executed in chiaroscuro, in six days, and delivered it finished in the manner known to those who saw what grace and adornment it conferred on the whole decoration, and how much it enlivened that part of the temple that stood most in need of it, amid the magnificence of that festival. Tribolo, then (to return to the point whence I know not how, I digressed) , acquitted himself so well, that he rightly won the highest praise; and the Duke commanded that a great part of the ornaments that he placed between the columns should be left there, where they still are, and deservedly.

For the Villa of Cristofano Rinieri at Castello, while he was occupied with the fountains of the Duke, Tribolo made for a niche over a fish pond which is at the head of a fowling-place, a river-god of greystone, of the size of life, which pours water into a very large basin of the same stone; which figure is made of pieces, and put together with such diligence and art, that it appears to be all of one block. Tribolo then set his hand, at the command of his Excellency, to attempting to finish the staircase of the library of San Lorenzo,that, namely, which is in the vestibule before the door; but after he had placed four steps in position, not finding either the plan or the measurements of Michelangelo, by order of the Duke he went to Rome, not only to hear the opinion of Michelangelo with regard to that staircase, but also to make an effort to bring him to Florence. But he did not succeed either in the one object or in the other, for Michelangelo, not wishing to leave Rome, excused himself in a handsome manner, and as for the staircase he declared that he remembered neither the measurements nor anything else. Tribolo, there fore, ore, having returned to Florence, and not being able to continue the work of that staircase, set himself to make the pavement of the said library with white and red bricks, after the manner of some pavements that he had seen in Rome; but he added a filling of red clay to the white clay mixed with bole, in order to produce various effects of carving in those bricks; and thus he made in that pavement a copy of the ceiling and coffered work above,a notion that was highly extolled. He then began, but did not finish, a work that was to be placed on the main tower of the defenses of the Porta a Faenza, for Don Giovanni di Luna, the castellan at that time, namely, an escutcheon of greystone, and a large eagle in full relief with two heads, which he made in wax to the end that it might be cast in bronze, but nothing more was done with it, and of the escutcheon only the shield was finished.

Now it was the custom in the city of Florence to have almost every year on the principal piazza, on the evening of the festival of St. John the Baptist, towards nightfall, a girandola,that is, a contrivance full of fire-trumpets, rockets, and other fireworks; which girandola had the form now of a temple, now of a ship, sometimes of rocks, and at times of a city or of an inferno, according as it pleased the designer; and one year the charge of making one was given to Tribolo, who, as will be described below, made it very beautifully. Of the various manners of these fireworks, and particularly of pet pieces, Vannoccio of Siena and others an account, and on this subject I shall enlarge no further; but I say something as to the nature of these girandole. The whole structure, then, is of wood, with broad compartments radiating outwards from the foot, to the end that the rockets, when they have been lighted, may not set fire to the other fireworks, but may rise in due order from their separate places, one after another, filling the heavens in proper succession--with the fire that blazes in the girandola both above and below. They are distributed, I say, at wide intervals, to the end that they may not burn all at once, and may produce a beautiful effect; and the same do the mortars, which are bound to the firm parts of the girandola, and make the most beautiful and joyous noises.

The fire-trumpets, likewise, are fitted in among the ornaments, and are generally contrived so as to discharge through the mouths of masks and other suchlike things. But the most important point is to arrange the girandola in such a manner that the lights that burn in certain vases may last the whole night, and illuminate the piazza; wherefore the whole work is connected together by a simple match of tow steeped in a mixture of powder full of sulfur and aquavitae, which creeps little by little with its fire to every part which it has to set alight, one after another, until it has kindled the whole. Now, as I have said, the things represented are various, but all must have something to do with fire, and must be subject to its action; and long before this there had been counterfeited the city of Sodom, with Lot and his daughters flying from it, at another time Geryon, with Virgil and Dante on his back, according as Dante himself relates in the Inferno, and even earlier Orpheus bringing Eurydice with him from those infernal regions, with many other inventions. And his Excellency ordained that the work should not be given to any of the puppet-painters, who for many years past had made a thousand absurdities in the girandole, but that an excellent master should produce a work that might have in it something of the good; wherefore the charge of this was given to Tribolo, who, with the ingenuity and art wherewith he had executed all his other works, made one in the form of a very beautiful octagonal temple, rising with its ornaments to the total height of twenty braccia.

This temple he represented as the Temple of Peace, placing on the summit an image of Peace, who was setting fire to a great pile of arms which she had at her feet; and these arms, the statue of Peace, and all the other figures that made this structure one of great beauty, were made of paste board, clay, and cloth steeped in glue, put together with extraordinary art. They were, I say, of these materials, to the end that the whole work might be the lighter, since it was to be suspended at a great height from the ground by a double rope that crossed the Piazza high in the air. It is true, indeed, that the fireworks having been placed in it too thickly, and the fuses of tow being too near one to another, when they were set alight, such was the fury of the conflagration , and so great and so violent the blaze, that everything caught fire all at once. and was burned in a flash, whereas it should have continued to burn for an hour at least; and what was worse, the fire seizing on the woodwork and on all that should have been preserved, the ropes and every other thing were consumed in a moment, which was no small loss, and gave little pleasure to the people. But with regard to workmanship, it was more beautiful than any other girandola that had ever been made up to that time.

The Duke, then, resolving to erect the Loggia of the Mercato Nuovo for the convenience of his citizens and merchants, did not wish to lay a greater burden than he could bear on Tribolo, who, as chief engineer to the Capitani di Parte and the commissioners of the rivers and the sewers of the city, was always riding through the Florentine dominions, engaged in bringing back to their proper beds many rivers that did damage by breaking away from them, in repairing bridges, and in other suchlike works; and he gave the charge of this enterprise to Tasso, at the advice of the above-mentioned Messer Pier Francesco, his majordomo, in order to change that Tasso from a carpenter into an architect. This was certainly against the wishes of Tribolo, although he did not show it, and even acted as the close friend of Tasso; and a proof that this is true is that Tribolo perceived many errors in Tasso's model, but, so it is believed, would by no means tell him of them. Such an error, for example, was that of the capitals of the columns that are beside the pilasters, whereby, the columns not leaving enough space, when everything had been drawn up, and the capitals had to be set into position, the corona above those capitals would not go in, so that it was found necessary to cut away so much that the order of the architecture was ruined; besides many other errors, of which there is no need to speak.

For the above-named Messer Pier Francesco the same Tasso executed the door of the Church of San Romolo, and a window with knee-shaped brackets on the Piazza del Duca, in an order of his own, substituting capitals for bases, and doing so many other things without measure or order, that it might have been said that the German Order had begun to return to life in Tuscany by means of this man: to say nothing of the works that he did in the Palace in the way of staircases and apartments, which the Duke has been obliged to have destroyed, because they had no sort of order, measure, or pro portion, and were, on the contrary, all shapeless, out of square, and without the least convenience or grace. All these things were not done without some responsibility falling on Tribolo, who, having considerable knowledge in such matters, should not, so it seemed, have allowed his Prince to throw away his money and to do him such an affront to his face; and, what was even more serious, he should not have permitted such things to Tasso, who was his friend. Well did men of judgment recognize the presumption and madness of the one in seeking to exercise an art of which he knew nothing, and the dissimulation of the other, who declared that he was pleased with that which he certainly knew to be bad; and of this a proof may be found in the works that Giorgio Vasari has had to pull down in the Palace, to the loss of the Duke and the great shame of those men.

But the same thing happened to Tribolo as to Tasso, in that, even as Tasso abandoned wood-carving, a craft in which he had no equal, but never became a good architect, and thus won little honor by desert ing an art in which he was very able, and applying himself to another of which he knew not one scrap, so Tribolo, abandoning sculpture, in which it may be said with truth that he was most excellent and caused everyone to marvel, and setting himself to attempt to straighten out rivers, ceased to win honor by pursuing the one, while the other brought him blame and loss rather than honor and profit. For he did not succeed in his tinkering with rivers, and he made many enemies, particularly in the district of Prato, on account of the Bisenzio, and in many places in the Val di Nievole. Duke Cosimo having then bought the Palace of the Pitti, of which there has been an account in another place, and his Excellency desiring to adorn it with gardens, groves, fountains, fish-ponds, and other such like things, Tribolo executed all the distribution of the hill in the manner in which it still remains, accommodating everything in its proper place with beautiful judgment, although various things in many parts of the garden have since been changed. Of this Pitti Palace, which is the most beautiful in Europe, mention will be made in another place with a more suitable occasion.

After these things, Tribolo was sent by his Excellency to the island of Elba, not only that he might see the city and port that the Duke had caused to be built there, but also that he might make arrangements for the transport of a round piece of granite, twelve braccia in diameter, from which was to be made a tazza for the great lawn of the Pitti Palace, which might receive the water of the principal fountain. Tribolo, therefore, went thither and caused a boat to be made on purpose pose for transporting the tazza, and then, after giving the stone-cutters directions for the transportation, he returned to Florence; where he had no sooner arrived, than he found the whole country full of murmurings and maledictions against him, since about that time floods and inunda had done infinite havoc in the neighborhood of those rivers that he had patched up, although it was, perhaps, not altogether through his fault that this had happened. However that may have been, whether it was the malignity of some of his assistants, or perchance envy, or that the accusation was indeed true, the blame for all that damage was laid on Tribolo, who, being a man of no great spirit, and rather wanting in resolution than otherwise, and doubting that the malice of some enemy might make him lose the favor of the Duke, was in a state of great despondency, when, being of a feeble habit of body, on the 20th of August in the year 1550, there came upon him a most violent fever. At that time Giorgio Vasari was in Florence, for the purpose of having sent to Rome the marbles for the tombs that Pope Julius III caused to be erected in San Pietro a Montorio; and he, as one who sincerely esteemed the talents of Tribolo, visited and comforted him, beseeching him that he should think of nothing save his health, and that, when cured, he should return to finish the work of Castello, letting the rivers go their own way, for they were more likely to drown his fame than to bring him any profit or honor.

This, which he promised to attempt to do, he would, I believe, have done at all costs, if he had not been prevented by death, which closed his eyes on the 7th of September in the same year. And so the works of Castello, begun and carried well forward by him, remained unfinished: for although some work has been done there since his day now in one part and now in another, nevertheless they have never been pursued with the diligence and resolution that were shown when Tribolo was alive and when the Lord Duke was hot in the undertaking. Of a truth, he who does not press great works forward while those who are having them done are spending money willingly and devoting their best attention to them, brings it about that those works are put on one side and left unfinished, which zeal and solicitude could have carried to perfection. And thus, by the negligence of the workers, the world is left without its adornment, and they without their honor and fame, for the reason that it rarely happens, as it did to this work of Castello, that on the death of the first master he who succeeds to his place is willing to finish it according to his design and model with that modesty with which Giorgio Vasari, at the commission of the Duke, has caused the great fish-pond of Castello to be finished after the directions of Tribolo, even as he will do with the other things according as his Excellency may desire from time to time to have them done.

Tribolo lived sixty-five years, and was interred by the Company of the Scalzo in their place of burial. He left behind him a son called Raffaello, who has not taken up art, and two daughters, one of whom is the wife of David, Tribolo's assistant in building all the works at Castello, who, being a man of judgment and capable in such matters, is now employed on the aqueducts of Florence, Pisa, and all the other places in the dominion, according as it may please his Excellency.



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