Giovan Francesco Caroto. Child with a drawing. Verona, Museo del Castelvecchio.
Part 3: GIOVAN FRANCESCO CAROTO (1480 circa-1555) and GIOVANNI CAROTO
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
GIOVAN FRANCESCO CAROTO was born at Verona in the year 1470, and after having learned the first rudiments of letters, being drawn to painting, he abandoned the studies of grammar and placed himself to learn painting under the Veronese Liberale, undertaking to recompense him for his pains. Young as he was, then, Giovan Francesco devoted himself with such love and diligence to design, that even in his earliest years he was a great assistance to Liberale both in that and in coloring. No long time after, when his judgment had increased with his years, he saw the works of Andrea Mantegna in Verona; and thinking, as indeed was the truth, that these were of another manner and better than those of his master, he so wrought upon his father that he was given leave, with the gracious consent of Liberale, to apprentice himself to Mantegna. Having gone to Mantua, therefore, and having placed himself under Mantegna, in a short time he made such proficience that Andrea sent out works by Caroto as works by his own hand. In short, before many years had passed by, he had become an able master. The first works that he executed after leaving the discipline of Mantegna were on the altar of the three Magi in the Church of the Hospital of S. Cosimo at Verona, where he painted on the folding doors that enclose that altar the Circumcision of Christ and the Flight into Egypt, with other figures. In the Church of the Frati Ingiesuati, called S. Girolamo, in two angles of a chapel, he painted the Madonna and the Angel of the Annunciation. And for the Prior of the Friars of S. Giorgio he executed a little panel picture of the Manger, in which he may be seen to have greatly improved his manner, since the heads of the shepherds and of all the other figures have expressions so sweet and so beautiful, that this work was much extolled, and that rightly; and if it were not that the priming of gesso is peeling off through having been badly prepared, so that the picture is gradually perishing, it would be enough by itself to keep him alive for ever in the memory of his fellow-citizens.
Next, having been commissioned by the men who governed the Company of the Angel Raphael to paint their chapel in the Church of S. Eufemia, he executed therein two stories of the Angel Raphael in fresco, and in the altarpiece, in oils, three large Angels, Raphael in the center, and Gabriel and Michael on either side, and all with good draughtsmanship and colouring. He was reproached, indeed, for having made the legs of those Angels too slender and wanting in softness; to which he made a pleasant and gracious answer, saying that even as Angels were represented with wings and with bodies, so to speak, celestial and ethereal, as if they were birds, so it was only right to make their legs lean and slender, to the end that they might fly and soar upwards with greater ease. For that altar of the Church of S. Giorgio where there is a Christ bearing His Cross, he painted S. Rocco and S. Sebastian, with some scenes in the predella executed with very beautiful little figures. And by order of the Company of the Madonna he painted on the predella of the altar of that Company, in S. Bernardino, the Nativity of the Madonna and the Massacre of the Innocents, with a great variety of attitudes in the murderers and in the groups of children whom their mothers are defending with all their might. This work is held in great veneration, and is kept covered, the better to preserve it; and it was the reason that the men of the Fraternity of S. Stefano commissioned him to paint three pictures with similar figures for their altar in the old Duomo of Verona, containing three little scenes from the life of Our Lady--her Marriage, the Nativity of Christ, and the story of the Magi.
After these works, thinking that he had gained enough credit in Verona, Giovan Francesco was minded to depart and make trial of other places; but his friends and relatives, pressing him much, persuaded him to take to wife a young woman of noble birth, the daughter of Messer Braliassarti Grandoni, whom he married in 1505. In a short time, however, after he had had a son by her, she died in childbirth; and Giovan Francesco, thus left free, departed from Verona and went off to Milan, where Signor Anton Maria Visconti received him into his house and caused him to execute many works for its adornment.
Meanwhile there was brought to Milan by a Fleming a head of a young man, taken from life and painted in oils, which was admired by everyone in that city; but Giovan Francesco, seeing it, laughed and said: "I am confident that I can do a better." At which the Fleming mocked him, but after many words the matter came to this, that Giovan Francesco was to try his hand, losing his own picture and twenty-five crowns if he lost, and winning the Fleming's head and likewise twenty-five crowns if he won. Setting to work, therefore, with all his powers, Giovan Francesco made a portrait of an aged gentleman with shaven face, with a falcon on his wrist; but, although this was a good likeness, the head of the Fleming was judged to be the better. Giovan Francesco did not make a good choice in executing his portrait, for he took a head that could not do him honor; whereas, if he had chosen a handsome young man, and had made as good a likeness of him as he did of the old man, he would at least have equalled his adversary's picture, even if he had not surpassed it. But for all this the head of Giovan Francesco did not fail to win praise, and the Fleming showed him courtesy, for he contented himself with the head of the shaven old man, and, being a noble and courteous person, would by no means accept the five-and-twenty crowns. This picture came after some time into the possession of Madonna Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua, who paid a very good price for it to the Fleming and placed it as a choice work in her study, in which she had a vast number of very beautiful coins, pictures, works in marble, and castings.
After completing his work for Visconti, Giovan Francesco, being invited by Guglielmo, Marquis of Montferrat, went willingly to serve him, as Visconti straitly besought him to do. On his arrival, a fine provision was assigned to him; and, setting to work, he painted for that noble at Casale, in a chapel where he heard Mass, as many pictures as were necessary to fill it and adorn it on every side, with subjects from the Old Testament and the New, which were executed by him with supreme diligence, as was also the chief altarpiece. He then executed many works throughout the apartments of that Castle, which brought him very great fame. And in S. Domenico, by order of that Marquis, he painted the whole of the principal chapel for the adornment of the tomb wherein he was to be laid to rest; in which work Giovan Francesco acquitted himself so well, that he was rightly rewarded with honorable gifts by the liberality of his patron, who also favoured him by making him one of his own chamberlains, as may be seen from an instrument that is in the possession of his heirs at Verona. He made portraits of that lord and of his wife, with many pictures that they sent to France, and also the portrait of Guglielmo, their eldest child, who was then a boy, and likewise portraits of their daughters and of all the ladies who were in the service of the Marchioness.
On the death of the Marquis Guglielmo, Giovan Francesco departed from Casale, after first selling all the property that he had in those parts, and made his way to Verona, where he so arranged his affairs and those of his son, to whom he gave a wife, that in a short time he found himself in possession of more than seven thousand ducats. But he did not therefore abandon his painting; indeed, having a quiet mind, and not being obliged to rack his brain for a livelihood, he gave more attention to it than ever. It is true that either from envy or for some other reason he was accused of being a painter who could do nothing but little figures; wherefore, in executing the altarpiece f the Chapel of the Madonna in S. Fermo, a convent of Friars of S. Francis, wishing to show that the accusation was a calumny, he painted the figures larger than life, and so well, that they were the best that he had ever done. In the air is Our Lady seated in the lap of S. Anne, with some Angels standing upon clouds, and beneath are S. Peter, S. John the Baptist, S. Rocco, and S. Sebastian; and not far away, in a most beautiful landscape, is S. Francis receiving the Stigmata. This work, indeed, is held by craftsmen to be not otherwise than good.
For the Chapel of the Cross in S. Bernardino, a seat of the Frati Zoccolanti, he painted Christ kneeling on one knee and taking leave of His Mother. In this work, stirred to emulation by the many notable pictures by the hands of other masters that are in that place, he strove to surpass them all; wherefore, in truth, he acquitted himself very well, and was praised by all who saw it, save only by the Guardian of that convent, who, like the boorish and solemn fool that he was, reproved Giovan Francesco with biting words, saying that he had made Christ show such little reverence to His Mother as to kneel only upon one knee. To which Giovan Francesco answered by saying: "Father, first do me the favor of kneeling down and rising up again, and I will then tell you for what reason I have painted Christ so." The Guardian, after much persuasion, knelt down, placing on the ground first his right knee and then his left; and in rising up he raised first the left and then the right. Which done, Giovan Francesco said: "Did you observe, Father Guardian, that you neither knelt down nor rose up with both knees together? I tell you, therefore, that this Christ of mine is right, because one might say that He is either coming to His knees before His Mother, or beginning, after having knelt a while, to raise one leg in order to rise." At which the Guardian had to appear a little appeased, although he went off muttering under his breath.
Giovan Francesco was very sharp in his answers; and it is also related of him that once, being told by a priest that his figures were too seductive for altarpieces, he replied: "A lusty fellow you must be, if painted figures so move you. Think how much you are to be trusted in places where there are living people for you to touch." At Isola, a place on the Lake of Garda, he painted two panel pictures for the Church of the Zoccolanti; and at Malsessino, a township above that same lake, he painted a very beautiful Madonna over the door of a church, and some Saints within the church, at the request of Fracastoro, a very famous poet, who was much his friend. For Count Giovan Francesco Giusti, executing a subject conceived by that nobleman, he painted a young man wholly naked except for the parts of shame, and in an attitude of indecision as to whether he shall rise up or not; and on one side he had a most beautiful young woman representing Minerva, who with one hand was pointing out to him a figure of Fame on high, and with the other was urging him to follow her; but Sloth and Idleness, who were behind the young man, were striving to detain him. Below these was a figure with an uncouth face, rather that of a slave and a plebeian than of one of noble blood, who had two great snails clinging to his elbows and was seated on a crab, and near him was another figure with the hands full of poppies. This invention, in which are other beautiful details and fancies, was executed by Giovan Francesco with supreme diligence and love; and it serves as the headboard of a bedstead at that nobleman's lovely place near Verona, which is called S. Maria in Stella.
The same master painted the whole of a little chamber with various scenes in little figures, for Count Raimondo della Torre. And since he delighted to work in relief, he executed not only models his own purposes and for the arrangement of draperies, but also other things of his own fancy, of which there are some to be seen in the house of his heirs, and in particular a scene in half-relief, which is not otherwise than passing good. He also executed portraits on medallions, and some are still to be seen, such as that of Guglielmo, Marquis of Montferrat, which has on the reverse a Hercules slaying ..., with a motto that runs: "Monstra domat." He painted portraits of Count Raimondo della Torre, Messer Giulio his brother, and Messer Girolamo Fracastoro.
But when Giovan Francesco became old, he began gradually to lose his mastery over art, as may be seen from the organ doors in S. Maria della Scala, from the panel picture of the Movi family, wherein is a Deposition from the Cross, and from the Chapel of S. Martino in S. Anastasia. Giovan Francesco had always a great opinion of himself, and not for anything in the world would he have ever copied another man's work in his own. Now Bishop Giovan Matteo Giberti wished him to paint some stories of the Madonna in the great chapel of the Duomo, and had the designs for these drawn in Rome by Giulio Romano, who was very much his friend (for Giberti was Datary to Pope Clement VII). But, when the Bishop had returned to Verona, Giovan Francesco would never consent to execute these designs; at which the Bishop, in disdain, caused them to be put into execution by Francesco, called Il Moro.
Giovan Francesco held an opinion, in which he was not far from the truth, that varnishing pictures spoiled them, and made them become old sooner than they otherwise would; and for this reason he used varnish in the darks while painting, together with certain purified oils. He was also the first who executed landscapes well in Verona; wherefore there are some by his hand to be seen in that city, which are very beautiful. Finally, when seventy-six years of age, Giovan Francesco died the death of a good Christian, leaving his grandchildren and his brother, Giovanni Caroto, passing well provided. This Giovanni, after first applying himself to art under his brother, and then spending some time in Venice, had just returned to Verona when Giovan Francesco passed to the other life; and thus he took a hand with the grandchildren in inspecting the things of art that had been left to them. Among these they found a portrait of an old man in armor, very beautiful both in drawing and in color, which was the best work by the hand of Giovan Francesco that was ever seen; and likewise a little picture containing a Deposition from the Cross, which was presented to Signor Spitech, a man of great authority with the King of Poland, who had come at that time to some baths that are in the territory of Verona. Giovan Francesco was buried in the Madonna dell' Organo, in the Chapel of S. Niccolo', which he himself had adorned with his paintings.
Giovanni Caroto, brother of Giovan Francesco, although he followed the manner of the latter, yet gained less reputation in the practice of painting. This master painted the altarpiece in the above-mentioned Chapel of S. Niccolo', wherein is the Madonna enthroned on clouds; and below this he placed a portrait of himself, taken from life, and that of his wife Placida. He also painted some little figures of female Saints for the altar of the Schioppi in the Church of S. Bartolommeo, together with a portrait of Madonna Laura degli Schioppi, who had caused that chapel to be built, and who was much celebrated by the writers of those times no less for her virtues than for her beauty. Giovanni likewise painted a S. Martin in a little altarpiece for S. Giovanni in Fonte, near the Duomo; and he made a portrait of Messer Marc' Antonio della Torre (who afterwards became a man of learning and gave public lectures at Padua and Pavia) as a young man, and also one of Messer Giulio; which heads are in the possession of their heirs at Verona. For the Prior of S. Giorgio he painted a picture of Our Lady, which, as a good painting, has been kept ever since, as it still is, in the chamber of the Priors. And he painted another picture, representing the transformation of Actaeon into a stag, for the organist Brunetto, who afterwards presented it to Girolamo Cicogna, an excellent embroiderer, and engineer to Bishop Giberti; and it now belongs to Messer Vincenzio Cicogna, his son.
Giovanni took groundplans of all the ancient buildings of Verona, with the triumphal arches and the Colosseum. These were revised by the Veronese architect Falconetto, and they were meant for the adornment of the book of the Antiquities of Verona, which had been written after his own original research by Messer Torello Saraina, who afterwards had the book printed. This book was sent to me by Giovanni Caroto when I was in Bologna (where I was executing the work of the Refectory of S. Michele in Bosco), together with the portrait of the reverend Father, Don Cipriano da Verona, who was twice General of the Monks of Monte Oliveto; and the portrait, which was sent to me by Giovanni to the end that I might make use of it, as I did, for one of those pictures, is now in my house at Florence, with other paintings by the hands of various masters.
Finally, having lived without children and without ambition, but with good means, Giovanni died at about the age of sixty, full of gladness because he saw some of his disciples, particularly Anselmo Canneri and Paolo Veronese, already in good repute. Paolo is now working in Venice, and is held to be a good master; and Anselmo has executed many works both in oils and in fresco, and in particular at the Villa Soranza on the Tesino, and in the Palace of the Soranzi at Castelfranco, and also in many other places, but more at Vicenza than anywhere else. But to return to Giovanni; he was buried in S. Maria dell' Organo, where he had painted a chapel with his own hand.