Falconetto. Odeo Cornaro. Padua. 1524.

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FRA GIOCONDO and Other ARTISTS OF VERONA

Part 6: GIOVANNI MARIA FALCONETTO (1468-1535) and BARTOLOMEO RIDOLFI (d. after 1570)

Vasari's Lives of the Artists


BUT TO COME AT LAST to Giovan Maria [Falconetto], the brother of Giovanni Antonio. He learned the rudiments of painting from his father, whose manner he rendered no little better and grander, although even he was not a painter of much reputation, as is evident from the Chapels of the Maffei and of the Emilii in the Duomo of Verona, from the upper part of the cupola of S. Nazzaro, and from works in other places. This master, recognizing the little value of his work in painting, and delighting beyond measure in architecture, set himself with great diligence to study and draw all the antiquities in his native city of Verona. He then resolved to visit Rome, and to learn architecture from its marvellous remains, which are the true masters; and he made his way to that city, and stayed there twelve whole years. That time he spent, for the most part, in examining and drawing all those marvellous antiquities, searching out in every place all the groundplans that he could see and all the measurements that he could find. Nor did he leave anything in Rome, either buildings or their members, such as cornices, capitals, and columns, of whatsoever Order, that he did not draw with his own hand, with all the measurements; and he also drew all the sculptures which were discovered in those times, insomuch that when he returned to his own country, after those twelve years, he was rich in all the treasures of his art. And, not content with the things in the city of Rome itself, he drew all that was good and beautiful in the whole of the Roman Campagna, going even as far as the Kingdom of Naples, the Duchy of Spoleto, and other parts. It is said that Giovan Maria, being poor, and therefore having little wherewith to live or to maintain himself in Rome, used to spend two or three days every week in assisting some painter with his work; and with his earnings, since at that time masters were well paid and living was cheap, he was able to live the other days of the week, pursuing the studies of architecture. Thus, then, he drew all those antiquities as if they were complete, reconstructing them in his drawings from the parts and members that he saw, from which he imagined all the other parts of the buildings in all their perfection and integrity, and all with such true measurements and proportions, that he could not make an error in a single detail.

Having returned to Verona, and finding no opportunity of exercising himself in architecture, since his native city was in the throes of a change of government, Giovan Maria gave his attention for the time to painting, and executed many works. On the house of the Della Torre family he painted a large escutcheon crowned by some trophies; and for two German noblemen, counsellors of the Emperor Maximilian, he executed in fresco some scenes from the Scriptures on a wall of the little Church of S. Giorgio, and painted there life-size portraits of those two Germans, one kneeling on one side and one on the other. He executed a number of works at Mantua, for Signor Luigi Gonzaga; and some others at Osimo, in the March of Ancona. And while the city of Verona was under the Emperor, he painted the imperial arms on all the public buildings, and received for this from the Emperor a good salary and a patent of privilege, from which it may be seen that many favors and exemptions were granted to him, both on account of his good service in matters of art, and because he was a man of great spirit, brave and formidable in the use of arms, with which he might likewise be expected to give valiant and faithful service: and all the more because he drew after him, on account of the great credit that he had with his neighbours, the whole mass of the people who lived in the Borgo di San Zeno, a very populous part of the city, in which he had been born and had taken a wife from the family of the Provali. For these reasons, then, he had all the inhabitants of his district as his following, and was called throughout the city by no other name but that of the "Red-head of San Zeno."

Now, when the city again changed its government and returned to the rule of its ancient masters the Venetians, Giovan Maria, being known as one who had served the party of the Emperor, was forced to seek safety in flight; and he went, therefore, to Trento, where he passed some time painting certain pictures. Finally, however, when matters had mended, he made his way to Padua, where he was first received in audience and then much favored by the very reverend Monsignor Bembo, who presented him not long afterwards to the illustrious Messer Luigi Cornaro, a Venetian gentleman of lofty spirit and truly regal mind, as is proved by his many magnificent enterprises. This gentleman, who, in addition to his other truly noble qualities, delighted in the study of architecture, the knowledge of which is worthy of no matter how great a Prince, had therefore read the works of Vitruvius, Leon Batista Alberti, and others who have written on this subject, and he wished to put what he had learned into practice. And when he saw the designs of Falconetto, and perceived with what profound knowledge he spoke of these matters, and rendered clear all the difficulties that can arise through the variety of the Orders of architecture, he conceived such a love for him that he took him into his own house and kept him there as an honored guest for twenty-one years, which was the whole of the rest of Giovan Maria's life.

During this time Falconetto executed many works with the help of the same Messer Luigi. The latter, desiring to see the antiquities of Rome on the spot, even as he had seen them in the drawings of Giovan Maria, went to Rome, taking him with him; and there he devoted himself to examining everything minutely, having him always in his company. After they had returned to Padua, a beginning was made with building from the design and model of Falconetto that most beautiful and ornate loggia which is in the house of the Cornari, near the Santo; and the palace was to be erected next, after the model made by Messer Luigi himself. In this loggia the name of Giovan Maria is carved on a pilaster.

The same architect built a very large and magnificent Doric portal for the Palace of the Captain of that place; and this portal is much praised by everyone as a work of great purity. He also erected two very beautiful gates for the city, one of which, called the Porta di S. Giovanni, and leading to Vicenza, is very fine, and commodious for the soldiers who guard it; and the other, which is very well designed, was called the Porta Savonarola. He made, likewise, for the Friars of S. Dominic, the design and model of the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, and laid the foundations; and this work, as may be seen from the model, is so beautiful and well designed, that one of equal size to rival it has perhaps never been seen up to our own day in any other place. And by the same master was made the model of a most superb palace for Signor Girolamo Savorgnano, at his well fortified stronghold of Usopo in Friuli; for which all the foundations were then laid, and it had begun to rise above the ground, when, by reason of the death of that nobleman, it was left in that condition without being carried further; but if this building had been finished, it would have been a marvel.

About the same time Falconetto went to Pola, in Istria, for the sole purpose of seeing and drawing the theatre, amphitheatre, and arch that are in that most ancient city. He was the first who made drawings of theatres and amphitheatres and traced their groundplans, and those that are to be seen, particularly in the case of Verona, came from him, and were printed at the instance of others after his designs. Giovan Maria was a man of exalted mind, and, being one who had never done anything else but draw the great works of antiquity, he desired nothing save that there should be presented to him opportunities of executing works similar to those in greatness. He would sometimes make groundplans and designs for them, with the very same pains that he would have taken if he had been commissioned to put them into execution at once; and in this he lost himself so much, so to speak, that he would not deign to make designs for the private houses of gentlemen, either in the country or in the city, although he was much besought to do so.

Giovan Maria was in Rome on many occasions besides those described above; whence that journey was so familiar to him, that when he was young and vigorous he would undertake it on the slightest opportunity. Persons who are still alive relate that, falling one day into a discussion with a foreign architect, who happened to be in Verona, about the measurements of I know not what ancient cornice in Rome, after many words Giovan Maria said, "I will soon make myself certain in this matter," and then went straight to his house and set out on his way to Rome.

This master made for the Cornaro family two very beautiful designs of tombs, which were to be erected in S. Salvatore, at Venice--one for the Queen of Cyprus, a lady of that family, and the other for Cardinal Marco Cornaro, who was the first of that house to be honoured with that dignity. And in order that these designs might be carried out, a great quantity of marble was quarried at Carrara and taken to Venice, where the rough blocks still are, in the house of the same Cornari.

Giovan Maria was the first who brought the true methods of building and of good architecture to Verona, Venice, and all those parts, where before him there had not been one who knew how to make even a cornice or a capital, or understood either the measurements or the proportions of a column or of any Order of architecture, as is evident from the buildings that were erected before his day. This knowledge was afterwards much increased by Fra Giocondo, who lived about the same time, and it received its final perfection from Messer Michele San Michele, insomuch that those parts are therefore under an everlasting obligation to the people of Verona, in which city were born and lived at one and the same time these three most excellent architects. To them there then succeeded Sansovino, who, not resting content with architecture, which he found already grounded and established by the three masters mentioned above, also brought thither sculpture, to the end that by its means their buildings might have all the adornments that were proper to them. And for this a debt of gratitude--if one may use such a word--is due to the ruin of Rome, by reason of which the masters were dispersed over many places and the beauties of these arts communicated throughout all Europe.

Giovan Maria caused some works in stucco to be carried out in Venice, and taught the method of executing them. Some declare that when he was a young man he had the vaulting of the Chapel of the Santo, at Padua, decorated with stucco by Tiziano da Padova and many others, and also had similar works executed in the house of the Cornari, which are very beautiful. He taught his work to two of his sons, Ottaviano, who was, like himself, also a painter, and Provolo. Alessandro, his third son, worked in his youth at making armor, and afterwards adopted the calling of a soldier; he was three times victor in the lists, and finally, when a captain of infantry, died fighting valiantly before Turin in Piedmont, having been wounded by a harquebus ball.

Giovan Maria, on his part, after being crippled by gout, finished the course of his life at Padua, in the house of the aforesaid Messer Luigi Cornaro, who always loved him like a brother, or rather, like his own self. And to the end that there might be no separation in death between the bodies of those whose minds had been united together in the world by friendship and love of art, Messer Luigi had intended that Giovan Maria should be laid to rest beside himself in the tomb that was to be erected for his own burial, together with that most humorous poet, Ruzzante, his very familiar friend, who lived and died in his house; but I do not know whether this design of the illustrious Cornaro was ever carried into effect. Giovan Maria was a fine talker, pleasant and agreeable in conversation, and very acute in repartee, insomuch that Cornaro used to declare that a whole book could have been made with his sayings. And since, although he was crippled by gout, he lived cheerfully, he preserved his life to the age of seventy-six, dying in 1534.

He had six daughters, five of whom he gave in marriage himself, and the sixth was married by her brothers, after his death, to Bartolomeo Ridolfi of Verona, who executed many works in stucco in company with them, and was a much better master than they were. This may be seen from his works in many places, and in particular at Verona, in the house of Fiorio della Seta on the Ponte Nuovo, in which he decorated some apartments in a very beautiful manner. There are others in the house of the noble Counts Canossi, which are amazing; and such, also, are those that he executed in the house of the Murati, near S. Nazzaro; and for Signor Giovan Battista della Torre, for Cosimo Moneta, the Veronese banker, at his beautiful villa, and for many others in various places, all works of great beauty. Palladio, most excellent of architects, declares that he knows no person more marvellous in invention or better able to adorn apartments with beautiful designs in stucco, than this Bartolommeo Ridolfi. Not many years since, Spitech Giordan, a nobleman of great authority with the King of Poland, took Bartolommeo with him to that King; and there, enjoying an honorable salary, he has executed, as he still does, many works in stucco, large portraits, medallions, and many designs for palaces and other buildings, with the assistance of a son of his own, who is in no way inferior to his father.


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