Vasari's Lives of the Artists

SINCE THE GREEKS were such divine masters in the engraving of Oriental stones and so perfect in the cutting of cameos, it seems to me certain that I should commit no slight error were I to pass over in silence those of our own age who have imitated those marvellous intellects; although among our moderns, so it is said, there have been none who in this present and happy age have surpassed the ancients in delicacy and design, save perchance those of whom we are about to give an account. But before making a beginning, it is proper for me to discourse briefly on this art of engraving hard stones and gems, which was lost, together with the other arts of design, after the ruin of Greece and Rome. Of this work, whether engraved in intaglio or in relief, we have seen examples discovered daily among the ruins of Rome, such as cameos, cornelians, sardonyxes, and other most excellent intagli; but for many and many a year the art remained lost, there being no one who gave attention to it, and even if any work was done, it was not in such a manner as to be worthy to be taken into account. So far as is known, it is not found that anyone began to do good work or to attain to excellence until the time of Pope Martin V and Pope Paul II; after which the art continued to grow little by little down to the time of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent, who greatly delighted in the engraved cameos of the ancients. Lorenzo and his son Piero collected a great quantity of these, particularly chalcedonies, cornelians, and other kinds of the choicest engraved stones, which contained various fanciful designs; and in consequence of this, wishing to establish the art in their own city, they summoned thither masters from various countries, who, besides restoring those stones, brought to them other works which were at that time rare.

By these masters, at the instance of the Magnificent Lorenzo, this art of engraving in intaglio was taught to a young Florentine called Giovanni delle Corniole, who received that surname because he engraved them excellently well, of which we have testimony in the great numbers of them by his hand that are to be seen, both great and small, but particularly in a large one, which was a very choice intaglio, wherein he made the portrait of Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who was adored in Florence in his day on account of his preaching. A rival of Giovanni was Domenico de' Cammei, a Milanese, who, living at the same time as Duke Lodovico, Il Moro, made a portrait of him in intaglio on a balas-ruby greater than a giulio, which was an exquisite thing and one of the best works in intaglio that had been seen executed by a modern master. This art afterwards rose to even greater excellence in the pontificate of Pope Leo X, through the talents and labours of Pier Maria da Pescia, who was a most faithful imitator of the works of the ancients; and he had a rival in Michelino, who was no less able than Pier Maria in works both great and small, and was held to be a graceful master.

These men opened the way in this art, which is so difficult, for engraving in intaglio is truly working in the dark, since the craftsman can use nothing but impressions of wax, as spectacles, as it were, wherewith to see from time to time what he is doing. And finally they brought it to such a condition that Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, Valerio Vicentino, Matteo dal Nassaro, and others, were able to execute the many beautiful works of which we are about to make mention.

Let me begin, then, by saying that Giovanni Bernardi of Castel Bolognese, who worked in his youth in the service of Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, made for him, in the three years of honorable service that he gave him, many little works, of which there is no need to give any description. Of his larger works the first was an intaglio on a piece of crystal, in which he represented the whole of the action of Bastia, which was very beautiful; and then he executed the portrait of that Duke in a steel die for the purpose of making medals, with the Taking of Jesus Christ by the Multitude on the reverse. Afterwards, urged by Giovio, he went to Rome, and obtained by favor of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici and Cardinal Giovanni Salviati the privilege of taking a portrait of Clement VII, from which he made a die for medals, which was very beautiful, with Joseph revealing himself to his brethren on the reverse; and for this he was rewarded by His Holiness with the gift of a Mazza, an office which he afterwards sold in the time of Paul III, receiving two hundred crowns for it. For the same Clement he executed figures of the four Evangelists on four round crystals, which were much extolled, and gained for him the favor and friendship of many prelates, and in particular the good will of Salviati and of the above-mentioned Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, that sole refuge for men of talent, whose portrait he made on steel medals, besides executing for him on crystal the Presentation of the Daughter of Darius to Alexander the Great.

After this, when Charles V went to Bologna to be crowned, Giovanni made a portrait of him in steel, from which he struck a medal of gold. This he carried straightway to the Emperor, who gave him a hundred pistoles of gold, and sent to inquire whether he would go with him to Spain; but Giovanni refused, saying that he could not leave the service of Clement and of Cardinal Ippolito, for whom he had begun some work that was still unfinished.

Having returned to Rome, Giovanni executed for the same Cardinal de' Medici a Rape of the Sabines, which was very beautiful. And the Cardinal, knowing himself to be much indebted to him for all these things, rewarded him with a vast number of gifts and courtesies; but the greatest of all was this, that the Cardinal, when departing for France in the midst of a company of many lords and gentlemen, turned to Giovanni, who was there among the rest, and, taking from his own neck a little chain to which was attached a cameo worth more than six hundred crowns, he gave it to him, telling him that he should keep it until his return, and intending to bestow upon him afterwards such a recompense as he knew to be due to the talent of Giovanni.

On the death of the Cardinal, that cameo fell into the hands of Cardinal Farnese, for whom Giovanni afterwards executed many works in crystal, and in particular a Christ Crucified for a Cross, with a God the Father above, Our Lady and S. John at the sides, and the Magdalene at the foot; and in a triangle at the base of the Cross he made three scenes of the Passion of Christ, one in each angle. For two candelabra of silver he engraved six round crystals. In the first is the Centurion praying Christ that He should heal his son, in the second the Pool of Bethesda, in the third the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, in the fourth the Miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, in the fifth the scene of Christ driving the traders from the Temple, and in the last the Raising of Lazarus; and all were exquisite. The same Cardinal Farnese afterwards desired to have a very rich casket made of silver, and had the work executed by Manno, a Florentine goldsmith, of whom there will be an account in another place; but he entrusted all the compartments of crystal to Giovanni, who made them all full of scenes, with marble in half-relief; and he made figures of silver and ornaments in the round, and all with such diligence, that no other work of that kind was ever carried to such perfection. On the body of this casket are the following scenes, engraved in ovals with marvellous art by the hand of Giovanni: The Chase of Meleager after the Calydonian Boar, the Followers of Bacchus, a naval battle, Hercules in combat with the Amazons, and other most beautiful fantasies of the Cardinal, who caused finished designs of them to be executed by Perino del Vaga and other masters. Giovanni then executed on a crystal the triumph of the taking of Goletta, and the War of Tunis on another. For the same Cardinal he engraved, likewise on crystal, the Birth of Christ and the scenes when He prays in the Garden; when He is taken by the Jews; when He is led before Annas, Herod, and Pilate; when He is scourged and then crowned with thorns; when He carries the Cross; when He is nailed upon it and raised on high; and, finally, His divine and glorious Resurrection. All these works were not only very beautiful, but also executed with such rapidity, that every man was struck with astonishment.

Michelagnolo had made for the above-mentioned Cardinal de' Medici a drawing, which I forgot to mention before, of a Tityus whose heart was being devoured by a vulture; and Giovanni engraved this beautifully on crystal. And he did the same with another drawing by Buonarroti, in which Phaethon, not being able to manage the chariot of the Sun, has fallen into the Po, and his weeping sisters are transformed into trees.

Giovanni executed a portrait of Madama Margherita of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Charles V, who had been the wife of Duke Alessandro de' Medici, and was then the consort of Duke Ottavio Farnese; and this he did in competition with Valerio Vicentino. For these works executed for Cardinal Farnese, he received from that lord a reward in the form of the office of Giannizzero, from which he drew a good sum of money; and, in addition, he was so beloved by that Cardinal that he obtained a great number of other favors from him, nor did the Cardinal ever pass through Faenza, where Giovanni had built a most commodious house, without going to take up his quarters with him. Having thus settled at Faenza, in order to rest after a life of much labour in the world, Giovanni remained there ever afterwards; and his first wife, by whom he had not had children, being dead, he took a second. By her he had two sons and a daughter; and with them he lived in contentment, being well provided with landed property and other revenues, which yielded him more than four hundred crowns, until he came to the age of sixty, when he rendered up his soul to God on the day of Pentecost, in the year 1555.

Matteo dal Nassaro, who was born in Verona, and was the son of Jacopo dal Nassaro, a shoemaker, gave much attention in his early childhood not only to design, but also to music, in which he became excellent, having had as his masters in that study Marco Carra' and Il Tromboncino, both Veronese, who were then in the service of the Marquis of Mantua. In matters of intaglio he was much assisted by two Veronese of honorable family, with whom he was continually associated. One of these was Niccolo' Avanzi, who, working privately in Rome, executed cameos, cornelians, and other stones, which were taken to various Princes; and there are persons who remember to have seen a lapis lazuli by his hand, three fingers in breadth, containing the Nativity of Christ, with many figures, which was sold as a choice work to the Duchess of Urbino. The other was Galeazzo Mondella, who, besides engraving gems, drew very beautifully.

After Matteo had learned from these two masters all that they knew, it chanced that there fell into his hands a beautiful piece of green jasper, marked with red spots, as the good pieces are; and he engraved in it a Deposition from the Cross with such diligence, that he made the wounds come in those parts of the jasper that were spotted with the color of blood, which caused that work to be a very rare one, and brought him much commendation. That jasper was sold by Matteo to the Marchioness Isabella d'Este.

He then went to France, taking with him many works by his own hand which might serve to introduce him to the Court of King Francis I; and when he had been presented to that Sovereign, who always held in estimation every manner of man of talent, the King, after taking many of the stones engraved by him, received him into his service and ordained him a good salary; and he held Matteo dear no less because he was an excellent musician and could play very well upon the lute, than for his profession of engraving stones. Of a truth, there is nothing that does more to kindle men's minds with love for the arts than to see them appreciated and rewarded by Princes and noblemen, as has always been done in the past, and is done more than ever at the present day, by the illustrious House of Medici, and as was also done by that truly magnanimous Sovereign, King Francis.

Matteo, thus employed in the service of that King, executed many rare works, not only for His Majesty, but also for almost all the most noble lords and barons of the Court, of whom there was scarcely one who did not have some work by his hand, since it was much the custom at that time to wear cameos and other suchlike gems on the neck and in the cap. For the King he made an altar-piece for the altar of the chapel which His Majesty always took with him on his journeys; and this was full of figures of gold, partly in the round and partly in half-relief, with many engraved gems distributed over the limbs of those figures. He also engraved many pieces of crystal in intaglio, impressions [Pg 81] of which in sulphur and gesso are to be seen in many places, and particularly in Verona, where there are marvellous representations of all the planets, and a Venus with a Cupid that has the back turned, which could not be more beautiful. In a very fine chalcedony, found in a river, Matteo engraved divinely well the head of a Deianira almost in full-relief, wearing the lion's skin, the surface being tawny in color; and he turned to such good advantage a vein of red that was in that stone, representing with it the inner side of the lion's skin at its junction with the head, that the skin had the appearance of one newly flayed. Another spot of color he used for the hair, and the white for the face and breast, and all with admirable mastery. This head came into the possession of King Francis, together with the other things; and there is an impression of it at the present day in Verona, which belongs to the goldsmith Zoppo, who was Matteo's disciple.

Matteo was a man of great spirit and generosity, insomuch that he would rather have given his works away than sold them for a paltry price. Wherefore when a baron, for whom he had made a cameo of some value, wished to pay him a wretched sum for it, Matteo besought him straitly that he should accept it as a present. To this the other would not consent, and yet wished to have it for the same miserable price; whereupon Matteo, flying into a rage, crushed it to powder with a hammer in his presence. For the same King Matteo executed many cartoons for tapestries, and with these, to please His Majesty, he was obliged to go to Flanders, and to stay there until they had been woven in silk and gold; which being finished and taken to France, they were held to be very beautiful. Finally, Matteo returned to his own country, as almost all men do, taking with him many rare things from those foreign parts, and in particular some landscapes on canvas painted in Flanders in oils and in gouache, and executed by very able hands, which are still preserved and treasured in Verona, in memory of him, by Signor Luigi and Signor Girolamo Stoppi. Having returned to Verona, Matteo took up his abode in a cave hollowed out under a rocky cliff, above which is the garden of the Frati Ingiesuati—a place which, besides being very warm in winter and very cool in summer, commands a most beautiful view. But he was not able to enjoy that habitation, thus contrived after his own fancy, as long as he would have liked, for King Francis, as soon as he had been released from his captivity, sent a special messenger to recall Matteo to France, and to pay him his salary even for all the time that he had been in Verona; and when he had arrived there, the King made him master of dies for the Mint. Taking a wife in France, therefore, Matteo settled down to live in those parts, since such was the pleasure of the King his master. By that wife he had some children, but all so unlike himself that he had little satisfaction from them.

Matteo was so gentle and courteous, that he welcomed with extraordinary warmth anyone who arrived in France, not only from his own city of Verona, but from every part of Lombardy. His dearest friend in those regions was Paolo Emilio of Verona, who wrote the history of France in the Latin tongue. Matteo taught many disciples, among them a fellow-Veronese, the brother of Domenico Brusciasorzi, two of his nephews, who went to Flanders, and many other Italians and Frenchmen, of whom there is no need to make mention. And finally he died, not long after the death of King Francis of France.

But to come at length to the marvellous art of Valerio Vicentino, of whom we have now to speak: this master executed so many works, both great and small, either in intaglio or in relief, and all with such a finish and such facility, that it is a thing incredible. If Nature had made Valerio a good master of design, even as she made him most excellent in engraving, in which he executed his works with extraordinary patience, diligence, and rapidity, he would not merely have equalled the ancients, as he did, but would have surpassed them by a great measure; and even so he had such judgment, that he always availed himself in his works of the designs of others or of the intagli of the ancients.

Valerio fashioned for Pope Clement VII a casket entirely of crystal, wrought with admirable mastery, for which he received two thousand crowns of gold from that Pontiff in return for his labor. In those crystals Valerio engraved the whole Passion of Jesus Christ, after the designs of others; and that casket was afterwards presented by Pope Clement to King Francis at Nice, at the time when his niece went to be married to the Duke of Orleans, who afterwards became King Henry. For the same Pope Valerio made some most beautiful paxes, and a divine cross of crystal, and likewise dies for striking medals, containing the portrait of Pope Clement, with very beautiful reverses; and through him that art produced in his day many masters, both from Milan and from other parts, who had grown to such a number before the sack of Rome, that it was a marvel. He made the medals of the twelve Emperors, with their reverses, copying the most beautiful antiques, with a great number of Greek medals; and he engraved so many other works in crystal, that the shops of the goldsmiths, or rather, the whole world, may be seen to be full of impressions taken in gesso, sulphur, or other compositions, from the intagli in which he made scenes, figures, or heads. He had, indeed, a skill of hand so extraordinary, that there was never anyone in his profession who executed more works than Valerio.

He also fashioned many vases of crystal for Pope Clement, who presented some to various Princes, and others were placed in the Church of S. Lorenzo at Florence, together with many vases that were formerly in the Palace of the Medici and had belonged to the elder Lorenzo, the Magnificent, and to other members of that most illustrious family, that they might serve to contain the relics of many Saints, which that Pontiff presented to that church in memory of himself. It would not be possible to find anything more varied than the curves of those vases, some of which are of sardonyx, agate, amethyst, and lapis-lazuli, and some of plasma, heliotrope, jasper, crystal, and cornelian, so that in point of value or beauty nothing more could be desired. For Pope Paul III he made a cross and two candelabra, likewise of crystal, engraved with scenes of the Passion of Jesus Christ in various compartments; with a vast number of stones, both great and small, of which it would take too long to make mention. And in the collection of Cardinal Farnese may be seen many things by the hand of Valerio, who left no fewer finished works than did the above-named Giovanni. At the age of seventy-eight he performed miracles, so sure were his eye and hand; and he taught his art to a daughter of his own, who works very well. He so delighted to lay his hands on antiquities in marble, impressions in gesso of works both ancient and modern, and drawings and pictures by rare masters, that he shrank from no expense; wherefore his house at Vicenza is adorned by such an abundance of various things, that it is a marvel. It is clearly evident that when a man bears love to art, it never leaves him until he is in the grave; whence he gains praise and his reward during his lifetime, and makes himself immortal after death. Valerio was well remunerated for his labors, and received offices and many benefits from those Princes whom he served; and thus those who survived him are able, thanks to him, to maintain an honourable state. And in the year 1546, when, by reason of the infirmities that old age brings in its train, he could no longer attend to his art, or even live, he rendered up his soul to God.

At Parma, in times past, lived Marmita, who gave his attention for a period to painting, and then turned to intaglio, in which he imitated the ancients very closely. Many most beautiful works by his hand are to be seen, and he taught the art to a son of his own, called Lodovico, who lived for a long time in Rome with Cardinal Giovanni de' Salviati. Lodovico executed for that Cardinal four ovals of crystal engraved with figures of great excellence, which were placed on a very beautiful casket of silver that was afterwards presented to the most illustrious Signora Leonora of Toledo, Duchess of Florence. He made, among many other works, a cameo with a most beautiful head of Socrates, and he was a great master at counterfeiting ancient medals, from which he gained extraordinary advantage.

There followed, in Florence, Domenico di Polo, a Florentine and an excellent master of intaglio, who was the disciple of Giovanni delle Corniole, of whom we have spoken. In our own day this Domenico executed a divine portrait of Duke Alessandro de' Medici, from which he made dies in steel and most beautiful medals, with a reverse containing a Florence. He also made a portrait of Duke Cosimo in the first year after his election to the government of Florence, with the sign of Capricorn on the reverse; and many other little works in intaglio, of which there is no need to make record. He died at the age of sixty-five.

Domenico, Valerio, Marmita, and Giovanni da Castel Bolognese being dead, there remained many who have surpassed them by a great measure; one in Venice, for example, being Luigi Anichini of Ferrara, who, with the delicacy of his engraving and the sharpness of his finish, has produced works that are marvellous. But far beyond all others in grace, excellence, perfection, and versatility, has soared Alessandro Cesati, surnamed Il Greco, who has executed cameos in relief and gems in intaglio in so beautiful a manner, as well as dies of steel in incavo, and has used the burin with such supreme diligence and with such mastery over the most delicate refinements of his art, that nothing better could be imagined. Whoever wishes to be amazed by his miraculous powers, should study a medal that he made for Pope Paul III, with his portrait on one side, which has all the appearance of life, and on the reverse Alexander the Great, who has thrown himself at the feet of the High Priest of Jerusalem, and is doing him homage—figures which are so marvellous that it would not be possible to do anything better. And Michelagnolo Buonarroti himself, looking at them in the presence of Giorgio Vasari, said that the hour of death had come upon the art, for nothing better could ever be seen. This Alessandro made the medal of Pope Julius III for the holy year of 1550, with a reverse showing the prisoners that were released in the days of the ancients at times of jubilee, which was a rare and truly beautiful medal; with many other dies and portraits for the Mint of Rome, which he kept busily employed for many years. He executed portraits of Pier Luigi Farnese, Duke of Castro, and his son, Duke Ottavio; and he made a portrait of Cardinal Farnese in a medal, a very choice work, the head being of gold and the ground of silver. The same master engraved for Cardinal Farnese in intaglio, on a cornelian larger than a giulio, a head of King Henry of France, which has been considered in point of design, grace, excellence, and perfection of finish, one of the best modern intagli that have ever been seen. There may also be seen many other stones engraved by his hand, in the form of cameos; truly perfect is a nude woman wrought with great art, and another in which is a lion, and likewise one of a boy, with many small ones, of which there is no need to speak; but that which surpassed all the others was the head of the Athenian Phocion, which is marvellous, and the most beautiful cameo that is to be seen.

A master who gives his attention to cameos at the present day is Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi, an excellent craftsman of Milan, who, in addition to the various beautiful works that he has engraved in relief and in intaglio, has executed for the most illustrious Duke Cosimo de' Medici a very large cameo, one-third of a braccio in height and the same in width, in which he has cut two figures from the waist upwards—namely, His Excellency and the most illustrious Duchess Leonora, his consort, who are both holding with their hands a medallion containing a Florence, and beside them are portraits from life of the Prince Don Francesco, Don Giovanni the Cardinal, Don Garzia, Don Ernando, and Don Pietro, together with Donna Isabella and Donna Lucrezia, all their children. It would not be possible to find a more amazing or a larger work in cameo than this; and since it surpasses all the other cameos and smaller works that he has made, I shall make no further mention of them, for they are all to be seen.

Cosimo da Trezzo, also, has executed many works worthy of praise in this profession, and has won much favour on account of his rare gifts from Philip, the great Catholic King of Spain, who retains him about his person, honouring and rewarding him in return for his ability in his vocation of engraving in intaglio and in relief. He has no equal in making portraits from life; and in other kinds of work, as well as in that, his talent is extraordinary.

Of the Milanese Filippo Negrolo, who worked at chasing arms of iron with foliage and figures, I shall say nothing, since copper-engravings of his works, which have given him very great fame, may be seen about. By Gasparo and Girolamo Misuroni, engravers of Milan, have been seen most beautiful vases and tazze of crystal. For Duke Cosimo, in particular, they have executed two that are marvellous; besides which, they have made out of a piece of heliotrope a vase extraordinary in size and admirable for its engraving, and also a large vase of lapis-lazuli, which deserves infinite praise. Jacopo da Trezzo practises the same profession in Milan; and these men, in truth, have brought great beauty and facility to this art. Many masters could I mention who, in executing in incavo heads and reverses for medals, have equalled and even surpassed the ancients; as, for example, Benvenuto Cellini, who, during the time when he exercised the goldsmith's art in Rome under Pope Clement, made two medals with a head of Pope Clement that is a living likeness, and on the reverse of one a figure of Peace that has bound Fury and is burning her arms, and on the other Moses striking the rock and causing water to flow to quench the thirst of his people: beyond which it is not possible to go in that art. And the same might be said of the coins and medals that Benvenuto afterwards made for Duke Alessandro in Florence.

Of the Chevalier, Leone Aretino, who has done equally well in the same art, and of the works that he has made and still continues to make, there will be an account in another place.

The Roman Pietro Paolo Galeotto, also, has executed for Duke Cosimo, as he still does, medals with portraits of that lord, dies for coins, and works in tarsia, imitating the methods of Maestro Salvestro, a most excellent master, who produced marvellous works in that profession at Rome.

Pastorino da Siena, likewise, has executed so many heads from life, that he may be said to have made portraits of every kind of person in the whole world, great nobles, followers of the arts, and many people of low degree. He discovered a kind of hard stucco for making portraits, wherewith he gave them the coloring of nature, with the tints of the beard, hair, and flesh, so that they had the appearance of life itself; but he deserves much more praise for his work in steel, in which he has made excellent dies for medals.

It would take too long if I were to speak of all those who execute portrait medals of wax, seeing that every goldsmith at the present day makes them, and a number of gentlemen have given their attention to this, and still do so; such as Giovan Battista Sozzini at Siena, Rosso de' Giugni at Florence, and very many others, of whom I shall not now say more. And, to bring this account to conclusion, I return to the steel engravers, of whom one is Girolamo Fagiuoli of Bologna, a master of chasing and of copper-engraving, and another, at Florence, is Domenico Poggini, who has made, as he still does, dies for the Mint, with medals of Duke Cosimo, and who also executes statues of marble, imitating, in so far as he is able, the rarest and most excellent masters who have ever produced choice works in these professions.

Return to Vasari's Lives of the Artists

This Web Site Created and Maintained by Adrienne DeAngelis