Even as the works of Cimabue awakened no small marvel (he having given better design and form to the art of painting) in the men of those times, used to seeing nothing save works done after the Greek manner, even so the works in mosaic of Andrea Tafi, who lived in the same times, were admired, and he thereby held excellent, nay, divine; these people not thinking, being unused to see anything else, that better work could be done in such an art. But not being in truth the most able man in the world, and having considered that mosaic, by reason of its long life, was held in estimation more than all the other forms of painting, he went from Florence to Venice, where some Greek painters were working in S. Marco in mosaic; and becoming intimate with them, with entreaties, with money, and with promises he contrived in such a manner that he brought to Florence Maestro Apollonio, a Greek painter, who taught him to fuse the glass for mosaic and to make the cement for putting it together; and in his company he wrought the upper part of the tribune of S. Giovanni, where there are the Powers, the Thrones, and the Dominions; in which place Andrea, when more practised, afterwards made, as will be said below, the Christ that is over the side of the principal chapel. But having made mention of S. Giovanni, I will not pass by in silence that this ancient temple is all wrought, both without and within, with marbles of the Corinthian Order, and that it is not only designed and executed perfectly in all its parts and with all its proportions, but also very well adorned with doors and with windows, and enriched with two columns of granite on each wall-face, each eleven braccia high, in order to make the three spaces over which are the architraves, that rest on the said columns in order to support the whole mass of the double vaulted roof, which has been praised by modern architects as something remarkable, and deservedly, for the reason that it showed the good which that art already had in itself to Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, to Donatello, and to the other masters of those times, who learnt the art by means of this work and of the Church of S. Apostolo in Florence, a work so good in manner that it casts back to the true ancient goodness, having all the columns in sections, as it has been said above, measured and put together with so great diligence that much can be learnt by studying it in all its parts. But to be silent about many things that could be said about the good architecture of this church, I will say only that there was a great departure from this example and from this good method of working when the façade of S. Miniato sul Monte without Florence was rebuilt in marble, in honour of the conversion of the Blessed S. Giovanni Gualberto, citizen of Florence and founder of the Order of the Monks of Vallombrosa; because that and many other works that were made later were in no way similar in beauty to those mentioned. The same, in like manner, came to pass in the works of sculpture, for all those that were made in Italy by the masters of that age, as has been said in the Preface to the Lives, were very rude, as can be seen in many places, and in particular in S. Bartolommeo at Pistoia, a church of the Canons Regular, where, in a pulpit very rudely made by Guido da Como, there is the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ, with these words carved thereon by the craftsman himself in the year 1199:
SCULPTOR LAUDATUR, QUOD DOCTUS IN ARTE PROBATUR,
GUIDO DE COMO ME CUNCTIS CARMINE PROMO.
But to return to the Church of S. Giovanni; forbearing to relate its origin, by reason of its having been described by Giovanni Villani and by other writers, and having already said that from this church there came the good architecture that is to-day in use, I will add that the tribune was made later, so far as it is known, and that at the time when Alesso Baldovinetti, succeeding Lippo, a painter of Florence, restored those mosaics, it was seen that it had been in the past painted with designs in red, and all worked on stucco.
Andrea Tafi and Apollonio the Greek, then, in order to cover this tribune with mosaics, made therein a number of compartments, which, narrow at the top beside the lantern, went on widening as far as the level of the cornice below; and they divided the upper part into circles of various scenes. In the first are all the ministers and executors of the Divine Will, namely, the Angels, the Archangels, the Cherubim, the Seraphim, the Powers, the Thrones, and the Dominions. In the second row, also in mosaic, and after the Greek manner, are the principal works done by God, from the creation of light down to the Flood. In the circle that is below these, which goes on widening with the eight sides of that tribune, are all the acts of Joseph and of his twelve brethren. Below these, then, there follow as many other spaces of the same size that circle in like manner onward, wherein there is the life of Jesus Christ, also in mosaic, from the time when He was conceived in Mary's womb up to the Ascension into Heaven. Then, resuming the same order, under the three friezes there is the life of S. John the Baptist, beginning with the appearing of the Angel to Zacharias the priest, up to his beheading and to the burial that his disciples gave him. All these works, being rude, without design and without art, I do not absolutely praise; but of a truth, having regard to the method of working of that age and to the imperfection that the art of painting then showed, not to mention that the work is solid and that the pieces of the mosaic are very well put together, the end of this work is much better—or to speak more exactly, less bad—than is the beginning, although the whole, with respect to the work of to-day, moves us rather to laughter than to pleasure or marvel. Finally, over the side of the principal chapel in the said tribune, Andrea made by himself and without the help of Apollonio, to his own great credit, the Christ that is still seen there to-day, seven braccia high. Becoming famous for these works throughout all Italy, and being reputed in his own country as excellent, he well deserved to be largely honoured and rewarded. It was truly very great good-fortune, that of Andrea, to be born at a time when, all work being rudely done, there was great esteem even for that which deserved to be esteemed very little, or rather not at all. This same thing befell Fra Jacopo da Turrita, of the Order of S. Francis, seeing that, having made the works in mosaic that are in the recess behind the altar of the said S. Giovanni, notwithstanding that they were little worthy of praise he was remunerated for them with extraordinary rewards, and afterwards, as an excellent master, summoned to Rome, where he wrought certain things in the chapel of the high-altar of S. Giovanni Laterano, and in that of S. Maria Maggiore. Next, being summoned to Pisa, he made the Evangelists in the principal apse of the Duomo, with other works that are there, assisted by Andrea Tafi and by Gaddo Gaddi, and using the same manner wherein he had done his other works; but he left them little less than wholly imperfect, and they were afterwards finished by Vicino.
The works of these men, then, were prized for some time; but when the works of Giotto, as will be said in its own place, were set in comparison with those of Andrea, of Cimabue, and of the others, people recognized in part the perfection of the art, seeing the difference that there was between the early manner of Cimabue and that of Giotto, in the figures of the one and of the other and in those that their disciples and imitators made. From this beginning the others sought step by step to follow in the path of the best masters, surpassing one another happily from one day to another, so that from such depths these arts have been raised, as is seen, to the height of their perfection.
Andrea lived eighty-one years, and died before Cimabue, in 1294. And by reason of the reputation and the honour that he gained with his mosaic, seeing that he, before any other man, introduced and taught it in better manner to the men of Tuscany, he was the cause that Gaddo Gaddi, Giotto, and the others afterwards made the most excellent works of that craft which have acquired for them fame and an eternal name. After the death of Andrea there was not wanting one to magnify him with this inscription:
QUI GIACE ANDREA, CH' OPRE LEGGIADRE E BELLE
FECE IN TUTTA TOSCANA, ED ORA E ITO
A FAR VAGO LO REGNO DELLE STELLE.
A disciple of Andrea was Buonamico Buffalmacco, who, being very young, played him many tricks, and had from him the portrait of Pope Celestine IV, a Milanese, and that of Innocent IV, both one and the other of whom he portrayed afterwards in the pictures that he made in S. Paolo a Ripa d' Arno in Pisa. A disciple and perhaps a son of the same man was Antonio d'Andrea Tafi, who was a passing good painter; but I have not been able to find any work by his hand. There is only mention made of him in the old book of the Company of the Men of Design.
Deservedly, then, did Andrea Tafi gain much praise among the early masters, for the reason that, although he learnt the principles of mosaic from those whom he brought from Venice to Florence, he added nevertheless so much of the good to the art, putting the pieces together with much diligence and executing the work smooth as a table, which is of the greatest importance in mosaic, that he opened the way to good work to Giotto, among others, as will be told in his Life; and not only to Giotto, but to all those who have exercised themselves in this sort of painting from his day up to our own times. Wherefore it can be truly affirmed that those marvellous works which are being made to-day in S. Marco at Venice, and in other places, had their first beginning from Andrea Tafi.