Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects Vol 1

Afterwards, Giotto having returned to Florence, Robert, King of Naples, wrote to Charles, King of Calabria, his first-born son, who chanced to be in Florence, that he should send him Giotto to Naples at all costs, for the reason that, having finished the building of S. Chiara, a convent of nuns and a royal church, he wished that it should be adorned by him with noble paintings. Giotto, then, hearing himself summoned by a King so greatly renowned and famous, went more than willingly to serve him, and, on arriving, painted many scenes from the Old Testament and the New in some chapels of the said convent. And the scenes from the Apocalypse that he made in one of the said chapels are said to have been inventions of Dante; and this may be also true of those at Assisi, so greatly renowned, whereof there has been enough said above. And although Dante at that time was dead, they may have held discourse on these matters, as often comes to pass between friends.

(Florence: Accademia 103. Panel)

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But to return to Naples; Giotto made many works in the Castel dell'Uovo, and in particular the chapel, which much pleased that King, by whom he was so greatly beloved that many times, while working, Giotto found himself entertained by the King in person, who took pleasure in seeing him at work and in hearing his discourse. And Giotto, who had ever some jest on his tongue and some witty repartee in readiness, would entertain him with his hand, in painting, and with pleasant discourse, in his jesting. Wherefore, the King saying to him one day that he wished to make him the first man in Naples, Giotto answered, "And for that end am I lodged at the Porta Reale, in order to be the first in Naples." Another time, the King saying to him, "Giotto, an I were you, now that it is hot, I would give over painting for a little;" he answered, "And I, i' faith, an I were you." Being then very dear to the King, he made for him a good number of pictures in a hall (that King Alfonso I pulled down in order to make the Castle), and also in the Incoronata; and among others in the said hall were the portraits of many famous men, and among them that of Giotto himself. Now the King having one day out of caprice besought him to paint his realm for him, Giotto, so it is said, painted for him an ass saddled, that had at its feet a new pack-saddle, and was sniffing at it and making semblance of desiring it; and on both the old pack-saddle and the new one were the royal crown and the sceptre of sovereignty; wherefore Giotto, being asked by the King what such a picture signified, answered that such were his subjects and such the kingdom, wherein every day a new lord was desired.

Departing from Naples in order to go to Rome, Giotto stopped at Gaeta, where he was forced to paint some scenes from the Old Testament in the Nunziata, which are now spoilt by time, but yet not so completely that there may not be seen in them very well the portrait of Giotto himself, near a large and very beautiful Crucifix. This work finished, not being able to refuse this to Signor Malatesta, he first occupied himself in his service for some days in Rome, and afterwards he betook himself to Rimini, of which city the said Malatesta was lord; and there, in the Church of S. Francesco, he made very many pictures, which were afterwards thrown to the ground and destroyed by Gismondo, son of Pandolfo Malatesta, who rebuilt the whole said church anew. In the cloisters of the said place, also, opposite to the wall of the church, he painted in fresco the story of the Blessed Michelina, which was one of the most beautiful and excellent works that Giotto ever made, by reason of the many and beautiful ideas that he had in working thereon; for besides the beauty of the draperies, and the grace and vivacity of the heads, which are miraculous, there is a young woman therein as beautiful as ever a woman can be, who, in order to clear herself from the false charge of adultery, is taking oath over a book in a most wonderful attitude, holding her eyes fixed on those of her husband, who was making her take the oath by reason of mistrust in a black son born from her, whom he could in no way bring himself to believe to be his. She, even as the husband is showing disdain and distrust in his face, is making clear with the purity of her brow and of her eyes, to those who are most intently gazing on her, her innocence and simplicity, and the wrong that he is doing to her in making her take oath and in proclaiming her wrongly as a harlot.

In like manner, very great feeling was that which he expressed in a sick man stricken with certain sores, seeing that all the women who are round him, overcome by the stench, are making certain grimaces of disgust, the most gracious in the world. The foreshortenings, next, that are seen in another picture among a quantity of beggars that he portrayed, are very worthy of praise and should be held in great price among craftsmen, because from them there came the first beginning and method of making them, not to mention that it cannot be said that they are not passing good for early work. But above everything else that is in this work, most marvellous is the gesture that the aforesaid Blessed Michelina is making towards certain usurers, who are disbursing to her the money from the sale of her possessions for giving to the poor, seeing that in her there is shown contempt of money and of the other things of this earth, which appear to disgust her, and, in them, the personification of human avarice and greed. Very beautiful, too, is the figure of one who, while counting the money, appears to be making sign to the notary who is writing, considering that, although he has his eyes on the notary, he is yet keeping his hands on the money, thus revealing his love of it, his avarice, and his distrust. In like manner, the three figures that are upholding the garments of S. Francis in the sky, representing Obedience, Patience, and Poverty, are worthy of infinite praise, above all because there is in the manner of the draperies a natural flow of folds that gives us to know that Giotto was born in order to give light to painting. Besides this, he portrayed Signor Malatesta on a ship in this work, so naturally that he appears absolutely alive; and some mariners and other people, in their promptness, their expressions, and their attitudes—and particularly a figure that is speaking with some others and spits into the sea, putting one hand up to his face—give us to know the excellence of Giotto. And certainly, among all the works of painting made by this master, this may be said to be one of the best, for the reason that there is not one figure in so great a number that does not show very great craftsmanship, and that is not placed in some characteristic attitude. And therefore it is no marvel that Signor Malatesta did not fail to reward him magnificently and to praise him.

Having finished his labours for that lord, he complied with the request of a Prior of Florence who was then at S. Cataldo d'Arimini, and made a S. Thomas Aquinas, reading to his friars, without the door of the church. Departing thence, he returned to Ravenna and painted a chapel in fresco in S. Giovanni Evangelista, which is much extolled. Having next returned to Florence with very great honour and ample means, he painted a Crucifix on wood and in distemper for S. Marco, larger than life and on a ground of gold, which was placed on the right hand in the church. And he made another like it in S. Maria Novella, whereon Puccio Capanna, his pupil, worked in company with him; and this is still to-day over the principal door, on the right as you enter the church, over the tomb of the Gaddi. And in the same church, over the tramezzo,[11] he made a S. Louis for Paolo di Lotto Ardinghelli, and at the foot thereof the portrait of him and of his wife, from the life.

Afterwards, in the year 1327, Guido Tarlati da Pietramala, Bishop and Lord of Arezzo, died at Massa di Maremma in returning from Lucca, where he had been to visit the Emperor, and after his body had been brought to Arezzo and the most magnificent funeral honours had been paid to it, Piero Saccone and Dolfo da Pietramala, the brother of the Bishop, determined that there should be made for him a tomb in marble worthy of the greatness of so notable a man, who had been a lord both spiritual and temporal, and head of the Ghibelline party in Tuscany. Wherefore, having written to Giotto that he should make the design of a tomb very rich and with all possible adornment, and having sent him the measurements, they prayed him afterwards that he should place at their disposal the sculptor who was the most excellent, according to his opinion, of all that were in Italy, because they were relying wholly on his judgment. Giotto, who was most courteous, made the design and sent it to them; and after this design, as will be told in the proper place, the said tomb was made. And because the said Piero Saccone had infinite love for the talent of this man, having taken Borgo a San Sepolcro no long time after he had received the said design, he brought from there to Arezzo a panel with little figures by the hand of Giotto, which afterwards fell to pieces; and Baccio Gondi, nobleman of Florence, a lover of these noble arts and of every talent, being Commissary of Arezzo, sought out the pieces of this panel with great diligence, and having found some brought them to Florence, where he holds them in great veneration, together with some other works that he has by the hand of the same Giotto, who wrought so many that their number is almost beyond belief. And not many years ago, chancing to be at the Hermitage of Camaldoli, where I have wrought many works for those reverend Fathers, I saw in a cell, whither it had been brought by the Very Reverend Don Antonio da Pisa, then General of the Congregation of Camaldoli, a very beautiful little Crucifix on a ground of gold, with the name of Giotto in his own hand; which Crucifix, according to what I hear from the Reverend Don Silvano Razzi, monk of Camaldoli, is kept to-day in the cell of the Superior of the Monastery of the Angeli, as being a very rare work and by the hand of Giotto, in company with a most beautiful little picture by Raffaello da Urbino.

For the Frati Umiliati of Ognissanti in Florence, Giotto painted a chapel and four panels, in one of which there was the Madonna, with many angels round her and the Child in her arms, and a large Crucifix on wood, whereof Puccio Capanna took the design and wrought many of them afterwards throughout all Italy, having much practice in the manner of Giotto. In the tramezzo[12] of the said church, when this book of the Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects was printed the first time, there was a little panel in distemper painted by Giotto with infinite diligence, wherein was the death of Our Lady, with the Apostles round her and with a Christ who is receiving her soul into His arms. This work was much praised by the craftsmen of painting, and in particular by Michelagnolo Buonarroti, who declared, as was said another time, that the quality of this painted story could not be more like to the truth than it is. This little panel, I say, having come into notice from the time when the book of these Lives was first published, was afterwards carried off by someone unknown, who, perhaps out of love for art and out of piety, it seeming to him that it was little esteemed, became, as said our poet, impious. And truly it was a miracle in those times that Giotto had so great loveliness in his painting, considering, above all, that he learnt the art in a certain measure without a master.

After these works, in the year 1334, on July 9, he put his hand to the Campanile of S. Maria del Fiore, whereof the foundation was a platform of strong stone, in a pit sunk twenty braccia deep from which water and gravel had been removed; upon this platform he made a good mass of concrete, that reached to the height of twelve braccia above the first foundation, and the rest—namely, the other eight braccia—he caused to be made of masonry. And at this beginning and foundation there officiated the Bishop of the city, who, in the presence of all the clergy and all the magistrates, solemnly laid the first stone. This work, then, being carried on with the said model, which was in the German manner that was in use in those times, Giotto designed all the scenes that were going into the ornamentation, and marked out the model with white, black, and red colours in all those places wherein the marbles and the friezes were to go, with much diligence. The circuit round the base was one hundred braccia—that is, twenty-five braccia for each side—and the height, one hundred and forty-four braccia. And if that is true, and I hold it as of the truest, which Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti has left in writing, Giotto made not only the model of this campanile, but also part of those scenes in marble wherein are the beginnings of all the arts, in sculpture and in relief. And the said Lorenzo declares that he saw models in relief by the hand of Giotto, and in particular those of these works; which circumstance can be easily believed, design and invention being father and mother of all these arts and not of one alone. This campanile was destined, according to the model of Giotto, to have a spire, or rather a pyramid, four-sided and fifty braccia high, as a completion to what is now seen; but, for the reason that it was a German idea and in an old manner, modern architects have never done aught but advise that it should not be made, the work seeming to be better as it is. For all these works Giotto was not only made citizen of Florence, but was given a pension of one hundred florins yearly by the Commune of Florence, which was something very great in those times; and he was made overseer over this work, which was carried on after him by Taddeo Gaddi, for he did not live so long as to be able to see it finished.


(After the fresco by Giotto. Padua: Arena Chapel)

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Now, while this work continued to be carried forward, he made a panel for the Nuns of S. Giorgio, and three half-length figures in an arch over the inner side of the door of the Badia in Florence, now covered with whitewash in order to give more light to the church. And in the Great Hall of the Podestà of Florence he painted the Commune (an idea stolen by many), representing it as sitting in the form of Judge, sceptre in hand, and over its head he placed the balanced scales as symbol of the just decisions administered by it, accompanying it with four Virtues, that are, Strength with courage, Wisdom with the laws, Justice with arms, and Temperance with words; this work is beautiful as a picture, and characteristic and appropriate in invention.

Afterwards, having gone again to Padua, besides many other works and chapels that he painted there, he made a Mundane Glory in the precincts of the Arena, which gained him much honour and profit. In Milan, also, he wrought certain works, that are scattered throughout that city and held most beautiful even to this day. Finally, having returned from Milan, no long time passed before he gave up his soul to God, having wrought so many most beautiful works in his life, and having been no less good as Christian than he was excellent as painter. He died in the year 1336, to the great grief of all his fellow-citizens—nay, of all those who had known him or even only heard his name—and he was buried, even as his virtues deserved, with great honour, having been loved by all while he lived, and in particular by the men excellent in all the professions, seeing that, besides Dante, of whom we have spoken above, he was much honoured by Petrarca, both he and his works, so greatly that it is read in Petrarca's testament that he left to Signor Francesco da Carrara, Lord of Padua, among other things held by him in the highest veneration, a picture by the hand of Giotto containing a Madonna, as something rare and very dear to him. And the words of that clause in the testament run thus:

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(After the fresco of the School of Giotto.
Assisi: Lower Church of S. Francesco)

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"Transeo ad dispositionem aliarum rerum; et prædicto igitur domino meo Paduano, quia et ipse per Dei gratiam non eget, et ego nihil aliud habeo dignum se, mitto tabulam meam sive historiam Beatæ Virginis Mariæ, opus Jocti pictoris egregii, quæ mihi ab amico meo Michæle Vannis de Florentia missa est, in cujus pulchritudinem ignorantes non intelligunt, magistri autem artis stupent; hanc iconam ipsi domino lego, ut ipsa Virgo benedicta sibi sit propitia apud filium suum Jesum Christum."

And the same Petrarch, in a Latin epistle in the fifth book of his Familiar Letters, says these words:

"Atque (ut a veteribus ad nova, ab externis ad nostra transgrediar) duos ego novi pictores egregios, nec formosos, Joctum Florentinum civem, cujus inter modernos fama ingens est, et Simonem Senensem. Novi scultores aliquot," etc.

Giotto was buried in S. Maria del Fiore, on the left side as you enter the church, where there is a slab of white marble in memory of so great a man. And, as was told in the Life of Cimabue, a commentator of Dante, who lived at the same time as Giotto, said: "Giotto was and is the most eminent among painters in the same city of Florence, and his works bear testimony for him in Rome, in Naples, in Avignon, in Florence, in Padua, and in many other parts of the world."

His disciples were Taddeo Gaddi, held by him at baptism, as has been said, and Puccio Capanna of Florence, who, working at Rimini in the Church of S. Cataldo, belonging to the Preaching Friars, painted perfectly in fresco the hull of a ship which appears to be sinking in the sea, with men who are throwing things into the sea, one of whom is Puccio himself portrayed from life among a good number of mariners. The same man painted many works after the death of Giotto in the Church of S. Francesco at Assisi, and in the Church of S. Trinita in Florence, near the side-door towards the river, he painted the Chapel of the Strozzi, wherein is the Coronation of the Madonna in fresco, with a choir of angels which draw very much to the manner of Giotto; and on the sides are stories of S. Lucia, very well wrought. In the Badia of Florence he painted the Chapel of S. Giovanni Evangelista, belonging to the family of Covoni, beside the sacristry; and in Pistoia he wrought in fresco the principal chapel of the Church of S. Francesco and the Chapel of S. Lodovico, with the stories of those Saints, passing well painted. In the middle of the Church of S. Domenico, in the same city, there are a Crucifix, a Madonna, and a S. John, wrought with much sweetness, and at their feet a complete human skeleton, wherein (and this was something unusual in those times) Puccio showed that he had sought to find the foundations of art. In this work there is read his name, written by himself in this fashion: PUCCIO DI FIORENZA ME FECE. In the arch over the door of S. Maria Nuova in the said church there are three half-length figures by his hand, Our Lady with the Child in her arms, and S. Peter on one side, and on the other S. Francis. He also painted in the aforesaid city of Assisi, in the lower Church of S. Francesco, some scenes of the Passion of Jesus Christ in fresco, with good and very resolute mastery, and in the chapel of the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli he wrought in fresco a Christ in Glory, with the Virgin praying to Him for the Christian people; this work, which is passing good, has been all blackened by the smoke of the lamps and the candles that are burning there continually in great quantity. And in truth, in so far as it can be judged, Puccio had the manner and the whole method of working of his master Giotto, and knew how to make good use of it in the works that he wrought, even if, as some have it, he did not live long, having fallen sick and died by reason of labouring too much in fresco. By his hand, in so far as is known, is the Chapel of S. Martino in the same church, with the stories of that Saint, wrought in fresco for Cardinal Gentile. There is seen, also, in the middle of the street called Portica, a Christ at the Column, and in a square picture there is Our Lady, with S. Catherine and S. Clara, one on either side of her. There are works by his hand scattered about in many other places, such as a panel with the Passion of Christ, and stories of S. Francis, in the tramezzo[13] of the church in Bologna; and many others, in short, that are passed by for the sake of brevity. I will say, indeed, that in Assisi, where most of his works are, and where it appears to me that he assisted Giotto in painting, I have found that they hold him as their fellow-citizen, and that there are still to-day in that city some of the family of the Capanni. Wherefore it may easily be believed that he was born in Florence, having written so himself, and that he was a disciple of Giotto, but that afterwards he took a wife in Assisi, that there he had children, and that now he has descendants there. But because it is of little importance to know this exactly, it is enough to say that he was a good master.

Likewise a disciple of Giotto and a very masterly painter was Ottaviano da Faenza, who painted many works at Ferrara in S. Giorgio, the seat of the Monks of Monte Oliveto; and in Faenza, where he lived and died, he painted, in the arch over the door of S. Francesco, a Madonna, S. Peter and S. Paul, and many other works in his said birthplace and in Bologna.

A disciple of Giotto, also, was Pace da Faenza, who stayed with him long and assisted him in many works; and in Bologna there are some scenes in fresco by his hand on the façade of S. Giovanni Decollato. This Pace was an able man, particularly in making little figures, as can be seen to this day in the Church of S. Francesco at Forlì, in a Tree of the Cross, and in a little panel in distemper, wherein is the life of Christ, with four little scenes from the life of Our Lady, all very well wrought. It is said that he wrought in fresco, in the Chapel of S. Antonio at Assisi, some stories of the life of that Saint, for a Duke of Spoleto who is buried in that place together with his son, both having died fighting in certain suburbs of Assisi, according to what is seen in a long inscription that is on the sarcophagus of the said tomb. In the old book of the Company of Painters it is found that the same man had another disciple, Francesco, called di Maestro Giotto, of whom I have nothing else to relate.

Guglielmo of Forlì was also a disciple of Giotto, and besides many other works he painted the chapel of the high-altar in S. Domenico at Forlì, his native city. Disciples of Giotto, also, were Pietro Laurati and Simon Memmi of Siena, Stefano, a Florentine, and Pietro Cavallini, a Roman; but, seeing that of all these there is account in the Life of each one of them, let it suffice to have said in this place that they were disciples of Giotto, who drew very well for his time and for that manner, whereunto witness is borne by many sheets of parchment drawn by his hand in water-colour, outlined with the pen, in chiaroscuro, with the high lights in white, which are in our book of drawings, and are truly a marvel in comparison with those of the masters that lived before him.

Giotto, as it has been said, was very ingenious and humorous, and very witty in his sayings, whereof there is still vivid memory in that city; for besides that which Messer Giovanni Boccaccio wrote about him, Franco Sacchetti, in his three hundred Stories, relates many of them that are very beautiful. Of these I will not forbear to write down some with the very words of Franco himself, to the end that, together with the story itself, there may be seen certain modes of speech and expressions of those times. He says in one, then, to give it its heading:

"To Giotto, a great painter, is given a buckler to paint by a man of small account. He, making a jest of it, paints it in such a fashion that the other is put to confusion."

The story: "Everyone must have heard already who was Giotto, and how great a painter he was above every other. A clownish fellow, having heard his fame and having need, perchance for doing watch and ward, to have a buckler of his painted, went off incontinent to the shop of Giotto, with one who carried his buckler behind him, and, arriving where he found Giotto, said, 'God save thee, master, I would have thee paint my arms on this buckler.' Giotto, considering the man and the way of him, said no other word save this, 'When dost thou want it?' And he told him; and Giotto said, 'Leave it to me'; and off he went. And Giotto, being left alone, ponders to himself, 'What meaneth this? Can this fellow have been sent to me in jest? Howsoever it may be, never was there brought to me a buckler to paint, and he who brings it is a simple manikin and bids me make him his arms as if he were of the blood-royal of France; i' faith, I must make him a new fashion of arms.' And so, pondering within himself, he put the said buckler before him, and, having designed what seemed good to him, bade one of his disciples finish the painting, and so he did; which painting was a helmet, a gorget, a pair of arm-pieces, a pair of iron gauntlets, a cuirass and a back-piece, a pair of thigh-pieces, a pair of leg-pieces, a sword, a dagger, and a lance. The great man, who knew not what he was in for, on arriving, comes forward and says, 'Master, is it painted, that buckler?' Said Giotto, 'Of a truth, it is; go, someone, and bring it down.' The buckler coming, that would-be gentleman begins to look at it and says to Giotto, 'What filthy mess is this that thou hast painted for me?' Said Giotto, 'And it will seem to thee a right filthy business in the paying.' Said he, 'I will not pay four farthings for it.' Said Giotto, 'And what didst thou tell me that I was to paint?' And he answered, 'My arms.' Said Giotto,' And are they not here? Is there one wanting?' Said the fellow, 'Well, well!' Said Giotto, 'Nay, 'tis not well, God help thee! And a great booby must thou be, for if one asked thee, "Who art thou?" scarce wouldst thou be able to tell; and here thou comest and sayest, "Paint me my arms!" An thou hadst been one of the Bardi, that were enough. What arms dost thou bear? Whence art thou? Who were thy ancestors? Out upon thee! Art not ashamed of thyself? Begin first to come into the world before thou pratest of arms as if thou wert Dusnam of Bavaria. I have made thee a whole suit of armour on thy buckler; if there be one piece wanting, name it, and I will have it painted.' Said he, 'Thou dost use vile words to me, and hast spoilt me a buckler;' and taking himself off, he went to the justice and had Giotto summoned. Giotto appeared and had him summoned, claiming two florins for the painting, and the other claimed them from him. The officers, having heard the pleadings, which Giotto made much the better, judged that the other should take his buckler so painted, and should give six lire to Giotto, since he was in the right. Wherefore he was constrained to take his buckler and go, and was dismissed; and so, not knowing his measure, he had his measure taken."

It is said that Giotto, while working in his boyhood under Cimabue, once painted a fly on the nose of a figure that Cimabue himself had made, so true to nature that his master, returning to continue the work, set himself more than once to drive it away with his hand, thinking that it was real, before he perceived his mistake. Many other tricks played by Giotto and many witty retorts could I relate, but I wish that these, which deal with matters pertinent to art, should be enough for me to have told in this place, leaving the rest to the said Franco and others.

Finally, seeing that there remained memory of Giotto not only in the works that issued from his hands, but in those also that issued from the hand of the writers of those times, he having been the man who recovered the true method of painting, which had been lost for many years before him; therefore, by public decree and by the effort and particular affection of the elder Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent, in admiration of the talent of so great a man his portrait was placed in S. Maria del Fiore, carved in marble by Benedetto da Maiano, an excellent sculptor, together with the verses written below, made by that divine man, Messer Angelo Poliziano, to the end that those who should become excellent in any profession whatsoever might be able to cherish a hope of obtaining, from others, such memorials as these that Giotto deserved and obtained in liberal measure from his goodness:

Ille ego sum, per quem pictura extincta revixit,
Cui quam recta manus, tam fuit et facilis.
Naturæ deerat nostræ quod defuit arti;
Plus licuit nulli pingere, nec melius.
Miraris turrim egregiam sacro ære sonantem?
Hæc quoque de modulo crevit ad astra meo.
Denique sum Jottus, quid opus fuit illa referre?
Hoc nomen longi carminis instar erit.

And to the end that those who come after may be able to see drawings by the very hand of Giotto, and from these to recognize all the more the excellence of so great a man, in our aforesaid book there are some that are marvellous, sought out by me with no less diligence than labour and expense.

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