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




The art of painting never flourished at any time without the sculptors also pursuing their exercise with excellence, and to this the works of all ages bear witness for the close observer, because these two arts are truly sisters, born at one and the same time, and fostered and governed by one and the same soul. This is seen in Andrea Pisano, who, practising sculpture in the time of Giotto, made so great improvement in this art, that both in practice and in theory he was esteemed the greatest man that the Tuscans had had up to his times in this profession, and above all in casting in bronze. Wherefore his works were honoured and rewarded in such a manner by all who knew him, and above all by the Florentines, that it was no hardship to him to change country, relatives, property and friends. He received much assistance from the difficulties experienced in sculpture by the masters who had lived before him, whose sculptures were so uncouth and worthless that whosoever saw them in comparison with those of this man judged the last a miracle. And that these early works were rude, witness is borne, as it has been said elsewhere, by some that are over the principal door of S. Paolo in Florence and some in stone that are in the Church of Ognissanti, which are so made that they move those who view them rather to laughter than to any marvel or pleasure. And it is certain that the art of sculpture can recover itself much better, in the event of the essence of statuary being lost (since men have the living and the natural model, which is wholly rounded, as that art requires), than can the art of painting; it being not so easy and simple to recover the beautiful outlines and the good manner, in order to bring the art to the light, for these are the elements that produce majesty, beauty, grace and adornment in the works that the painters make. In one respect fortune was favourable to the labours of Andrea, because there had been brought to Pisa, as it has been said elsewhere, by means of the many victories that the Pisans had at sea, many antiquities and sarcophagi that are still round the Duomo and the Campo Santo, and these brought him such great assistance and gave him such great light as could not be obtained by Giotto, for the reason that the ancient paintings had not been preserved as much as the sculptures. And although statues are often destroyed by fires and by the ruin and fury of war, and buried or transported to diverse places, nevertheless it is easy for the experienced to recognize the difference in the manner of all countries; as, for example, the Egyptian is slender and lengthy in its figures, the Greek is scientific and shows much study in the nudes, while the heads have almost all the same expression, and the most ancient Tuscan is laboured in the hair and somewhat uncouth. That of the Romans (I call Romans, for the most part, those who, after the subjugation of Greece, betook themselves to Rome, whither all that there was of the good and of the beautiful in the world was carried)—that, I say, is so beautiful, by reason of the expressions, the attitudes, and the movements both of the nude and of the draped figures, that it may be said that they wrested the beautiful from all the other provinces and moulded it into one single manner, to the end that it might be, as it is, the best—nay, the most divine of all.

All these beautiful manners and arts being spent in the time of Andrea, that alone was in use which had been brought by the Goths and by the uncivilized Greeks into Tuscany. Wherefore he, having studied the new method of design of Giotto and those few antiquities that were known to him, refined in great part the grossness of so miserable a manner with his judgment, in such wise that he began to work better and to give much greater beauty to statuary than any other had yet done in that art up to his times. Therefore, his genius and his good skill and dexterity becoming known, he was assisted by many in his country, and while still young he was commissioned to make for S. Maria a Ponte some little figures in marble, which brought him so good a name that he was sought out with very great insistence to come to work in Florence for the Office of Works of S. Maria del Fiore, which, after a beginning had been made with the façade containing the three doors, was suffering from a dearth of masters to make the scenes that Giotto had designed for the beginning of the said fabric. Andrea, then, betook himself to Florence, for the service of the said Office of Works. And because the Florentines desired at that time to gain the friendship and love of Pope Boniface VIII, who was then Supreme Pontiff of the Church of God, they wished that, before anything else, Andrea should make a portrait in marble of the said Pontiff, from the life. Wherefore, putting his hand to this work, he did not rest until he had finished the figure of the Pope, with a S. Peter and a S. Paul who are one on either side of him; which three figures were placed in the façade of S. Maria del Fiore, where they still are. Andrea then made certain little figures of prophets for the middle door of the said church, in some shrines or rather niches, from which it is seen that he had brought great betterment to the art, and that he was in advance, both in excellence and design, of all those who had worked up to then on the said fabric. Wherefore it was resolved that all the works of importance should be given to him to do, and not to others; and so, no long time after, he was commissioned to make the four statues of the principal Doctors of the Church, S. Jerome, S. Ambrose, S. Augustine, and S. Gregory. And these being finished and acquiring for him favour and fame with the Wardens of Works—nay, with the whole city—he was commissioned to make two other figures in marble of the same size, which were S. Stephen and S. Laurence, now standing in the said façade of S. Maria del Fiore, at the outermost corners. By the hand of Andrea, likewise, is the Madonna in marble, three braccia and a half high, with the Child in her arms, which stands on the altar of the little Church of the Company of the Misericordia, on the Piazza di S. Giovanni in Florence; which was a work much praised in those times, and above all because he accompanied it with two angels, one on either side, each two braccia and a half high. Round this work there has been made in our own day a frame of wood, very well wrought by Maestro Antonio, called Il Carota; and below, a predella full of most beautiful figures coloured in oil by Ridolfo, son of Domenico Ghirlandajo. In like manner, that half-length Madonna in marble that is over the side door of the same Misericordia, in the façade of the Cialdonai, is by the hand of Andrea, and it was much praised, because he imitated therein the good ancient manner, contrary to his wont, which was ever far distant from it, as some drawings testify that are in our book, wrought by his hand, wherein are drawn all the stories of the Apocalypse.

Now, seeing that Andrea had applied himself in his youth to the study of architecture, there came occasion for him to be employed in this by the Commune of Florence; for Arnolfo being dead and Giotto absent, he was commissioned to make the design of the Castle of Scarperia, which is in the Mugello, at the foot of the mountains. Some say, although I would not indeed vouch for it as true, that Andrea stayed a year in Venice, and there wrought, in sculpture, some little figures in marble that are in the façade of S. Marco, and that at the time of Messer Piero Gradenigo, Doge of that Republic, he made the design of the Arsenal; but seeing that I know nothing about it save that which I find to have been written by some without authority, I leave each one to think in his own way about this matter. Andrea having returned from Venice to Florence, the city, fearful of the coming of the Emperor, caused a part of the walls to be raised with lime post-haste to the height of eight braccia, employing in this Andrea, in that portion that is between San Gallo and the Porta al Prato; and in other places he made bastions, stockades, and other ramparts of earth and of wood, very strong.


(Details, after Andrea Pisano, from the Gates of the Baptistery, Florence)

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Now because, three years before, he had shown himself to his own great credit to be an able man in the casting of bronze, having sent to the Pope in Avignon, by means of Giotto, his very great friend, who was then staying at that Court, a very beautiful cross cast in bronze, he was commissioned to complete in bronze one of the doors of the Church of S. Giovanni, for which Giotto had already made a very beautiful design; this was given to him, I say, to complete, by reason of his having been judged, among so many who had worked up to then, the most able, the most practised and the most judicious master not only of Tuscany but of all Italy. Wherefore, putting his hand to this, with a mind determined not to consent to spare either time, or labour, or diligence in executing a work of so great importance, fortune was so propitious to him in the casting, for those times when the secrets were not known that are known to-day, that within the space of twenty-two years he brought it to that perfection which is seen; and what is more, he also made during that same time not only the shrine of the high-altar of S. Giovanni, with two angels, one on either side of it, that were held something very beautiful, but also, after the design of Giotto, those little figures in marble that act as adornment for the door of the Campanile of S. Maria del Fiore, and round the same Campanile, in certain mandorle, the seven planets, the seven virtues, and the seven works of mercy, little figures in half-relief that were then much praised. He also made during the same time the three figures, each four braccia high, that were set up in the niches of the said Campanile, beneath the windows that face the spot where the Orphans now are—that is, towards the south; which figures were thought at that time more than passing good. But to return to where I left off: I say that in the said bronze door are little scenes in low relief of the life of S. John the Baptist, that is, from his birth up to his death, wrought happily and with much diligence. And although it seems to many that in these scenes there do not appear that beautiful design and that great art which are now put into figures, yet Andrea deserves nothing but the greatest praise, in that he was the first to put his hand to the complete execution of such a work, which afterwards enabled the others who lived after him to make whatever of the beautiful, of the difficult and of the good is to be seen at the present day in the other two doors and in the external ornaments. This work was placed in the middle door of that church, and stood there until the time when Lorenzo Ghiberti made that one which is there at the present day; for then it was removed and placed opposite the Misericordia, where it still stands. I will not forbear to say that Andrea was assisted in making this door by Nino, his son, who was afterwards a much better master than his father had been, and that it was completely finished in the year 1339, that is, not only made smooth and polished all over, but also gilded by fire; and it is believed that it was cast in metal by some Venetian masters, very expert in the founding of metals, and of this there is found record in the books of the Guild of the Merchants of Calimara, Wardens of the Works of S. Giovanni.

While the said door was making, Andrea made not only the other works aforesaid but also many others, and in particular the model of the Church of S. Giovanni at Pistoia, which was founded in the year 1337. In that same year, on January 25, in excavating the foundations of this church, there was found the body of the Blessed Atto, once Bishop of that city, who had been buried in that place one hundred and thirty-seven years. The architecture, then, of this church, which is round, was passing good for those times. In the principal church of the said city of Pistoia there is also a tomb of marble by the hand of Andrea, with the body of the sarcophagus full of little figures, and some larger figures above; in which tomb is laid to rest the body of Messer Cino d' Angibolgi, Doctor of Laws, and a very famous scholar in his time, as Messer Francesco Petrarca testifies in that sonnet:

Piangete, donne, e con voi pianga Amore;

and also in the fourth chapter of the Triumph of Love, where he says:

Ecco Cin da Pistoia, Guitton d'Arezzo,
Che di non esser primo par ch'ira aggia.

In that tomb there is seen the portrait of Messer Cino himself in marble, by the hand of Andrea; he is teaching a number of his scholars, who are round him, with an attitude and manner so beautiful that, although to-day it might not be prized, in those days it must have been a marvellous thing.


(After a relief, by Andrea Pisano, on the Campanile, Florence)

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Andrea was also made use of in matters of architecture by Gualtieri, Duke of Athens and Tyrant of the Florentines, who made him enlarge the square, and caused him, in order to safeguard himself in his palace, to secure all the lower windows on the first floor (where to-day is the Sala de' Dugento) with iron bars, square and very strong. The said Duke also added, opposite S. Pietro Scheraggio, the walls of rustic work that are beside the palace, in order to enlarge it; and in the thickness of the wall he made a secret staircase, in order to ascend and descend unseen. And at the foot of the said wall of rustic work he made a great door, which serves to-day for the Customs-house, and above that his arms, and all with the design and counsel of Andrea; and although these arms were chiselled out by the Council of Twelve, which took pains to efface every memorial of that Duke, there remained none the less in the square shield the form of the lion rampant with two tails, as anyone can see who examines it with diligence. For the same Duke Andrea built many towers round the walls of the city, and he not only made a magnificent beginning for the Porta a S. Friano and brought it to the completion that is seen, but also made the walls for the vestibules of all the gates of the city, and the lesser gates for the convenience of the people. And because the Duke had it in his mind to make a fortress on the Costa di S. Giorgio, Andrea made the model for it, which afterwards was not used, for the reason that the work was never given a beginning, the Duke having been driven out in the year 1343. Nevertheless, there was effected in great part the desire of that Duke to bring the palace to the form of a strong castle, because, to that which had been made originally, he added the great mass which is seen to-day, enclosing within its circuit the houses of the Filipetri, the tower and the houses of the Amidei and Mancini, and those of the Bellalberti. And because, having made a beginning with so great a fabric and with the thick walls and barbicans, he had not all the material that was essential equally in readiness, he held back the construction of the Ponte Vecchio, which was being worked on with all haste as a work of necessity, and availed himself of the stone hewn and the wood prepared for it, without the least scruple. And although Taddeo Gaddi was not perhaps inferior in the matters of architecture to Andrea Pisano, the Duke would not avail himself of him in these buildings, by reason of his being a Florentine, but only of Andrea. The same Duke Gualtieri wished to pull down S. Cecilia, in order to see from his palace the Strada Romana and the Mercato Nuovo, and likewise to destroy S. Pietro Scheraggio for his own convenience, but he had not leave to do this from the Pope; and meanwhile, as it has been said above, he was driven out by the fury of the people.

Deservedly then did Andrea gain, by the honourable labours of so many years, not only very great rewards but also the citizenship; for he was made a citizen of Florence by the Signoria, and was given offices and magistracies in the city, and his works were esteemed both while he lived and after his death, there being found no one who could surpass him in working, until there came Niccolò Aretino, Jacopo della Quercia of Siena, Donatello, Filippo di Ser Brunellesco, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, who executed the sculptures and other works that they made in such a manner that people recognized in how great error they had lived up to that time; for these men recovered with their works that excellence which had been hidden and little known by men for many and many a year. The works of Andrea date about the year of our salvation 1340.

Andrea left many disciples; among others, Tommaso Pisano, architect and sculptor, who finished the Chapel of the Campo Santo and added the finishing touch to the Campanile of the Duomo—namely, that final part wherein are the bells. Tommaso is believed to have been the son of Andrea, this being found written in the panel of the high-altar of S. Francesco in Pisa, wherein there is, carved in half-relief, a Madonna, with other Saints made by him, and below these his name and that of his father.


(After Nino Pisano. Orvieto: Museo dell'Opera)

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Andrea was survived by Nino, his son, who applied himself to sculpture; and his first work was in S. Maria Novella, where he finished a Madonna in marble begun by his father, which is within the side door, beside the Chapel of the Minerbetti. Next, having gone to Pisa, he made in the Spina a half-length figure in marble of Our Lady, who is suckling an infant Jesus Christ wrapped in certain delicate draperies. For this Madonna an ornamental frame of marble was made in the year 1522, by the agency of Messer Jacopo Corbini, and another frame, much greater and more beautiful, was made then for another Madonna of marble, which was of full length and by the hand of the same Nino; in the attitude of which Madonna the mother is seen handing a rose with much grace to her Son, who is taking it in a childlike manner, so beautiful that it may be said that Nino was beginning to rob the stone of its hardness and to reduce it to the softness of flesh, giving it lustre by means of the highest polish. This figure is between a S. John and a S. Peter in marble, the head of the latter being a portrait of Andrea from the life. Besides this, for an altar in S. Caterina, also in Pisa, Nino made two statues of marble—that is, a Madonna, and an Angel who is bringing her the Annunciation, wrought, like his other works, with so great diligence that it can be said that they are the best that were made in those times. Below this Madonna receiving the Annunciation Nino carved these words on the base: ON THE FIRST DAY OF FEBRUARY, 1370; and below the Angel: THESE FIGURES NINO MADE, THE SON OF ANDREA PISANO. He also made other works in that city and in Naples, whereof it is not needful to make mention.

Andrea died at the age of seventy-five, in the year 1345, and was buried by Nino in S. Maria del Fiore, with this epitaph:


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