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

Being summoned to Pisa no long time after these events, Buonamico painted many stories of the Old Testament in the Abbey of S. Paolo a Ripa d'Arno, then belonging to the Monks of Vallombrosa, in both transepts of the church, on three sides, and from the roof down to the floor, beginning with the Creation of man, and continuing up to the completion of the Tower of Nimrod. In this work, although it is to-day for the greater part spoilt, there are seen vivacity in the figures, good skill and loveliness in the colouring, and signs to show that the hand of Buonamico could very well express the conceptions of his mind, although he had little power of design. On the wall of the right transept which is opposite to that wherein is the side door, in some stories of S. Anastasia, there are seen certain ancient costumes and head-dresses, very charming and beautiful, in some women who are painted there with graceful manner. Not less beautiful, also, are those figures that are in a boat, with well-conceived attitudes, among which is the portrait of Pope Alexander IV, which Buonamico had, so it is said, from Tafo his master, who had portrayed that Pontiff in mosaic in S. Pietro. In the last scene, likewise, wherein is the martyrdom of that Saint and of others, Buonamico expressed very well in the faces the fear of death and the grief and terror of those who are standing to see her tortured and put to death, while she stands bound to a tree and over the fire.

A companion of Buonamico in this work was Bruno di Giovanni, a painter, who is thus called in the old book of the Company; which Bruno (also celebrated as a gay fellow by Boccaccio), the said scenes on the walls being finished, painted the altar of S. Ursula with the company of virgins, in the same church. He made in one hand of the said Saint a standard with the arms of Pisa, which are a white cross on a field of red, and he made her offering the other hand to a woman who, rising between two mountains and touching the sea with one of her feet, is stretching both her hands to her in the act of supplication; which woman, representing Pisa, and having on her head a crown of gold and over her shoulders a mantle covered with circlets and eagles, is seeking assistance from that Saint, being much in travail in the sea. Now, for the reason that in painting this work Bruno was bewailing that the figures which he was making therein had not the same life as those of Buonamico, the latter, in his waggish way, in order to teach him to make his figures not merely vivacious but actually speaking, made him paint some words issuing from the mouth of that woman who is supplicating the Saint, and the answer of the Saint to her, a device that Buonamico had seen in the works that had been made in the same city by Cimabue. This expedient, even as it pleased Bruno and the other thick-witted men of those times, in like manner pleases certain boors to-day, who are served therein by craftsmen as vulgar as themselves. And in truth it seems extraordinary that from this beginning there should have passed into use a device that was employed for a jest and for no other reason, insomuch that even a great part of the Campo Santo, wrought by masters of repute, is full of this rubbish.

The works of Buonamico, then, finding much favour with the Pisans, he was charged by the Warden of the Works of the Campo Santo to make four scenes in fresco, from the beginning of the world up to the construction of Noah's Ark, and round the scenes an ornamental border, wherein he made his own portrait from the life—namely, in a frieze, in the middle of which, and on the corners, are some heads, among which, as I have said, is seen his own, with a cap exactly like the one that is seen above. And because in this work there is a God, who is upholding with his arms the heavens and the elements—nay, the whole body of the universe—Buonamico, in order to explain his story with verses similar to the pictures of that age, wrote this sonnet in capital letters at the foot, with his own hand, as may still be seen; which sonnet, by reason of its antiquity and of the simplicity of the language of those times, it has seemed good to me to include in this place, although in my opinion it is not likely to give much pleasure, save perchance as something that bears witness as to what was the knowledge of the men of that century:

Voi che avisate questa dipintura
Di Dio pietoso, sommo creatore,
Lo qual fe' tutte cose con amore,
Pesate, numerate ed in misura;
In nove gradi angelica natura,
In ello empirio ciel pien di splendore,
Colui che non si muove ed è motore,
Ciascuna cosa fece buona e pura.
Levate gli occhi del vostro intelletto,
Considerate quanto è ordinato
Lo mondo universale; e con affetto
Lodate lui che l'ha sì ben creato;
Pensate di passare a tal diletto
Tra gli Angeli, dov'è ciascun beato.
Per questo mondo si vede la gloria,
Lo basso e il mezzo e l'alto in questa storia.

And to tell the truth, it was very courageous in Buonamico to undertake to make a God the Father five braccia high, with the hierarchies, the heavens, the angels, the zodiac, and all the things above, even to the heavenly body of the moon, and then the element of fire, the air, the earth, and finally the nether regions; and to fill up the two angles below he made in one, S. Augustine, and in the other, S. Thomas Aquinas. At the head of the same Campo Santo, where there is now the marble tomb of Corte, Buonamico painted the whole Passion of Christ, with a great number of figures on foot and on horseback, and all in varied and beautiful attitudes; and continuing the story he made the Resurrection and the Apparition of Christ to the Apostles, passing well.

Having finished these works and at the same time all that he had gained Pisa, which was not little, he returned to Florence as poor as he had left it, and there he made many panels and works in fresco, whereof there is no need to make further record. Meanwhile there had been entrusted to Bruno, his great friend (who had returned with him from Pisa, where they had squandered everything), some works in S. Maria Novella, and seeing that Bruno had not much design or invention, Buonamico designed for him all that he afterwards put into execution on a wall in the said church, opposite to the pulpit and as long as the space between column and column, and that was the story of S. Maurice and his companions, who were beheaded for the faith of Jesus Christ. This work Bruno made for Guido Campese, then Constable of the Florentines, whose portrait he had made before he died in the year 1312; in that work he painted him in his armour, as was the custom in those times, and behind him he made a line of men-at-arms, armed in ancient fashion, who make a beautiful effect, while Guido himself is kneeling before a Madonna who has the Child Jesus in her arms, and is appearing to be recommended to her by S. Dominic and S. Agnes, who are on either side of him. Although this picture is not very beautiful, yet, considering the design and invention of Buonamico, it is worthy to be in part praised, and above all by reason of the costumes, helmets, and other armour of those times. And I have availed myself of it in some scenes that I have made for the Lord Duke Cosimo, wherein it was necessary to represent men armed in ancient fashion, and other similar things of that age; which work has greatly pleased his most Illustrious Excellency and others who have seen it. And from this it can be seen how much benefit may be gained from the inventions and works made by these ancients, although they may not be very perfect, and in what fashion profit and advantage can be drawn from their performances, since they opened the way for us to the marvels that have been made up to our day and are being made continually.

While Bruno was making this work, a peasant desiring that Buonamico should make him a S. Christopher, they came to an agreement in Florence and arranged a contract in this fashion, that the price should be eight florins and that the figure should be twelve braccia high. Buonamico, then, having gone to the church where he was to make the S. Christopher, found that by reason of its not being more than nine braccia either in height or in length, he could not, either without or within, accommodate the figure in a manner that it might stand well; wherefore he made up his mind, since it would not go in upright, to make it within the church lying down. But since, even so, the whole length would not go in, he was forced to bend it from the knees downwards on to the wall at the head of the church. The work finished, the peasant would by no means pay for it; nay, he made an outcry and said he had been cozened. The matter, therefore, going before the Justices, it was judged, according to the contract, that Buonamico was in the right.

In S. Giovanni fra l'Arcore was a very beautiful Passion of Christ by the hand of Buonamico, and among other things that were much praised therein was a Judas hanging from a tree, made with much judgment and beautiful manner. An old man, likewise, who was blowing his nose, was most natural, and the Maries, broken with weeping, had expressions and aspects so sad, that they deserved to be greatly praised, since that age had not as yet much facility in the method of representing the emotions of the soul with the brush. On the same wall there was a good figure in a S. Ivo of Brittany, who had many widows and orphans at his feet, and two angels in the sky, who were crowning him, were made with the sweetest manner. This edifice and the pictures together were thrown to the ground in the year of the war of 1529.

In Cortona, also, for Messer Aldobrandino, Bishop of that city, Buonamico painted many works in the Vescovado, and in particular the chapel and panel of the high-altar; but seeing that everything was thrown to the ground in renovating the palace and the church, there is no need to make further mention of them. In S. Francesco, however, and in S. Margherita, in the same city, there are still some pictures by the hand of Buonamico. From Cortona going once more to Assisi, Buonamico painted in fresco, in the lower Church of S. Francesco, the whole Chapel of Cardinal Egidio Alvaro, a Spaniard; and because he acquitted himself very well, he was therefore liberally rewarded by that Cardinal. Finally, Buonamico having wrought many pictures throughout the whole March, in returning to Florence he stopped at Perugia, and painted there in fresco the Chapel of the Buontempi in the Church of S. Domenico, making therein stories of the life of S. Catherine, virgin and martyr. And in the Church of S. Domenico Vecchio, on one wall, he painted in fresco the scene when the same Catherine, daughter of King Costa, making disputation, is convincing and converting certain philosophers to the faith of Christ; and seeing that this scene is more beautiful than any other that Buonamico ever made, it can be said with truth that in this work he surpassed himself. The people of Perugia, moved by this, according to what Franco Sacchetti writes, commanded that he should paint S. Ercolano, Bishop and Protector of that city, in the square; wherefore, having agreed about the price, on the spot where the painting was to be done there was made a screen of planks and matting, to the end that the master might not be seen painting; and this made, he put his hand to the work. But before ten days had passed, every passer-by asking when this picture would be finished, as though such works were cast in moulds,[15] the matter disgusted Buonamico; wherefore, having come to the end of the work and being distracted with such importunity, he determined within himself to take a gentle vengeance on the impatience of these people. And this came to pass, for, when the work was finished, before unveiling it, he let them see it, and it was entirely to their satisfaction; but on the people of Perugia wishing to remove the screen at once, Buonamico said that for two days longer they should leave it standing, for the reason that he wished to retouch certain parts on the dry; and so it was done. Buonamico, then, having mounted the scaffolding, removed the great diadem of gold that he had given to the Saint, raised in relief with plaster, as was the custom in those times, and made him a crown, or rather garland, right round his head, of roaches; and this done, one morning he settled with his host and went off to Florence. Now, two days having passed, the people of Perugia, not seeing the painter going about as they had been used, asked the host what had become of him, and, hearing that he had returned to Florence, went at once to remove the screen; and finding their S. Ercolano crowned solemnly with roaches, they sent word of it immediately to their governors. But although these sent horsemen post-haste to look for Buonamico, it was all in vain, seeing that he had returned in great haste to Florence. Having determined, then, to make a painter of their own remove the crown of roaches and restore the diadem to the Saint, they said all the evil that can be imagined about Buonamico and the rest of the Florentines.

Buonamico, back in Florence and caring little about what the people of Perugia might say, set to work and made many paintings, whereof, in order not to be too long, there is no need to make mention. I will say only this, that having painted in fresco at Calcinaia a Madonna with the Child in her arms, he who had charged him to do it, in place of paying him, gave him words; whence Buonamico, who was not used to being trifled with or being fooled, determined to get his due by hook or by crook. And so, having gone one morning to Calcinaia, he transformed the child that he had painted in the arms of the Virgin into a little bear, but in colours made only with water, without size or distemper. This change being seen, not long after, by the peasant who had given him the work to do, almost in despair he went to find Buonamico, praying him for the sake of Heaven to remove the little bear and to paint another child as before, for he was ready to make satisfaction. This the other did amicably, being paid for both the first and the second labour without delay; and for restoring the whole work a wet sponge sufficed. Finally, seeing that it would take too long were I to wish to relate all the tricks, as well as all the pictures, that Buonamico Buffalmacco made, and above all when frequenting the shop of Maso del Saggio, which was the resort of citizens and of all the gay and mischievous spirits that there were in Florence, I will make an end of discoursing about him.

He died at the age of seventy-eight, and being very poor and having done more spending than earning, by reason of being such in character, he was supported in his illness by the Company of the Misericordia in S. Maria Nuova, the hospital of Florence; and then, being dead, he was buried in the Ossa (for so they call a cloister, or rather cemetery, of the hospital), like the rest of the poor, in the year 1340. The works of this man were prized while he lived, and since then, for works of that age, they have been ever extolled.


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