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




Rarely is a man of parts excellent in one pursuit without being able easily to learn any other, and above all any one of those that are akin to his original profession, and proceed, as it were, from one and the same source, as did the Florentine Orcagna, who was painter, sculptor, architect, and poet, as it will be told below. Born in Florence, he began while still a child to give attention to sculpture under Andrea Pisano, and pursued it for some years; then, being desirous to become abundant in invention in order to make lovely historical compositions, he applied himself with so great study to drawing, assisted by nature, who wished to make him universal, that having tried his hand at painting with colours both in distemper and in fresco, even as one thing leads to another, he succeeded so well with the assistance of Bernardo Orcagna, his brother, that this Bernardo took him in company with himself to paint the life of Our Lady in the principal chapel of S. Maria Novella, which then belonged to the family of the Ricci. This work, when finished, was held very beautiful, although, by reason of the neglect of those who afterwards had charge of it, not many years passed before, the roof becoming ruined, it was spoilt by the rains and thereby brought to the condition wherein it is to-day, as it will be told in the proper place. It is enough for the present to say that Domenico Ghirlandajo, who repainted it, availed himself greatly of the invention put into it by Orcagna, who also painted in fresco in the same church the Chapel of the Strozzi, which is near to the door of the sacristy and of the belfry, in company with Bernardo, his brother. In this chapel, to which one ascends by a staircase of stone, he painted on one wall the glory of Paradise, with all the Saints and with various costumes and head-dresses of those times. On the other wall he made Hell, with the abysses, centres, and other things described by Dante, of whom Andrea was an ardent student. In the Church of the Servites in the same city he painted in fresco, also with Bernardo, the Chapel of the family of Cresci; with a Coronation of Our Lady on a very large panel in S. Pietro Maggiore, and a panel in S. Romeo, close to the side-door. In like manner, he and his brother Bernardo painted the outer façade of S. Apollinare, with so great diligence that the colours in that exposed place have been preserved marvellously vivid and beautiful up to our own day.


(Detail from the "Paradise," after the fresco by Bernardo di Cione Orcagna. Florence: S. Maria Novella)

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Moved by the fame of these works of Orcagna, which were much praised, the men who at that time were governing Pisa had him summoned to work on a portion of one wall in the Campo Santo of that city, even as Giotto and Buffalmacco had done before. Wherefore, putting his hand to this, Andrea painted a Universal Judgment, with some fanciful inventions of his own, on the wall facing towards the Duomo, beside the Passion of Christ made by Buffalmacco; and making the first scene on the corner, he represented therein all the degrees of lords temporal wrapped in the pleasures of this world, placing them seated in a flowery meadow and under the shade of many orange-trees, which make a most delicious grove and have some Cupids in their branches above; and these Cupids, flying round and over many young women (all portraits from the life, as it seems clear, of noble ladies and dames of those times, who, by reason of the long lapse of time, are not recognized), are making a show of shooting at the hearts of these young women, who have beside them young men and nobles who are standing listening to music and song and watching the amorous dances of youths and maidens, who are sweetly taking joy in their loves. Among these nobles Orcagna portrayed Castruccio, Lord of Lucca, as a youth of most beautiful aspect, with a blue cap wound round his head and with a hawk on his wrist, and near him other nobles of that age, of whom we know not who they are. In short, in that first part, in so far as the space permitted and his art demanded, he painted all the delights of the world with exceeding great grace. In the other part of the same scene he represented on a high mountain the life of those who, drawn by repentance for their sins and by the desire to be saved, have fled from the world to that mountain, which is all full of saintly hermits who are serving the Lord, busy in diverse pursuits with most vivacious expressions. Some, reading and praying, are shown all intent on contemplation, and others, labouring in order to gain their livelihood, are exercising themselves in various forms of action. There is seen here among others a hermit who is milking a goat, who could not be more active or more lifelike in appearance than he is. Below there is S. Macarius showing to three Kings, who are riding with their ladies and their retinue and going to the chase, human misery in the form of three Kings who are lying dead but not wholly corrupted in a tomb, which is being contemplated with attention by the living Kings in diverse and beautiful attitudes full of wonder, and it appears as if they are reflecting with pity for their own selves that they have in a short time to become such. In one of these Kings on horseback Andrea portrayed Uguccione della Faggiuola of Arezzo, in a figure which is holding its nose with one hand in order not to feel the stench of the dead and corrupted Kings. In the middle of this scene is Death, who, flying through the air and draped in black, is showing that she has cut off with her scythe the lives of many, who are lying on the ground, of all sorts and conditions, poor and rich, halt and whole, young and old, male and female, and in short a good number of every age and sex. And because he knew that the people of Pisa took pleasure in the invention of Buffalmacco, who gave speech to the figures of Bruno in S. Paolo a Ripa d'Arno, making some letters issue from their mouths, Orcagna filled this whole work of his with such writings, whereof the greater part, being eaten away by time, cannot be understood. To certain old men, then, he gives these words:


with other words that cannot be understood, and verses likewise in ancient manner, composed, as I have discovered, by Orcagna himself, who gave attention to poetry and to making a sonnet or two. Round these dead bodies are some devils who are tearing their souls from their mouths, and are carrying them to certain pits full of fire, which are on the summit of a very high mountain. Over against these are angels who are likewise taking the souls from the mouths of others of these dead people, who have belonged to the good, and are flying with them to Paradise. And in this scene there is a scroll, held by two angels, wherein are these words:


with some other words that are difficult to understand. Next, below this, in the border of this scene, are nine angels who are holding legends both Italian and Latin in some suitable scrolls, put into that place below because above they were like to spoil the scene, and not to include them in the work seemed wrong to their author, who considered them very beautiful; and it may be that they were to the taste of that age. The greater part is omitted by us, in order not to weary others with such things, which are not pertinent and little pleasing, not to mention that the greater part of these inscriptions being effaced, the remainder is little less than fragmentary. After these works, in making the Judgment, Orcagna set Jesus Christ on high above the clouds in the midst of His twelve Apostles, judging the quick and the dead; showing on one side, with beautiful art and very vividly, the sorrowful expressions of the damned who are being dragged weeping by furious demons to Hell, and, on the other, the joy and the jubilation of the good, whom a body of angels guided by the Archangel Michael are leading as the elect, all rejoicing, to the right, where are the blessed. And it is truly a pity that for lack of writers, in so great a multitude of men of the robe, chevaliers, and other lords, that are clearly depicted and portrayed there from the life, there should be not one, or only very few, of whom we know the names or who they were; although it is said that a Pope who is seen there is Innocent IV, friend[18] of Manfredi.

(Florence: S. Maria Novella, Strozzi Chapel. Fresco)

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After this work, and after making some sculptures in marble for the Madonna that is on the abutment of the Ponte Vecchio, with great honour for himself, he left his brother Bernardo to execute by himself a Hell in the Campo Santo, which is described by Dante, and which was afterwards spoilt in the year 1530 and restored by Sollazzino, a painter of our own times; and he returned to Florence, where, in the middle of the Church of S. Croce, on a very great wall on the right, he painted in fresco the same subjects that he painted in the Campo Santo of Pisa, in three similar pictures, excepting, however, the scene where S. Macarius is showing to three Kings the misery of man, and the life of the hermits who are serving God on that mountain. Making, then, all the rest of that work, he laboured therein with better design and more diligence than he had done in Pisa, holding, nevertheless, to almost the same plan in the invention, the manner, the scrolls, and the rest, without changing anything save the portraits from life, for those in this work were partly of his dearest friends, whom he placed in Paradise, and partly of men little his friends, who were put by him in Hell. Among the good is seen portrayed from life in profile, with the triple crown on his head, Pope Clement VI, who changed the Jubilee in his reign from every hundred to every fifty years, and was a friend of the Florentines, and had some of Orcagna's pictures, which were very dear to him. Among the same is Maestro Dino del Garbo, a most excellent physician of that time, dressed as was then the wont of doctors, with a red bonnet lined with miniver on his head, and held by the hand by an angel; with many other portraits that are not recognized. Among the damned he portrayed Guardi, serjeant of the Commune of Florence, being dragged along by the Devil with a hook, and he is known by three red lilies that he has on his white bonnet, such as were then wont to be worn by the serjeants and other similar officials; and this he did because Guardi once made distraint on his property. He also portrayed there the notary and the judge who had been opposed to him in that action. Near to Guardi is Ceccho d'Ascoli, a famous wizard of those times; and a little above—namely, in the middle—is a hypocrite friar, who, having issued from a tomb, is seeking furtively to put himself among the good, while an angel discovers him and thrusts him among the damned.

Besides Bernardo, Andrea had a brother called Jacopo, who was engaged in sculpture, but with little profit; and in making on occasion for this Jacopo designs in relief and in clay, there came to him the wish to make something in marble and to see whether he remembered the principles of that art, wherein, as it has been said, he had worked in Pisa; and so, putting himself with more study to the test, he made progress therein in such a fashion that afterwards he made use of it with honour, as it will be told. Afterwards he devoted himself with all his energy to the study of architecture, thinking that at some time or another he would have to make use of it. Nor did his thought deceive him, seeing that in the year 1355, the Commune of Florence having bought some citizens' houses near their Palace (in order to have more space and to make a larger square, and also in order to make a place where the citizens could take shelter in rainy or wintry days, and carry on under cover such business as was transacted on the Ringhiera when bad weather did not hinder), they caused many designs to be made for the building of a magnificent and very large Loggia for this purpose near the Palace, and at the same time for the Mint where the money is struck. Among these designs, made by the best masters in the city, that of Orcagna being universally approved and accepted as greater, more beautiful, and more magnificent than all the others, by decree of the Signori and of the Commune there was begun under his direction the great Loggia of the square, on the foundations made in the time of the Duke of Athens, and it was carried on with squared stone very well put together, with much diligence. And what was something new in those times, the arches of the vaulting were made no longer quarter-acute, as it had been the custom up to that time, but they were turned in half-circles in a new and laudable method, which gave much grace and beauty to this great fabric, which was brought to completion in a short time under the direction of Andrea. And if there had been taken thought to put it beside S. Romolo and to turn the arches with the back to the north, which they did not do, perchance, in order to have it conveniently near to the gate of the Palace, it would have been as useful a building for the whole city as it is beautiful in workmanship; whereas, by reason of the great wind, in winter no one can stand there. In this Loggia, between the arches on the front wall, in some ornamental work by his own hand, Orcagna made seven marble figures in half-relief representing the seven Theological and Cardinal Virtues, as accompaniment to the whole work, so beautiful that they made him known for no less able as sculptor than as painter and architect; not to mention that he was in all his actions as pleasant, courteous, and lovable a man as was ever any man of his condition. And because he would never abandon the study of any one of his professions for that of another, while the Loggia was building he made a panel in distemper with many large figures, with little figures in the predella, for that chapel of the Strozzi wherein he had formerly made some works in fresco with his brother Bernardo; on which panel, it appearing to him that it could bear better testimony to his profession than the works wrought in fresco could do, he wrote his name with these words: ANNO DOMINI MCCCLVII, ANDREAS CIONIS DE FLORENTIA ME PINXIT.


(Relief on the Tabernacle by Andrea di Cione Orcagna, Or San Michele, Florence)

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This work completed, he made some pictures, also on panel, which were sent to the Pope in Avignon and are still in the Cathedral Church of that city. A little while afterwards the men of the Company of Orsanmichele, having collected large sums of money from offerings and donations given to their Madonna by reason of the mortality of 1348, resolved to make round her a chapel, or rather shrine, not only very ornate and rich with marbles carved in every way and with other stones of price, but also with mosaic and ornaments of bronze, as much as could possibly be desired, in a manner that both in workmanship and in material it might surpass every other work of so great a size wrought up to that day. Wherefore, the charge of the whole being given to Orcagna as the most excellent of that age, he made so many designs that finally one of them pleased the authorities, as being better than all the others. The work, therefore, being allotted to him, they put complete reliance in his judgment and counsel; wherefore, giving the making of all the rest to diverse master-carvers brought from several districts, he applied himself with his brother to executing all the figures of the work, and, the whole being finished, he had them built in and put together very thoughtfully without mortar, with clamps of copper fixed with lead, to the end that the shining and polished marbles might not become discoloured; and in this he succeeded so well, with profit and honour from those who came after him, that to one who studies that work it appears, by reason of such union and methods of joining discovered by Orcagna, that the whole chapel has been shaped out of one single piece of marble. And although it is in a German manner, for that style it has so great grace and proportion that it holds the first place among the works of those times, above all because its composition of figures great and small, and of angels and prophets in half-relief round the Madonna, is very well executed. Marvellous, also, is the casting of the bands of bronze, diligently polished, which, encircling the whole work, enclose and bind it together in a manner that it is therefore as stout and strong as it is beautiful in all other respects. But how much he laboured in order to show the subtlety of his intellect in that gross age is seen in a large scene in half-relief on the back part of the said shrine, wherein, with figures of one braccio and a half each, he made the twelve Apostles gazing on high at the Madonna, while she, in a mandorla, surrounded by angels, is ascending to Heaven. In one of these Apostles he portrayed himself in marble, old, as he was, with the beard shaven, with the cap wound round the head, and with the face flat and round, as it is seen above in his portrait, drawn from that one. Besides this, he inscribed these words in the marble below: ANDREAS CIONIS, PICTOR FLORENTINUS, ORATORII ARCHIMAGISTER EXTITIT HUJUS, MCCCLIX.

It is known that the building of this Loggia and of the marble shrine, with all the master-work, cost ninety-six thousand florins of gold, which were very well spent, for the reason that it is, both in the architecture and in the sculptures and other ornaments, as beautiful as any other work whatsoever of those times, and is such that, by reason of the parts made therein by him, the name of Andrea Orcagna has been and will be ever living and great.

He used to write in his pictures: FECE ANDREA DI CIONE, SCULTORE; and in his sculptures: FECE ANDREA DI CIONE, PITTORE; wishing that his painting should be known by his sculpture, and his sculpture by his painting. There are throughout all Florence many panels made by him, which are partly known by the name, such as a panel in S. Romeo, and partly by the manner, such as one that is in the Chapter-house of the Monastery of the Angeli. Some of them that he left unfinished were completed by Bernardo, his brother, who survived him, but not for many years. And because, as it has been said, Andrea delighted in making verses and various forms of poetry, when already old he wrote some sonnets to Burchiello, then a youth; and finally, being sixty years of age, he finished the course of his life in 1389, and was borne with honour from his dwelling, which was in the Via Vecchia de' Corazzai, to his tomb.

There were many men able in sculpture and in architecture at the same time as Orcagna, of whom the names are not known, but their works are to be seen, and these are worthy of nothing but praise and commendation. Among their works is not only the Monastery of the Certosa of Florence, made at the expense of the noble family of the Acciaiuoli, and in particular of Messer Niccola, Grand Seneschal of the King of Naples, but also the tomb of the same man, whereon he is portrayed in stone, and that of his father and one of his sisters, which has a covering of marble, whereon both were portrayed very well from nature in the year 1366. There, too, wrought by the hand of the same men, is the tomb of Messer Lorenzo, son of the said Niccola, who, dying at Naples, was brought to Florence and laid to rest there with the most honourable pomp of funeral obsequies. In like manner, in the tomb of Cardinal Santa Croce of the same family, which is in a choir then built anew in front of the high-altar, there is his portrait on a slab of marble, very well wrought in the year 1390.

Disciples of Andrea in painting were Bernardo Nello di Giovanni Falconi of Pisa, who wrought many panels in the Duomo of Pisa, and Tommaso di Marco of Florence, who, besides many other works, made in the year 1392 a panel that is in S. Antonio in Pisa, set up against the tramezzo[19] of the church.

After the death of Andrea, his brother Jacopo, occupied himself in sculpture, as it has been said, and in architecture, was employed in the year 1328 on the foundation and building of the Tower and Gate of S. Piero Gattolini, and it is said that he made the four marzocchi[20] of stone which were placed on the four corners of the Palazzo Principale of Florence, all overlaid with gold. This work was much censured, by reason of there being laid on those places, without necessity, a greater weight than peradventure was expedient; and many would have been pleased to have the marzocchi made rather of plates of copper, hollow within, and then, after being gilded in the fire, set up in the same place, because they would have been much less heavy and more durable. It is said, too, that the same man made the horse, gilded and in full relief, that is in S. Maria del Fiore, over the door that leads to the Company of S. Zanobi, which horse is believed to be there in memory of Piero Farnese, Captain of the Florentines; however, knowing nothing more about this, I could not vouch for it. About the same time Mariotto, nephew of Andrea, made in fresco the Paradise of S. Michele Bisdomini, in the Via de' Servi in Florence, and the panel with an Annunciation that is on the altar; and for Monna Cecilia de' Boscoli he made another panel with many figures, placed near the door of the same church.

But among all the disciples of Orcagna none was more excellent than Francesco Traini, who made a panel with a ground of gold for a nobleman of the house of Coscia, who is buried at Pisa in the Chapel of S. Domenico, in the Church of S. Caterina; which panel contained a S. Dominic standing two braccia and a half high, with six scenes of his life on either side of him, animated and vivacious and well coloured. And in the same church, in the Chapel of S. Tommaso d'Aquino, he made a panel in distemper with fanciful invention, which is much praised, placing therein the said S. Thomas seated, portrayed from the life: I say from the life, because the friars of that place had an image of him brought from the Abbey of Fossa Nuova, where he died in the year 1323. Below, round S. Thomas, who is placed seated in the air with some books in his hand, which are illuminating the Christian people with their rays and lustre, there are kneeling a great number of doctors and clergy of every sort, Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes, among whom is the portrait of Pope Urban VI. Under the feet of S. Thomas are standing Sabellius, Arius, Averroes, and other heretics and philosophers, with their books all torn; and the said figure of S. Thomas is placed between Plato, who is showing him the Timæus, and Aristotle, who is showing him the Ethics. Above, a Jesus Christ, in like manner in the air between the four Evangelists, is blessing S. Thomas, and appears to be in the act of sending down upon him the Holy Spirit, and filling him with it and with His grace. This work, when finished, acquired very great fame and praise for Francesco Traini, for in making it he surpassed his master Andrea by a great measure in colouring, in harmony, and in invention. This Andrea was very diligent in his drawings, as it may be seen in our book.


(After the painting by Francesco Traini. Pisa: Church of S. Caterina)

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