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




When those arts that proceed from design come into competition and their craftsmen work in rivalry, without doubt the good intellects, exercising themselves with much study, discover new things every day in order to satisfy the various tastes of men; and some, speaking for the present of painting, executing works obscure and unusual and demonstrating in them the difficulty of making them, make known by the shadows the brightness of their genius. Others, fashioning the sweet and delicate, thinking these to be likely to be more pleasing to the eyes of all who behold them by reason of their having more relief, easily attract to themselves the minds of the greater part of men. Others, again, painting with unity and lowering the tones of the colours, reducing to their proper places the lights and shades of their figures, deserve very great praise, and reveal the thoughts of the intellect with beautiful dexterity of mind; even as they were ever revealed with a sweet manner in the works of Tommaso di Stefano, called Giottino, who, being born in the year 1324 and having learnt from his father the first principles of painting, resolved while still very young to attempt, in so far as he might be able with assiduous study, to be an imitator of the manner of Giotto rather than of that of his father Stefano. In this attempt he succeeded so well that he gained thereby, besides the manner, which was much more beautiful than that of his master, the surname of Giottino, which never left him; nay, by reason both of the manner and of the name it was the opinion of many, who, however, were in very great error, that he was the son of Giotto; but in truth it is not so, it being certain, or to speak more exactly, believed (it being impossible for such things to be affirmed by any man) that he was the son of Stefano, painter of Florence.

He was, then, so diligent in painting and so greatly devoted to it, that, although many of his works are not to be found, those nevertheless that have been found are good and in a beautiful manner, for the reason that the draperies, the hair, the beards, and all the rest of his work were made and harmonized with so great softness and diligence, that it is seen that without doubt he added harmony to this art and had it much more perfect than his master Giotto and his father Stefano. In his youth Giottino painted a chapel near the side-door of S. Stefano al Ponte Vecchio in Florence, wherein, although it is to-day much spoilt by damp, the little that has remained shows the dexterity and the genius of the craftsman. Next, he made the two Saints, Cosimo and Damiano, for the Frati Ermini in the Canto alla Macine, but little is seen of them to-day, for they too have been ruined by time. And he wrought in fresco a chapel in the old S. Spirito in that city, which was afterwards ruined in the burning of that church; and in fresco, over the principal door of the church, the story of the Sending of the Holy Spirit; and on the square before the said church, on the way to the Canto alla Cuculia, on the corner of the convent, he painted that shrine that is still seen there, with Our Lady and other Saints round her, wherein both the heads and the other parts lean strongly towards the modern manner, for the reason that he sought to vary and to blend the flesh-colours, and to harmonize all the figures with grace and judgment by means of a variety of colours and draperies. In like manner he wrought the stories of Constantine with much diligence in the Chapel of S. Silvestro in S. Croce, showing very beautiful ideas in the gestures of the figures; and then, behind an ornament of marble made for the tomb of Messer Bertino de' Bardi, a man who at that time had held honourable military rank, he made this Messer Bertino in armour, after the life, issuing from a sepulchre on his knees, being summoned with the sound of the trumpets of the Judgment by two angels, who are in the air accompanying a beautifully-wrought Christ in the clouds. On the right hand of the entrance of the door of S. Pancrazio the same man made a Christ who is bearing His Cross, and some Saints near Him, that have exactly the manner of Giotto. In S. Gallo (which convent was without the Gate called by the same name, and was destroyed in the siege) in a cloister, there was a Pietà painted in fresco, whereof there is a copy in the aforesaid S. Pancrazio, on a pillar beside the principal chapel. In S. Maria Novella, in the Chapel of S. Lorenzo de' Giuochi, as one enters by the door on the left, on the front wall, he wrought in fresco a S. Cosimo and a S. Damiano, and, in Ognissanti, a S. Christopher and a S. George, which were spoilt by the malice of time, and then restored by other painters by reason of the ignorance of a Provost little conversant with such matters. In the said church there has remained whole the arch that is over the door of the sacristy, wherein there is in fresco a Madonna with the Child in her arms by the hand of Tommaso, which is a good work, by reason of his having wrought it with diligence.

By means of these works Giottino had acquired so good a name, imitating his master both in design and in invention, as it has been told, that there was said to be in him the spirit of Giotto himself, both because of the vividness of his colouring and of his mastery in draughtsmanship; and in the year 1343, on July 2, when the Duke of Athens was driven out by the people and when he had renounced the sovereignty and restored their liberty to the Florentines, Giottino was forced by the twelve Reformers of the State, and in particular by the prayers of Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli, then a very great citizen, who had great influence with him, to paint in contempt, on the tower of the Palace of the Podestà, the said Duke and his followers, who were Messer Ceritieri Visdomini, Messer Maladiasse, his Conservator, and Messer Ranieri da San Gimignano, all with the cap of Justice ignominiously on their heads. Round the head of the Duke were many beasts of prey and other sorts, signifying his nature and his character; and one of those his counsellors had in his hand the Palace of the Priors of the city, and was handing it to him, like a disloyal traitor to his country. And all had below them the arms and emblems of their families, and some writings which can hardly be read to-day because they have been eaten away by time. In this work, both by reason of the draughtsmanship and of the great diligence wherewith it was executed, the manner of the craftsman gave universal pleasure to all. Afterwards, at the Campora, a seat of the Black Friars without the Porta a S. Piero Gattolini, he made a S. Cosimo and a S. Damiano, which were spoilt in the whitewashing of the church; and on the bridge of Romiti in Valdarno he painted in fresco the shrine that is built over the middle, with his own hand and in a beautiful manner.

It is found recorded by many who wrote thereon that Tommaso applied himself to sculpture and wrought a figure in marble on the Campanile of S. Maria del Fiore in Florence, four braccia high and facing the place where the Orphans now dwell. In S. Giovanni Laterano in Rome, likewise, he brought to fine completion a scene wherein he represented the Pope in several capacities, which is now seen to have been eaten away and corroded by time; and in the house of the Orsini he painted a hall full of famous men; with a very beautiful S. Louis on a pillar in the Araceli, on the right hand beside the altar.

In the lower church of S. Francesco at Assisi, in an arch over the pulpit (there being no other space that was not painted) he wrought the Coronation of Our Lady, with many angels round her, so gracious, so beautiful in the expressions of the faces, and so sweet and delicate in manner, that they show, with the usual harmony of colour which was something peculiar to this painter, that he had proved himself the peer of all who had lived up to that time; and round this arch he made some stories of S. Nicholas. In like manner, in the Monastery of S. Chiara in the same city, in the middle of the church, he painted a scene in fresco, wherein is S. Chiara supported in the air by two angels who appear real; she is restoring to life a child that was dead, while round her are standing many women all full of wonder, with great beauty in the faces and in the very gracious head-dresses and costumes of those times that they are wearing. In the same city of Assisi, over the gate of the city that leads to the Duomo—namely, in an arch on the inner side—he made a Madonna with the Child in her arms, with so great diligence that she appears alive, and a S. Francis and another Saint, both very beautiful; both of which works, although the story of S. Chiara remained unfinished by reason of Tommaso having fallen sick and returned to Florence, are perfect and most worthy of all praise.

(Florence: Uffizi 27. Panel)

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It is said that Tommaso was melancholic in temperament and very solitary, but with respect to art devoted and very studious, as it is clearly seen from a panel in the Church of S. Romeo in Florence, wrought by him in distemper with so great diligence and love that there has never been seen a better work on wood by his hand. In this panel, which is placed in the tramezzo[21] of the church, on the right hand, is a Dead Christ with the Maries and Nicodemus, accompanied by other figures, who are bewailing His death with bitterness and with very sweet and affectionate movements, wringing their hands with diverse gestures, and beating themselves in a manner that in the air of the faces there is shown very clearly their sharp sorrow at the so great cost of our sins. And it is something marvellous to consider, not that he penetrated with his genius to such a height of imagination, but that he could express it so well with the brush. Wherefore this work is consummately worthy of praise, not so much by reason of the subject and of the invention, as because in it the craftsman has shown, in some heads that are weeping, that although the lineaments of those that are weeping are distorted in the brows, in the eyes, in the nose, and in the mouth, this, however, neither spoils nor alters a certain beauty which is wont to suffer much in weeping when the painters do not know well how to avail themselves of the good methods of art. But it is no great thing that Giottino should have executed this panel with so much consideration, since in his labours he ever aimed rather at fame and glory than at any other reward, being free from the greed of gain, that makes our present masters less diligent and good. And even as he did not seek to have great riches, so he did not trouble himself much about the comforts of life—nay, living poorly, he sought to satisfy others rather than himself; wherefore, taking little care of himself and enduring fatigue, he died of consumption at the age of thirty-two, and was given burial by his relatives at the Martello Gate without S. Maria Novella, beside the tomb of Bontura.

Disciples of Giottino, who left more fame than wealth, were Giovanni Tossicani of Arezzo, Michelino, Giovanni dal Ponte, and Lippo, who were passing good masters of this art, but above all Giovanni Tossicani, who made many works throughout all Tuscany after Tommaso and in the same manner as his, and in particular the Chapel of S. Maria Maddalena, belonging to the Tuccerelli, in the Pieve of Arezzo, and a S. James on a pillar in the Pieve of the township of Empoli. In the Duomo of Pisa, also, he wrought some panels which have since been removed in order to make room for the modern. The last work that he made was in a chapel of the Vescovado of Arezzo, for the Countess Giovanna, wife of Tarlato da Pietramala—namely, a very beautiful Annunciation, with S. James and S. Philip; which work, by reason of the back of the wall being turned to the north, was little less than completely spoilt by damp, when Maestro Agnolo di Lorenzo of Arezzo restored the Annunciation, and shortly afterwards Giorgio Vasari, still a youth, restored the S. James and S. Philip, to his own great profit, having learnt much, at that time when he had not the advantage of other masters, by studying Giovanni's method of painting and the shadows and colours of that work, spoilt as it was. In this chapel there are still read these words in an epitaph of marble, in memory of the Countess who had it built and painted:


Of the works of the other disciples of Giottino there is no mention made, seeing that they were but ordinary and little like those of the master and of Giovanni Tossicani, their fellow-disciple. Tommaso drew very well, as it may be seen in our book, in certain drawings wrought by his hand with much diligence.

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