Painter, Sculptor and Architect of Florence

ANDREA DEL Verrocchio of Florence was in his time a goldsmith, perspectivist, sculptor, carver, painter and musician. But his style in sculpture and painting was somewhat hard and crude, as if he had acquired his skill rather by indefatigable study than by any natural gift or facility. This facility, although not so advantageous 1 as study and diligence, would have rendered him a most excellent artist, but when either study or Nature is lacking, the highest excellence is rarely found, although‚study confers more than the other. However, Andrea, by his unequalled diligence, won a place among the rare and excellent artists. In his youth he studied science and especially geometry. While a goldsmith he made, besides other things, some clasps for copes which are in S. Maria del Fiore at Florence, and a cup, the body of which is surrounded by animals, leaves and other curious things, a work well known to all goldsmiths. In another he has very prettily represented some boys dancing. Having disclosed his merit by these things, Andrea was employed by the art of the merchants to make two silver bas-reliefs for the altar of S. Giovanni, 2 from which when done he acquired much glory and reputation.

Rome did not at this time possess all of those large-sized apostles usually placed upon the altar of the Pope's chapel with some other silver-work now destroyed. Accordingly Andrea was sent for, and by the special favour of Pope Sixtus he was employed to do all that was necessary here. 3 He completed his task with the utmost diligence. Seeing that the numerous ancient statues and other things at Rome were greatly esteemed, and that the bronze horse 4 was placed by the Pope in S. Giovanni Lateran, and fragments of other things found every day were also highly valued, Andrea determined to take up sculpture. Accordingly he altogether abandoned the goldsmith's craft, and began by casting some little bronze figures which were much admired, and, encouraged by this, he began to work in marble. About this time occurred the death of the wife of Francesco Tornabuoni in child-birth, and her husband, who had greatly loved her and wished to honour her as much as possible, employed Andrea to make her tomb. He carved the lady's effigy in stone upon a marble sarcophagus, representing her confinement and passing to another life, and then did three Virtues, considered very fine, this being his first work in marble. The tomb was afterwards placed in the Minerva. 5

Returning to Florence with money, fame and honour, Andrea was set to make a David two and a half braccia high. 6 When finished it was placed in the palace at the top of the stairs where the chain was, to his great glory. Whilst engaged upon this statue he did the marble Madonna in S. Croce above the tomb of M. Leonardo Bruni' of Arezzo. He did this while still young for Bernardo Rossellino, architect and sculptor, who carried out the entire work in marble, as has been said. He further made a Madonna and Child, half-length, in half-relief on a marble slab, which used to be in the Casa Medici, and is now over a door in the chamber of the Duchess of Florence, as a most beautiful thing. He also did two metal heads, one of Alexander the Great, in profile, the other of Darius, a fancy head, in half-relief with different crests and armour and variety in every particular. Both were sent by Lorenzo de' Medici the elder to Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, with many other things, as will be said in the proper place. 7 Having acquired a reputation as an excellent master, especially in numerous bronze works in which he greatly delighted, Andrea made the torn b of Giovanni and Piero di Cosimo de' Medici in S. Lorenzo, 8 with a sarcophagus of porphyry borne at the four corners by bronze supports with beautifully turned leaves, finished with tile utmost diligence.

This tomb is placed between the chapel of the Sacrament and the sacristy, and there is no better work of bronze anywhere, especially as he had at the same time demonstrated his skill in architecture by arranging the tomb in the opening of a window five braccia wide and about ten high, placed upon a pedestal and separating the chapel of the Sacrament from the old sacristy. To fill the gap between the sarcophagus and the vaulting he made a grille of bronze rope netting, diamond pattern, ornamented in places with festoons and other remarkable fancies, executed with great skill, judgment and invention.

Donatello having made the marble niche for the Magistracy of the Six of the Mercanzia, now opposite S. Michele in the oratory of Orsanmichele, and a St. Thomas feeling the wounds of Christ being required, that work was not then carried out because some wished it to be done by Donatello and others by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The dispute having endured throughout the lives of these masters, both statues were ultimately allotted to Andrea, 9 who made the models and forms, cast them, and obtained the most satisfactory results. Having afterwards cleaned and finished them, he brought them to their prese1it state of perfection, which is unrivalled. St. Thomas displays his incredulity and a too great readiness to ascertain the fact, though he also shows love while putting his hand in Christ's side, the Lord raising His arm with great freedom and opening His garment, thus removing the doubt of the incredulous disciple with all the grace and divinity that art can impart to a figure. The excellence of the draperies of these figures shows that Andrea was as much a master of this art as Donato, Lorenzo, and his other predecessors, so that the work deserved to be placed in a niche beside Donato's and to be held then as now in the greatest repute.

As Andrea could not rise higher in that profession, and being a man who could not be contented with excellence in one department, ‚ but eager to win distinction in others, he turned his attention to painting and did some sketches for a combat of nude figures which he proposed to execute in colours on a wall. He also made the cartoons of some pictures which he proceeded to execute in colours, but whatever the cause these remained imperfect. There are some of his drawings in our book executed with the greatest patience and judgment, among them being some female heads so beautiful and with such charming hair that Leonardo da Vinci was always imitating them. It also contains two horses with the method of enlarging things in proportion without errors. I also have a horse's head in terra cotta copied from the antique, and a rare work, while the Very Rev. Don Vincenzio Borghini has some others on paper in his book, already mentioned. Among them is a design for a tomb made by Andrea at Venice for a doge, and the Magi adoring Christ, with a most lovely woman's head, painted on paper. For Lorenzo de' Medici he made a bronze boy hugging a fish, 10 for the fountain of the Villa Careggi, which has been set up by Duke Cosimo as the fountain in the court of his palace, and is a really marvellous work.

Upon the completion of the dome of S. Maria del Fiore 11 it was determined after much discussion to place a copper ball on the top of it, as Filippo Brunelleschi had devised. The charge of this was entrusted to Andrea, who made one four braccia high, placed on a disk and so arranged that it could safely carry the cross. This done, it was installed amid universal rejoicing. 12 It was necessary to employ both genius and diligence in its construction, because it was essential to arrange an entrance into it from below and to fortify it so that the wind should do it 110 harm. As Andrea never rested, but was always at work on something, whether painting or sculpture, it would sometimes happen that one thing would overlap another so that he might not, like many others, become tired of always doing the same thing. However, he did not carry out the cartoons mentioned, though he also did some paintings, among them being a well-executed picture for the nuns of S. Domenico at Florence 13 in which he considered he had done very well. Accordingly, soon after he painted another in S. Salvi for the friars of Vallombroso representing St. John baptising Christ. 14 In this work he was assisted by Lionardo Da Vinci, his pupil, then quite a youth, who did an angel so far excelling the rest that Andrea resolved never to touch the brush again, because Lionardo, though so young, had so far surpassed him.

Cosimo de' Medici imported from Rome many antiquities, and inside the door of the garden or court opening into the via de' Ginori he placed a beautiful white marble Marsyas bound to a tree and ready to be flayed. Lorenzo, his nephew, having obtained a torso and head of another antique Marsyas, much finer than the first and of red stone, wished to match it with the first and could not because it was very imperfect. Accordingly he gave it to Andrea to restore and finish, and that artist made the legs, sides and arms that were lacking for the one in red marble so well that Lorenzo was delighted and had it set up on the opposite side of the door to the other. This antique torso of a flayed Marsyas was made with such skill and judgment that some slender white veins in the red stone came out, through skilful carving, in the proper places, appearing like small sinews, such as are seen in natural figures when flayed, and this rendered the work most life-like when it was polished for the first time.

The Venetians desiring to honour the skill of Bartolommeo da Bergamo, who had gained many victories for them, and in order to encourage the others, invited Andrea, of whose fame they had heard, to come to Venice, and instructed him to make a bronze equestrian statue of that captain for the Piazza S. Giovanni e Paolo. 15 Andrea accordingly made the model for the horse, and had begun his preparations to cast it in, bronze when by means of the favour of some nobles it was proposed that Vellano da Padova should make the figure and Andrea the horse. When Andrea heard this he broke the legs and head of his model, and without a word returned in a rage to Florence. On hearing this the Signoria warned him never to venture to return to Venice on pain of losing his head, to which he wrote in reply that he would take good care not to, because it was not in their power to replace men's heads after they had removed them, and never one like his own, though he could do so in the case of the horse's head he had broken, and make it even finer. This answer did not displease the Signoria, and they subsequently induced him to return to Venice at twice the salary. Here he repaired his first model and cast it in bronze, but did not finish it, for becoming overheated during the casting he caught a chill, of which he died in a few days, leaving unfinished not only that work, although there was little to be done, and after being finished it was set up in its appointed place, but another which he was doing in Pistoia, namely the tomb of the Cardinal Forteguerra, with the three Theological Virtues and God the Father above, afterwards finished by Lorenzetto, sculptor of Florence. 16 Andrea was fifty-six at his death, which caused great grief to his friends and numerous pupils, and especially to Nanni Grosso, the sculptor, a very eccentric man both in art and in life. It is said that he would never do any work away from his shop, and certainly not for monks or friars, unless the entrance to the vault or cellar were left open, so that he might go and drink when he pleased without being obliged to ask permission. It is also related that once, on returning cured from some sickness from S. Maria Nuova, he told the friends who visited him and inquired after his health that he was ill. "Yet you are healed," they replied; to which he retorted, "That is why I am ill, because I want a little fever to enable me to remain comfortably here in the hospital." When he came to die they brought him a rudely made wooden crucifix, and he requested them to take it away, and bring him one by Donatello, saying that if they did not he should die in despair, so much did he detest the sight of ill-made works of his art. Pietro Perugino and Leonardo da Vinci, who will be mentioned elsewhere, were also pupils of Andrea, as well as Francesco di Simone of Florence, who did a marble tomb in S. Domenico, at Bologna, with small figures, which by their style might be by Andrea. 17 It was made for M. Alessandro Tartaglia, a doctor of Imola, and another, which corresponds, in S. Brancazio, at Florence, in the sacristy, and in a chapel of the church for M. Pier Minerbetti, knight. Yet another pupil, Agnolo di Polo, was a skilful worker in clay, and has filled the city with his productions, and if he had eared to devote himself seriously to art he would have done most beautiful things. But Andrea's favourite pupil was Lorenzo di Credi, who brought his master's remains from Venice, and laid them in the church of S. Ambruogio, in the tomb of Ser Miehele di Cione, above which these words are carved:

Ser Michaelis di Cionis, et suorum: and nearby: Hic ossa jacent Andreae Verrochii qui obiit Venetiis MCCCCLXXXVIII.

Andrea was very fond of making plaster casts, the material being a soft stone excavated at Volterra, Siena, and many other places in Italy. This stone, baked at the fire, and made into a paste with tepid water, may then be fashioned as desired, and being afterwards dried, it becomes hard so that whole figures may be east in it. Andrea used it to form natural objects, so that he might have them before him and imitate them, such as hands, feet, knees, legs, arms and busts. Later on in his life men began to make at a slight cost death masks of those who died, so that a number of these life-like portraits may be seen in every house in Florence over chimney-pieces, doors, windows and cornices. This practice has been continued to our own time, and has proved of great advantage in obtaining many of the portraits introduced into the scenes in the palace of Duke Cosimo. For this a great debt is due to Andrea, who was one of the first to make use of it.

To Andrea also is due a greater perfection in votive images, not only in Florence, but in all places where there are dcvotions, and where persons assemble to offer such objects for some favour received, miracles as they are called. These were first made small in silver, or small painted panels, or else very rudely moulded in wax, but in Andrea's time a much better style was introduced, for being very intimate with Orsino, a worker in wax, a man of good judgment in his art, Andrea began to show him how he could attain to excellence. An opportunity presented itself at the death of Giuliano, and the wounding of his brother Lorenzo in S. Maria del Fiore. 18 It was then decreed by the friends and relations of Lorenzo that images of him should be made in several places, rendering thanks to God for his preservation. Accordingly Orsino, with the assistance arid advice of Andrea, made three life-sized wax figures, the framework being of wood, as has been said elsewhere, covered with split canes, over which cloth was stretched and waxed over, so that nothing more life-like could be desired. He made the heads, hands and feet of coarser wax, hollow inside, painting the hair and other things in oils, as was necessary, in a very natural manner. All three may still be seen, one being in the church of the nuns of Chiarito in the via di S. Gallo, opposite the crucifix which works miracles. This figure is dressed exactly as Lorenzo was when wounded in the throat, and showed himself at the windows of his house, all bandaged, to be seen by the people, who wished to know whether he was alive, as they hoped, or dead, so that they might avenge him. The second figure is in a gown, a civil habit worn by the Florentines, and this is in the church of the Servites at the Nunziata, above the lesser door, beside the desk where the candles are sold. The third was sent to S. Maria degli Angeli at Assisi and placed before that Madonna.

As I have already said, Lorenzo caused the whole of the street leading from S. Maria to the gate of Assisi towards S. Franeesco to be paved with bricks, and he restored the fountains erected there by his grandfather Cosimo. But to return to the waxen images. Those are by Orsino, which are in the said church of the Servites, and which have on the bottom a large O with an R inside and a cross above. All are of extreme beauty, and very few have equalled them. The art has been maintained until our own days, though in a somewhat declining condition, through lack of devotion, or from some other cause.

But to return to Verrocchio. Besides the works referred to he did some wooden crucifixes, and other things in clay, in which he excelled, as we see by the models of the subjects which he did for the altar of S. Giovanni, in some beautiful children, and in a head of St. Jerome, which is considered marvellous. He also did the boy on the clock in the Mereatonuovo with movable arms, which he raises to strike the hour with a hammer. This was considered a very beautiful and curious thing at the time. We have now reached the end of the Life of that distinguished sculptor Andrea Verrocchio. A contemporary of his named Benedetto Buglioni learned from his wife, a member of the house of Andrea della Robbia, the secret of glazing clay, and made many works of that sort in Florence and elsewhere, notably in the church of the Servites, near the chapel of St. Barbara, where he made a Resurrection of Christ, with some angels, which are of considerable merit for works of that kind. In a chapel of St. Brancazio he painted a dead Christ, and the lunette over the door of S. Pier Maggiore. The secret was transmitted by Benedetto to Santi Buglioni, the only living man who understands this sort of sculpture.

  • 1 Andrea di Cioni.
  • 2 In 1477.
  • 3 As there is no mention of Verrocchio in the papal accounts, this statement must be regarded as doubtful.
  • 4 The statue of Marcus Aurelius.
  • 5 Lucrezia Tornabuoni died in September 1477. Fragments of the tomb are preserved in the Bargello, Florence.
  • 6 Done about 1476.
  • 7 Who died 1443.
  • 8 In 1472.
  • 9 In 1478; set up in 1483.
  • 10 Done about 1469.
  • 11 In 1467.
  • 12 In 1471.
  • 13 Now in the Budapest Gallery.
  • 14 Now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 15 Golleone died 1 Febluary, 1475. The monument was commissioned in 1479 and set up in 1496.
  • 16 The cardinal died in 1473 and the tomb was commissioned in 1477. Verrocchios original design, which was not followed, is preserved in the South Kensington Museum.
  • 17 Francesco di Simone Feruccio (1438-93); the tomb is that of Alessandro Tartagni, who died in 1477.
  • 18 In the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478.

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