Painters and Sculptors of Florence
(1432-1498; 1443-1496)

MANY men timidly begin with base things, but, their courage increasing with their ability, they attack more formidable tasks, rise into the heavens with their soaring ideas, and, aided by fortune, frequently obtain the favour of some prince who, being well served, is bound to reward their labours, so that their descendants profit richly from their efforts. Thus they proceed through life, always winning fresh renown and filling the world with wonder. Such was the career of Antonio and Piero di Pollajuolo, who were much valued in their day for the great talents which they had acquired by their industry and labour. They were born at Florence within a few years of each other, their father being a man of low birth and not in very easy circumstances. Perceiving the keen intelligence of his sons by many signs, and being without the means to have them taught letters, he put Antonio with the gold smith Bartoluccio Ghiherti, then a famous master of the craft, and Piero with Andrea dal Castagno, then the best painter in Florence. Antonio, being instructed by Bartoluccio, learned to set jewels and prepare silver enamelwork, and was considered the most skilful workman with his tools that the art possessed. Thus Lorenzo Ghiberti, being then busy with the doors of S. Giovanni, and happening to see Antonio's work, employed him as well as many other youths. Antonio, being set to work on one of the festoons which may still be seen there, made a quail so finely that it lacks nothing but the power of flight. Antonio had not spent many weeks at that employment before he surpassed all his fellows in design and patience, as well as in ingenuity and diligence. His talents and fame increasing, he left Bartoluccio and Lorenzo, and opened a magnificent goldsmith's shop of his own in the Mercato nuovo. He practised this art for many years, designing and making wax models and other fancies in relief, so that he soon gained the well-merited reputation of being the first man in his trade.

At this time there lived another goldsmith named Maso Finiguerra, with an extraordinary but well merited reputation. In engraving Andniello no one could put so many figures into small or large spaces as he, as may be seen by some patines done by him in S. Giovanni at Florence, with tiny scenes relating to the Passion of Christ. He designed excellently, and our book contains a number of sheets of his drawings of draped and nude figures and water-colour sketches. In competition with him Antonio did some scenes which equalled Maso's for diligence and surpassed them in design. 1 The consuls of the art of the merchants, recognising the worth of Antonio, proposed to employ him to do some patines in silver for the altar of S. Giovanni, such as had been executed by various masters at different times. This was done, and his work proved so excellent that they may be recognised as the best among all the others. They represented the banquet of Herod and the dancing of Herodias (sic), but the most beautiful of all is the St. John' in the middle of the altar, entirely chiselled, and greatly admired. After this the wardens allotted to him the silver candelabrato do, three braccia each, and the cross in proportion. 2 He executed these with such elaborate carving, and finished them so beautifully that they have always been considered marvellous by strangers as well as by natives. He spared no pains in his work, whether in gold, silver or enamel. Among them there are some fine patines in S. Giovanni, so well coloured that it would hardly be possible to make better ones with the brush; while the churches of Florence and Rome and other places in Italy contain some marvellous enamels by him. He taught his art to Maszingo 3 of Florence, and to Giuliano del Facchino, both meritorious masters, and to Giovanni Turini of Siena, who easily surpassed his companions. From the days of Antonio di Salvi, who did many good things, including a large silver cross in the Badia at Florence, until now, no work of extraordinary merit has been seen in that art. Many of the works of these men and of the Pollajuoli have gone into the melting-pot for the requirements of the city during the war.

Antonio foresaw that his art did not promise a lasting fame to his labours, and resolved to take up something else. As his brother Piero was a painter, he went to him to learn the art of manipulating colours. He found this art so different from that of the goldsmith, that if he had not resolved entirely to abandon his former pursuit he would probably have returned to it. But being impelled onwards by a sense of shame, he learned the art of colouring in a few months, and became an excellent master. He identified himself completely with Piero, and in conjunction they produced a quantity of pictures. Among these was an oil painting for the cardinal of Portugal, a great lover of painting, placed upon the altar of his chapel in S. Miniato al Monte, outside Florence. 4 It represented St. James the Apostle, St. Eustace and St. Vincent, and has been much admired. Piero, who had learned oil-painting from Andrea dal Castagno, painted in that medium the wall spaces under the architrave below the vaulting, doing some prophets, and an Annunciation with three figures in a lunette. For the captains of the Parte he did a Madonna and Child in a lunette surrounded by a border of cherubim, all in oils. On a pilaster of S. Michele in Orto they painted in oils on canvas the Angel Raphael with Tobias, 5 and did some Virtues in the Mercatanzia of Florence, 6 in the place where the magistrate sits in judgment. He drew the portrait of M. Poggio, secretary of the Signoria of Florence, who continued the history of Florence by M. Leonardo d' Areszo, and M. Giannozzo Manetti, a learned and notable person in the Proconsolo, where portraits of the Florentine poet Zanetti da Strada Domenico Acciaiuoli, and others, had been done by other masters. In the Chapel of the Pucci at S. Sebastiano of the Servites he did the altarpiece, a fine work, containing some remarkable horses, nude figures and perspectives, with St. Sebastian, a portrait of Gino di Ludovico Capponi. 7 This work was the most admired of all that Antonio did. He always copied Nature as closely as possible, and has here represented an archer drawing the bowstring to his breast and bending down to charge it, putting all the force of his body into the action, for we may see the swelling of his veins and muscles and the manner in which he is holding his breath. This was not the only figure executed with such considerations, but all the others are alike in their varied attitudes, showing the ingenuity and thought which he bestowed upon the work. This was fully recognised by Antonio Pucci, who gave him 300 crowns for it, declaring that he was barely paying him for the colours. It was finished in 1475.

Encouraged by his success; Antonio painted a St. Christopher 8 at S Miniato between the towers, outside the gatten braccia high, done so well and in such a modern style, that it was the best-proportioned figure of its size produced up to that time. He then painted a crucifix on canvas, with Antonino, now placed in his chapel in Marco. In the palace of the Signoria of Florence he did a St. John the Baptist at the Catena door, and in the Casa Medici he did for the elder three Hercules in three pictures, each five braccia high, the one where he crushes Antaeus, 9 a very fine figure, with a splendid representation of the force of the hero, the muscles and nerves being all braced for the effort, while the grinding of the teeth and the attitude of the head accord with the tension of the other members. The figure of Antaeus is no less remarkable, as all life is being crushed out of him by the grasp of Hercules, and he expires with open mouth. In the next Hercules is killing the lion, with his left knee on its chest, forcing apart the creature's jaws with his hands, setting his teeth and bracing his arms the while, the animal clawing at his arms in self-defence. The third, in which he is killing the hydra, is truly marvellous, especially as the colouring of the creature is of the brightest and most effective hue. Here we perceive the venom, the fire, the fury, all represented with a vigour worthy of admiration and imitation by all good artists. For the company of S. Angelo at Arezzo he painted a banner with a crucifix on one side and on the other St. Michael fighting the dragon, of remarkable excellence. St. Michael is boldly confronting the serpent, grinding his teeth and frowning, so that he actually seems to have come down from heaven for the purpose of wreaking the vengeance of God upon the pride of Lucifer. It is really a marvel. Antonio's treatment of the nude is more modern than that of any of the masters who preceded him, and he dissected many bodies to examine their anatomy, being the first to show how the muscles must be looked for to take their proper place in figures. He engraved a battle scene on copper of all these, Surrounded by a chain, and followed this up by a number of engravings far superior to any done by his predecessors. Having become famous among artists, he was invited to Rome on the death of Pope Sixtus IV. by his successor Innocent. There he made a metal tomb for Innocent, representing him seated and in the act of benediction, which was placed in S. Pietro, and he did another very sumptuous tomb for Pope Sixtus, set up in the chapel named after him, 10 richly decorated and standing alone. It contains a fine recumbent effigy of that pope. The tomb of Innocent stands in S. Pietro next the chapel containing the lance of Christ. It is said that Antonio designed the Belvedere Palace for Pope Innocent, though the building was carried out by others, because he had no great experience in such work. Both brothers, having become rich died in 1498, within a short time of each other, and were buried by their relations in S. Piero ad Vincula. Their portraits in two marble medallions were set up by the middle door on the left-hand side as one enters the church, with the following epitaph:

Antonius Pullarius patria Florentinus pictor insignis, qui duor.pont. Xisti et Innocentii aerea moniment. miro opific. expressit refamil. composita ex test. hic se cum Petro fratre condi voluit. vixitan. LXXII. Obiit an. sal. M.IID.

Antonio also made a metal bas-relief representing a fight between nude figures, which went to Spain. There is a plaster cast of this fine work in the possession of the artists at Florence. After his death a model was discovered for an equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, which he did for Ludovico Sforza. There are two versions of this design in our book: in the one Verona is represented beneath in the other the figure is in full armour, and on a pedestal full of battle scenes he makes the horse tread upon an armed man. I have not yet been able to discover why these designs were not carried out. He also made some fine medals, one especially of the conspiracy of the Pazzi, with the head of Lorenzo arid Giuliano de' Medici, and on the reverse the choir of S. Maria del Fiore and the whole incident just at it happened. He also made the medals of some of the popes, and many other things well known to artists.

Antonio was seventy-two at his death and Piero sixty-five. He left many pupils, amongst them Andrea Sansovino. During the course of a most fortunate life Antonio came into contact with very rich popes, while his native city was at the height of her artistic appreciation. Thus he was greatly valued, but if he had lived in un prosperous times he would not have succeeded so well, because they are very unfavourable to the sciences in which men take delight. From his design two dalmatic as, a chasuble and a cope were made for S. Giovanni at Florence of double brocade, all of one piece without any seam, the borders and ornamentation consisting of Scenes from the life of St. John embroidered by Paolo da Verona, a marvellous master at such work, the most skilful to be found, who executed the figures with the needle no less finely than Antonio did them with t brush, so that the patient sewing of the one was not less he than the skilful designing of the other. The production of this work took twenty-six years, and it looks like a piece of colouring, though it is far more durable. This art is now all but lost, the stitches being now made much longer, rendering the work at once less durable and less pleasing to the eye.

  • 1 Done in 1452 by Michelozzo Michelozzi; now in the Opera del Duomo.
  • 2 The cross is by Betto Betti.
  • 3 Alitonio de' Mazzinghi.
  • 4 Painted in 1465; now in the Uffizi. Mr. Berenson considers it entirely the work of Piero.
  • 5 Painted in 1496; now in the Turin Gallery.
  • 6 Now in the Uffizi.
  • 7 Painted 1475; now in the National Gallery, London.
  • 8 Now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Mr. Berenson considers it the work of Piero.
  • 9 These large paintings have disappeared. The Uffizi possesses two small panels by Antonio of Hercules and Antaeus and Hercules and the Hydra.
  • 10 Pope Sixtus died in 1484; the tomb was made 1490-93.

  • Index of Artists