Illuminator and Painter

IT rarely happens that a man of good and exemplary life is not provided by Heaven with the best friends and an honourable abode, and is not greatly revered for his blameless character when alive, and lamented after his death by those who have known him. Such a man was Don Bartolommeo della Gatta, abbot of S. Clemente at Arezzo, who excelled in many things, and was a man of exemplary character. He was a monk of the Angioli at Florence, of the Camaldo line order, and in his youth, perhaps for the same reasons that have been related in the Life of Don Lorenzo, he proved himself a remarkable illuminator, and very skilful in design, as is shown by the illuminations which he did for the monks of S. Fiore and Lucilla in the abbey of Arezzo, and particularly in a missal given to Pope Sixtus, where the first page for private prayers contains a most beautiful Passion of Christ. Those also which are in the Duomo of S. Martino at Lucca are by his hand. Soon after this he was employed to do the abbey of S. Clemente at Arezzo by Mariotto Maldoli, an Aretine, general of the Camaldo lines, a member of the same family as that Maldolo who gave to St. Romuald, the founder of the order, the place and site of Camaldoli, at that time called the field of Maldolo. Bartolommeo, as if grateful for this favour, afterwards did many things for the general and for his order.

On the outbreak of the plague of 1468, the abbot, like many others, remained in his house, and devoted himself to making large figures, and, finding himself successful, he began to do more important things. 1 The first was a St. Roch which he painted oil a panel for the rectors of the fraternity at Arezzo, and which is now in their audience-chamber, the figure interceding with Our Lady for the people of Arezzo. 2 He introduced the piazza of the city, and the house of the fraternity, with some grave diggers burying the dead. He did yet another St. Roch like it for the church of S. Pietro, representing Arezzo as it then was, very different from its present form, and a third, which was far better than the other two, in a panel which is in the Lippi Chapel in the Pieve of Arezzo. This last St. Roch is a very fine and remarkable figure, and probably the best that he ever produced, it being impossible to imagine a finer head or hands. In the same city of Arezzo he painted a panel of the Archangel Raphael in S. Piero, where the Servite friars are, and in the same place he drew the portrait of the Blessed Jacopo Filippo of Piacenza.

Being invited to Rome, he did a scene in the Sistine Chapel in conjunction with Luca of Cortona and Pietro Perugino. 3 Returning to Arezzo, he did for the Chapel of the Gozzari in the Vescovado a St. Jerome in penance, the figure being lean and clean shaven, with his eyes fixed intently upon the crucifix, while he strikes his breast, and shows the force of his struggle against the passions. For this work he made a large rock with some caves, the openings of which he filled with stories of the saint in very graceful small figures. After this he did a Coronation of the Virgin in fresco in a chapel of S. Agostino, for the nuns of the third order, it is said, which has been much admired, and is very well done. Below this, in another chapel, he has done an Assumption, with some angels in delicate draperies, forming a large picture. It has been much admired as a work in tempera, and indeed it shows good design, and was executed with extraordinary diligence. In the tympanum above the door of the church of S. Donato, in the citadel of Arezzo, he painted in fresco Our Lady with the Child, St. Donato and St. John Gualbert, all very fine figures.

In the abbey of S. Fiore, in the same city, there is a chapel by his hand near the principal door, containing St. Benedict and other saints executed with much grace, skill and sweetness. He also painted a lead Christ in a chapel for Gentile of Urbino, bishop of Arezzo, 4 his close friend, with whom he passed nearly all his time in the episcopal palace. In a loggia he drew the bishop himself, his vicar, and Ser Matteo Francini, the bishop's notary of the bench, who is reading a bull to him, as well as his own portrait, and some canons of the city. For the same bishop he designed a loggia connecting the palace and the Vescovado, and on the same level as they are. The bishop wished to have his tomb constructed here in the form of a chapel, and Bartolommeo therefore worked hard at it, but at his death it was left unfinished, for though he instructed his successor to complete it he did nothing, as is usually the case when works are thus left. For the same bishop the abbot made a large and beautiful chapel in the old Duomo, but as it had a short life I will say no more about it. Besides this he worked in many places in the city, as, for example, three figures in the Carmine and the chapel of the nuns of S. Orsina, and a picture in tempera in the chapel of the high altar in the Pieve of S. Giuliano at Castiglione of Arezzo, containing a lovely Madonna, St. Julian and St. Michael, all excellent figures, particularly the St. Julian, who steadfastly regards the Christ in His Mother's arms, and seems greatly distressed at having killed his father and his mother. 5 In a chapel slightly below this there is a small door by him which used to belong to an old organ, on which is painted a St. Michael, considered remarkable, with a baby in a woman's arms, which seems alive. For the nuns of the Murate at Arezzo he did the chapel of the high altar, a much-admired painting. At Monte S. Savino he did a tabernacle opposite the palace of the Cardinal di Monte, which was considered very fine, and in Borgo S. Sepolcro, where the Vescovado now is, he did a chapel which won him great honour and profit.

Don Clemente possessed a mind capable of all things, and, besides being a good musician, he made lead organs, and one of paper in S. Domenico, which has always remained sweet and good. There was another by his hand in S. Clemente, raised on high, with the keyboard below on a level with the choir. This was a good idea, for the place had but few monks, and he wished the organist to sing as well as play. This abbot was devoted to religion, being a true minister and not as quanderer of Divine things; and he greatly improved that place with buildings and paintings, restoring the principal chapel of his church and painting it all, and in two niches on either side he put St. Roch and St. Bartholomew, which have perished with the church but to return to the abbot. He was a good and pious monk, and left as his pupil in painting Matteo Lappoli of Arezzo, who was a worthy and skilful artist, as is seen by his works in the chapel of St. Sebastian in St. Agostino, that saint being represented in a niche, made in relief. About him are painted St. Blaise, St. Roch, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Bernardino. In the arch of the chapel there is at, Annunciation, while the four Evangelists are smoothly represented in fresco on the vaulting. There is another chapel in fresco by the same hand, on the left as one enters the side door, containing the Nativity and an Annunciation, the angel being a portrait of Giuliano Bacci, then a beautiful youth. Over this door, on the outside, he did an Annunciation, between St. Peter and St. Paul, the Madonna being a portrait of the mother of M. Pietro Aretino, the famous poet. In the chapel of St. Bernardino in St. Francesco he painted a life-like figure of the saint, which is the best figure that he ever did. In the Chapel of the Pietramaleschi in the Vescovado he did a very fine St. Ignatius in tempera, and at the door opening onto the piazza in the Pieve he did St. Andrew and St. Sebastian.

For the company of the Trinity he displayed great power of invention in the execution of a work done for Buoninsegua Duoninsegni of Arezzo, which may be numbered among the best which he ever did. This is a crucifix upon the altar between St. Martin and St. Roch, who are both kneeling. The one is a poor, shrivelled, hungry and ill-clothed man, from whom issue rays towards the wounds of the Saviour, whom he regards intently; the other is richly clothed in purple and fine linen, joyful of countenance, and his rays, although they issue from his heart like those of the other, do not go straight to the wounds of Christ, but spread and enlarge through a country full of corn, wheat, cattle, gardens and other like things, while others descend towards the sea upon some vessels laden with merchandise, and others again to some benches where money is changed. All these were executed by Matteo with judgment, skill and diligence, but were destroyed not long afterwards to make a chapel. In the Pieve below the pulpit he made a Christ with the Cross for M. Lionardo Albergotti.

Another pupil of the abbot of S. Clemente was an Aretine friar of the Servites, who painted in colours the front of the house of the Belichini of Arezzo, and two chapels in fresco in S. Piero, next each other. Another pupil was Domenico Pecori of Arezzo, who did three figures in tempera at Sargiano, and a fine banner in oils for the company of St. Mary Magdalene, to be carried in procession, and a picture of St. Apollonia for M. Presentino Bisdomini in the chapel of St. Andrew in the Pieve, like the one mentioned above. He finished many things which his master had left, as, for instance, the picture of S. Sebastian and Fabian, with the Madonna, for the family of the Benucci, 6 and in the church of S. Antonio he painted the picture for the high altar, containing a very devout Madonna, with some saints. The Madonna is adoring the Child, who is in her lap, and he has introduced a little angel kneeling, who holds up Jesus on a cushion, the Virgin not being able to support Him, as she hasher hands folded in adoration. In the church of S. Giustino he painted a chapel of the Magi in fresco for M. Antonio Roseni, and a large picture in the Pieve for the company of the Madonna, representing Our Lady in the air, with the people of Arezzo beneath, comprising a number of portraits. 7 He was assisted in this work by a Spanish painter who worked skillfully in oils, Domenico not being so skilled in oils as in tempera. The same artist helped him with a picture for the company of 8 a Trinita, containing the Circumcision of Our Lord, considered very good, and a Noli me tangere in fresco in the garden of S. Fiore. Finally, he painted in the Vescovado for M. Donato Marinelli, the dean, a picture containing many figures of good invention and design, and in high relief, which brought him much honour at the time, and has done since. As he was an old man, he called to his assistance M. Capanna, a painter of Siena and a meritorious master who had done a number of walls in grisaille and many panels at Siene.

If he had lived he would have won great honour in the art, to judge from the little which he did accomplish. For the fraternity of Arezzo Domenico had made a baldachino, 9 painted in oils, a rich and costly thing, but a short while ago it was lent for a representation of St. John and St. Paulin S. Francesco to adorn a Paradise near the roof of the church, and the large number of lights caused a fire which burned the picture, as well as the representative of God the Father, who, being bound, was unable to escape as the angels did, and there was a great loss of ecclesiastical adornments and injury to the spectators, who were panic-stricken and rushed to the door, about eighty of them being crushed, a most lamentable circumstance. The baldachino was subsequently restored 10 with more richness and painted by Giorgio Vasari. Domenico next devoted himself to making windows, and there were three by his hand in the Vescovado, but they were destroyed by the artillery during the wars. Another pupil of the abbot was Angelo di Lorentino, painter, 11 who possessed no mean talent. He also worked at the door of S. Domenico, and with assistance he might have become an excellent master. The abbot died at the age of eighty-three, leaving the church of Our Lady of the Tears unfinished, after making the model. The edifice was afterwards completed by various masters. The abbot thus deserves praise as an illuminator, architect, painter and musician. His monks buried him in his abbey of S. Clemente, and his works have always been held in high repute in the city, where these lines may be read upon the tomb:

Pingebat docte Zeusis, condebat et aedes Nicon Pan capripes, fistula prima tua est. Non tamen ex vobis mecum certaverit ullus Quae tres fecistis, unicus haec facio.

He died in 1461, after having enriched the art of illuminating with the beauties which characterise all his works. Some of his sheets in our book may serve as an example. His style was afterwards imitated by Girolamo Padoano in the illuminations in some books at S. Maria Novella, Florence, and by Gherardo, a Florentine illuminator, also called Vante, who is spoken of elsewhere, and whose works are mostly at Venice. I have inserted a notice upon him sent to me by some Venetian nobles. I have copied this exactly to satisfy those who have taken such pains to collect the information here given, adopting their own words, for as I have not seen the things myself I am unable to give an independent judgment.

  • 1 Professor Venturi gives reasons for the conclusion that there was no such person. The facts given here seem to apply to one Pietro Dei.
  • 2 Now in the Pinacoteca, Arezzo; painted about 1479.
  • 3 1481.
  • 4 Gentile de Becchi, who died 1497.
  • 5 1486. For this saint, see note vol. i., page 265.
  • 6 Now at Campriano, near Areszo.
  • 7 Pinacoteca, Arezzo.
  • 8 Now in S. Agostino.
  • 9 Pinacoteca, Arezzo.
  • 10 In 1556.
  • 11 Who died 1527.

  • Index of Artists