Painter of Florence

BARTOLOMMEO called Baccio after the Tuscan usage, was born in the territory of Prato, at a place called Savignano, ten miles from Florence. In his boyhood he showed great inclination and aptitude for design, and by the influence of Benedetto da Maiano he was put with Cosimo Rosselli, lodging in the house of some relatives who lived at the gate (porta) of S. Piero Gattolini. Here he remained for many years, so that he became generally known as Baccio della Porta. After leaving Cosimo Rosselli, he began earnestly to study the things of Lionardo da Vinci, and in a short time made such progress in colouring that he became known as one of the best of the young artists both for colour and design. He associated with Mariotto Albertinelli, 1 who soon acquired his style and together they did many Madonnas which are scattered about Florence, to speak of which would take too long. I may mention one excellent example, in the house of Filippo di Averardo Salviati. Another, bought not long ago, sold among some old tapestries, was acquired by Pier Maria delle Pozze, a great lover of paintings, who recognised its beauty and did not spare his money. This Madonna is executed with extraordinary diligence. 2 Pier del Pugliese had a small marble Madonna in bas relief by Donatello, a lovely work, to receive which he had a wooden tabernacle made with two small doors, which he gave to Baccio to paint. The artist did two scenes, one a Nativity, the other the Circumcision, executed like illuminations, in the best possible workmanship, and on the outside he painted an Annunciation in grisaille, the entire work being in oils. This work is now in the Scriptorium of Duke Cosimo, where he keeps all his small bronze antiquities, medals and other rare illuminations, and it is highly valued by him for its undoubted excellence.

Baccio was loved in Florence for his ability; was an assiduous workman, quiet, good-natured, and God-fearing. He preferred a quite life and avoided vicious pleasures, was very fond of sermons, and always sought the society of learned and staid people. It is rare when Nature creates a man of genius and a clever artist that she does not prove his worth. So it was with 3 Baccio, who, as I shall say presently, fulfilled her desires to show the full extent of his excellence, and so spread abroad his name that Gerozzo di Monna Venna Dini employed him to do a chapel in the cemetery containing the bones of the dead from the hospital of S. Maria Nuova. He there began a Last Judgment in fresco: working with such diligence and in so good a style in the part which he completed, that he largely increased his reputation; and was much celebrated for having so well rendered the glory of Paradise and Christ, with the twelve Apostles judging the twelve tribes, the draperies being fine and the colouring charming. In the unfinished portion we see the despair of the damned and the pain and shame of eternal death, in contrast with the joy of the elect. The work was left unfinished because the artist thought more of the welfare of his soul than of painting.

At this time Fra Jeronimo Savonarola, a Dominican of Ferrara and a most famous theologian, was at S. Marco, and Baccio became deeply attached to him and intimate with him from hearing his preaching, being almost always at the convent, where he made friends with the other friars. Fra Jeronimo, continuing his preaching, declared daily from the pulpit that lascivious pictures, music and amorous books often lead men astray, and that he was persuaded that it was not good to have pictures of naked men and women in houses where there are young girls. The following carnival, it being a custom of the city to make bonfires on the piazzas on Tuesday evening, accompanied by amorous dances, the men and women taking hands and dancing round them, the people, stirred up by Fra Jeronimo, brought numbers of profane paintings and sculptures, many of them the work of great masters, with books, lutes and collections of love-songs to be burned. 4 This was most unfortunate, especially in the case of paintings, for Baccio brought all his studies of the nude, his example being imitated by Lorenzo di Credi and many others who were called Piagnoni. It was not long before Baccio’s affection led him to make a fine portrait of Fra Jeronimo. 5 It was taken to Ferrara, and not long since it came back to Florence to the house of AIamanno Salviati, who greatly values it for the artist's sake. One day, however, the friar’s opponents rose to put him to death, because of the sedition which he had stirred up in the city. Fra Jeronimo's friends rallied to his defence, more than five hundred in number, and shut themselves up in S. Marco, Baccio being among them. But, being a timid and cowardly man, when he heard the assault on the convent and that men were being killed and wounded, he began to be seriously alarmed and vowed that if he escaped he would at once assume the habit of the order, a vow which he strictly observed. The fight ended, the friar was taken and condemned to death, as the historians have related in detail, and Baccio departed to Prato, where he entered the Dominican order, as recorded in the chronicles of the convent there, on 26 July, 1500, to the regret of all his friends, who were most sorry at having lost him, especially as they heard that he had determined to give up painting. Mariotto Albertinelli, Baccio's friend and companion, at the prayers of Gerozzo Dini, took up the mantle of Fra Bartolommeo, as the prior called him in giving him the habit, and completed his work at S. Maria Nuova, drawing a portrait of the master of the hospital there and of some friars skilful in surgery, with Gerozzo himself and his wife at the side, kneeling, while a nude figure seated is Giuliano Bugiardini, his young pupil, with a shock of hair as then worn, his hairs being so carefully done that they may be counted. He drew himself, a shock-headed man, one of those coming out of a tomb. The work also contains a portrait of Fra Giovanni of Fiesole, the painter, numbered among the blessed, whose life we have written. The entire work, both Bartolommeo's and Mariotto's, is in fresco, and is in such an excellent state of preservation that it is much valued by artists, because it is not possible to go much farther in that branch.

After remaining for many months at Prato, Fra Bartolommeo was sent by his superiors to S. Marco, in Florence, where he was warmly welcomed by the friars on account of his ability. In the Badia of Florence, Bernardo del Bianco had about that time erected a chapel inmacigno, richly carved and decorated from designs by Benedetto da Rovezzano, who was and still is of great repute for ornate and varied work. Here Benedetto Buglioni did some figures and angels in full relief, 6 in glazed terra cotta, in niches, as a finish, covering the friezes with cherubim and designs. Wishing to have a picture worthy of this frame work, it occurred to him that Fra Bartolommeo was the man, and he employed every effort and the persuasion of friends to induce him to do it. The friar was in the convent, intent only on the divine offices and other things of his rule. The prior and his dearest friends had continually pressed him to do some painting, but for more than four years he had steadily refused. Being pressed, however, by Bernardo del Bianco he at length began the picture of St. Bernard writing, and seeing a vision of Our Lady with the Child, 7 and many angels and cherubs, smoothly coloured by him. The saint is wrapped in contemplation, exhibiting an indescribable celestial fervour which illuminates the whole work, to the eyes of an attentive observer. Baccio displayed every care and diligence in doing this and an arch in fresco above it. He also did some pictures for Cardinal Giovanni de Medici, and painted a Madonna of extraordinary beauty for Agnolo Doni, which serves for an altar in a chapel in his house. 8

At this time Raphael of Urbino, the painter, came to Florence to learn the art, and taught the first principles of perspective to Fra Bartolommeo, and being anxious to colour like the friar, he associated constantly with him because he liked his management and blending of colours. At this time Bartolomnieo did a panel with a quantity of figures in S. Marco at Florence. 9 It is now in the possession of the King of France, to whom it was given, and it remained on exhibition in S. Marco for many months. He did another in that place, containing a large number of figures, to replace the one sent to France, with some children flying in the air, holding a canopy open, with such art, design and relief that they seem to be coming out of the picture. 10 The flesh colouring is of that excellence which every talented artist would like to give to his things, and this work is still considered of the highest excellence. There are many very admirable figures about a Madonna, of wonderful grace and vigour; with fine expressions and full of life. The colouring is so bold that they seem to be in relief. This was because Baccio was anxious to show that in addition to a good design he could bring out his figures by means of shadows. This is seen by the cherubs flying about the canopy, which seem to be coming out of the picture. Besides these there is a Christ-child espousing St. Catherine the nun, and nothing more vivid than this is possible in the dark colouring which he has chosen. A group of saints on one side, following the curve of a large niche and diminishing as they recede, are so well arranged that they seem alive, and there is a like group on the other side. Indeed, in this colouring he imitated Lionardo, especially in the shadows, using printers' fumes and the black of burnt ivory. Owing to this black the picture has become much darker than he painted it, the colours being deeper and more obscure. Among the chief figures he did a St. George in the foreground, in armour, with a standard in his hand: a noble; vigorous, animated figure in a fine pose. There is also a St. Bartholomew standing, deserving great praise, with two children playing a lute and a lyre respectively. One has bent back his leg and rests his instrument upon it, while his fingers are on the strings to moderate them as he listens to the music; his head is raised and the mouth slightly open, so that it is hard to believe that his voice will not be heard. The other leans over with an ear against the lyre to see whether it is in tune with the lute, to which he is playing second, his eyes on the ground and carefully following his companion. These ingenious ideas are marvellously executed by Fra Bartolommeo, with wonderful industry, the children being seated, in light draperies, and the whole work immersed in deep vaporous shadow. In a little while he did another much-admired panel opposite this, of a Madonna and saints. He deserves great praise for his introduction of the toning of the figures, a great gain to art, as they seem to be in relief, and are executed with vigour and perfection. Hearing of the great works of Michelangelo at Rome, of those of the gracious Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo went to the Eternal City by the prior's permission, 11 impelled by the desire to see the marvels of these two divine artists, of which he heard so much. There he was lodged by Fra Mariano Fetti, the friar of the Piombo, at Montecavallo and S. Salvestro, his place, where he painted two pictures of St. Peter and St. Paul. The air did not suit him so well as Florence, as among the ancient and modern works which he saw in such abundance he became dazed, and as this seriously impaired his skill and excellence he decided to return. He left to Raphael the St. Peter one of the pictures he had not completed, and after that marvellous master had retouched it, it was given to Fra Mariano.

Meanwhile Bartolommeo returned to Florence, where he was frequently taunted with being unable to do nudes. This stirred him to make proof of himself and show that he was most apt in every branch of his art. Accordingly he did a nude St. Sebastian with very good flesh-colouring, of sweet aspect and great personal beauty, so that he won great praise among artists. It is said that while this figure was on exhibition in the church the friars found out by the confessional that women had sinned in regarding it, owing to the realistic skill of Fra Bartolommeo; accordingly they removed it, and put it in the chapter-house, where it had not been long before it was bought by Gio Battista della Pellaii, and sent to the King of France.

Bartolommeo had fallen out with the carvers who made the frames for his pictures and who habitually covered up an eighth of the figures as they do still. He therefore determined to find some way of obviating this, and for his St. Sebastian, done on a half-circle, he made a niche in perspective, which seems in relief on the picture, and he formed a frame by painting an ornament about it. He did the same with our St. Vincent and St. Mark, as I shall presently relate. Over the arch of a door leading into the sacristy he did a St. Vincent of his order, on wood in oils, representing his preaching of the Last Judgment, 12 his forcible expression and gestures being very characteristic of preachers when they are endeavouring to redeem men from their evil ways by threats of the judgment of God, so that the figure appears a living thing and not paint, to the attentive observer. It is a great pity, seeing that it has been done with such strong relief, that it should have been spoiled and cracked owing to the fresh colours being put on wet glue, as I said of the work of Pietro Perugino in the Ingesuati.

Bartolommeo, wishing to show that he could do large figures, as some objected that his style was small, did a St. Mark the Evangelist, 13 a panel of five braecia, to be placed on the wall with the door of the choir, executed with fine design and of great beauty. A Florentine merchant, Salvador Billi, returning from Naples, hearing the fame of the friar and seeing his works, commissioned him to do a panel of Christ the Saviour, in allusion to his name, surrounded by the four Evangelists, with two cherubs at the feet holding the sphere of the earth, a beautiful reproduction of fresh and tender flesh, like the rest of the work. It also contains two much-admired prophets. This picture is in the Nunziata at Florence, 14 under the great organ, as Salvador desired, and is a beautiful work, finished with loving care by the friar, who had the marble frame carved by Piero Rosselli.

Bartolommeo requiring a change of air, the prior, being his friend, sent him to another monastery. While he stayed there, being led to the contemplation of death, he did a panel at S. Martino, Lucca, where at the feet of the Virgin is a small angel playing the lute, with St. Stephen and St. John in excellent design and colouring, showing his skill. 15 At S. Romano he did a picture on canvas of Our Lady of Mercy, placed on a stone dado, and some angels holding her mantle. 16 With her are figures, upon steps, some standing, some seated, some kneeling, regarding a Christ in the air who is sending lightning and thunder among them. In this painting Fra Bartolommeo displayed his power of shading the dark parts, producing a striking relief, showing his mastery of the difficulties of the art, and his colouring, design and invention, the work being of the highest perfection. On another picture on canvas he did Christ and St. Catherine the Martyr, with St. Catherine of Siena in an ecstasy, an unequalled figure in that style. 17 Returning to Florence, he devoted himself to music, and being very fond of it he would sometimes sing as a pastime. Opposite the prison at Prato he did an Assumption, 18 and in the Medici palace he painted Madonnas and other things for various persons. Such are a Madonna in the chamber of Lodovico di Lodovico Capponi, and another Madonna with the Child, with the heads of two saints, in the possession of the renowned M. Lelio Torelli, principal secretary of the illustrious Duke Cosimo, who values it very highly as a work of Fra Bartolommeo, and also because he loves and favours all artists, and, indeed, all men of genius. In the house of Pier del Pugliese, now of Matteo Botti, citizen and merchant of Florence, Bartolommeo did a St. George armed and on horseback in a recess at the top of a staircase, He is slaying the serpent, the vigorous figures being painted in oils in grisaille, of which Baecio was so fond. We see this by his cartoons, whether in ink or crayon, and in many pictures and panels which he left unfinished at his death, as well as in his drawings in grisaille, now mostly in the monastery of S. Caterina atSiena, on the piazza of S. Marco, in the possession of a nun who paints, of whom I shall write a notice later. There are many others still kept in memory of him in our book of designs, and M. Francescodel Garbo the physician has an excellent one.

It was a plan of Fra Bartolommeo to have the living objects before him as he worked, and in order to draw draperies, arms and such things, he had a large wooden model of life-size, with movable joints, and this he dressed in natural clothes. Thus he was able to obtain excellent results, by keeping the figure in any position he desired, until he had completed his work. This model, though very dilapidated, is in my possession, in memory of him. In the abbey of the black monks, at Arezzo, he did the head of Christ in grisaille, a lovely thing, and the altarpiece of the company of the Contemplanti, 19 which has been preserved in the house of M. Ottaviano de Medici the Magnificent, being now placed in a chapel in the house of his son M. Alessandro, with many ornaments, valued for the sake of Fra Bartolommeo and because he was extremely fond of painting. In the chapel in the Noviciate of S. Marco is a fine picture of the Purification, 20 excellently designed and finished, and while the friar was staying for pleasure at S. Maria Maddalena, a house of his order outside Florence, he did a Christ and the Magdalene and some frescoes for the convent. In a tympanum in the guest chamber at S. Marco lie painted in fresco Christ with Cleophas and Luke, with a portrait of Era Niccolo della Magna, as a young man, who afterwards became Archbishop of Capua and finally cardinal. Fra Bartolommeo began a panel at S. Gallo, which was afterwards finished by Giuliano Bugiardini, and is now at the high altar of S. Jacopo fra Fossi 21 at the corner of the Alberti. A picture of the rape of Dinah, in the possession of M. Cristofano Rinieri, coloured afterwards by Giuliano, is full of buildings and greatly admired ideas. 22 Piero Soderini employed him to do the picture of the Council Chamber, which he executed in grisaille, and in such a way as to win the greatest honour. It is now in S. Lorenzo in the Chapel of Ottaviano de Medici the Magnificent, imperfect as it is, and contains all the protecting saints of Florence and those on whose festivals the city has won victories. Here is the portrait of Fra Bartolommeo himself, done with the aid of a mirror. After beginning this painting, the friar became paralysed through working under a window with the sun on his back. Being advised by the physicians to go to the bath at S. Filippo, he spent much time there, but was very little benefited. He was very fond of fruits, although they were most harmful to him. One morning, after eating a great quantity of figs, he fell into a raging fever in addition to the malady from which he was already suffering and died in four days, at the age of forty-eight, and so, in full consciousness, rendered his soul to heaven. His friends, and especially the friars, were much grieved by his death, and they gave him honourable burial in S. Marcoon 8 October, 1517. He received a dispensation from the prohibition of the friars to go into the choir during the office. The profits of his works fell to the convent after he had taken what was necessary for the colours and painting materials. He had as pupils Cecchino del Erate, Benedetto Cianfanini, Gabbriel Rusticiand Fra Paolo Pistoiese, to whom he left all his things. Many pictures were done from his designs after his death, three being in S. Domenico at Pistoia and one at S. Maria del Sasso in Casentino. Era Bartolommeo imparted such charm of colouring to his figures, and endowed them with such a modern grace, that he deserves a place among the benefactors of the art.

  • 1 They were partners from 1492 to 1500.
  • 2 Now in the Uffizi.
  • 3 Painted in 1499; now in the Uffizi.
  • 4 The burning of the Vanities under the influence of Savonarola took place on Shrove Tuesday, 1496.
  • 5 Now in the convent of S. Marco, Florence.
  • 6 In 1504.
  • 7 Comissioned in 1504 and finished in 1507; now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 8 Now in the Colsini Gallery, Rome; dated 1516.
  • 9 A Madonna and saints, now in the Louvre and dated 1511.
  • 10 Now ill the Pitti Gallery; painted about 1512.
  • 11 In 1514
  • 12 Now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 13 Pitti Gallery; painted in 1516.
  • 14 Now in tile Uffizi Gallery.
  • 15 Dated 1509.
  • 16 In 1515.
  • 17 Now in the Piiiacoteca, Lucca.
  • 18 Painted in 1516; now in the Naples Museum.
  • 19 Probably the picture now in the Berlin Gallery.
  • 20 Painted in 1516: some time in the Vienna Gallery.
  • 21 Now in the Pitti Gallery.
  • 22 Some time in the Vienna Gallery.

  • Index of Artists