Sculptor and Architect of Florence

If only men realised that they may live to an age when they can no longer work, there would not be so many who are compelled to beg in their old age, after having spent lavishly in their youth, when their considerable gains, blinding them to good counsel, caused them to spend more than was necessary, and much more than was fitting. Therefore, seeing the stigma that attaches to those who have descended from affluence to penury, everyone ought to endeavour by an honourable and temperate life not to be obliged to beg in his old age. Whoever will act like Michelozzo, who in this respect did not imitate his master Donato, only copying his ability, will live honourably all his life and will not be obliged to go about miserably seeking a livelihood in his last years.

In his youth Michelozzo studied sculpture and design with Donatello, and whenever a difficulty presented itself, whether in clay or wax, or with the marble, he worked so hard that his productions always displayed genius and great talent. But in one thing he surpassed many and even himself, for after Bruneling a useful and beautiful division into apartments. The cellars are dug out to a depth of four braccia, with three above ground for the sake of the light, and comprise the buttery and larders. 1 On the ground-floor there are two courtyards with magnificent loggie, communicating with salons, chambers, anti-chambers, studies, lavatories, kitchens, wells, secret and public staircases, and upon each floor are the dwellings and apartments for a family, with every convenience not only for a private citizen as Cosimo then was, but for a king, however renowned and great, so that in our own day kings, emperors, popes and all the illustrious princes of Europe have been comfortably entertained thereto the equal glory of the magnificence of Cosimo, and of Michelozzo's excellence as an architect. 2 When Cosimo was exiled in 1433, Michelozzo, who greatly loved him and was very faithful to him, voluntarily accompanied him to Venice, and was with him during his stay there. Accordingly, besides the many desigus and models which he made there of public and private dwellings for the friends of Cosimo, and for many noblemen, he made by Cosimo's order, and at his expense, the library of the monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore, a place of the black monks of St. Justina, which was finished not only with walls, seats, wood-work and other ornaments, but filled with many books. This constituted the diversion and pastime of Cosimo until, being recalled in 1434 to his native place, he returned in triumph and Michelozzo with him. While Michelozzo was in Florence the public palace of the Siguoria began to show signs of age, because some columns of the courtyard gave way, owing to the great weight upon them, the foundation being weak and awry, and possibly because the pieces were badly joined and badly built. Whatever the cause may have been, the remedy was entrusted to Michelozzo, who willingly accepted the task, because near S. Barnabaat, Venice he had successfully dealt with a similar danger. A nobleman who owned a house which was in danger of falling gave the charge of it to Miehelozzo.

As Michelagnolo Bonarotti has told me, he secretly caused a column to be made and collected a number of props, hid the whole in a boat in which he entered the house with some builders, and in a single night he had propped up the house and secured the column. Encouraged by this experience Michelozzo repaired the danger at the palace, winning honour for himself and for those who had favoured him by giving him such a charge, and he made new foundations and rebuilt the columns in their present state, having first made a framework of thick beams and strong uprights to support the centres of the arches, made of walnut wood, which together bore the weight originally sustained by the columns. 3 Then having gradually removed the badly joined pieces, he replaced them by pieces prepared with care, so that the building has suffered no harm, and has not moved a hair's-breadth. In order that his columns should be distinguished from the others, he made some octagonal ones at the angles, with capitals carved with leaves in the modern fashion, and others round, which may easily be distinguished from the old ones made by Arnolfo. The government of the city afterwards ordained, by Michelozzo's advice, that the arches of the columns should be eased and the weight of the walls upon them lightened, by rebuilding the courtyard afresh from the arches upwards, making windows in the modern style, like those which he had made for Cosimo in the courtyard of the palace of the Medici, and that bosses might be carved on the walls for the gold lilies, which may still be seen there. All this was carried out by Michelozzo with speed. In a line with the windows of the courtyard in the second story he made round openings, as a variant from the windows, to give light to the middle apartments above the first floor, where the hall of the Two Hundred now is. The third floor, now tenanted by the Signori and gonfaloniere, he made more ornate, separating off some chambers for the Signori in a line on the side towards S. Pietro Seheraggio, whereas they had previously slept all together in one room. There were eight of these chambers for the Signori, and a larger one for the gonfaloniere, and they all communicated with a passage, the windows of which looked out on the courtyard, Above this he made another convenient series of rooms for the servants of the palace, one of which, where the Treasury now is, contains the portrait of Charles, son of King Robert, Duke of Calbria kneeling before a Madonna by Giotto.

He also made the quarters for the pages, waiters, trumpeters, musicians, pipers, mace- bearers, ushers, heralds, and all the other apartments necessary in a palace of this description. At the top of the balustrade he arranged a stone cornice, encircling the courtyard, and never this a water-tank to collect the rain and supply some fountains at certain times. Michelozzo also restored the chapel where the Mass is heard, and many chambers near it, decorating the ceiling with gold lilies on a blue ground; for the upper and lower apartments of the palace he made new ceilings, covering all those already existing in the antique style. In short, he gage it every perfection that becomes such a building. He caused the water from the wells to reach the top floor, to which it was easily raised by means of a wheel. One thing only his genius was unable to remedy, namely, the public staircase, which was ill contrived from the first, ill placed and badly made, steep and without light, the steps being of wood from the first floor up- wards. Nevertheless, he contrived that the entrance to the courtyard should have a flight of round steps and a door with pilasters of hard stone, surmounted by fine capitals carved by his hand, and a cornice and double architrave with a well designed frieze, in which he arranged all the arms of the commune. He further made all the steps of‚ hard stone up to the level of the Signoria's quarters, and fortified it at the top and in the middle with two portcullis, in case of riots, making at the top a door called "The Chain," where an usher Was always stationed to open and shut it according as he was directed by the governor. He strengthened the tower of the campanile with large iron stays, as it had cracked with the weight on the part which was falsely placed, namely, that above the cross-beams towards the piazza. ~d ultimately he so greatly improved and restored the palace that he won commendations from all the city, and amongst other rewards was made a member of the Collegio, a very honourable magistracy in Florence. 4 If anyone thinks that I have dealt at greater length with this matter than was necessary I must be excused, because after I had shown in the Life of Arnolfo that the original construction in 1298 was built out of the square and devoid of all reasonable measure, with unequal columns in the courtyard, large and small arches, inconvenient staircases, and the rooms awry and out of proportion, it was necessary that I should show to what condition the ingenuity and judgment of Michelozzo brought it, although even he could not make it a convenient place to inhabit, for no one could live there without the utmost discomfort.

When Duke Cosimo made it his residence in 1538, he began to bring it to a better form, but as his ideas were never understood or known by the architects whom he employed on the work for many years, he tried to see if it was not possible to repair the old building without destroying it, since it possessed some amount of good, by making the stairs and inconvenient apartments in better order and proportion, according to the plan ho conceived. Accordingly he sent to Rome for Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect of Arezzo, who was serving Pope Julius III., and gave him a commission not only to arrange the rooms which he had begun in the upper part opposite the Corn Market, which were awry owing to the defects of the ground plan, but to contrive a plan whereby, without ruining the existing building, he might so arrange the interior of the palace that it would be possible to go from one part to another by secret and public stairs, and as easily as possible. Whilst the apartments already begun were adorned with gilt ceilings and oil-paintings, and the walls with fresco paintings, some being worked in stucco, Giorgio did away entirely with the plan of the palace, both the new and the old, and having long and carefully studied the matter, he began to bring it gradually to a good form, and to reunite the disconnected apartments; hardly destroying anything that was already there, though some of the rooms were on one level and some on another. But in order that the duke should seethe whole design, he made a wooden model to scale in the course of six months of the entire structure, which has rather the disposition and size of a castle than a palace. The model pleased the duke, and in accordance with it many convenient rooms were connected and made, and pleasant staircases, both public and private, communicating with every floor, in this manner relieving the salons which had been like a public street; for it had not been possible to go from one floor to another without passing through the middle of them, and the whole is magnificently adorned with a variety of paintings. Finally, the roof of the great hall was ‚raised twelve braccia above its original height. Thus if Arnolfo, Michelozzo and the others who worked on that building from its foundation should return to life, they would not recognise it, and would take it for another and a new structure.

But to return to Michelozzo. The church of S. Giorgio being given to the friars of S. Domenic of Fiesoie, they only remained there from mid-July to the end of January, because cosimo de' Medici and his brother Lorenzo obtained for them from Pope Eugenius the church and convent of S. Marco, where the Silvestrine monks had originally been stationed, to whom S. Giorgio was given in exchange. The Dominicans being much inclined to religion and to the divine service and worship, ordained that the convent of S. Marco should be rebuilt on a larger and more magnificent scale from the design and model of Michelozzo, with all the conveniences which the friars could desire. It was begun in 1437, the first part constructed being the section which answers to the place above the old refectory, opposite the duke's stables, which Duke Lorenzo de' Mcdici had previously caused to be built. In this part twenty coins wore constructed and roofed in, while the wooden furniture of the refectory was supplied and the whole finished in its present condition. From that point the work was not pursued for sometime, as the friars were awaiting the result of a lawsuit brought it against them by Maestro Stofano, general of the Silvestrines, who claimed the convent. When this was concluded in favour of, the friars of S. Marco, the building was pursued. But as the pnncipal chapel had been built by Scrpino Bonaccorsi, there arose a dispute afterwards with a lady of the Caponsacchi, and through her with Mariotto Banchi, which afterwards led to endless litigation. Mariotto gave the chapel to Cosimo de' Medici after having deprived Agnolodella Casa of it, to whom the Silvestrines had either given or sold it, and Cosimo gave Mariotto 500 crowns for it. After Cosimo had in like manner bought from the company of the Holy Spirit the site where the choir now is, the chapel, the tribune and the choir were erected from designs by Michelozzo, and completed by 1439. 5 After this the library was constructed, to braccia long and in broad both above and below, furnished with 64 cases of cypress wood full of the most beautiful books. The dormitory was the next thing to be finished, being made square, and then the cloister and all the other apartments of the convent, which is believed to be the just appointed, fine stand most convenient in all Italy, thanks to the talents and industry of Michelozzo, who completed it in 1452. It is said that Cosimo expended 36,000 ducats upon it, and that while it was building he gave the friars 366 ducats a year for their living. Concerning the building and consecration of that temple there is an inscription on a marbles lab over the door leading into the sacristy which reads as follows:

Cum hoc templum Marc ~vaiigelistae dicatum magnincis sumptibuscl. v. cosmi Medicis tandem absolutum esset, Eugenius Quartus RomanusPontifex maxima Cardinalium Arcliiepiscoporvm, Episcoporvm.aliorumque sacerdotum frequentia comitatus, id celeberriino Epipbaniaedie solemni more servato consecravit. Tum etiam quotannis omnibus, quieodem die festo annuas statasque consecrationis ceremonias castepieque celebraverint, viserintve teillporibus luendis peccatis suisdebiti septem annos totidemque quadragesimas apostolica remisitauctoritato A.M. cccc. XLII.

It was also from Michelozzo's design that Cosimo made the noviciate of S. Croce at Florence, the chapel thereof and the passage leading from the church to the sacristy, to the noviciate, and to the stairs of the dormitory; the beauty, convenience and grace of these not being one whit inferior to any of the buildings erected by the truly magnificent Cosimo de' Medici or by Michelozzo. Among other things, the door of macigno stone, leading from the church to these places, was much admired in those days for its originality and for its excellent decoration, for it was not customary at that time to imitate ancient things of good style as this does. It was also from Miehelozzo's design and with his advice that Cosimo de' Medici made the palace of Cafaggiuolv in Mugello, giving it the form of a fortress, with ditches surrounding it, and arranged the farms, ways; gardens, fountains in wooded groves, aviaries, and other requisites of a country house. Two miles from the palace he made a convent for the bare-footed friars of St. Francis, in a place called il Bosco, which is a fine work. In like manner he made many various improvements at Trebbio, as may be seen. Two miles from Florence he made the palace of the villa di Careggi, which was a rich and magnificent structure. Michelozzo brought water to it in the fountain which may be seen there at the present time. For Giovanni, the son of Cosimo de'Medici, he made another magnificent palace at Fiesole, 6 the foundations being dug in the sides of the hill, at a great expense, but not without great advantage; as he utilised the basement for the vaults, larders, stables, butteries and other convenient things. Above, besides the usual chambers, halls and other apartments, he made some for books and others for music; in fine, in this building Michelozzo displayed to the full his ability as an architect. The building, besides what I have said, was so excellently constructed that it has never stirred a hair's-breadth. When it was completed, he built above it, at Giovanni's expense, the church and convent of the friars of St. Jerome, on the very top of the hill. Michelozzo also made the design and model which Cosimo sent to Jerusalem for the hospice which he erected there for the pilgrims visiting Christ's sepulchre. He further sent the design for the six windows on the facade of S. Pietro at Rome, which were afterwards made there, with the arms of Cosimo de' Medici. Three of these have been removed in our own day, and reconstructed by Paul III. with the Famese arms. On Cosimo's learning that S. Maria degli Angeliat Ascesi was suffering greatly from lack of water, to the very great discomfort of the people who go there every 1st of August for the indulgence, he sent Michelozzo to the place. That artist brought a spring which rises on the side of the hill to the fountain, covering it with a very pretty and rich loggia resting on columns formed of separate pieces and bearing the arms of Cosimo. Inside the convent, and also by Cosimo's commission, he carried out many useful improvements for the friars. Lorenzo de' Medici the Magnificent subsequently restored it at more expense and with more ornament, offering to the Madonna the waxen image which may still be seen there Cosimo also caused the street leading from Madonna to the city to be paved. Before Michelozzo loft the neighbourhood he designed the old citadel of Perugia.

On his return to Florence, he built the house of Giovanni Tornabuoni next to the Tornaquinci almost exactly like the palace which he had made for Cosimo, except that the front is plain and not of blocks or surmounted by a cornice. 7 After the death of Cosimo, who had loved Michelozzo like a dear friend, his S. Piero employed him to construct in marble the chapel containing the crucifix in S. Miniato in sul Monte ‚ 8 In the half- circle of the arch behind the chapel Michelozzo carved a falcon in bas-relief with the diamond, the device of Cosimo, a truly beautiful work. Piero de' Medici next proposed to make the chapel of the Annunciation in the church of the Servites entirely in marble, and desired Michelozzo, 9 who was by this time an old man, to give his opinion, both because he greatly admired his talents and also because he knew what a faithful friend and servant he had been to his father, Cosimo. When Michelozzo had complied, the charge of the work was entrusted to Pagno di LapoPartigiani, 10 sculptor of Fiesoie, who had many things to ti6ke into consideration, as it was necessary to include a great deal in a small space. Four marble columns of about braccia, double fluted and of Corinthian work, the bases and capitals being variously carved and the members doubled, support the chapel. Above the columns are laid architraves, a frieze and cornices, also double and carved, full of varied fancies and containing the device and arms of the Medici and foliage. Between these and the other cornices made for another row of windows there is a large inscription carved in beautiful marble. Below it, by the ceiling of the chapel, and between the four columns, there is a marble slab richly carved with enamels worked in fire and mosaics with various fancies, of the colour of gold and precious stones. The pavement is full of porphyry and serpentine, mixed with other rare stones, well joined and tastefully arranged. The chapel is enclosed by a bronze grille with chandeliers above, all fixed to a marble framework, which makes a very fine finish to the bronze and chandeliers. The front exit from the chapel is also of bronze and excellently disposed. Piero left instructions that thirty silver lamps should be put about the chapel to light it, and this was done, but as they were destroyed in the siege the duke many years ago gave orders that they should be replaced. This has now been done for the most part and the work goes on. However, lamps have always been kept lighted there, as Piero directed, although they were not of silver. To these ornaments Pagno added a large copper lily which rises from a vase, which is placed at an angle of the cornice, and is made of painted wood, the part holding the lamps being overlaid with gold. However, the cornice alone does not bear this great weight, as the whole is sustained by two branches of the lily made of iron and painted green. These are fastened with lead into the marble angle of the cornice, holding the others, which are of copper, suspended in the air. This work was indeed carried out with judgment and invention, for which reason it deserves much admiration as a beautiful and ingenious production. Beside the chapel another was made towards the cloister, which serves as a choir for the friars, the windows opening upon the courtyard. These give light not only' to the chapel, but, being opposite two similar windows, to the organ chamber also, which is adjacent to the marble chapel. Against the wall of the choir is a large cupboard in which the plate of the Nunziata is kept, and the arms and device of the Medici may be seen in every part of these ornaments. Outside the cliapel of the Annunciation, and opposite it, the same artist made a large bronze lustre braccia big and the marble vessel for holy water at the entrance of the church, with a remarkably fine St. John in the middle. Over the bench where the friars sell the candles he made a marble Madonna and Child of half length in semi-relief, of life-size, and did another like it in the Opera of S. Maria del Fiore where the wardens are.

At S. Miniato al Tedosco, Pagno did some figures in conjunction with his master Donnto while he was still a young man, and in the church of S. Martino at Lucca he made a marble tomb opposite the chapel of the Sacrament for M. Piero Nocera, who is there drawn from life. 11 In the twenty-fifth book of his work, Filreto wrote the Frincesco S forza, fourth Duke of Milan, gave to Cosimo de' Medici the Magnificent a most beautiful palace in Milan, 13 a painter of no mean repute in that country at the time.

It is found that the money expended by Cosimo in the restoration of this palace was paid by Pigello Portinari, a Florentine citizen who was then director of the bank at Milan and Cosimo's agent, and he lived in that palace. In Genoa there are some works of Michelozzo in marble and bronze, and many other works in other places which may be recognised by the style. I will content myself with what I have already said about him. He died at the age of sixty-eight, and was buried in his tomb at S. Marco in Florence. His portrait by the hand of Fra Giovanni is in the sacristy of S Trinita; where he is represented as an old Nicodemus wearing a hood on his head taking Christ down from the cross.

  • 1 Done by Antonio Rossellino in 1477.
  • 2 The Palazzo Riccardi, built about 1444.
  • 3 In 1451.
  • 4 In 1462.
  • 5 Restored and altered in 1678.
  • 6 The Villa Mozzi.
  • 7 The Palazzo Corsi Salviati in the via Tomabuoni; remodeled when the street was widened.
  • 8 In 1448.
  • 9 Begun in 1461.
  • 10 Rectius Portigiani.
  • 11 The work of Matteo Civitale, and signed.
  • 12 The Casa Vismara,via de' Bossi, done in 1455. The portal has been set up in the Castello.

  • Index of Artists