Read Andrea di Cione Orcagna, Painter, Sculptor, and Architect of Florence of The Lives of the Painters‚ Sculptors & Architects‚ Volume 1, free online book, by Giorgio Vasari, on

It frequently happens that when a man of genius excels in one thing, he is easily able to learn another, especially such as are similar to his first profession, and which proceed, as it were, from the same source. An example of this is Orcagna of Florence, who was painter, sculptor, architect, and poet, as will be said below. He was born in Florence, and while quite a child began to practise sculpture under Andrea Pisano, and so continued for many years. When he afterwards became desirous of enriching his invention for the purpose of composing beautiful scenes, he carefully studied design, aided as he was by nature, who wished to make him a universal genius, and as one thing leads to another, he practised painting in colours in tempera and fresco, and succeeded so well with the aid of Bernardo Orcagna his brother, that Bernardo himself procured his assistance to do the life of Our Lady in the principal chapel of S. Maria Novella, which then belonged to the family of the Ricci. This work was considered very beautiful, although, owing to the neglect of those who afterwards had charge of it, it was destroyed by water through the breaking of the roof not many years after, and consequently it is restored in its present manner, as will be said in the proper place. Suffice it to say, that Domenico Grillandai, who repainted it, made considerable use of the inventions of Orcagna which were there. In the same church, and in conjunction with his brother Bernardo, Andrea did in fresco the chapel of the Strozzi, which is near the door of the sacristy and the belfry. In this chapel, which is approached by some stone steps, he painted on one wall the glory of Paradise, with all the saints in the various habits and head-dresses of the time. On the other wall he did Hell, with the holes, centres, and other things described by Dante, of whom Andrea was a diligent student. In the church of the Servites, in the same city he painted in fresco, also in conjunction with Bernardo, the chapel of the family of the Cresci, and in S. Pier Maggiore in a picture of considerable size, the Coronation of the Virgin, and another picture in S. Romeo near the side door.

He and his brother Bernardo also painted in fresco together the façade of S. Apollinare, with such diligence that the colours are bright and beautiful and marvellously preserved to this day in that exposed place. The governors of Pisa, moved by the renown of these works of Orcagna, which were much admired, sent for him to do a part of the wall in the Campo Santo of that city, as Giotto and Buffalmacco had previously done. Accordingly he put his hand to the work, and painted a Last Judgment, with some fancies of his own, on the wall towards the Duomo, next to the Passion of Christ made by Buffalmacco. In the first scene he represented all ranks of temporal lords enjoying the pleasures of this world, seating them in a flowery meadow under the shadow of many orange trees, forming a most agreeable wood. Above the branches are some cupids, who are flying round and over a number of young women, evidently portraits of noble women and ladies of the day, though they are not recognisable after this lapse of time. The cupids are preparing to transfix the hearts of the ladies, near whom are young men and lords listening to playing and singing and watching the amorous dancing of men and maidens, delighting in the sweetness of their loves. Among these lords Orcagna drew Castruccio, the lord of Lucca, a youth of the most striking aspect, with a blue hood bound about his head and a sparrowhawk on his hand. Near him are other lords of the time, whose identity is not known. In fine, in this first part he represented in a most gracious manner all the delights of the world in accordance with the demands of the place and the requirements of art. On the other side of the same scene he represented, on a high mountain, the life of those who, being moved by penitence for their sins and by the desire of salvation, have escaped from the world to this mountain, which is thus full of holy hermits serving the Lord, and doing various things with very realistic expressions. Some are reading and praying, and are all intent on contemplation; while others are working to earn their living, and are exercising themselves in various activities. Here is a hermit milking a goat in the most vigorous and realistic manner. Below this is St Macario showing to three kings, who are riding to hunt with their ladies and suite, the corpses of three kings, partly consumed in a tomb, emblematic of human misery, and which are regarded with attention by the living kings in fine and varied attitudes, expressive of wonder, and they seem to be reflecting that they themselves must shortly become such. One of these kings is the portrait of Uguccione della Faggiuola of Arezzo, in a figure represented as holding his nose with his hand in order not to smell the odour of the dead kings. In the middle of this scene is Death, flying through the air and clothed in black, while he raises his scythe to take the life of many who are on the earth, of every state and condition, poor, rich, lame, whole, young, old, men, women, and, in short, a multitude of every age and sex. And because Orcagna knew that the invention of Buffalmacco had pleased the Pisans, by which Bruno caused his figures in S. Paolo a ripa dArno to speak, making letters issue from their mouths, he has filled all these works of his with such writings, of which the greater number, being destroyed by time, cannot be deciphered. He makes some lame old men say

Da che prosperitade ci ha lasciati.
O morte medecina d’ogni pena
Deh vieni a darne omai l’ultima cena,

with other words which cannot be made out, and similar lines composed in the old style by Orcagna himself, as I have discovered, for he was addicted to poetry, and wrote some sonnets. About these bodies are some devils, who take their souls out of their mouths and carry them to gulfs full of fire upon the top of a very high mountain. On the other hand, there are some angels who, in like manner, take the souls of the dead, who happen to have been good, out of their mouths, and carry them flying to Paradise. In this scene is a large scroll, held by two angels, containing the following words:

Ischermo di savere e di richezza,
Di nobilitate ancora e di prodezza,
Vale neente colpì di costei,

with some other words which cannot easily be understood. Underneath in the ornamentation of these scenes are nine angels who hold some words written in the border of the painting, in the vulgar tongue and in Latin, put there because they would spoil the scene if placed higher, and to omit them altogether did not appear fitting to the author, who considered this method very fine, and perhaps it was to the taste of that age. The greater part of these are omitted here in order not to tire the reader with impertinent matter of little interest, and moreover the greater number of the scrolls are obliterated, while the remainder are in a very imperfect condition. After this Orcagna made the Last Judgment. He placed Jesus Christ on high above the clouds in the midst of his twelve Apostles to judge the quick and the dead, exhibiting on the one side, with great art and vigour, the despair of the damned, as they are driven weeping to Hell by furious demons; and on the other side the joy and rejoicing of the elect, who are transported to the right hand side of the blessed by a troop of Angels led by the Archangel Michael. It is truly lamentable that for lack of writers, the names and identity of few or none of these can be ascertained out of such a multitude of magistrates, knights and other lords, who are evidently drawn from life, although the pope there is said to be Innocent IV. the friend of Manfred.

After this work and some sculptures in marble executed to his great glory in the Madonna, which is on the side of the Ponte Vecchio, Andrea left his brother Bernardo to work by himself in the Campo Santo at a Hell made according to Dante’s description, which was afterwards much damaged in 1530, and restored by Solazzino, a painter of our own day. Meanwhile Andrea returned to Florence, where he painted in fresco in the middle of the Church of S. Croce on a very large wall on the right hand, the same things which he had done in the Campo Santo at Pisa, in three similar pictures, but omitting the scene in which St Macario is showing human wretchedness to the three kings, and the life of the hermits who are serving God on the mountain. But he did all the rest of that work, displaying better design and more diligence than at Pisa, but retaining almost the same methods in the inventions, style, scrolls and the rest, without changing anything except the portraits from life; because in this work he introduced the portraits of some of his dearest friends into his Paradise, while he condemned his enemies to hell. Among the elect may be seen the portrait in profile of Pope Clement VI. with the tiara on his head, who reduced the Jubilee from a hundred to fifty years, was a friend of the Florentines, and possessed some of their paintings which he valued highly. Here also is Maestro Dino del Garbo, then a most excellent physician, clothed after the manner of the doctors of that day with a red cap on his head lined with miniver, while an angel holds him by the hand. There are also many other portraits which have not been identified. Among the damned he drew the Guardi, sergeant of the Commune of Florence, dragged by the devil with a hook. He may be recognised by three red lilies on his white hat, such as were worn by the sergeants and other like officials. Andrea did this because the sergeant had upon one occasion distrained his goods. He also drew there the notary and the judge who were against him in that cause. Next to Guardi is Cecco d’Ascoli, a famous wizard of the time, and slightly above him, and in the middle is a hypocritical friar, who is furtively trying to mingle with the good, while an angel discovers him and thrusts him among the damned. Besides Bernardo, Andrea had another brother called Jacopo, who devoted himself, but with little success, to sculpture. For this brother Andrea had sometimes made designs in relief in clay, and this led him to wish to do some things in marble to see if he remembered that art, which he had studied at Pisa, as has been said. Accordingly he applied himself earnestly to that pursuit, and attained to such a measure of success that he afterwards made use of it with credit, as will be said. He next devoted all his energies to the study of architecture, thinking that he might have occasion to make use of it. Nor was he mistaken, for in the year 1355 the Commune of Florence bought some private houses near the palace to enlarge that building and increase the piazza, and also to make a place where citizens could withdraw in time of rain, and in winter to do under cover the things which were done in the uncovered arcade when bad weather did not interfere. They procured a number of designs for the construction of a large and magnificent loggia near the palace for this purpose as well as for a mint for coining money. Among these designs prepared by the best masters of the city, that of Orcagna was universally approved and accepted as being larger, finer and more magnificent than the others, and the large loggia of the piazza was begun under his direction by order of the Signoria and Commune, upon foundations laid in the time of the Duke of Athens, and was carried forward with much diligence in squared stones excellently laid. The arches of the vaults were constructed in a manner new for that time, not being pointed as had previously been customary, but in half circles after a new pattern, with much grace and beauty, and the building was completed under Andrea’s direction in a short time. If it had occurred to him to erect it next to S. Romolo and to turn its back towards the north, which he perhaps omitted to do in order that it should be convenient for the door of the palace, it would have been a most useful construction for all the city, as it is a most beautiful piece of work, whereas it is impossible to remain there in winter owing to the strong wind. In the decoration of this loggia Orcagna made seven marble figures in half relief between the arches of the façade representing the seven virtues, theological and cardinal. These are so fine, that taken in conjunction with the whole work they prove their author to have been an excellent sculptor as well as a distinguished painter and architect. Besides this he was in all his deeds a pleasant, well-bred and amiable man so that his fellow was never seen. And since he never abandoned the study of one of his three professions when he took up another, he painted a picture in tempera with many small figures while the loggia was building, and a predella of small figures for that chapel of the Strozzi where his brother Bernardo had already done some things in fresco. On this picture he wrote his name thus: Anno Domini MCCCLVII Andreas Cionis de Florentia me pinxit, being of opinion that it would exhibit his powers to better advantage than his works in fresco could. When this was finished he did some paintings on a panel which were sent to the pope to Avignon, in the cathedral church of which they still remain. Shortly afterwards, the men of the company of Orsanmichele, having collected a quantity of money of alms and goods given to the Madonna there on account of the mortality of 1348, they decided that they would make about her a chapel or tabernacle richly adorned not only with marble carved in every manner and with other stones of price, but also with mosaic and ornaments of bronze, the best that could be desired, so that in workmanship and material it should surpass every other work produced up to that day. The execution of this was entrusted to Orcagna as being the foremost man of the age. He made a number of designs, one of which was chosen by the directors of the work as being the best of all. Accordingly the task was allotted to him and everything was committed to his judgment and counsel. He and his brother undertook to do all the figures, giving the rest to various masters from other countries. On the completion of the work, he caused it to be built up and joined together very carefully without lime, the joints, being of lead and copper so that the shining and polished marbles should not be blemished. This proved so successful and has been of such use and honour to those who came after him, that it appears to an observer that the chapel is hollowed out of a single piece of marble, so excellently are parts welded together, thanks to this device of Orcagna. Although in the German style its grace and proportions are such that it holds the first place among the things of the time, owing chiefly to the excellent composition of its great and small figures and of the angels and prophets in half-relief about the Madonna. The casting of the carefully polished bronze ornaments which surround it is marvellous, for they encircle the whole work, enclose it and bind it together, so that this part is as remarkable for its strength as the other parts are for their beauty. But he devoted the highest powers of his genius to the scene in half-relief on the back of the tabernacle, representing in figures of a braccia and a half, the twelve apostles looking up at the Madonna ascending to heaven in a mandorla, surrounded by angels. He represented himself in marble as one of the apostles, an old man, clean shaven, a hood wound round his head, with a flat round face as shown in his portrait above, which it taken from this. On the base he wrote these words in the marble: Andreas Cionis pictor florentinus oratorii archimagister extitit hujus, MCCCLIX. It appears that the erection of the loggia and of the marble tabernacle, with all the workmanship involved cost 96,000 gold florins, which were very well expended, because in architecture, in sculpture and other ornaments they are comparable in beauty with any other work of the time, without exception, and so excellent as to assure to the name of Andrea Orcagna immortality and greatness. In signing his paintings he used to write Andrea di Clone, sculptor, and on his sculptures, Andrea di Cione, painter, wishing his sculpture to recommend his painting and his painting his sculpture. Florence is full of his paintings, some of which may be recognised by the name, such as those in S. Romeo, and some by his style, like that in the chapter-house of the monastery of the Angeli. Some which he left imperfect were finished by his brother Bernardo, who survived him, though not for many years. Andrea, as I have said, amused himself in making verses and other poems, and when he was an old man he wrote some sonnets to Burchiello, then a youth. At length at the age of sixty he completed the course of his life in 1389, and was borne with honour to burial from his house in the via Vecchia de’ Corazzai.

In the days of the Orcagna there were many who were skilful in sculpture and architecture, whose names are unknown, but their works show that they are worthy of high praise and commendation. An example of such work is the Monastery of the Certosa of Florence, erected at the cost of the noble family of the Acciaiuoli, and particularly of M. Niccola, Grand Seneschal of the King of Naples, containing Niccola’s tomb with his effigy in stone, and those of his father and a sister, both of whose portraits in the marble were made from life in the year 1366. There also and by the same hand may be seen the tomb of M. Lorenzo, Niccola’s son, who died at Naples, arid was brought to Florence and buried there with most honourable obsequies. Similarly the tomb of the Cardinal S. Croce of the same family, which is before the high altar in a choir then newly built, contains his portrait in a marble stone very well executed in the year 1390.

The pupils of Andrea in painting were Bernardo Nello di Giovanni Falconi of Pisa, who did a number of pictures for the Duomo of Pisa, and Tommaso di Marco of Florence, who, besides many other things, painted a picture in the year 1392, which is in S. Antonio at Pisa on the screen of the church. After Andrea’s death, his brother Jacopo, who, as has been said, professed sculpture and architecture, was employed in the year 1328 in building the tower and gate of S. Pietro Gattolini, and it is said that the four gilded stone lions at the four corners of the principal palace of Florence are by his hand. This work incurred no little censure, because it was placed there without reason, and was perhaps a greater weight than was safe. Many would have preferred the lions to have been made of copper gilded over and hollow inside, and then set up in the same place, when they would have been much less heavy and more durable. It is said that the horse in relief in S. Maria del Fiore at Florence is by the same hand. It is gilded, and stands over the door leading to the oratory of S. Zanobi. It is believed to be a monument to Pietro Farnese, captain of the Florentines, but as I know nothing more of the matter I cannot assert this positively. At the same time Andrea’s nephew Mariotto made a Paradise in fresco for S. Michel Bisdomini in the via de’ Servi at Florence, over the altar, and another picture with many figures for Mona Cecilia de’ Boscoli, which is in the same church near the door. But of all Orcagna’s pupils none excelled Francesco Traini, who executed for a lord of the house of Coscia, buried at Pisa in the chapel of St Dominic in the church of S. Caterina, a St Dominic on a panel on a gold ground, with six scenes from his life surrounding him, very vigorous and life-like and excellently coloured. In the chapel of St Thomas Aquinas in the same church he made a picture in tempera, with delightful invention, and which is much admired. He introduced a figure of St Thomas seated, from life; I say from life because the friars of the place brought a portrait of him from the abbey of Fossanuova, where he had died in 1323. St Thomas is seated in the air with some books in his hand, illuminating with their rays and splendour the Christian people; kneeling below him are a large number of doctors and clerks of every condition, bishops, cardinals and popes, including the portrait of Pope Urban VI. Under the saint’s feet are Sabellius, Arius, Averroes, and other heretics and philosophers with their books all torn. On either side of St Thomas are Plato, showing the Timaeus, and Aristotle pointing to his Ethics. Above is Jesus Christ, also in the air, with the four Evangelists about him. He is blessing St Thomas, and apparently sending the Holy Spirit upon him, filling him therewith and with His grace. On the completion of this work Francesco Traini acquired great name and fame, for he had far surpassed his master Andrea in colouring, in unity, and in invention. Andrea was very careful in his designs, as may be seen in our book.