Read Lorenzo di Bicci, Painter of Florence of The Lives of the Painters‚ Sculptors & Architects‚ Volume 1, free online book, by Giorgio Vasari, on

When those who excel in any honourable employment, no matter what, unite with their skill as craftsmen, a gentleness of manners and of good breeding, and especially courtesy, serving those who employ them with speed and goodwill, there is no doubt that they are pursuing to their great honour and advantage almost everything which can be desired in this world. This was the case with Lorenzo di Bicci, painter of Florence, born in Florence in the year 1400, at the very moment when Italy was beginning to be disturbed by the wars which ended so badly for her, was in very good credit from his earliest years; for under his father’s discipline he learned good manners, and from Spinello’s instruction he acquired the art of painting, so that he had a reputation not only of being an excellent painter, but of being a most courteous and able man. While he was still a youth, Lorenzo did some works in fresco at Florence and outside to gain facility, and Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, having remarked the excellence of his style, employed him to paint in the hall of the old house of the Medici, which afterwards was left to Lorenzo, natural brother of Cosmo the Ancient, after the great palace was built, all those famous men who may still be seen in a fairly good state of preservation. This work being completed, Lorenzo di Bicci was anxious, like the doctors who experiment in their art on the skins of poor rustics, to have practice in the art of painting in a place where things are not so closely criticised, and for some time he accepted everything which presented itself; hence, outside the gate of S. Friano at the ponte a Scandicci, he painted a tabernacle, as it may now be seen, and at Cerbaia under a portico he painted very agreeably a Madonna and many saints on a wall. Afterwards a chapel in S. Marco at Florence was allotted to him by the family of the Martini, and on the walls he painted in fresco a number of scenes from the life of Our Lady, and on the altar picture the Virgin herself in the midst of many saints. In the same church over the chapel of St John the Evangelist, of the family of the Landi, he painted in fresco the angel Raphael and Tobias. In the year 1418 for Ricciardo di M. Niccolo Spinello, on the piazza front of the convent of S. Croce he painted a large scene in fresco of St Thomas examining the wounds of Jesus Christ in the presence of all the other apostles who are kneeling reverently at the sight. Next to this scene and also in fresco he did a St Christopher, twelve and a half braccia high, which is a rare thing, because with the exception of the St Christopher of Buffalmacco, a larger figure had never been seen, and although the style is not good it is the most meritorious and best proportioned representation of the saint. Besides this the pictures were executed with such skill that although they have been exposed to the air for many years, and being turned to the north, they have suffered the violence of rain and storm, yet they have never lost the brilliancy of their colouring and are in no wise injured by these accidents. Lorenzo also made a crucifix with many figures inside the door which is in the middle of these figures, called the door of the knocker, at the request of the same Ricciardo and of the superior of the convent, and on the encircling wall he did the confirmation of the rule of St Francis by Pope Honorius, and then the martyrdom of some friars of that order, who are going to preach the faith to the Saracens. In the arches and on the vaulting he did some kings of France, friars and followers of St Francis, drawing them from life, as well as many learned men of the order, distinguished by their several dignities of bishop, cardinal and pope. Among these are the portraits from life of Popes Nicholas IV. and Alexander V., in medallions. For all these figures Lorenzo made the grey habits, but with variety owing to his skill in workmanship, so that they all differ from one another, some inclining towards red, others to blue, some being dark and others more light, so that all are varied and worthy of consideration. What is more, it is said that he produced these works with such facility and speed that when the superior, who paid his expenses in designing, called him one day, when he had just made the colour for a figure and was beginning it, he answered, “Make the soup and I will come when I have finished this figure.” Accordingly it is said with a great show of reason that no one ever exhibited such quickness of the hands, such skill in colouring, or was so resolute as he. By his hand also is the tabernacle in fresco which is beside the nunnery of Foligno and the Madonna and saints over the door of the church of that nunnery, among them being a St Francis espousing Poverty. In the church of Camaldoli at Florence, he painted for the company of the Martyrs some scenes of the martyrdom of certain saints, and decorated the chapels on either side of the principal chapel. As these paintings gave considerable satisfaction to the whole city, he was commissioned on their completion, to paint a wall of the church in the Carmine for the family of the Salvestrini, now almost extinct, there being so far as I know, no other surviving member than a friar of the Angeli at Florence, called Fra Nemesio, a good and courteous monk. Here he did the martyrs, when they are condemned to death, being stripped naked and made to walk bare-footed on thorns sown by the servants of the tyrants, whilst they are on the way to be crucified, and higher up they are represented on the cross in varied and extraordinary attitudes. In this work, the largest which had ever been produced, everything is done with great skill and design, according to the knowledge of the time, being full of the expressions showing the divers ways of dying of those who are put to death with violence. For this cause I am not surprised that many men of ability have made use of some things found in this picture. After this Lorenzo did many other figures in the same church, and decorated two chapels in the screen. At the same time he did the tabernacle on the side of the Cuculia, and the one in the via de’ Martelli on the wall of the houses, and over the knocker door of S. Spirito he did a St Augustine in fresco, who is giving the rule to his brethren. In S. Trinita in the chapel of Neri Capponi he painted in fresco the life of St John Gualbert. In the principal chapel of S. Lucia in the via de’ Bardi he did some scenes in fresco from the life of St Lucy for Niccolo da Uzzano, whose portrait he introduced there from life together with those of some other citizens. This Niccolo with the assistance and model of Lorenzo, built his own palace near the church, and began a magnificent college or studium between the convent of the Servites and that of S. Marco, that is to say, where the lions now are. This truly magnificent work, rather worthy of a prince than of a private citizen, was not completed, because the immense sum of money which Niccolo left in his bank at Florence for the building and endowment of it were expended by the Florentines on war and other needs of the city. Although Fortune can never obscure the memory and greatness of the spirit of Niccolo da Uzzano, the community suffered a great loss by the non-completion of the work. Therefore, let anyone who desires to help the world in such a manner, and to leave an honourable memorial of himself, do so himself in his life-time, and not trust to the faithfulness of posterity and of his heirs, as it very rarely happens that a thing is carried out where it is left to successors. But to return to Lorenzo. Besides what has been already mentioned, he painted a Madonna and certain saints very fairly in a tabernacle on the ponte Rubaconte in fresco. Not long after, Ser Michele di Fruosino, master of the hospital of S. Maria Nuova at Florence, a building founded by Folco Portinari, citizen of Florence, proposed, as the property of the hospital had increased, to enlarge his church outside Florence, dedicated to St Giles, which was of small importance. Accordingly he consulted Lorenzo di Bicci, his close friend, and on 5th September 1418 he began the new church, which was completed in its present form in a year, and then solemnly consecrated by Pope Martin V. at the request of Ser Michele, who was the eighth master and a member of the family of the Portinari. Lorenzo afterwards painted this consecration, at the desire of Ser Michele, on the front of the church, introducing the portrait of the Pope and of some cardinals. This work was then much admired as something new and beautiful. For this cause Lorenzo was judged worthy to be the first to paint in the principal church of his native city, that is S. Maria del Fiore, where, under the windows of each chapel, he did the saints to which they are dedicated; and afterwards, on the pillars and through the church, he did the twelve Apostles with the crosses of the consecration, as the church was solemnly consecrated in that very year by Pope Eugenius IV. of Venice. In the same church the wardens, by a public ordinance, employed him to paint on the wall in fresco a deposition, finished in marble, in memory of the Cardinal de’ Corsini, whose effigy is there, upon the sarcophagus. Above this is another like it, in memory of Master Luigi Marsili, a most famous theologian, who went as ambassador with M. Luigi Giuccardini and M. Guccio di Gino, most honoured knights, to the Duke of Anjou. Lorenzo was afterwards invited to Arezzo by D. Laurentino, abbot of S. Bernardo, a monastery of the order of Monte Oliveto, where he painted scenes from the life of St Bernard in fresco for the principal chapel for M. Carlo Marsupino. But as he was about to paint the life of St Benedict in the cloister of the convent, after he had painted the principal chapel of the church of S. Francesco, for Francesco de’ Bacci, the elder, where he alone did the vaulting and half the tympanum, he fell sick of a chest affection. Accordingly he caused himself to be carried to Florence, and left instructions that Marco da Montepulciano, his pupil, should do these scenes from the life of St Benedict in the cloister, from a design which he had made and left with D. Laurentino. These Marco did to the best of his ability, completing them in the year 1448 on 24th April, the whole work being in chiaroscuro, and his name may be seen written there, with verses which are not less rude than the painting. Lorenzo returned to his country, and, having recovered, he painted on the same wall of the convent of S. Croce, where he had done the St Christopher, the Assumption of Our Lady surrounded in Heaven by a choir of angels, and below a St Thomas receiving the girdle. In the execution of this work, as Lorenzo was sick, he was assisted by Donatello, then quite a youth, and by means of such effective aid it was completed in the year 1450, so that I believe it to be the best work both in design and in colouring that Lorenzo ever produced. Not long after, being an old man and worn out, he died at the age of about sixty years, leaving two sons who practised painting, one of whom, named Bicci, assisted him in many of his works, and the other, called Neri, drew the portraits of his father and himself in the chapel of the Lenzi in Ognissanti, in two medallions, with letters about them giving the names of both. In this same chapel Neri did some stories of Our Lady, and took great pains to copy many of the costumes of his day, both of men and women. He did the altar picture for the chapel in tempera, and painted some pictures in the Abbey of S. Felice, of the Camaldoline order, on the piazza of Florence, as well as the high altar of S. Michele of Arezzo of the same order. Outside Arezzo, at S. Maria delle Grazie, in the church of S. Bernardino, he did a Madonna with the people of Arezzo under her mantle, and on one side St Bernardino is kneeling, with a wooden cross in his hand, such as he was accustomed to carry when he went through Arezzo preaching; and on the other side are St Nicholas and St Michael the Archangel. The predella contains the acts of St Bernardino and the miracles which, he performed, especially those done in that place. The same Neri did the high altar picture for S. Romolo at Florence, and in the chapel of the Spini in S. Trinita he did the life of St John Gualbert in fresco, as well as the picture in tempera which is above the altar. From these works it is clear that if Neri had lived, instead of dying at the age of thirty-six, he would have done many better and more numerous works than his father Lorenzo. The latter was the last master to adopt the old manner of Giotto, and accordingly his life will be the last in this first part, which I have now completed, with God’s help.