IN that age of gold, as we may well call the happy age of Leo X, among the most noble minds Polidoro da Caravaggio has an honourable place. He came to Rome about the time when the loggie of the Pope's palace were being built under the direction of Raffaello, and until he was eighteen years of age was employed in carrying the bricklayer's hod for the builders. But when the painting began Polidoro's desires turned to painting, and he made himself intimate with all the young men of talent that he might learn their method of working. But from among them all he chose for a companion Maturino, a Florentine, with whom he worked, taking so much pleasure in the art that in a few months he did things which astonished every one who had known him in his former condition. And the love of Maturino for Polidoro, and Polidoro's for Maturino, grew so strong that they resolved to live and die together like brothers, having their work and money in common. And because Polidoro had had in his service for a long time a boy of the country, who bore greater love to Polidoro's money than to himself, but because he kept it in the bank he had never been able to touch it. But now a wicked and cruel thought came into his mind, and he resolved with the aid of some of his friends to put his master to death the next night while he was sleeping, and to share his money with them. So they set upon him while he was in his first sleep and strangled him with a cord, and afterwards inflicted many wounds upon him; and to show it was not they who had done it, they carried him to the door of a house where dwelt a lady whom Polidoro loved, that it might be supposed it was her kinsmen who had slain him.
Then the boy, having given a good part of the money to the ruffians who had aided him and sent them away, went weeping to the house of a count who was a friend of his dead master, and told him what had happened, and a diligent search was made for those who had done the treacherous deed; but nothing came to light. At last, as Heaven would have it, one who had no interest in the matter chanced to say that it was impossible that any one but the boy himself could have assassinated him. Upon that the count caused him to be seized and put to torture, when he confessed his crime and was condemned to the gallows. But this would not give back life to Polidoro. So they celebrated his obsequies with solemn ceremonies, and with the infinite grief of all Messina he was buried in the cathedral.
There have always flourished in Verona from the time of Fra Giocondo men excellent in painting and architecture. Among these was Francesco Monsignori, who being encouraged by his father to apply himself to drawing, went to Mantua to find Mantegna, who was working in that city. He laboured so unweariedly, spurred on by the fame of his preceptor, that it was not long before Francesco II., Marquis of Mantua, who delighted in every kind of painting, took him into his service, gave him a house in Mantua to live in, and assigned him an honourable provision. Francesco was not ungrateful for these benefits, and served this lord with the greatest fidelity and affection, and the marquis, on his side, grew daily more fond of him, until at last he never left the city without Francesco, and was heard to say that Francesco was dearer to him than his whole state.
One day the marquis was watching him while he was working upon a picture of S. Sebastian, and said to him, "Francesco, you must have a finely formed model for this saint?" And Francesco replied, "I am drawing from a porter whose body is very finely formed, and I tie him up, as I want to make my work look natural." And the marquis answered, "But the limbs of your saint do not look right, for there is no appearance of constraint; and there is not that terror which one would imagine in a man who is tied up and being shot at; but if you like, I will show you what you should clo to make the figure right." "I pray you to do so, my lord," said Francesco. And he answered, " When you have tied up your porter send for me, and I will show you what you ought to do." So the next day Francesco tied him up as he wanted him and sent secretly to call the marquis, not knowing what he meant to do. Then the marquis rushed into the room in a fury, with a loaded crossbow in his hand, and ran at the porter, crying aloud, "Traitor, you are a dead man; I have caught you at last," and other like words, and the poor fellow, hearing them, and thinking himself a dead man, struggled to free himself from the ropes with which he was bound, and in his panic fear represented vividly the horror of death in his face and in his distorted limbs. Then the marquis said to Francesco, "There, that is how he should be; the rest you must do yourself." And the painter, considering the matter, gave his figure all the perfection that could be imagined.
The Grand Turk had sent by one of his men a present to the marquis of a very fine dog, a bow, and a quiver. Thereupon the marquis set Francesco to paint the dog and the man who had brought it and the other things; and when it was done, wishing to see if the dog was lifelike, he caused one of his own dogs, who was a great enemy to the Turkish dog, to be brought into the room where the dog was painted, standing on a stone pavement. And as soon as the live dog saw the painted one standing as if it were alive, and just like the one whom he mortally hated, he threw himself upon it to seize it, breaking away from the man who held him, and striking his head with such force against the wall that he dashed his skull to pieces.
Benedetto Baroni, Francesco's nephew, had a picture of his, about which a story has been told by some people who were present. It was a picture of little more than two spans in length, a halflength of the Madonna, and at her side the Child from His shoulder upwards, with His arm lifted in the act of caressing His mother; and it is said that when the Emperor was master of Verona, Don Alonzo of Castile, and Alarcone, the famous captain, were in that city, and being in the house of Count Lodovico da Sesso, said that they should like very much to see this picture. So having sent for it, they were standing one evening looking at it in a good light and admiring the skill of the work, when the count's wife, the Lady Caterina, came by with one of her sons, who had in his hand one of those green birds which are called in Verona "terrazzani," because they make their nest on the ground, and which will perch on your wrist like a hawk. It happened then that while she was standing with the others looking at the picture, this bird, seeing the outstretched arm of the painted Child, flew up to perch upon it, and not being able to attach itself to the picture, fell down, but twice it returned, thinking it was one of the living children who were always carrying it on their wrists. The lords, greatly astonished, would have paid Benedetto a great price to have had the picture, but they could not get it from him by any means. And when, not long after, they planned to steal it from him at a feast, he was warned of it, and their design did not succeed.
Francesco was a man of holy life, and an enemy of vice, so that he would never paint any evil pictures though the marquis many times prayed him. And his brothers were like him in goodness. The third, who was a friar of the Observantines of S. Dominic, called Fra Girolamo, was also a reasonably good painter. He was a person of most simple habits, and quite a stranger to the things of the world. He lived at a farm belonging to the convent, and that he might escape all trouble and disturbance, he kept the money which was sent him for his work, and which he used for buying colours and such things, in an uncovered box hanging to a beam in the middle of his room, so that any one could take it. And that he might not have trouble every day about his food, he used on Monday to cook a saucepan of beans to last him the week. When the plague came to Mantua, and the sick were abandoned, as has often happened in such cases, Fra Girolamo, moved by the noblest charity, would not leave the poor sick fathers, but served them with his own hands, caring not t11at for the love of God he lost his own life, and so he took the infection and died, to the grief of all who knew him.