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Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574):

Lives of the Artists: Perugino and Raffaello

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OF what great use poverty may be to genius, and how it may be powerful in perfecting it, may be clearly seen in the life of Pietro Perugino, who, driven from Perugia by want, came to Florence, desiring to make a position for himself by his talents. For many months, having no other bed to lie on, he slept in a box, applying himself with the utmost fervour to the study of his profession, and knowing no other pleasure than painting. For he had always before his eyes the fear of poverty, and he was spurred by want, desiring, if he could not be highest and supreme, at least to have wherewith to support himself. Therefore he cared neither for cold, nor hunger, nor discomfort, nor fatigue, that he might one day live at ease, quoting always the proverbs, that after bad weather must come good, and that in fine weather you should build the house to cover you when you need it.

According to the common story, he was born in Perugia, the son of a poor man of Castello della Pieve, named Cristofano, who gave him in baptism the name of Pietro. Growing up in misery and want, he was a.pprenticed to a painter of Perugia, who, though he was not very good at his trade, held in great veneration art and the men who excelled in it. He did nothing but impress UpOII Pietro what an honour and advantage painting was to those who practised it well, relating the glory of ancient and modern painters, by which he kindled in Pietro the desire to become one of them. So he used to be always asking where men could prepare themselves for the trade best, and his master always answered in the same way, that it was in Florence more than anywhere else that men grew perfect in all the arts, especially painting. For in that city men are spurred by three things: First there are many there ready to find fault, the air of the place making men independent in mind and not easily contented with mediocre works. Secondly, if a man wished to live there hs must be industrious, for Florence, not having a large and fertile country, could not provide for the wants of those who dwelt there at little expense. And thirdly, there is the desire of glory and honour, which the air excites to a high degree in men of every profession, so that no man who has any spirit will consent to be only like others, much less be lcft behind.

Moved therefore by this advice, Pietro came to Florence and studied under the discipline of Andrea Verrocchio. And in a few years he obtained such reputation that not only were Florence and Italy full of his works? but they were sent also to France, Spain, and many other countries, and the merchants began to purchase them that they might send them abroad to their own great profit.

There is a story which I have heard told of a prior of a convent who had employed him to paint in its cloisters. This prior was very good at making ultramarine, and having therefore abundance of it, he desired that Pietro should put a great deal into his works; he was, however, so miserably suspicious that he would not trust Pietro, but would always be present when he was using the ultramarine. Pietro, being by nature upright and honest, took it ill that the prior should distrust him, and thought how he could shame him out of it. So he took a basin of water, and setting himself to his work, for every two brushfuls that he took he washed his brush in the basin, so that there was more colour left in the water than he put into his work. The prior, seeing his bag getting empty, and the picture not getting on, kept saying, "Oh, how much ultramarine that plaster consumes!" "You see!" answered Pietro. But when the prior was gone, Pietro collected the ultramarine that was at the bottom of the basin; and when the time seemed to him to be come, he gave it back to the prior, saying, "Father, this is yours; learn to trust honest men who never deceive those who trust in them, but know how to deceive, when they choose, suspicious men like you."

The fame of Pietro was so spread abroad in Italy that he was sent for by Pope Sixtus IV. to work in his chapel in the company of many excellent artists; but these works were destroyed in the time of Pope Paul III. to make place for the Judgment of the divine Michael Angelo. Pietro worked so much, and had always so much to do, that he often repeated the same things in his pictures, and his art was thus reduced to a manner, so that he gave to all his figures the same air. About this time, Michael Angelo made his appearance on the scene, and Pietro had a great desire to see his work~ from the report which artists gave of them. But when he perceived that he himself would be eclipsed by the greatness of him who had made so great a beginning, he allowed himself in his anger to attack with bitter sarcasm many of the artists in Florence. Therefore he deserved not only to be attacked by other artists, but even that Michael Angelo should declare in public that his art was rude. Pietro, however, could not endure such an insult, and brought the matter before the magistrates; but came off with little honour. When his friends told him that he had wandered away from the good path, either from avarice or from fear of losing time, Pietro would answer, "I have put into my work the figures which you formerly praised and which pleased you greatly. If now they displease you, what am I to do ?"

But when sonnets were written upon him attacking him, he left Florence and returned to Perugia. There he painted in fresco in the church of S. Severo, the young Raffaello da Urbino, his pupil, doing some of the figures. He also began a work in fresco of no little importance at Castello della Pieve, but this he did not finish. For, as if he could trust nobody, he used to carry about him all the money he had, as he went backwards and forwards to Castello; and so it fell out that some men, laying wait for him, robbed him, but at his earnest entreaty they spared his life. Afterwards, by means of his friends, he recovered a great part of the money that had been taken from him; nevertheless he was near dying of grief. For Pietro was a man of very little religion, and would never believe in the immortality of the soul. His hopes were all set on the gifts of fortune, and he would have done anything for money. He had a most beautiful young woman for his wife, and took so much pleasure in seeing her well adorned, both at home and abroad, that it is said he often dressed her with his own hands.

He died at last in Castello della Pieve, an old man of seventyeight. He made many masters in painting, and one who surpassed him by a long way, the wonderful Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Pinturicchio, the Perugian painter, was also his pupil, who, although he executed many works, had a much greater name than he deserved. He was called to Sienna by Cardinal Piccolomini to paint the library erected there by Pope Pius II. But the sketches and drawings for these pictures were all by the hand of Raffaello, then very young, who had been his schoolfellow under Pietro. He worked also in Rome under Pope Sixtus, and painted an infinite number of pictures all over Italy, which as they were not very excellent I will pass over in silence.

When he was fiftynine years of age he was charged to paint the Birth of our Lady in S. Francesco in Sienna, and the friars there gave him a room to dwell in, which at his desire they emptied of everything except a great chest, which seemed to them too big to move. But Pinturicchio, being a strange, fanciful man, made so much disturbance about it that the friars at last set to work to carry it away, and in moving it a plank gave way, and discovered five hundred ducats of gold. Pinturicchio, however, was so much vexed at the friars' good fortune that, not being able to forget it, he fell sick and died.

His great schoolfellow, Raffaello, one of those possessed of such rare gifts that it is imposs~ble to call them simply men, but rather, if it is allowable so to speak, mortal gods, was born in the famous city of Urbino in Italy, in the year 1483, on Good Friday, at three o'clock of the night. He was the son of Giovanni de' Santi, a painter but not a very excellent one, a man of good understanding, and capable of directing his son in that good way which unfortunately had not been shown to himself in his youth. And because Giovanni knew of what consequence it was that the child should be nursed by his own mother and not left to the care of a hired nurse, he kept him in his own house that he might learn good ways, rather than the rough customs of common men. And as soon as he was grown, he began to teach him painting, so that it was not long before he was able to help his father in many of his works. But at last the good father, knowing that his son could learn little from him, determined to put him with Pietro Perugino, and going to Perugia, told him his desire. And Pietro, who was very courteous, and a lover of men of talent, accepted Raffaello. Therefore Giovanni, returning joyfully to Urbino, took the boy, not without many tears, from his mother, who tenderly loved him, and brought him to Perugia. And when Pietro saw his manner of drawing and his pleasant ways, he pronounced that judgment upon him which time has proved most tru~. It is a very remarkable thing that while Raffaello was studying under Pietro he imitated him so closely that it is impossible to distinguish their works.

When Pinturicchio was entrusted with the painting of the library of Sienna, Raffaello accompanied him thither; but while they were there, some painters spoke to him of the cartoons of Lionardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo at Florence, praising them so much that the desire came upon him to see them, and he set out for Florence. He was no less pleased with the city than with the works he came to see, and he determined to tarry there some time, making friends with many young painters. And after he had been to Florence his manner changed greatly, for while there he studied the old works of Masaccio and the labours of Lionardo and Michael Angelo, and he was in close intercourse with Fra Bartolommeo di S. Marco, whose colour pleasing him much, he sought to imitate it, while in return he taught the good father perspective.

Then Bramante da Urbino, who was in the service of Julius II, being distantly related to Raffaello and of the same district, wrote to him that he had been using his influence with the Pope to obtain for him leave to display his powers in certain rooms of the palace. The tidings pleased Raffaello, and leaving his works at Florence unfinished, he departed for Rome, where he found that many of the chambers of the palace had been already painted, or were being painted, by other masters. Being received with much kindness by Pope Julius, he began in the chamber of the Segnatura, and painted a picture of the reconciliation between Philosophy and Astrology, and Theology. He enriched this work with many figures, and finished it in so delicate and sweet a manner that Pope Julius caused all the pictures of the other masters, both ancient and modern, to be destroyed that Raffaello might have all the work of the chambers. So Raffaello painted the ceiling of this chamber with the figures of Knowledge, Poetry, Theology, and Justice, and on the walls represented Parnassus with the Poets, and Heaven with the Saints and Doctors of the Church, and Justinian giving the laws to the Doctors, and Pope Julius the canon laws. And the Pope, being satisfied with the work, gave him the second chamber to paint.

Kaffaello had now acquired a great name, having moreover gentle manners admired by all; but though he studied continually the antiquities in the city, he had not yet given to any of his figures that grandeur and majesty which appeared in his later works. It happened at this time that Michael Angelo, having that difference with the Pope of which we shall speak in his life, had fled to Florence, and Bramante, having the key of the SiSline Chapel, showed it to Raffaello his friend, that he might learn Michael Angelo's methods. And this was the cause of his repainting the prophet Isaiah, which he had already finished in the church of S. Agostino, greatly improving and elevating his manner in this work, and giving it more majesty.

Not long after, Agostino Chigi, a very rich merchant of Sienna, entrusted him with the painting of a chapel, Raffaello having before painted for him in the loggia of his palace a picture of Galatea. So Raffaello, having made the cartoon for the chapel which is in the church of S. Maria della Pace, carried it out in fresco in his new and grander manner, painting there some of the Prophets and Sibyls; and this work is the best and most excellent that he produced in his life.

Continuing then his work in the chambers of the Vatican, he painted the Miracle of the Mass of Bolsena and S. Peter in prison, with the punishment of Heliodorus, and on the ceiling pictures from the Old Testament. But at this time Pope Julius died, who had ever been an encourager of talent. Nevertheless Leo X, being created pope, desired the work to continue, so Raffaello painted the coming of Attila to Rome, and Pope Leo III going out to meet him.

Meanwhile Raffaello painted many other pictures, and his fame grew great, and reached to France and Flanders, and Albert Durer, the great German painter and engraver, sent to Raffaello a tribute of his own works, a portrait of himself painted in watercolour on very fine linen, so that it showed equally on both sides. And Raffaello, marvelling at it, sent to him many drawings from his own hand, which were much prized by Albert. The goldsmith Francesco Francia of Bologna also heard of him, and desired greatly to see him. For while he was enjoying in peace the glory he had earned by his labours in Bologna, many gentlemen of that city going to Rome went to see Raffaello and his works. And as men usually like to praise to others those of their own house who have talent, so these Bolognese began to talk to Raffaello in praise of Francia's works, and his life and virtues; and thus between them there sprang up a kind of friendship, and Francia and Raffaello saluted each other by letter. Francia, hearing of the fame of the divine works of Raffaello, desired much to see them, but being already old was loth to leave his Bologna. Then it happened that Raffaello painted a picture of S. Cecilia, which was to be sent to Bologna and placed in a chapel in S. Giovanni in Monte, and having packed it, he directed it to Francia as his friend that he might set it up in the chapel. At which Francia was very glad, having so long desired to see one of Raffaello's works. And having opened Raffaello's letter (in which he prayed him, if he found it scratched, to mend it, and also, if he saw any error, like a true friend, to correct it), with great delight he drew the picture out of the case and put it in a good light. But so great was his astonishment at what he saw that, recognising his foolish presumption, he fell sick of grief, and in a short time died. The picture of Raffaello was indeed divine, not a painted thing but living; and Francia, half dead with the shock, and altogether disheartened by the extreme beauty of the picture compared with those which he saw around him done by his own hand, had it placed carefully in the chapel where it was to be, and then in a few days took to his bed, feeling that in art he was nothing compared to whtt he hsd thought himself to be and was reputed by others, and thus died of grief and melancholy. However, some people say that his death was so sudden that it was more like poison or apoplexy.

After this Raffaello painted for the Brothers of Monte Oliveto, in the monastery called S. Maria dello Spasimo of Palermo, a picture of Christ bearing His cross, which when it was finished nearly came to a bad end. For as it was being borne by sea to Palermo, a great tempest cast the ship upon a rock, and it was broken to pieces, and the crew lost, and all the cargo, except this picture, which was carried in its case by the sea to Genoa. Here being drawn to shore, it was seen to be a thing divine, and was taken care of, being found uninjured, even the winds and waves in their fury respecting the beauty of such a work. When the news of it was spread abroad, the monks sought to regain it, and with the intercession of the Pope obtained it, satisfying the demands of those that saved it. It was carried safe to Sicily, and placed in Palermo, where it has a greater reputation than the volcano itself.

While Raffaello was working at these paintings he did not cease to labour in the Pope's chambers, keeping men constantly employed in painting from his designs, and himself overlooking everything.

It was not long, therefore, before he uncovered the chamber of the Borgia Tower, in which he had painted the burning of the Borgo Vecchio of Rome, and Leo IV. stopping it with his blessing, with another picture of the life of St. Leo. The ceiling of this room had been painted by Perugino his master, and Raffaello therefore would not have it destroyed.

He also embellished the other parts of the palace, making the designs for the staircases and for the loggie which Bramante had begun. And Leo X. wishing to display great magnificence and liberality, Raffaello made the designs for the ornaments in stucco, and for the pictures to be painted in the loggie, setting Giovanni da Udine over the stucco work, and Giulio Romano over the figur~s, though he worked little upon them, Giovan Francesco, called Il Fattore, Perino del Vaga, and others chiefly painting them.

The Pope also desiring to have some arras woven of gold and silk, Raffaello made some coloured cartoons of the proper form and size with his own hands, which were sent into Flanders to be woven, and when the cloth was finished it was sent back to Rome. For Giulio Cardinal de' Medici he painted the Transfiguration of Christ, and brought it to the greatest perfection, working at it continually with his own hand, and it seemed as if he put forth all his strength to show the power of art in the face of Christ; and having finished it, as the last thing he had to do, he laid aside his pencil, death overtaking him.

For, being seized with a fever, he made his will, and having confessed, he ended his course on the same day that he was born, that is, Good Friday, being thirtyseven years of age. They placed at the head of the room in which he lay, the picture of the Transfiguration, which he had finished for the Cardinal de' Medici, and the sight of the dead body and the living work filled all with grief.

Source. These texts were at,but vanished from the net, and so they have been restored here.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects, by Giorgio Vasari: newly tr. by Gaston du C. de Vere. With five hundred illustraiions, London, Macmillan and & The Medici society, 1912-15.

Other translations include:

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the painters, sculptors and architects. London, J. M. Dent; New York, Dutton [1949-50]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574.  Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors, and architects. Abridged from the translation by Gaston DuC. DeVere. Edited, with an introd., by Robert N. Linscott. New York, Modern Library [1959].

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists. Selected and translated by E.L. Seeley. Introd. by Alfred Werner. (New York, Noonday Press, [1965, c1957]).

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. Lives of the artists; a selection translated by George Bull. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng. : Penguin Books, 1987.

Vasari, Giorgio, 1511-1574. The lives of the artists; translated with an introduction and notes by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. (Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1991.).

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