LEAVING the room assigned to the works of the early masters, we commence another epoch in Art. Oil is taking the place of distemper; perspective, which Paolo Uccello and his contemporaries were groping to discover, is no longer a hidden science ; anatomy enables the artist to draw with greater accuracy, and chiaroscuro and colour have their established laws.
The earliest painting in this room is a circular picture by Sandro Botticelli (1447-1510), which still belongs to the Transition school; it represents a Madonna and Child with angels. The Virgin’s head and figure are grandly drawn, and her countenance, though humble, is full of dignity; joy and love beam in the trustful eyes of the Child, and a sweet smile is on His parted lips ; the extremities are large, but firmly and correctly drawn. Two angels, one of whom is looking eagerly at the Virgin, whilst holding the ink-bottle into which she dips her pen, to inscribe the hymn, ‘ We magnify Thee, O Lord,’ are supposed to be portraits of the brothers Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici, the grandsons of Cosimo, Pater Patriæ ; Giuliano, who fell in the Pazzi conspiracy, is probably the angel next the spectator, whilst Lorenzo, who lived to be the generous patron of art and literature, is looking at his brother. A third angel, with one arm gracefully encircling both youths, bends over them, and two others, whose heads are seen behind, hold a crown over the Madonna ; a lovely and peaceful landscape forms the background. The colour of this picture is rich, full, and harmonious ; the shadows are delicate, and every part is finished with care ; it is painted in distemper, the dress with an oil medium, and the hair and ornaments touched in with gold; the circular form of composition is treated with great skill.
On the opposite wall, the Virgin rising from the Tomb, is by Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521). She gazes upwards with a rapt expression as the Holy Spirit descends upon her. The hands are well composed, though the right is badly drawn. St. John the Evangelist, St. Dominic, St. Peter, and St. Piero Martire are on either side. St. Margaret and St. Catharine kneel in the foreground ; all the figures are more or less disagreeable and coarse, but the landscape background is pleasing.
The Adoration of the Magi, on the same wall, is an unfinished picture by Leonardo da Vinci, a man of extraordinary, almost universal, genius. Born in 1452, he was thirty years of age when Raffaelle entered the world, and he only preceded him one year in his death, which took place in 1519. Vasari thus alludes to this picture :` An Adoration of the Magi, in many respects, especially in the heads, very fine ; it was in the house of Amerigo Benci, opposite the Loggia dei Peruzzi, but was left imperfect, like many of his works.’ This sketch, rather than painting, is peculiarly interesting as an example of Leonardo’s manner of beginning his pictures ; the design is care-fully drawn, and the ground, painted solidly in chiaroscuro of brown and white, formed a preparation for the colour and glazes. The Virgin is very graceful, the Child full of dignity, and both are of that type which, from having been introduced by Da Vinci, is known as Leonardesque ; there is an infinite variety in the heads, many of them are very beautiful, and each is a study from nature ; a landscape, with houses and trees, is faintly traced in the background.
Of the same period, and near this picture, is the same subject by Filippino Lippi (1457-1504). The Virgin, a modest and graceful girl, looks down on the Child with a placid smile, while He shrinks half-playfully from His worshippers ; Joseph, who is represented as an ordinary peasant, stands behind. The group rises diagonally, the kings and their attendants on the left, as well as the group of shepherds on the right, incline towards the Holy Family. The heads have the character of portraits. There is a striking group to the right, where a man in a black cap tells the news to one who listens eagerly ; whilst, behind them, another leans back, apparently absorbed in serious meditation. The Moor behind the old man in the fore-ground is characteristic of his race. Another old man with a bald head on the left, grasping an astrolabe, is Pier Francesco de’ Medici, the son of Cosimo’s brother Lorenzo. There are portraits here of Giovanni, the son of Francesco, born in 1467, and of his cousin Piero, the father of Lorenzo the Magnificent; also of a second Piero Francesco, grandson of the first, and father of Lorenzino, the murderer of Duke Alexander. The landscape background is interspersed with figures in natural groups. The colour of this picture is clear, warm, and fresh throughout, composed of simple full reds, yellows, and blacks ; the artist has successfully contended with the difficulty of introducing so great a number of figures in a comparatively small space, whilst preserving, yet not rendering too obvious, the form of the composition. The lines are pleasing, the action of every figure is natural, whilst each contributes to the expression of the one idea, or subject, of the picture.
Another masterpiece of Filippino Lippi is above the circular picture by Botticelli. It was painted in 1485 for the Sala degli Otto, or Prior’s Chamber, in the Palazzo Vecchio. The Madonna is seated in a shrine ; three scallop shells, the emblem of the pilgrim, adorn the steps of her throne ; angels sustain a crown over her head and scatter roses. The Virgin is simple and girlish almost to insipidity ; she looks meekly down; her golden hair falls on her shoulders, which are cavered with the usual blue mantle ; the Child, a lovely infant, holds an open book, and turns towards St. Victor, who has a singularly fine head ; he gazes at the Christ, his hands crossed on his breast. St. John the Baptist looks out of the picture at the spectator. The Baptist stands firmly; his emaciated feet and legs are well drawn. On the other side are St. Benedict, with open book, and St. Zenobius, distinguished by the red Florentine lily on the clasp of his mantle : his crozier, the architectural background adorned with arabesques, and all the accessories, are carefully executed. A book with a crimson velvet cover is on the floor, and helps to break the horizontal line in the foreground; the colour is rich and harmonious.
Beside the Adoration of the Magi by Filippino Lippi is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, by Mariotto Albertinelli. Albertinelli was born in 1474, and was a pupil of Cosimo Rosselli, and fellow-pupil of the still more celebrated Fra Bartolommeo, whose manner he endeavoured to imitate. This picture, painted in 1503 for the priests of the Congregation of San Martinonear whose church Albertinelli kept a wine-shop is his best production. The figure of Elizabeth is singularly beautiful ; the earnest, reverential, absorbed gaze, and gentle embrace, as she bends forward to salute her who was to be the mother of the Saviour, is full of tender love, yet sober and passionless, and loses none of the dignity appropriate to age. Mary stands to receive her ; in her calm countenance we read the handmaid of the Lord, accepting the homage thus offered her. The composition, drawing, and colour are alike admirable; and raise the feelings of the spectator to the conception of the artist. An arch, whose pilasters are finely decorated with arabesques, encloses the group ; the sky is low in tone, clear, and beautifully graduated. The drapery of the figures falls in ample folds ; the white handkerchief on the head of Elizabeth is managed with great skill, so as not to attract the eye, or divert attention from her face, which is in shade ; the plants in the foreground and other details are highly finished, and copied from nature. The predella below, representing the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Presentation in the Temple, is sweet in colour and drawing ; the landscape in the centre is very beautiful, but, from the glazings having been injured by time, the effect is pale and dead beside that of the principal picture.
Opposite the picture of the Adoration of the Magi, by Leonardo da Vinci, is a noble chiaroscuro composition by Fra Bartolommeo, one of the most important artists of the latter half of the fifteenth century (1475-1517). The Virgin, seated on a throne, with the Child on her knees, and the infant St. John kneeling, form the central group ; behind the Virgin, St. Anna, with outstretched arms, and eyes raised to heaven, adores the Holy Trinity ; the dove descends upon her. To the right, a lovely young girl kneeling beside the throne of the Virgin, represents Santa Reparata ; she holds a palm branch in her right hand, while her left rests on a book. Behind her, as well as on the other side of the throne, are ranged eight Dominican friars, four and four, among whomprobably one of those to the left, who stands facing the spectatoris the portrait of the artist. St. Zenobius and St. Mark (?) kneel in front ; above hover beautiful boy angels with musical instruments, appearing to float in the air ; whilst two have descended on earth, and are seated at the foot of the throne singing from a scroll, which in the unfinished state of the picture is only indicated. The rapt look of St. Anna, and the dignified composure and grandeur of the Dominicans and the saints in the foreground, heighten, by contrast, the charm of the sweet girlish simplicity of the Virgin and of Santa Reparata, as well as the playful grace of the Infant Christ, of St. John, and of the lovely angels, which have hardly been excelled by Raffaelle himself. St. Anna, the mother of the Virgin, is supposed, by her good offices, to have saved Florence from the tyranny of the Duke of Athens ; she is here therefore surrounded by the patron saints of the city. The picture was painted for the Council Chamber of the Palazzo della Signoria ; the money in payment was advanced by the government to the artist, and the reason of its being left in the present unfinished state is unexplained. Fra Bartolommeo studied first in the school of Cosimo Rosselli, and afterwards. endeavoured to master the principles laid down by Leonardo da Vinci for drawing and colour, and to reduce them to practice. His comrade and friend was Mariotti Albertinelli, who was deeply mortified when Bartolommeo, converted by the preaching of Savonarola, entered the Dominican monastery of St. Mark. Like Leonardo da Vinci, he commenced his pictures in chiaroscuro, or simple light and shade ; and painting over these, he finished by thin glazes of colour, which gave richness, variety, and depth to the shadows, and brilliancy to the lights.
The next pictures in order of time are by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (1483-156o), the son of Domenico he was a pupil of Piero di Cosimo, and the friend of the youthful Raffaelle. He has here represented the miracles of the favourite Florentine saint, Zenobius ; they were painted for the Company of St. Zenobius, who had their residence next to that of the Canons of Santa Maria del Fiore, in the Piazza del Duomo. Both pictures have been much repainted, and are not, therefore, fair specimens of the master. The restorer has even injured the drawing, as, for example, the hand of the lady whose child is. brought to life. In the background of this picture are seen the . houses of a Florentine street, and the bell tower of the old Church of San Piero Maggiore, afterwards demolished. The child is just re-awakening, and draws up one small foot, while the arms are extended, and the eyes raised to heaven. The colour of death is still upon the hands and lips. The gesture of the weeping mother, who implores the bishop to join his prayers to hers, is very natural and touching, and in contrast with the calm and trustful countenance of St. Zenobius. One of the priests, who supports his stole, gazes at him with admiring confidence ; the other is attracted by the movement of the child. The variety of expression in the spectators behind is naturally given, the interest in the event visibly diminishing as they are farther removed from the scene of the miracle. The other picture represents the Miracle of the Tree. The body of St. Zenobius is borne from St. Lorenzo, and is on its way to the Cathedral ; part of the façade, with the Campanile of Giotto, and the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, may be perceived to the left, the Baptistery to the right ; the withered tree which the corpse happened to touch is putting forth leaves. The same variety of expression is noticeable in the spectators here, as in the former picture : a pillar erected on the spot still commemorates this miracle of the Florentine saint. The figures of the bearers are dignified, their drapery falling in large folds.’
The painting after this is St. Sebastian, by Razzi of Sienna (Il Sodoma, 1477-1549), and one of the most beautiful treatments of the subject ever transferred to canvas. The saint is tied to a tree, an arrow piercing his neck, whilst an angel (the least successful part of the picture) descends with a crown of martyrdom. The colour hardly passes chiaroscuro ; it is delicate and harmonious, with wonderful breadth : a beautiful distant landscape forms the background. The drawing of the figure, especially in the extremities, is noble and classical ; the writhing of the body and the contortion of the limbs indicate great suffering, yet this is given without exaggeration or injuring the graceful outline of the composition, whilst the whole attention of the spectator is centred in the heavenly beauty of the saint’s glorified face ; mortal pain seems there overcome by faith, and we behold the expression of the most tender love united with the courage of the martyr. On the back of the canvas is a representation of the Virgin with the Infant Jesus, St. Roch and St. Sigismund. The picture was painted in 1525 as a standard for the Confraternity of St. Sebastian.
Francesco Granacci (1477-1543), the friend of Michael Angelo, and the adviser of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, is the artist who painted the altar-piece representing St. Thomas receiving the girdle of the Virgin, which is one of his best productions. The Virgin is insipid, her figure is hard in outline, on a heavy metallic background, intended to represent a glory, which; judging by the colour of the rest of the picture, may be the effect of repainting. Her hands are finely drawn and gracefully placed; the angels around are very lovely and sweet in expression. The Virgin’s grave is filled with roses, in accordance with the legend, and a beautiful Peruginesque landscape is seen beyond: The saint and the angel who kneel in front are grandly composed and drawn, and the earnest, humble, supplicating gaze of St. Thomas, the reverential bend of his whole body, is in fine contrast with the calm, stern, yet mild dignity of the Archangel Michael. Both are beautiful, but one is human, the other divine. The colour is clear, vivid, sharply defined, and some-what hard.
Francesco Granacci painted conjointly with Andrea del Sarto, of whose works there is but a single specimen in this room, and not one of his finest. It represents St. James, with two children ; one kneels at his side, as he bends to caress him. This picture was painted for the Confraternity of St. James, and was placed in the Church of S. Jacopo oltr’ Arno, in the street of the Borgo San Jacopo. As it has been carried in processions, it has suffered from exposure to the weather, but, nevertheless, it retains much of the soft, rich colouring of the master. The children are represented in white, the dress of the Battisti, or of those who had been baptised ; one of the duties of this con-fraternity being the care and education of orphan-boys.
There are two pictures here by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557), who was successively the pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, Mariotto Albertinelli, Piero di Cosimo, and Andrea del Sarto. He assisted Andrea to paint the furniture for the bride of Pier Francesco Borgherini, in his house in the Borgo degli Apostoli. These paintings placed on either side of the door were part of a Bridal Chest, on which Pontormo has represented scenes from the history of Joseph. The drawing is clear and firm, the colour pale but agreeable, the landscape and the perspective of the buildings are admirable ; the groups of figures scattered over the picture do not produce spottiness, and there is an excellent effect of open-air daylight in a hot sunny climate. A likeness of Cosimo, the Pater Patriæ, and a portraitprobably from the lifeof the Grand Duke Cosimo I. are by the same master.
Christian art in drawing, colour, composition, and expression, had reached their highest perfection during the life of Michael Angelo, and had begun their decline during the middle or latter half of the sixteenth century. Exaggerated forms were produced by those who, without the genius, could imitate the peculiarities of the great sculptor, and who found it easier to represent size than strength, and to follow artificial rules rather than the laws of nature. The religious sentiment of an early period, and the pseudo-paganism of the Medicean school, had been succeeded by bigotry and superstition ; the moral sense was blunted by the most horrible crimes in those who should have been the leaders of the people ; and when liberty fell with the accession of the Grand Dukes, art was degraded to flatter their vanity or became subordinate to merely ornamental purposes.
Agnolo Bronzino (1502-1572), so called from his swarthy complexion, was among the best of the inferior class of artists of this period. He was a better painter of portraits than of history. Lanzi describes his colouring as sometimes leaden, sometimes chalky.’ A large picture by this master represents Christ’s Descent into Limbo. The figure of Judith to the right is the portrait of Bianca Cappello, the mistress, and after-wards the wife, of the Grand Duke Francis I., the son of Cosimo I. Her beauty made her the subject of a romantic story, and her talent and good qualities, in spite of her crimes, deserved a happier fate. The flattery intended here must have failed in accomplishing its purpose, since Judith has no great pretension to beauty.
The portrait of a sculptor by Bronzino has the head care-fully drawn and the expression is animated Over a door are portraits of the children of Duke Cosimo I. The boy Ferdinand was his second son, who, after having taken orders, and received the cardinal’s hat, was absolved from his vows in order that he might succeed his brother on the ducal throne. The little girl, Marie de’ Medici, died just as she had reached womanhood, and such was the character of Cosimo, that she was said to have received a slow poison from her own father. Her hand is beautifully painted.
The nephew and pupil of Bronzino was Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), who continued his adherence to the maxims of the school formed by the servile followers of Michael Angelo, even after his own son Cristofano, with his friend and rival, Ludovico Cigoli, had emancipated themselves, and were endeavouring to revive the study of chiaroscuro and colour.
With Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)in spite of his invaluable history of art and artiststhe real decline of art commenced. An ideal portrait by him of Lorenzo de’ Medici is accompanied by fanciful accessories, with a symbolical meaning, in compliment to the reigning house. He has also painted the portrait of Duke Alexander in armour, with a view of Florence in the background. The head and hands are well executed. This picture is above the Virgin and St. Thomas, by Granacci.
A Deposition by Raffaello Botticini Vanni, who lived early in the sixteenth century, is fine in colour, clear and bright, but hard ; the composition and drawing are feeble. The two Marys behind the Virgin, and the Magdalene at the feet, are the finest parts of the picture.
Erminia Healing the Wounds of Tancred is by Ottavio Vannini (15851643).
The Stoning of St. Stephen is the finest work of Cigoli (15591613), the great reformer in art, but whose school survived him only a few years. The expression of the dying saint is very touching and beautifulhis eyes are half closed, his brow contracted from bodily suffering, and his hands extended in prayer, whilst he sinks from exhaustion. The figures of the men stoning him are coarse, but powerful. The light from above falls finely on the head of St Stephen and on the brawny arm of the man in the foreground, who stamps on the fainting martyr. The background is composed of architecture and trees, and is kept low in tone. The small group to the left, beside St. Paul, includes a portrait of the artist. The picture has unfortunately suffered from restorations.
Over the door leading to the other rooms of this suite is an Adoration of the Magi, by Cristofano Allori (1577-1621), the son of Alessandro Allori, and the friend and follower of Cigoli. The picture is unfinished, but it is the only work by this master in the room. There is nothing elevated in the figures which compose the group. They are ordinary peasants, and instead of a Holy Family, they might be better described as a handsome country girl with a child on her lap and an old peasant by her side. The picture is painted with broad touches and full dark colours.
Near the entrance of the room of early Tuscan masters is a picture by Jacopo Chimenti of Empoli (1554-1640). It represents St. Ives, a saint claimed, though without any certainty, by the Franciscans. He was judge-advocate over a diocese in France, and died in 1303. He appears here in the costume of a judge, with a glory round his head ; and is listening to the pleadings of the widows and orphans, of whom he instituted himself the protector. The picture is powerfully coloured and in fine chiaroscuro. The figures in the foreground stand in easy, natural postures, and some of the heads have a consider-able share of beauty.
High up to the left of the Adoration of the Magi, by Cristofano Allori, is a portrait by Baldassare Franceschini, of Volterra (1611-1689). This portrait is supposed to represent the Venetian Fra Paolo Sarpi (who died in 1623), though with little probability, unless the date given for Baldassare’s birth be incorrect.