Florence – Uffizi Gallery – Sala Di Lorenzo Monaco

A NARROW passage leads to the Sala di Lorenzo Monaco. The walls of this passage are covered temporarily with portraits of various artists, for which there is no space in the two large rooms assigned for the purpose. The artists best known are Northcote when young—a good picture ; Hayter, a feeble painting ; a small but interesting portrait of Gavin Hamilton, who spent most of his life in Rome, where he became eminent as an antiquarian, as well as painter ; and the American, Healey. Nanteuil represents the French school, and the rest of the space is occupied by portraits of artists—German, Italian, and of other nations, of whom only a few are known even by name to the English visitor.

Some of the most important pictures belonging to the GalIery are collected in the room at the end of this passage. The two principal are by Lorenzo Monaco (1370-–1425 ?), and by Fra Angelico. Though alike in simplicity of thought and in religious feeling, these two friars differed essentially as men and as painters. There is more force and more gorgeous colouring in Lorenzo, greater purity and elevation in Angelico. The altar-piece by Monaco, who is first mentioned as a painter in 1410, was executed for his own Monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. It was removed to the Abbey Church of San Pietro a Cerreto, near Certaldo, in the Val d’ Elsa, in the sixteenth century, where it remained until 1840. The frame is richly decorated and gilt, having three pinnacles ,at the top, within which are enshrined representations of the Eternal between Seraphim, the Virgin, and the Angel of the Annunciation ; on either side of the frame are small figures of the Prophets of the Old Testament. The subject of the picture is the Coronation of the Virgin; she is attired in white, and, with hands clasped in adoration, bends her head to receive the crown, which the Saviour is placing on her head. Most lovely angel heads appear behind and beneath the canopy of the throne ; two in white garments, with their arms folded, kneel at the feet of the Saviour and the Virgin; two others swing censers in the foreground, and a third, in the centre, plays the organ. The saints who are assembled as spectators, are all male, and though earnest in expression, have coarse and common faces ; they rest, or float on the blue star-lit arch of heaven. The colouring is clear, vivid, and powerful. The predella below is the most beautiful part of the picture, both from the dramatic manner in which the story is told, and from the delicacy of colour and beautiful expression of many of the heads. The compartment farthest to the right represents St. Benedict restoring a brother monk to life, who has been crushed by a wall falling on him; a mischievous little devil is occupied trying to loosen the stones. Next follows St. Benedict paying a visit to his sister Scholastica and her community of nuns ; according to the legend, after conversing on spiritual matters, he was preparing to depart, when Scholastica prayed that he might be detained, and immediately such a storm arose that St. Benedict had to remain some hours longer.’ In the same compartment St. Benedict is saving a monk from drowning. The two central compartments which divide the story of the saint contain the Visit of the Magi, and the Virgin and Joseph worshipping the Child. Beyond these St. Benedict is seen leaving his monastery for the wilderness ; as he passes out, his countenance is that of one lost in anxious thought ; a little devil pulls him along. In the same compartment he is represented amidst the rocks, whilst a brother lowers down food to him in a basket. The Death of St. Benedict is, perhaps, the most beautiful of the series. A monk in a black mantle reads the service over his body; some kiss his hands, and some his feet ; all are absorbed in grief, except one behind, who with a singularly beautiful countenance looks upwards, where the soul is seen ascending to heaven, guided by an angel.

To the right of this picture is a Madonna enthroned with Saints, by Domenico Veneziano (d. 1461), who, although born in Venice, received his artistic education in Tuscany. He lived in the early half of the fifteenth century, and made use of linseed oil in his distemper pictures, which gave rise to an idea that he had learned the art of oil-painting from the Flemings. The colour of this picture is peculiar and gaudy in its pale pinks and greens ; the shadows are a greenish grey. The Madonna, with the Child on her knee, is seated in a shrine composed of pointed arches, supported by tall, slender columns; below is a gay-coloured carpet spread over a pavement of variegated marbles. On one side stands St. John the Baptist, whose ugly features and attenuated limbs recall the same figure by Andrea del Castagno, a contemporary painter, in Santa Croce. Beside St. John is St. Francis in the grey habit he adopted in the commencement of his Order ; his attention is riveted on the book he holds in his hand, and his countenance is suggestive of calm and pleasant thought. Opposite to these two saints are St. Nicholas and Sta. Lucia ; the latter figure is pleasing, and the drapery falls in large and graceful folds ; her hands are well drawn and elegant ; she is fair, with a high forehead and golden hair, but her expression is insipid. Domenico Veneziano probably studied in the same school with Fra Angelico, but partakes of the mannerism of Andrea del Castagno. He was the master of Bicci di Lorenzo and of Pier della Francesca, by whom there is a picture in this room, and who owed his precision in drawing and his clear firm outlines to Veneziano, for both of which qualities this artist was remarkable.

An Adoration of the Magi by Sandro Botticelli, whilst retaining the strong individuality of the master, is after the manner of Fra Filippo and of the Pollajoli. He painted this picture shortly after the death of Cosimo de’ Medici, the Pater Patrice, and has represented him attired in a robe of black and gold, kneeling before the Madonna, and kissing the feet of the holy Child. A young man to the left, in the foreground, who looks down with a haughty air, may represent Lorenzo the Magnificent, the grandson of Cosimo. Two youths to the right, one of whom wears a robe of white and gold, the other dressed in black and red, and with dark hair, are supposed to be portraits of Giuliano (the grandson of Cosimo and brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent), who was murdered in the Pazzi conspiracy, and of his uncle Giovanni, the son of Cosimo, who died just before his father. Neither survived their youth, and this picture was probably painted to commemorate those of the family recently deceased. The elderly man in a scarlet mantle kneeling beside them may be supposed to represent Lorenzo, the brother of Cosimo, and the ancestor of the Grand Ducal branch of the Medici. The Holy Family is the weakest part of the picture ; but the figure of Joseph stands gracefully, in earnest contemplation of the Virgin and Child. The group of attendants are evidently portraits. Vasari mentions this painting as one of the best of the period.’

Above, is a Madonna adoring the Child, by Lorenzo Credi; an angel crowns the Child with olive ; the landscape back ground, though conventional, is in good perspective ; the outlines are hard, but correct ; the colour pale ; the Child is in a natural attitude, and the limbs delicately rounded and infantine. Credi was a conscientious and diligent artist : the companion of Leonardo da Vinci in the school of Andrea Verocchio, he endeavoured to vie with him in the hard smooth surface he gave to his pictures ; and, as he lived at a period when artists were gradually substituting an oil medium for distemper, Credi himself carefully prepared his vehicle and pigments.

A painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio represents the Madonna seated in a shrine, her feet resting on a rich carpet laid over steps of variegated marbles, and with a vase of lilies below. In the background is a trellis, with cypresses and roses appearing above. The archangels, Michael and Raphael, stand on either side of the Holy Family, whilst inferior angels, like a troop of little schoolgirls, are gathered in playful attitudes behind ; two of their young faces peep between the bars of the trellis. They none of them possess a high or refined type of beauty, but, like the Virgin, their faces are round, fresh, and innocent. St. Michael, a beautiful youth, stands with his sword in his hand ; Raphael, the guardian of human souls, clothed in long garments, has a casket in his hand, supposed to contain the charm against evil spirits. St. Zenobius and St. Justus kneel in front ; both heads are fine. St. Zenobius may be recognised by the Florentine lily on the clasp of his mantle. The drawing of this picture is firm and free ; the colour clear and simple. Ghirlandaio painted it in his youth for a church of St. Justus in Florence, which was destroyed during the siege of 1529, at which time this work was carried to the Church of La Calza, near the Porta Romana, whence it was removed. to the Gallery of the Uffizi in 1857.

A large and important work by the most individual artist of the Florentine school follows : viz. a Tabernacle in the form of a diptych, or panel enclosed within two doors, executed by Fr Angelico for the Guild of Flax Merchants in 1433 ; it was in their residence, near the Mercato Vecchio, until 1777, when it was removed to this gallery. On the panel are the Virgin and Child, life-size, with a curtain of cloth of gold behind, whilst on the surrounding arch, are angels of surpassing loveliness, playing musical instruments, the trumpet, organ, cymbals, psaltery, &c. Inside the doors are represented St. John the Baptist and St. Mark ; outside, St. Mark as the patron saint of the Guild of Flax, and St. Peter.’ The predella to this picture is in the room of Old Masters, in the Uffizi.

The Birth of Venus is a fine example of Botticelli. Though inferior to Fra Angelico in the qualities of spiritualised beauty and refinement of form, Botticelli has greater strength, with earnestness, purity, and even grace ; it is in the realm of profane story and allegory that he delights to indulge his luxuriant fancy. The goddess has newly risen from the sea, and stands on a shell ; a nymph, typical of spring, prepares to throw a red mantle over her, whilst Zephyrus and Aurora waft her towards the shore. The hands and feet of Venus have evidently been studied from classical sculpture ; they are drawn with care and elegance, and she stands gracefully with an air of timid bewilderment at first awakening to existence ; the tenderness of her expression gives an interest to features which are without any claim to a high order of charms, and invests them with a certain beauty. Spring, as she bounds forward, hardly seeming to touch the ground, is wonderfully buoyant for a figure so clumsy ; the movement produced by the wind on her dress, and on the mantle she holds towards Venus, is well given. The male and female figures, Zephyrus and Aurora, scatter roses and breathe on the goddess, their garments are blown back in a contrary direction by the current of air caused by the rapidity of their descent. The sky is grey as in early morning ; the ripple on the sea is marked by a succession of even conventional curves ; the golden light of dawn touches the edge of the shell and the rushes in the foreground, and sparkles on the sea-shore ; but the general tone of the picture is sober. It is painted in distemper, and was executed by order of Lorenzo de’ Medici for the Villa of Castello, for which villa Botticelli also painted an Allegory on Spring, now in the Florentine Academy.

Beneath is a predella by Francesco d’ Ubertino, surnamed Il Bacchiacca (1494-1557), a pupil of Perugino, and of the best Florentine colourist, Andrea del Sarto. He painted this predella for the Church of San Lorenzo. Though the drawing and composition are feeble, the colour is agreeable : the subject is taken from the life of St. Acasius ; in the centre the Emperor Hadrian subdues a rebellion by the help of angels ; on the left, Acasius and his comrades are baptised ; on the right, they are crucified on Mount Ararat : a lovely Tuscan landscape forms the background. The commander on horseback, in the compartment to the right, is drawn with much spirit, and the angel gathering laurel leaves is very lovely.

Over the door is a picture of the Madonna and Child with St. Joseph, by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, the nephew of Domenico (1483-1560). On the wall beyond is an altar-piece, by Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1450), representing four saints—St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas with his three golden balls, Mary Magdalene, and St. George. On the vestment of St. Nicholas are miniatures of the Birth of Christ, the Worship of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the Massacre of the Innocents, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Entombment. One of the disciples visiting the sepulchre is gazing at the angels who watch beside it. The predella below is by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1498), the pupil of Fra Angelico, who without possessing the highest order of genius, had great versatility, with a redundant fancy ; the pleasing, as well as animated character of his works, both landscape and figure, earned for him a name among the best artists of his time. The painting before us does not give a just idea of his powers, which can alone be appreciated in his frescoes in the Campo Santo of Pisa, and in his other beautiful frescoes of the Riccardi Palace in Florence. In the centre of this predella Christ is rising from the tomb, with extended arms, displaying the wounds in His hands, from which the blood trickles towards the shoulder, thus showing the position on which He hung on the cross; He looks down with a peaceful smile, for ‘ all is accomplished.’ On one side St. John gazes ` at Him with confiding love ; on the other, the Magdalene, the type of repentant sinners, weeps bitterly. In a compartment to the right of the spectator are represented St. Anthony and St. Benedict ; to the left, the Marriage of St. Catharine. She stands timidly at a little distance from the Infant Christ, whilst extending her hand to receive the ring ; the Child looks down with a sweet smile, and raises His hand to bless, whilst His mother gazes fondly on Him. It has been suggested that this predella belonged to the Chapel of the Riccardi Palace, and that the picture to which it was attached is lost ; if this be true, the picture by Fra Filippo in the room of Old Masters may have been painted earlier for the same chapel, and been replaced by that of Benozzo Gozzoli.