Florence – Uffizi Gallery – Small Pictures By Tuscan Masters

IN a passage leading from that containing the larger pictures of the Tuscan school to the Tribune is a valuable collection of smaller paintings, many of which were executed by the same artists whose pictures we have already described.

The work of greatest importance is on the wall to the left on entering, and is one of Sandro Botticelli’s most celebrated compositions. He has called the subject Calumny, as he took his idea from a description of a painting by the Greek Apelles.’ Apelles had been slandered by a brother artist, jealous of his fame, and the false accuser had been listened to by his patron, King Ptolemy of Egypt ; although finally acquitted, Apelles could not forget the offence, and he took his revenge by painting Ptolemy as King Midas with ass’s ears, seated in judgment, and with Suspicion and Ignorance on either side. Midas extended his hand to Calumny, who approached with a glowing countenance, bearing a torch in her left hand, whilst dragging a youth along with her right ; the youth raised his hand to ask aid from heaven. Envy decked Calumny with flowers as if to render her more attractive ; Repentance followed, represented as a female attired in black, who turned her head towards Truth, and wept with shame and remorse. Such was the subject, as treated by Apelles ; but Botticelli, although adhering to most of the figures, has not followed this description closely. The study of the antique is shown throughout, especially in the nude figure of Truth looking upwards, as if appealing to heaven. The male figure addressing the king was probably meant to signify Rage ; the lovely female who drags the youth on the ground by the hair of his head is Calumny, on whom Envy scatters flowers. The figures on either side of King Midas, which in the picture by Apelles represented Suspicion and Ignorance, may here be supposed to represent Cruelty and Mercy, alternately swaying the weak judgment of the Prince, who looks puzzled by opposite opinions. The grand old hag at the farther end, with hands crossed and with a wicked scowl as she looks back at Truth, probably represents Falsehood, the mother of Calumny. A beautiful architectural background unites the separate groups and figures; the pale blue sky and the sea-shore appear between the open arches ; rich friezes, reliefs, and statues adorn the palace ; the sculpture is taken from classical and sacred subjects ; a bright, pure atmosphere prevails throughout the picture, in which the outlines of every form appear sharply de-fined ; the brilliancy of the light, the high finish of every detail, and the accurate distances are especially to be remarked. The female heads are all from one model, even to their golden hair; but there is variety of expression to compensate for monotony of features, which are drawn with delicacy and precision.

On either side of this picture are most lovely miniatures by Fra Angelico, which once formed the predella to an altar-piece. The subjects are the Marriage and Death of the Virgin. In the first, the youths who had aspired to her hand break their rods, on beholding her union with Joseph. According to the legend, the high-priest, to whose charge she had been consigned, desired that each candidate should bring a rod to the Temple, and that he whose rod sent forth buds should be the chosen husband of Mary. Joseph’s rod decided in his favour, and he is here represented bearing the blows dealt him by the disappointed suitors with wonderful equanimity. The female figures are drawn with great elegance, and have all the refinement characteristic of the painter. A dove rests on the branch Joseph holds in his hand.

In the companion picture the Virgin appears in sleep rather than death. The Saviour holds her new-born soul in his arms; the colour is clear and delicate—a pure blue prevails through-out.

Near the window is another exquisite little picture, also by Fra Angelico. The infant St. John is brought to his father Zacharias, who is writing his name ; the maiden who stoops to present the inkstand to him, and the other with the child are very graceful ; the two heads behind are not less lovely. Elizabeth is supported by a female attendant. The scene is laid in a garden before a house, with orange trees on the wall ; grass and flowers are in the foreground.

A most beautiful picture by Cigoli represents St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. His sinking frame and the exhaustion expressed in every feature are given with marvellous truth ; the painting is highly finished, and the drawing and colouring are excellent.

A portrait by Andrea del Sarto (1488–1530) of himself when young, is a good picture ; below it is that of a child by Santo di Titi (1536–1603).

St. Augustine in his Study is an exquisitely-finished miniature, attributed to Filippo Lippi, but doubtful. The saint is seated in a niche writing ; the head is very fine, a green curtain is drawn aside, and papers are scattered on the ground.

Judith, with the head of Holofernes, by Cristofano Allori, is a repetition in miniature of his celebrated picture in the Pitti.

A portrait in fresco of Bianca Cappello, the second wife of the Grand Duke Francis I., is by Alessandro Allori (4535-1607). Alessandro’s pictures are in general feeble and devoid of interest. This fresco was discovered in a villa not far from Careggi, beyond the Porta San Gallo. At the farther end of this room, facing the window, is another portrait of Bianca, by Agnolo Bronzino, at the back of which is an allegory—the dream of human life. Neither picture gives any idea of a beauty which was so celebrated among her contemporaries, and which has only been preserved in a cameo likeness in the room of gems.

The martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion is by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557), the master of the Allori; he has introduced the portrait of his patron, Carlo Neroni, as receiving baptism from an angel, on a hill to the left of the picture.

The portrait of Eleanora of Toledo, the unhappy wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I., is by Agnolo Bronzino ; Christ with the disciples at Emmaus, by Cristofano Allori ; and St. Francis, kneeling before the Cross, by Alessandro.

On the opposite wall near the window is a man in armour, by Agnolo Bronzino, and below this is the portrait of Pico della Mirandola, by an unknown artist. The interest of this picture only consists in its being the likeness of a remarkable man, the friend of Marsilio Ficino, who presided over Cosimo de’ Medici’s Platonic Academy. Pico was likewise a member of this society, but his commentaries on Plato’s writings are said to be more obscure than the text. He died at the age of thirty-two, and was buried in the Church of St. Mark in Florence. He is here represented holding in his hand the effigy of Cosimo de’ Medici.

The portraits of Marie de’ Medici, the eldest daughter of the Grand Duke Cosimo I. and of her brother, Don Garzia, are by Agnolo Bronzino. Marie fell in love with a page at her father’s Court, the son of Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, and Cosimo, to prevent the marriage, is supposed to have administered poison to his own daughter, and caused her early death. The merry-faced boy holding a goldfinch is very unlike the hero of another domestic tragedy ; but when a man, while hunting at Pisa, he accidentally killed his brother in a quarrel. On presenting himself after the deed to his father, Cosimo stabbed him to the heart, and then proclaimed to the world that both his sons had died of malaria fever.

A Virgin and St. John, by Lorenzo Credi. The aged Mother of the Saviour, attired in mourning, clasps her hands and looks down full of sorrow ; St. John’s hands are joined in prayer, his eyes raised to heaven, and the smile of love and trust upon his lips is very beautiful ; he seems to utter the words, ` I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ The extremities are large, but finely drawn. In the background, a castle at the foot of a hill, a garden, and the sea in the extreme distance, are all coloured with delicacy, and the effect of atmosphere is well given.

One of Cristofano Allori’s most attractive pictures represents the Infant Jesus sleeping on the Cross. It is exquisitely finished in chiaroscuro and colour, though imperfect in drawing,’ and the manner is that of Correggio, whose Magdalene the artist had studied ; on the parted lips there is a placid smile, which seems to tell of happy dreams, or, in accordance with the old superstition, the angels are whispering to the Child ; the little arms are folded under His cheek, and the peaceful landscape background harmonises well with the subject.

The copy beyond, by Allori, of Correggio’s celebrated Magdalene reading, is painted with the utmost delicacy.

The small picture of the Birth of Christ and the Presentation in the Temple are by Fra Bartolommeo (1475-1517). These little pictures formed the doors of a triptych, which had a relief within by Donatello ; and Vasari remarks of them, ` It is impossible to paint better in oil.’ In the first, Joseph is seated on the ground, contemplating the Child, whilst the Virgin kneels before the Infant Christ, who looks up lovingly in her face ; two angels converse behind. The background is a beautiful little landscape. In the Presentation, the head of the high-priest is very fine, and the Child most lovely ; the Virgin holds Him tenderly. Every detail is finished with care, whilst breadth in chiaroscuro and colour is carefully maintained. An Annunciation in chiaroscuro is on the back of the picture.’

Near this are two miniatures by Botticelli—the Friends of Holofernes discovering his headless corpse in the tent ; and Judith followed by her nurse, who bears away the head. Both pictures are remarkable for grandeur of composition and finish. The first subject is treated with painful reality, though fine and rich in colour; the expression of horror at the discovery is given with the utmost truth. The second, though much repainted, is the more attractive of the two. A cool morning light is dawning over the distant landscape, where the hostile army is seen in confusion at the murder of their leader. Judith walks on calmly, and with a smile of triumph on her face tempered by serious thought. She carries a sword in one hand, an olive-branch in the other, and turns her head towards her attendant, who, cast in a coarser mould, is bending beneath her burden, and appears to move with hasty steps, as if in fear of pursuit. The head of Holofernes has the appearance of sleep still upon the dead features.

Hercules fighting with the Hydra, and the same hero throwing Antæus over the rock, are by Antonio Pollajolo. They are marvellous for the representation of strength, and a proof that grandeur of drawing and composition does not depend on size. The Medusa’s head is supposed to be the celebrated picture by Leonardo da Vinci, of which Vasari writes :—’ He took a fancy to paint a picture of a Medusa with a head-gear of serpents, the strangest and most extravagant invention imaginable ; but as it was a work which required time, it remained incomplete.’ The original picture, of which this appears to be a copy, was long in the palace of the Grand Duke Cosimo I. The exaggerated chiaroscuro makes it difficult to distinguish any of the details. The eyes are turned backwards, and a film of vapour from the lips implies that life is not yet extinct. The serpents are a tangled mass, which glide and twist around the head ; mice, toads, and other reptiles crawl about the dark cavern in which the Medusa is laid.

An Annunciation by Lorenzo Credi, with a predella in dead colour, represents the Creation of Eve, the Fall, and the Expulsion from Paradise ; a garden walk is seen here in long perspective. The Virgin is in a room with three open arches; she raises her head in glad surprise ; the angel’s head is very fine and expressive, his hands are folded on his bosom. Both figures are, however, deficient in grace and elegance.

A lovely head of Santa Lucia is by Carlo Dolce (1616-1686), near which is a powerful portrait by Lorenzo Credi of his master, Andrea Verocchio. The small eyes are full of life and intelligence ; the firm-set mouth and the muscles around are indicated so as to suggest movement ; the spacious round forehead, and the quiet nostrils—all denote resolution and power. We have the portrait of a simple citizen, yet a great master. The hands rest easily on the ledge in front ; to the right, a landscape is seen through an open window.

Another portrait by Credi represents Messer Alessandro Brascesi, Secretary to the Florentine Republic in 1497: an interesting head. The picture approaches so nearly in style and colour the portrait by an unknown artist mentioned in the first corridor, that we can hardly hesitate to assign them to the same hand. The portrait of an old man painted on a tile has marvellous character and animation, and is carefully drawn. Some suppose it to be the work of Tommaso Guidi di Giovanni, commonly known as Masaccio (1401–1428); others attribute it to Botticelli.

The head of a youth by Andrea del Sarto is supposed to be a portrait of a friend of the artist, who was a novice or student with the monks of Vallombrosa.

At the end of this room farthest from the window, and near the entrance from the room of Tuscan pictures, is a bowl for carrying gifts, on which Jacopo Pontormo has painted the Birth of St. John the Baptist ; on this same wall is also a small sketch, by Fra Bartolommeo, of the Eternal descending on clouds, and borne up by Cherubim, whilst angels blow trumpets. The feeble light here makes it impossible to judge of the merits of pictures so far removed from the window, and few, if any, of them are of superlative merit. In one corner is the portrait of a lady taken in profile by Alessandro Allori. It is stiff and formal, but the pleasant smile on the face, the arched nose, full chin, and florid complexion, may have given the lady some claim to admiration in her day.

The head of a youth by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) furnishes an admirable study for the portrait-painter. The eyes are liquid, the lips mobile ; the smooth forehead, the fleshiness of the cheeks and rounded chin, have all the qualities of youth, yet retain the indication of bone and muscle beneath. The perspective of the head is carefully observed, the hair finely treated, and gradually lost in the dark-green background. The young man wears a black cap and dress, with a white collar fitting closely round his neck. The shadows of the flesh are carefully graduated, and, though injured by the cleaner, the tints of nature are produced with wonderful truth and delicacy.

The Temple of Hercules by Franciabigio (1482-1525), the friend and assistant of Andrea del Sarto, formed one side of a bridal chest : the colouring is harmonious, the draperies very finely drawn, and the heads are varied in expression ; there is an agreeable landscape background. Cavalcaselle observes on this composition : — ` Of Franciabigio’s late period—broad, brown, animated, and quickly done. Some figures taken apparently from Albert Dürer.” Franciabigio’s merits in his early days consisted, according to Vasari, in a careful attention to the rules of proportion ; he adopted the method followed by Fra Bartolommeo, but later in life he aimed at producing many pictures, rather than any one of high excellence.

A predella in three compartments by Raffaello Botticini or Vanni was painted for the altar-piece of the Deposition from the Cross in the room of Tuscan masters. The subjects of this picture are—Christ Driving the Sellers from the Temple; His Entrance into Jerusalem; and the Woman of Samaria.

A lovely little Madonna and Child with St. John is an unfinished work by Fra Bartolommeo.

An Angel with Scarlet and White Wings, bending over a guitar, is by Rosso il Fiorentino (1494-1541). There are several other pictures here, but none of sufficient importance to deserve mentioning, although they bear the names of Vasari, Jacopo da Empoli, Federigo Zucchero, &c.