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Lives of the Great Painters
Vasari's Buffalmacco


Buonamico di Cristofano, nicknamed Buffalmacco, was a pupil of Andrea Tafi, and has been celebrated as a jester by Boccaccio. Franco Sacchetti also tells how when Buffalmacco was still a boy with Andrea, his master had the habit, when the nights were long, of getting up before day to work, and calling his boys. This was displeasing to Buonamico, who had to rise in the middle of his best sleep, and he considered how he might prevent Andrea from getting up before day to work, and this was what occurred to him. Having found thirty great beetles in an illkept cellar, he fastened on each of their backs a little candle, and at the hour when Andrea was used to rise, he put them one by one through a hole in the door into Andrea's chamber, having first lighted the candles. His master awaking, the time being come to call Buffalmacco, and seeing the lights, was seized with terror and began to tremble like a fearful old man as he was, and to recommend his soul to heaven, and say his prayers, and repeat the psalms, and at last, putting his head under the clothes, he thought no more that night of calling Buffalmacco, but lay trembling with fear till daybreak. The morning being come, he asked Buonamico if, like him, he had seen more than a thousand demons. To which Buonamico answered no, for he had kept his eyes closed and wondered he had not been called. "What!" said Tafi, "I had something else to think of than painting, and I am resolved to go into some other house." The next night, although Buonamico only put three beetles into Tafi's chamber, yet he from the last night's terror and the fear of these few demons, could get no sleep at all, and as soon as it was day left the house determined never to return, and it took a great deal of good counsel to make him change his mind. At last Buonamico brought the priest to him to console him. And Tafi and Buonamico discussing the matter, Buonamico said, "I have always heard say that demons are the greatest enemies of God, and consequently they ought to be the chief adversaries of painters, because not only do we always make them hideous, but we also never cease making saints on all the walls, and so cause men in despite of the demons to become better and more devout. So these demons being enraged against us, as they have greater power by night than by day, they come playing us these tricks, and it will be worse if this custom of getting up early is not quite given up." With such words Buffalmacco managed the matter, what the priest said helping him, so that Tafi left off getting up early, and the demons left off going about the house at night with candles. But not many months after, Tafi, drawn by the desire of gain, and having forgotten his fears, began afresh to get up early and to call Buffalmacco, whereupon the beetles began again to appear, until he was forced by his fears to give it up entirely, being earnestly counselled to do so by the priest And the matter being noised abroad in the city for a time, neither Tafi nor any other painter ventured to get up at night to work.

But after a time Buffalmacco, having become a good master himself, left Tafi, as Franco relates, and began to work for himself, work never failing him. Now he had taken a house both to work and to live in next to a worker in wool, very well to do, who was nicknamed Capodoca (Goosehead), and this man's wife used to rise at daybreak just when Buffalmacco, having worked till then, was going to rest. Sitting down to her spinningwheel, which by ill fortune was just behind Buffalmacco's bed, she would set to work to spin. So Buffalmacco, not being able to sleep, began to think what he could do to remedy the evil. And before long he perceived that, on the other side of the wall of brick which divided him from Capodoca, was the chimney of his neighbour, and through a hole he could see all that she did at the fire. So having considered his trick, he hollowed out a tube, by means of which, whenever she was not at the fire, through the hole in the wall he could put as much salt as he liked into his neighbour's saucepan. Capodoca then, coming home to his dinner or supper, often found that he could eat neither soup nor meat, because everything was too salt. The first time or two he was patient and only grumbled a little, but when he found words were not enough, several times he struck the poor woman, who was in despair, for she thought herself very careful about seasoning her cookery. And once when her husband beat her, she began to excuse herself, which making Capodoca more angry, he set to work again until she began to cry as loud as she could, and all the neighbours ran to see what was the matter. Among the rest came Buffalmacco, and hearing of what Capodoca accused his wife, and how she excused herself, he said to Capodoca, "In faith, comrade, do you think you are reasonable? You complain that morning and evening your food is too salt, but I wonder how your good woman does anything right. I don't know how she keeps on her feet, considering that all night she is at her spinningwheel, and does not sleep an hour, I believe. Stop her getting up at midnight, and you will see that when she has her fill of sleep her brains will be clear and she will run into no more such errors." And turning to the other neighbours, he put the matter before them, so that they all said that Buonamico said the truth, and he had better do as he advised. And he believing that it was so, commanded her not to get up so early. So the food was found to be reasonably salt, unless the woman got up early, when Buffalmacco returned to his remedy, and Capodoca made her give it up.

Among the first works that Buffalmacco undertook was the painting of the church of the convent of Faenza in Florence, and among other stories was the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod, in which he represented in a most lively manner the emotions both of the slayers and the other figures, some of the nurses and mothers tearing their children out of the murderers' hands, and helping themselves as best they could with their hands and their nails and their teeth, and showing themselves as full of rage and fury as of grief.

While doing this work for the ladies of Faenza, Buffalmacco, who was very careless and negligent in his dress as in other things, did not always wear his hood and mantle as was the fashion at the time, and the nuns, watching him through the screen he had erected, began to complain that it did not please them to see him in his doublet. At last, as he always appeared in the same fashion, they began to think that he was only some boy employed in mixing colours, and they gave him to understand through their abbess that they should prefer to see his master and not always him. To this Buonamico answered good humouredly that when the master came he would let them know, understanding nevertheless how little confidence they had in him. Then he took a stool and placed it upon another, and on the top he put a pitcher or waterjug and fastened a hood on the handle, and covered up the rest of the jug with a cloak, fastening it well behind the tables, and having fixed a pencil in the spout of the jug, he went away. The nuns, coming again to see the picture through a hole that they had made in the screen, saw the supposed master in his fine attire, and not doubting that he was working with all his might, doing very different work from what that boy did, for several days were quite content. At last, being desirous to see what fine things the master had done in the last fortnight (during which time Buonamico had not been there at all), one night, thinking the master was gone, they went to see his picture, and were overcome with confusion, when one more bold than the rest detected the solemn master who during the fortnight had done no work at all. But acknowledging that he had only treated them as they deserved, and that the work which he had done was worthy of praise, they sent their steward to call Buonamico back, and he with great laughter went back to his work, letting them see the difference between men and waterjugs, and that it does not do always to judge a man's work by his clothes. So in a few days he finished a picture with which they were greatly pleased, except that the faces seemed to them too pale and wan. Buonamico having heard this, and knowing that the abbess had some wine which was the best in Florence, and which she kept for the mass, told them that if they wished to remedy the defect it could only be done by mixing the colours with good wine, and then if the cheeks were touched with the colour they would become red and of a more lively colour. The good sisters hearing this, and ready to believe everything, kept him always supplied with excellent wine while he worked, and he, while enjoying the wine himself, to please them made his colours more fresh and bright.

It is said that in 1302 he was fetched to Assisi, and in the church of S. Francis painted the chapel of S. Catherine with her history. When passing through Arezzo after finishing the chapel, he was stopped by the Bishop Guido, who having heard that he was a pleasant man and a painter of worth, desired him to paint the chapel in his house. Buonamico set to work, and had already done a great part when there befel him the strangest accident in the world, according to Franco Sacchetti. The bishop had a monkey the most amusing and the most mischievous that ever was seen. This animal being sometimes on the scaffold watching Buonamico work, gave his whole mind to the matter, and never took his eyes off him when he was mixing his colours, handling his paintpots, beating up the eggs to make the tempera, or in fact doing any part of his work. Now Buonamico left his work one Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning this monkey, in spite of a great log of wood which the bishop had had tied to his feet to prevent his jumping about everywhere, climbed on to the scaffold where he was used to sit and watch Buonamico work, and having got hold of the paintpots, poured their contents one into the other and made up a mixture, breaking up all the eggs there were, and began to paint with the brushes, and never stopped until he had repainted everything. This done, he mixed up again all the colour that was left, though that was little, and came down from the scaffold and went away. So on Monday morning Buonamico returned to his work, and finding the painting spoilt, and the paintpots in a mess, and everything wrong side upwards, he was thrown into great confusion and dismay. But having considered the matter well, he came to the conclusion that it was some native of Arezzo who had done it out of envy or some other reason; therefore going to the bishop, he told him what had happened and what he supposed. The bishop was greatly troubled, but he encouraged Buonamico to set to work again, and repaint what had been spoiled. And because he thought what he suspected was very likely true, he gave him six of his armed soldiers with orders to lie in wait with their swords drawn whenever he was not working, and to cut down without mercy any one who came. So he painted it over a second time, and one day when the soldiers were on guard they heard a noise in the church, and behold in a moment the monkey sprang on the scaffold, and the new master set to work upon Buonamico's saints. So they called him and showed him the malefactor, and stood watching him, all bursting with laughter, Buonamico especially, who could not help laughing till he cried. At last, dismissing the soldiers from their guard, he went himself to the bishop and said, "My lord, you want the painting done one way, and your monkey wants it done another." And having told him the thing, he added, "You had no need to send for painters elsewhere when you had a master in your own house; but perhaps he did not know then how to mix his colours. But now that he knows and can do it all, I am no longer any good, and recognising his talents, I am content to take nothing for my work, but leave to return to Florence."

The bishop hearing the story, though it displeased him, could not restrain his laughter, particularly considering that an animal should have played a joke upon the greatest joker in the world. So when they had talked and laughed the matter over, Buonamico set to work a third time and finished the picture. And the monkey as a punishment was shut up in a great wooden cage and kept where Buonamico worked until he had quite finished, and no one can imagine the grimaces and gesticulations that the little animal made with his face and his hands and his whole body at seeing some one else at work and not being able to help.

The work in the chapel being finished, the bishop, either in jest or from some caprice, ordered that Buffalmacco should paint on the facade of his palace an eagle on the back of a lion which it had killed. The crafty painter, having promised to do what the bishop wished, had a great screen erected, saying he did not wish to be seen painting such a subject. And there, shut in all by himself, he painted the contrary of what the bishop desired, a lion tearing an eagle. When he had finished, he asked leave of the bishop to go to Florence for some colours that he needed. And having locked up his screen, he went to Florence, intending to return no more to the bishop, who seeing the time going on and the painter not returning, had the screen opened, and found that the painter had been sharper than he. Then, moved to great anger, he published his ban against him, which Buonamico hearing, he sent to bid him do his worst. But finally the bishop, considering that it was he who had begun the joke, and that it served him right to have it turned against him, pardoned Buonamico, and rewarded him liberally for his labours. And more than that, not long after he fetched him again to Arezzo, and gave him many things to do in the old cathedral, treating him as his familiar and most faithful servant. But lest I should be too long if I were to tell of all the jokes that Buonamico Buffalmacco played, as well as of all the pictures that he painted, I will end by saying that he died at the age of seventy eight, and was nursed in his illness by the Society of the Misericordia, for he was very poor, and had spent more than he earned, being a man of that nature.

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