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26 June, 2013
Lives of the Great Painters
Vasari's Spinello


This Jacopo di Casentino had for his pupil the painter Spinello. For Luca Spinelli having gone to dwell at Arezzo at a time when the Ghibellines were driven out of Florence, there was born to him there a son to whom he gave the name of Spinello. He was so naturally inclined to painting that when he was a mere boy, and almost without teaching, he seemed to know much that those who have been under the discipline of the best masters do not know. Having formed a friendship with Jacopo di Casentino while he was working in Arezzo, he learned somewhat from him, but before he was twenty years old he became a far greater master than old Jacopo was.

Beginning soon then to acquire a name as a good painter, Spinello was called to Florence, and painted in the churches of S. Niccolo and S. Maria Maggiore, and in other places, until the sixty citizens who governed Arezzo recalled him, and gave him work in the old cathedral outside the city.

A little before this time a number of good and honourable citizens had begun to go round collecting alms for the poor to aid them in their need; and in the plague of the year 1348, the good men of this fraternity, called the Fraternity of S. Mary of Mercy, acquired so great a name by helping the poor and sick, burying the dead, and like works of charity, that gifts and legacies fell into their hands until they became possessors of the third part of the wealth of Arezzo. Spinello therefore, being of the fraternity, and having often to visit the sick and bury the dead, painted for the company in the church of S. Laurentino and Bergentino, a Madonna spreading her mantle over the people of Arezzo, among whom are many of the first men of the fraternity, painted from life, with the wallet on their shoulder, and the wooden mallet in their hands that they used in knocking at the doors when they went seeking alms.

In the church of S. Stefano he painted a Madonna giving the Child a rose, which was held in such veneration by the people of Arezzo that when the church was pulled down, regardless of difficulty and expense they cut it out of the wall, and carried it into the city and placed it in a chapel, that they might honour it with the same devotion as heretofore. Nor was this strange, for Spinello had a natural power of giving to his figures a certain simple grace, so that his saints, and especially his virgins, breathe a divine holiness, which draws men to hold them in the highest reverence. Having painted in many other cities whither his fame carried him, he returned to Arezzo, his home, or rather that which he considered his home, at the age of seventy seven, and was received by his friends and relatives with affection, and held in honour to the end of his life, which was in the ninety second year of his age. And although he was very old when he returned, and being rich, might have ceased from working, he knew not how to rest, but took upon him to paint for the Company of S. Agnolo the story of S. Michael. He painted the Fall of the Angels, who are changed into devils as they fall from heaven, and S. Michael in the air fighting with the old serpent with seven heads and ten horns, and Lucifer changed already into a horrible beast. And because Spinello took great pleasure in making him horrible and deformed, it is said that the figure as he had painted it appeared to him in a dream, demanding why he had made him so ugly and done him so much injury with his pencil. He then awaking from his sleep, could not cry from the greatness of his terror, but such a trembling fell upon him that his wife awoke and hastened to his succour. He was near dying of terror at the moment, and though he lingered a short time with an affrighted air and wide staring eyes, yet it led to his death. Such a sad event grieved the Aretines much, and they lamented him for his talents and goodness, although he was so old. He died at the age of ninety, and was buried in S Agostino, where may be seen a stone bearing his arms, designed by himself, containing a hedgehog.

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