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Lives of the Great Painters
Vasari's Il Rosso


The Florentine painter Il Rosso, whowas honoured above every one of his trade by so great a king as the King of France, was endowed with many gifts besides that of painting. For he was a man of splendid presence, with a gracious and serious manner of speaking, a good musician, and with a knowledge of philosophy. In architecture also he was excellent, and always, however poor he might be, he showed himself rich and great in soul. In his youth he drew from Michael Angelo's cartoon in the Council Hall, but would have little to do with any masters. Having obtained some reputation by his works, he was entrusted with the painting of a picture which Raffaello had left unfinished. He also painted for Gio. Bandini a story from the life of Moses, which I think was sent to France. Another for Cavalcanti, who was going to England, was of Jacob at the well. Il Rosso was living while he was at work upon it in the Borgo de' Tintori which joins on to the garden of the friars of S. Croce, and he was at that time much attached to a monkey, which had the nature of a man rather than an animal. He kept him always with him, and loved him as himself, and because he had a marvellous understanding, he taught him to perform rnany services. The animal attached himself to one of his lads named Battistino, who was very beautiful, and he seemed to understand everything he wanted him to do. Now against the back of the house which looked out on the friars' garden, there was a trellis covered with a vine full of great San Colombo grapes, and the young fellows used to send the monkey down and draw him up again by a rope with his hands full of grapes. The friar, who had the charge of the vines, finding his vines getting thinned and suspecting the mice, kept watch, and discovered Il Rosso's monkey descending. Full of rage, he snatched up a stick and ran towards him to beat him. The monkey, seeing that if he began to climb he would catch him, and the same if he stood still, began leaping about in a way that threatened to bring down the vine, and took hold of the trellis, intending to throw himself on the friar's back. At the same moment the friar waved his stick, and the monkey in his terror shook the trellis so violently that the beams gave way, and trellis and monkey and all came down on the top of the friar, who cried out for mercy, while Battistino and the others pulled the monkey up safe into their room. The friar meanwhile went off in a rage, and proceeded in great anger to the office of the Council of Eight, magistrates who were much feared in Florence. Having lodged his complaint, Il Rosso was summoned, and the monkey was jokingly condemned to have a weight attached to him, that he might not be able to jump about as he had done. So Il Rosso made a roller which turned on an iron bar, so that he might go about the house, but not climb into other people's gardens. The monkey, finding himself condemned to such a piece of torture, seemed to guess that the friar was the cause of it; he set to work therefore, and practised himself every day in leaping, carrying the weight in his hands, until at last he was ready for his design. Then one day, being left loose by accident, he leaped from roof to roof until he came to the friar's own room, just at the hour when the friar was at vespers. Then dropping the weight, he had such a merry dance on the roof for halfanhour that there was not a tile that was not broken when he returned to the house.

When Il Rosso had finished his work he went off with Battistino and the monkey to Rome, where great things were expected of him, for some of his drawings had been seen which were considered marvellous. He produced one work in the Pace above Raffaello's paintings, but he never painted anything worse in all his life; nor can I imagine how this came about unless it was the change of place. It may be that with the air of Rome and the astounding things that he saw, the architecture and sculpture and the pictures and statues of Michael Angelo, he was not himself; in the same way Fra Bartolommeo and Andrea del Sarto fled from Rome without leaving any works behind them. Whatever was the cause, Il Rosso never did worse, and moreover the painting has to stand comparison with Raffaello's.

When the sack of Rome happened, poor Il Rosso was made prisoner by the Germans, and very badly treated, for having stripped him of his clothes, they made him go barefoot and bareheaded carrying heavy weights, until he succeeded in escaping to Perugia. Afterwards he came to Arezzo, and was entrusted with a painting in fresco in the Madonna delle Lagrime. But when the siege of Florence began in 1530 the people of Arezzo looked with an evil eye upon the Florentines, and ll Rosso would not trust himself to them, and went away to Borgo S. Sepolcro, leaving the cartoons and the drawings for the work shut up in the citadel, and he would never return, but finished the picture there.

He had always had a desire to end his life in France, and escape, as he said, from the certain misery and poverty which befall men who work in Tuscany, and in the lands where they are born; so he determined now to depart, and studied for that purpose the Latin language, that he might take a better position. He was forced, however, to hasten his departure, for on Holy Thursday, being in church with a young Aretine who was a pupil of his, the young fellow, with a candle and some pitch, produced some flames while they were holding the service of the Tenebra, for which he was reproved and somewhat knocked about by some of the priests. Il Rosso, who was sitting by the side of the boy, started up angrily in the priest's face, which occasioned a disturbance, and no one knowing exactly what was the matter, all rushed sword in hand against poor Il Rosso, who was struggling with the priests. He betook himself to flight, and dexterously made his escape to his abode without being hurt. However, considering himself insulted, he set off at night, and went by the way of Pesaro to Venice and thence to France, where he was received with many caresses by the Florentines there.

He presented some pictures to King Francis which pleased him greatly, but still more did his presence and bearing and conversation; for he was tall in person, of a red complexion, agreeing with his name, and in all his gestures grave and judicious. The king therefore immediately ordered him a provision of four hundred crowns, and gave him a house in Paris, where, however, he lived but little, spending most of his time at Fontainebleau. He also set him over all the buildings and pictures of that place, and he adorned it with paintings. The king was so pleased with them that before long he gave him a canonry in the chapel of the Madonna at Paris, with other gifts. Here Il Rosso lived like a lord, with a great number of servants and horses, and gave banquets to all his friends and acquaintances, especially to the Italians, and had his house supplied with tapestry and silver and furniture of value. But fortune, who seldom or never leaves undisturbed the glory of those who trust too much in her, brought him most strangely to a miserable end. For while Francesco di Pellegrino, a Florentine, one who delighted greatly in painting, and a great friend of his, was working with him, it happened that Il Rosso was robbed of some hundreds of ducats, and not knowing whom to suspect except this Francesco, he caused him to be brought before the courts and subjected to a rigorous examination and put to the torture. But he confessing nothing was found innocent and let go free, and moved by a just anger, resented the injurious charge which had been brought against him, and summoning Il Rosso in his turn, pressed his complaint in such a manner that Il Rosso, not knowing how to defend himself, found himself in evil case. For he had not only falsely accused his friend, but had stained his own honour. So he determined rather to kill himself than be punished by others. One day, therefore, when the king was at Fontainebleau, he sent a man to Paris for a certain poison, representing that he wanted to use it for his colours or varnishes. The man while returning with it held his thumb over the mouth of the bottle, which, however, was stopped with wax; but such was the malignity of the poison that he almost lost his finger, which was as it were eaten away by it. Il Rosso himself taking it, in a few hours cut short his life. The news being brought to the king displeased him greatly, for it seemed to him that by his death he had lost the greatest artist of his time.

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