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Lives of the Great Painters
Vasari's Baccio Bandinelli


In the days when art was flourishing at Florence, under the favour of the magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, there was in the city a goldsmith named Michael Angelo di Viviano da Gaiuole,who worked excellently with his chisel, and was skilled in niello work, and had great knowledge of jewels, so that his shop was considered the first in Florence. He was also very familiar with the sons of Lorenzo, and when the Medici fled from Florence in the year 1494, they left with him much plate and treasure, which he kept secretly and restored faithfully when they returned. To him was born a son whom he namned Bartolommeo, but who was always called, after the manner of Florence, Baccio. And as in those times no one was thought to be a good goldsmith who was not a good draughtsman and could not work well in relief, he put him with other boys to learn drawing. While Baccio was still a child he was, one day in the shop of Girolamo del Bada, on the Piazza of S. Pulinari, and there had been a heavy fall of snow, which had been piled up in heaps. Girolamo, turning to Baccio, said to him in jest, "Baccio, if that snow were marble we might carve out of it a great giant like Marforio Iying down." "So we might," said Baccio; "let us treat it as if it were marble." So putting on his cloak he set to work, and helped by some other boys, he made a rough model of a Marforio eight braccia long, lying down, which astonished every one, not so much at the work itself, as at the spirit with which so small a boy set himself to so great a work.

His father, seeing his inclination, put him under the care of Rustici, the best sculptor of the city, with whom Lionardo da Vinci had constant intercourse. He saw Baccio's drawings and was pleased with them, and praising to him Donatello's works, bade him do something in marble.

It was at this time that the cartoon of Michael Angelo in the Council Hall was uncovered, and all the artists ran to copy it, and Baccio among others. He went more frequently than any one, having counterfeited the key of the chamber In the year 1512, Piero Soderini was deposed and the house of Medici reinstated. In the tumult, therefore, Baccio, being by himself, secretly cut the cartoon into several pieces.

Some said he did it that he might have a piece of the cartoon always near him, and others that he wanted to prevent other youths from making use of it; others again say that he did it out of affection for Lionardo da Vinci, or from the hatred he bore to Michael Angelo. The loss anyhow to the city was no small one, and Baccio's fault very great.

Having obtained the reputation of being a good draughtsman, he desired to learn how to paint in colours, being firmly of opinion that he should not only equal Buonarroti but surpass him greatly; however, he wished to pretend that he had found out how to manage the colours by himself and had not been taught by others. He went therefore to his friend Andrea del Sarto, and asked him to paint his portrait in oils, thinking he should get two things by this scheme; first, he should see how the colours were mixed, and then the picture would be his and he could use it as a model. But Andrea perceived what Baccio was about, and was angry at his artfulness, although he would have been ready to show him all he wanted if he had asked him as a friend. However, he did not pretend to have found him out, but instead of mixing his colours as he usually did, he put them all on to his palette at once, and mixed them together with his brush, taking a little now of one and now of another with great rapidity, so that Baccio, being obliged to sit still if he wanted to be painted, could not discover what he wished to know. Nevertheless Baccio did not give up his desire, but obtained assistance from the painter Il Rosso, whom he told more openly what he wanted. He also gave himself to the study of anatomy, persevering in it for many months and years. And certainly the man had a desire to do good work and gain honour by it, which is greatly to be praised. He spared no fatigue and wasted no time, but was always intent on his work.

When Leo X passed through Florence and the city was decorated in his honour, a colossal statue was entrusted to Baccio. It was a Hercules, and from Baccio's talk it was expected to surpass Buonarroti's David; but as his deeds did not correspond with his words, nor the work to his boasts, Baccio lost greatly in the esteem of artists and of all the city. Pope Leo then sent him to help Andrea Contucci in some works that he was employed upon at Loreto. And when he came there he was received gladly by Andrea, and welcomed because of his fame and because the Pope had recommended him. A piece of marble being assigned him, he set to work, but being a person who could not endure rivalry, and seldom praised other people's work, he began to find fault with Andrea's work to the other sculptors, saying it was wanting in drawing, and he said the same of the others, so that in a little while he had aroused a great deal of illwill. Then what he had said coming to Andrea's ears, he, like a wise man, began to reprove him gently, saying that sculpture was to be done with the hands and not with the tongue, and that he ought to speak of him with more respect. But Baccio replied to him with such insulting language that Andrea could bear it no longer, and attacked him as if he were going to murder him, but some people coming in hindered him. So Baccio was forced to depart from Loreto and come to Rome.

Now about that time two ambassadors arrived from King Francis, and they went to see the Belvedere statues, and expressed much admiration for the Laocoon. The Cardinals de' Medici and Bibbiena, who were with them, asked if the king would value such a thing, but they replied it would be too great a gift. Then the cardinal answered that either this statue, or one so Iike it that the difference could not be found out, should be sent to his Majesty. And he resolved to have a copy made of it, and remembering Baccio, he sent for him and asked if he had courage to try to make a Laocoon equal to the original. Baccio replied that not only would he make one equal to it, but he would surpass it.

So the cardinal resolved it should be done, and while he was waiting for the marble Baccio made a model in wax, and a cartoon in black and white of the same size as the statue. Then the marble arrived, and Baccio, having made a screen in the Belvedere, set to work.. But before it was very far advanced the Pope died, and Adrian VI being made pope in his room, Baccio returned with the cardinal to Florence. But when Adrian was dead, and Clement VII became pope, he returned to Rome and to his Laocoon, which he completed in two years with greater excellence than he had ever shown in his work. He also restored the right arm of the ancient statue which had been broken off and was never found. The work appeared so good to his Holiness that he changed his mind and determined to send some other ancient statues to the king, and to send this to Florence, where it was placed in the palace of the Medici.

Now in the time of Leo X, while the marble for the S. Lorenzo of Florence was being hewn in Carrara, another piece had been cut nine and a half braccia high and five broad. Michael Angelo had designed to carve from this Hercules killing Cacus, to be placed by the side of his colossal David, and had made many drawings for it; but the death of Leo had stopped everything. When Clement was made pope, however, he desired that Michael Angelo should resume his work on the tombs of the Medici heroes in S. Lorenzo, and it was necessary to get more marble. The works were under the care of Domenico Boninsegni. He tried secretly to persuade Michael Angelo to join him in defrauding the Pope, but Michael Angelo refusing, Domenico took such a hatred to him that he did everything he could to annoy him, but covertly. He persuaded the Pope to give the marble for the colossal statue to Baccio, who at that time had nothing to do, saying that his Holiness would be better served by stirring up two such great men to emulation. His counsel pleased the Pope, and he followed it. Baccio was granted the marble, and made a wax model of the Hercules. He was sent to Carrara to see the marble, and orders were given that it should be brought by water to Signa on the river Arno. But when it arrived there, the river being low between Signa and Florence, they determined to take it by land, and while being disembarked it fell into the water, and through its great weight sank so deep in the mud that they could not get it out. However the Pope commanded that the marble was to be recovered by some means or other, and at Piero Rosselli's suggestion they turned the river out of its course, and by means of cranes and levers brought it to land. The accident tempted many to write Tuscan and Latin verses satirising Baccio, who was much hated. One of them related how the marble, knowing the genius of Buonarroti, and fearing to be disfigured by Baccio's hands, had flung itself into the river in despair at such a fate. While the marble was being brought to land, Baccio measuring it found that he could not cut out of it the statue he had modelled. Going therefore to Rome he showed the Pope that he must give up his first model and make another. Having planned many, he at last made one that pleased the Pope, and returning to Florence, he found that the marble had been brought thither, and began therefore to work upon it. But in the year 1527 the Medici left Florence after the sack of Rome, and Baccio, not feeling himself secure in consequence of a private quarrel with a neighbour who was of the popular faction, went away to Lucca. The popular party thus ruling Florence, entrusted Michael Angelo with the fortifications of the city, and showed him the marble upon which Baccio had begun to work, proposing, if it were not too much spoilt, that he should take it and make two figures after his own manner. Michael Angelo considering it, determined to give up the Hercules and make instead Samson with two Philistines, having killed one of them, and being about to slay the other with the jawbone of the ass. But the war being directed against the city of Florence, Michael Angelo had other things to think about than polishing marble, and was obliged to leave the city.

When the war was over Pope Clement made Michael Angelo return to the sacristy of S. Lorenzo, and sent Baccio back to his giant. He, to show himself affectionately attached to his Holiness, wrote to him every week, not only about things of art, but entering into particulars about the citizens and those who administered the government. This behaviour brought down upon him more hatred than ever, and the citizens hindered his work as much as ever they could. But when Pope Clement and the emperor met at Bologna, Baccio went to kiss the Pope's feet, and told him of the hindrances and annoyances to which he was subjected, and being terrible with his tongue, he persuaded the Pope to charge Duke Alessandro to take care that the work was brought to a conclusion. So he returned to Florence, and working at it continually, at last finished it. Duke Alessandro, in consequence of the illfeeling of the citizens, did not care to have it set up, but the Pope interceding, it was with great labour brought to the piazza and set in its place. It would not be easy to describe the multitude that filled the piazza for two days, coming to see the giant directly he was uncovered; and many different opinions were given, but all finding fault with the work and the sculptor. Tuscan and Latin verses were affixed to the pedestal, but some of them going beyond any reasonable limit, Duke Alessandro, considering that the statue was a public monument, was forced to throw some of the writers into prison, which stopped people's mouths. Baccio, considering his work, thought that in the open air the muscles seemed too weakly marked, so he set up a new scaffold and deepened the markings. But by those who are capable of judging, it has been always held to be well studied, and the figure of Cacus specially well managed. In truth Michael Angelo's David, standing near it, and being the most beautiful colossal statue that ever was made, deprives it of much of the praise it deserves; but if one considers Baccio's Hercules by itself, it cannot but receive great commendation.

Baccio, desiring to hear what people said of it, sent an old pedagogue whom he kept in the house into the piazza, bidding him report to him what he heard. He returned in quite a melancholy state to the house, having heard nothing but evil, and when Baccio questioned him, replied that all with one voice found fault with it, and that it did not please them. "And you, what do you say of it?" said Baccio. "I speak well of it, and it pleases me." "I do not want it to please you," said Baccio; "speak evil of it too, for, as you may remember, I never speak well of anybody, so we are quits." Thus he dissembled his vexation and, according to his custom, pretended not to care that people found fault with his works. Nevertheless his disappointment was really great, for when men labour hard for honour and only earn blame, although the blame may be unjust, the heart is secretly distressed and tormented by it. He was consoled by the gift of an estate from Pope Clement, which was doubly dear to him because it was close by his villa of Pinzerimonte and had belonged to Rignadori the rebel, his mortal enemy.

After the death of Pope Clement he heard that the Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, with three other of the cardinals and Baldassare Turini, were appointed executors in his will, and that they were to name the sculptors who were to make the statues of Leo and Clement. The work had been promised to Alfonso Lombardi by Cardinal de' Medici, but as he was going to meet Charles V. he died of poison. As soon as Baccio heard this he set off for Rome, and went to Madonna Lucrezia Salviata de' Medici, Pope Leo's sister, and sought to show her that no one could do greater honour to the memory of these pontiffs than himself, and that Alfonso could not without the aid of others accomplish such an undertaking. He worked also by other means and in other ways, and succeeded in making them change their minds and entrust the statues and reliefs to him. He made therefore two models, in which he showed either too little religion or too much adulation, or perhaps both, and when they were finished he took them to the garden of Cardinal Ridolfi, where the other cardinals and Baldassare were assembled. While they were at dinner Il Solosmeo a sculptor arrived, a bold, witty man, who was fond of saying hard things of every one, and who was no friend of Baccio's. A message came in that Il Solosmeo was asking leave to enter. Ridolfi bade them open to him, and then turning to Baccio said, "I should like to know what Il Solosmeo says about the monuments; lift the tapestry and go behind it." Baccio obeyed, and when Il Solosmeo had come in and they had given him something to drink, they began upon the monuments that had been given to Baccio to make. Il Solosmeo reproached the cardinals with the bad choice they had made, and began saying all kinds of evil of Baccio, accusing him of ignorance in art and arrogance and avarice. Baccio, hidden behind the tapestry, could not wait till Il Solosmeo had done, but issuing forth in a rage cried out, "What have I done to you that you speak of me with so little respect?" At the sight of Baccio Il Solosmeo became mute; then turning to Ridolfi he said, "What deceivers these lords are ! I will have no more to do with priests;" and he went away. But the cardinals laughed heartily at both of them, and Salviati turning to Baccio said, "You hear what is the judgment of men of art; see to it that by your work you give them the lie."

Nevertheless Baccio took little pains with the work, and left it half finished; and having received all the money, left Rome and went to Florence to serve Duke Cosimo. And by little and little he grew into such familiar favour with the duke that every one feared him. He persuaded the duke to ask Michael Angelo for some marbles that he had in Florence, among which were some statues begun and one more advanced, and when the duke had obtained them and given them to Baccio, he cut them to pieces and ground them to powder, thinking thus to revenge himself and spite Michael Angelo. Baccio made for the duke the ornaments of his audience chamber, and many things for S. Maria del Fiore.

In those days came Benvenuto Cellini from France, who had served the King Francis as a goldsmith, and he made for the duke a statue of Perseus and other things. But as the potter always envies the potter, so the sculptor does the sculptor, and Baccio could not endure the favours that were shown to Benvenuto. He thought it was a strange thing that a goldsmith should suddenly become a sculptor, and one who was used to medals and little figures should undertake colossal statues. Nor could Baccio conceal his opinion, but betrayed it to every one, and he now found one ready to answer him; for saying evil things of Benvenuto in the presence of the duke, Benvenuto, who was no less proud, gave him back what he received. The duke took pleasure in hearing them, for there was wit and acuteness in their satire, and he gave them free leave to say what they liked before him, but not abroad. However, one day Benvenuto, after many bitter things had been said, came up threatening and menacing Baccio, saying, "Prepare yourself for another world, for I will send you out of this;" to which Baccio replied, "Let me know the day before, that I may confess and make my will, and not die like the beast you are." Upon this the duke imposed silence upon them, fearing some ill end to the matter.

After that came Giorgio Vasari to do some work for his Excellency, and Baccio thought the duke had no more use for him because he employed others; and in his grief and displeasure he became so strange and full of humours that no one could hold any converse with him; even his son Clemente suffered many things from him, and went to Rome to escape from him, where the same year he died, a great loss to his father and to art, as Baccio found out when he was dead. He had left behind him a halffinished sculpture of the dead Christ supported by Nicodemus, and when Baccio heard that Michael Angelo was working upon the same subject in Rome, intending to put it over his tomb in S. Maria Maggiore, he began to work upon his son's, and with the aid of others finished it. Then he went through all the principal churches in Florence seeking for a place in which to make his own tomb. And having by the intercession of the duchess, who was ever his friend, obtained a place in the church of the Servites, he removed thither the bones of his father. But whether it were from disturbance of mind, or from fatigue in moving the marble, he went to his house ill, and growing every day worse, died at the age of seventy two, having been until then so robust that he had never known sickness.

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