Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects/Giovanni dal Ponte

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London: Henry G. Bohn, pages 226–228


[born 1307—died in 1365.]

Although the old proverb, that a spendthrift never lacks the means of spending, is by no means true and can be but little confided in,—on the contrary we are certain that he who will not live a regular life according to his degree, shall finally live in want and die miserably;—yet, it may sometimes be remarked that fortune seems rather to aid those who squander without restraint, than those who are careful and self-denying in all things; or, if the favours of fortune are withdrawn, death is frequently observed to make up for her inconstancy, and to bring a remedy for the misgovernment of the man himself, by intervening exactly at that moment when the spendthrift begins to discover, to his infinite misery, what it is to want that in age which he has squandered in youth: labouring and living wretchedly when he should be reposing and at his ease. Such would have been the lot of Giovanni da San Stefano a Ponte, of Florence, if, after he had consumed his patrimony, wasted the large gains which fortune, rather than his merits, threw into his hands, and exhausted other possessions reverting to him unexpectedly from various sources, he had not attained the end of his life at the moment when the last portion of his property was expended. Giovanni dal Ponte was a scholar of Buffalmacco,[1] whom he imitated rather in his attachment to the pleasures of life, than in the effort to become a good painter. Born in 1307, and entered early as a disciple of Buffalmacco, the first works of Giovanni were executed in fresco, for the capitular church of Empoli. They were in the chapel of San Lorenzo, where he depicted certain stories from the life of the saint with so much success, that as a more satisfactory progress was anticipated from so creditable a commencement, he was invited to Arezzo in the year 1344, where he painted an assumption of the Virgin in one of the chapels of the church of San Francesco; and no long time afterwards, being in some credit in that city, on account of the dearth of painters then suffered there, he painted the chapels of Sant’ Onofrio and Sant’ Antonio, in the capitular church of Arezzo; but these works are now ruined by the humidity of the place. Giovanni executed some other pictures in the church of Santa Giustina, and in that of San Matteo; but these were destroyed, together with the churches, when duke Cosmo caused the city to be fortified. It was on this occasion that the beautiful head of Appius Cmcus and that of his son, in marble, were discovered; they were found at the foot of an old bridge, where the river enters the city, and near the church of Santa Giustina. An ancient epitaph, also very beautiful, was found with them, and all are now carefully preserved among the valuables of the duke.[2] Giovanni then returned to Florence, arriving at the time when the middle arch of the bridge of Santa Trinita was on the point of being closed; a chapel was built on one of the piles, and dedicated to St. Michael the archangel, when Giovanni was appointed to decorate it, and painted many pictures both within and without, more particularly on the front wall. The chapel was carried away, with the bridge itself, in the flood of 1557. Some affirm that it was from these works, as well as from the place of his birth, that Giovanni received the name of Dal Ponte. This artist likewise executed certain works in Pisa, in the church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno; where he painted some frescoes in the year 1355; they were in the principal chapel behind the altar, but are now ruined by damp and time. The chapel of the Scali, in the church of Santa Trinita, in Florence, was also decorated by Giovanni dal Ponte, as was another chapel, situated close beside it. One of the stories from the life of St. Paul, near the principal chapel, where the tomb of Maestro Paolo the astrologer stands,[3] is likewise by him. In San Stefano, at the Ponte Yecchio, he painted a picture; with some others, both in distemper and fresco, for the city as well as neighbourhood of Florence, from which he derived tolerable credit.[4] Giovanni dal Ponte was popular with his acquaintance, but more because he promoted their amusements, than on account of his works. Yet he took pleasure in the society of the learned, more especially of those who studied to attain excellence in the art to which he was himself attached; for although he had not sought to acquire for himself those qualities which he valued in others, yet he never failed to recommend conscientious labour to his brother artists. Having attained the age of fifty-nine years, Giovanni was attacked by a disease of the chest, which carried him off in a very few days. Had he lived longer, it would only have been to suffer many inconveniences from want, since he had scarcely so much remaining as sufficed to give him decent burial in San Stefano dal Ponte Vecchio. His works date about the year 1365.[5]

In our book of the designs of different artists, ancient and modern, is a drawing in water-colours by Giovanni. It represents St. George on horseback, in the act of killing the dragon, together with a skeleton. From this specimen we can sufficiently judge of Giovanni’s method in drawing.

  1. In the life of Giottino, Giovanni is called the disciple of that master, as we have seen; but a comparison of dates would make his being the scholar of Buffalmacco much more probable.
  2. Where these antiques now are, is not known; but we may hope that they will one day be discovered in some ducal villa or garden.— Montani.
  3. Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, a celebrated mathematician and astronomer. He was the friend of Columbus, and held similar opinions with him, in regard to the discovery of a new world.
  4. Of all the works of this master, executed in Florence, none now remain; nor is it probable that many of those done for the environs of that city still survive.
  5. “It is a curious fancy, this of Vasari,” remark the Roman and Florentine editors, “of notifying the year about which maybe dated the works of each artist, and which is invariably the year of their death, or that preceding it; even of those who, dying very old, must needs have worked very many years before.” But does not Vasari mean to intimate, by this expression, that the works of the artist bear date down to the year specified, or near it, and not later?