Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects/Tommaso, called Giottino

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London: Henry G. Bohn, pages 218–225


[born 1324—was living in 1368.]

When the arts of design contend among themselves in emulative strife, when artists labour each to surpass the other, there can be no doubt that the many subtle spirits thus incited to study and aroused to exertion, will constantly make new discoveries for the satisfaction of all the varied wishes and tastes of men. And to speak on this occasion more particularly of painting; some, producing works in a dark and unaccustomed manner, but making clearly evident all the difficulties they have overcome, cause the light of their genius thus to shine forth from the shadow. Others display the utmost softness and delicacy, thinking that these must needs be more pleasing to the eye of the spectator, and as this method displays the forms in more striking relief, so it does, without doubt, more readily attract the attention of the multitude: others, in fine, depicting their subjects with graceful harmony, softening their colours and keeping their lights and shadows in due subjection, deserve the warmest praise, and display the treasures of their genius, while they also prove the rectitude of their judgment, as did Tommaso di Stefano, called Giottino.

This master was born in the year 1324, and received the first rudiments of art from his father; but, while still young, he determined to imitate the manner of Giotto, rather than that of Stefano, his father. And his efforts in that matter succeeded so well, that he not only attained to, and even greatly improved on, the manner of Giotto, but also acquired the surname of Giottino, which he never lost. Nay, many have been of opinion that he was a son of Giotto,[1] judging from his manner as well as name, but they have been altogether in error, since it is certain, or to be more exact (for certainty in this matter is not to be attained respecting any man), it is the general belief, that Giottino was the son of the Florentine painter Stefano.

Giottino, then, was so earnestly devoted to the art of painting, and pursued it with so much diligence, that if we have not many works from his hand, yet those remaining to us suffice to show that his manner was excellent, and his productions admirable; the draperies, hair, beards, and various other parts of his pictures, exhibit so much softness and delicacy of finish, that the grace of harmony may be truly said to have been added to his art by this master, who possessed the qualities required for its production in a higher degree than either Giotto his master[2] or Stefano his father.[3] In his early youth, Giottino painted in the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio in Florence, where he decorated a chapel near the side door, which still gives proof of great ability on the part of the artist, although the work is now much injured by the humidity of the place.[4] He next painted the two Saints Cosmo and Damiano, in the church of the Frati Ermini, which is situated near the mills: this work is also greatly injured by time, so that but little of its character can now be distinguished.[5] In the old church of Santo Spirito, in the same city of Florence, Giottino painted a chapel in fresco, which was destroyed when the church itself was burnt. Over the principal door of the same church this master executed another fresco, representing the descent of the Holy Spirit; and on the piazza, in front of the building, he painted the tabernacle still to be seen there at the corner of the convent going towards the Via della Cuculia. The subject of this last-named work is Our Lady surrounded by numerous saints. The heads and other portions approach closely to the modern manner; the artist obviously sought to vary and improve the carnations; he has imparted considerable grace to all the figures,[6] and has evinced great judgment in the draperies also, whether as to form or colour. Giottino likewise worked in Santa Croce, where he painted the history of Constantine in the chapel of San Silvestro, a work of great merit, more especially as regards the attitudes and gestures of the figures, which are most beautiful. Behind a marble ornament, constructed to adorn the tomb of Messer Bettino de’ Bardi, a military commander of much distinction at that time, Tommaso painted this nobleman after the life; he is pourtrayed kneeling, and about to issue from a tomb, whence he has been summoned by the trumpets of the Last Judgment, which are sounded by two angels, who are seen with Christ himself in the air, all admirably well done.[7] The same artist executed a picture of Christ bearing his Cross, with numerous saints about him, for the church of San Pancrazio; this work is near the entrance to the south aisle, and the figures are precisely in the manner of Giotto.[8] He also painted a Dead Christ (Pieta) in fresco, for the convent of San Gallo, which was destroyed during the siege; the fresco was in a cloister, and there is a copy of it in the church of San Pancrazio, above-named, on a column beside the Lady chapel. Giottino likewise painted a fresco in Santa Maria Novella, in the chapel of San Lorenzo de’ Giuochi, which is near the door of the south aisle; the subject is the history of San Cosimo and San Damiano,[9] and the picture is painted on the front of the chapel. In Ognissanti, also, Tommaso executed a San Christofano and San Giorgio, but these works having been injured by the malignity of time, were repainted by other hands, and that in such sort as to prove the ignorance of the Provost, who was but slightly conversant with matters relating to art. In the same church is a fresco of the Virgin with the Child in her arms, from the hand of Giottino; this is in an arch, which has remained uninjured, over the door of the sacristy; the work is a very good one, having been executed with great care.[10] By these and other productions, Giottino had acquired so much renown, that the spirit of his master Giotto was declared to have descended on this disciple, the correctness of his design, the vivacity of his colouring, and his close imitation of the elder master’s composition and manner, being all cited in support of that opinion. On the 2nd[11] of July, in the year 1343, the Duke of Athens was driven out of Florence by the people, after having been compelled to resign the signory, and restore their liberty to the Florentine citizens. Giottino was then forced by the twelve Reformers of the State, or induced by the entreaties of Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli,[12] a most distinguished citizen of that time, to express the contempt of the city for the said duke and his principal followers, by painting their effigies on the tower of the palace of the Podesta. Among these figures, were those of Messer Ceritieri Visdomini, Messer Maladiasse, his Conservator, and Messer Ranieri di San Gimignano, all bearing upon their heads the ignominious cap worn by those condemned to death by the sentence of justice. Around the head of the duke himself, various rapacious animals and beasts of prey were depicted, to signify the nature and qualities of the man; while one of his followers held the palace of the Priors of the city in his hand, which he, as a false traitor to his country, was proffering to the duke. Each of these figures had the arms and ensigns of his family painted beneath him, with inscriptions, which the lapse of time render it difficult now tQ decipher.[13] The manner in which the artist executed this work, which he painted with the utmost care, gave universal satisfaction; the drawing was more particularly admired. He afterwards painted San Cosimo and San Damiano, for the Black Friars of Campora, a place without the gate of San Piero Gattolini. These figures were destroyed when the church was whitewashed. There is a tabernacle, moreover, on the bridge of Romiti, in the Valdarno, which is very finely painted in fresco, by the hand of Giottino.[14] We find it further recorded, by many who have written of this artist, that he also gave his attention to sculpture, and executed a figure in marble, for the Campanile of Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence: this was placed in the side towards where the orphan house now stands, and was four braccia in height. In Rome, also, he is said to have produced an historical painting, wrhich he completed very successfully. This work is in San Giovanni Laterano; it exhibits the pope, occupied in various ministrations, but is now grievously injured by time. In the palace of the Orsini, Giottino filled a hall with the figures of celebrated men; and on a column in the church of Araceli, to the right of the high altar, he executed a San Ludovico, of great merit.[15] This master also painted a picture in the lower church of San Francesco, at Assisi. The only place not already occupied by other artists, was an arch over the pulpit; and there Giottino depicted the Coronation of Our Lady, with numerous angels around her, all exhibiting so much grace in the outlines, beauty in the heads, and harmony in the colouring (which last was a quality peculiar to this painter), that the work suffices to prove Giottino fully equal to any master that had then appeared.[16] Around the arch of the Coronation, Tommaso painted stories from the life of St. Nicholas. In the monastery of Santa Clara, in the same city, and in the centre of the church,, he painted a fresco, representing the saint supported in the air by two angels, who might be taken for living and breathing forms. St. Clara is restoring a child from the dead, while many female figures stand around, all full of astonishment. The faces of these women are extremely beautiful; their vestments and head-dresses, which are those of the period, are also very graceful and effective. In the same city of Assisi, and over the gate which leads to the cathedral, in an arch on the inside of the gate, Giottino painted a Virgin with the Child in her arms, and that with such truth and life, that she seems to be alive. Our Lady is attended by St. Francis and another saint, the whole exquisitely beautiful. These two works, although the story of Santa Clara remains unfinished (the master having fallen sick, and being compelled to return to Florence), are yet admirable productions, and worthy of the highest praise.[17] Tommaso is said to have been of a melancholy temperament, and a lover of solitude; but profoundly devoted to art, and extremely studious. Some proof of this last assertion, we have in the church of San Romeo, in Florence, where there is a picture in distemper, by this master, which is executed with such earnest love and care, that no better work on panel is known to have proceeded from his hand. The picture is in the cross-aisle of the church, on the north side. It represents the Dead Christ, with the Maries and Nicodemus, accompanied by other figures. These all bewail the death of the departed, some bitterly weeping and wringing their hands, others more subdued in the expression of their grief; but all, both in countenance and attitude, evincing the most profound sorrow, as they look on the sacrifice that has been made for our sins. The most astonishing circumstance respecting this work is not so much that the master has been able to attain so high a region of thought, as that he has found means to realize his conceptions so admirably with the pencil. The painting is, moreover, highly worthy of praise, not only for the invention and composition, but also for the beauty of the heads; for although the artist in depicting all these weeping faces, has necessarily distorted the lines of the brow, eyes, mouth, and every other feature, yet he has in no degree altered or injured the beauty of the countenances, which very frequently suffer materially in weeping, when treated by hands not well versed in the best methods of art.[18] But we shall be the less surprised that Giottino completed his works with so much care and devotion, when we remember that in all his labours this master ever proved himself more desirous of glory than of gain. Giottino was wholly free from that eagerness for large rewards which renders the masters of our own time less careful in the completion of their works: he was, indeed, so far from seeking great riches, that he gave but slight regard even to the conveniences and amenities of life; he contented himself with little, and thought more of serving and gratifying others than himself: wherefore, taking little care of his health, and perpetually enduring heavy labours, he died of consumption at the age of 32, and was buried by his family outside the church of Santa Maria Novella, at the Martello gate, near the burial-place of Bontura.[19]

The disciples of Giottino, who left more fame than riches, were Giovanni Tossicani, of Arezzo, Michelino,[20] Giovanni dal Ponte, and Lippo:[21] they were all tolerably good masters in their art, but Giovanni Tossicani was greatly superior to the rest: he executed many works after the death of Tommaso, and in his manner, for different cities and churches throughout all Tuscany. In the capitular church of Arezzo, more particularly, Giovanni painted the chapel of Santa Maria Maddalena, belonging to the Tuccerelli[22] family; he also painted a San Jacopo on a column in the capitular church of Empoli, and certain pictures in the cathedral of Pisa were executed by this master, but have since been removed to make way for modern paintings. The last work performed by Giovanni Tossicani was a most beautiful annunciation, with St. James and St. Philip, which he executed for the Countess Joanna, wife of Tarlato da Pietramala, in one of the chapels of the episcopal church of Arezzo; but the back of the wall on which the last-mentioned work was placed being towards the north, the painting was almost entirely destroyed by the damp, when the Annunciation was restored by Maestro Agnolo di Lorenzo, of Arezzo. The St. James and St. Philip[23] were also restored some short time afterwards by Giorgio Vasari (who was then but a youth), and that to his great profit, for from doing so he acquired much useful knowledge—'which he could not then obtain from other masters—from examining the methods of Giovanni, and studying the shadows and colouring of that work, injured as it was. There is a monument in this chapel to the memory of the countess who caused it to be built and decorated, on which may still be read the following words:

“ Anno Domini 1335, de mense Augusti hanc capellam constitui fecit nobilis domina comitissa Joanna de Sancta Flora uxor nobilis militis domini Tarlati de Petramala ad honorem JBeatce Marice Virginis”[24]

The works of other disciples of Giottino do not require to be mentioned here, since they were but ordinary productions, and do but slightly resemble those of their master or of their con-disciple Giovanni Tossicani. Tommaso Giottino drew admirably well, as may be seen by certain drawings from his hand, preserved in our book, and which are finished with infinite care.

  1. For certain remarks on the name, etc., of this painter, see Professor Bonaini, Memorie Inedite, p. 63.
  2. Tommaso Giottino could scarcely have been the scholar of Giotto, who died, according to Vasari himself, when Giottino was but thirteen years old. Tommaso was perhaps called the disciple of Giotto, rather because he so scrupulously imitated that master than because he was his pupil.
  3. This somewhat obscure passage is elucidated, to a certain extent, by the remarks of Rumohr on the manner of Giottino. See Ital. Forsch. ii, 82; see also Speth, Kunst in Italien, i, 336.
  4. This work has perished.
  5. Neither picture nor church now remain.
  6. The Descent of the Holy Spirit was afterwards whitewashed. The tabernacle was first repainted, and, at a later period, was demolished.
  7. These works still exist, in tolerable preservation. Vasari does not mention the beautiful Deposition from the Cross, which is beside the monument of Bettino; but which is certainly a work by the same artist.— Ed. Flor. 1846.
  8. This picture has perished.
  9. No vestige of this work remains.
  10. These two last-mentioned works have both perished.
  11. The Duke of Athens was expelled from Florence on the 26th of July, the festival of St. Anne.— Ed. Flor. 1846.
  12. This noble Florentine was also bishop of the see.—Ibid.
  13. Of this work, some few unintelligible strokes alone remain; but the reader who is curious to know all the names of those thus derisively exhibited, will find them in Baldinucci, sec. ii. p. 59, together with the inscriptions. See also Villani, lib. xii, cap. xxxiii.
  14. This tabernacle was destroyed in the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the work of Giottino perished with it. — G. Montani.
  15. All the works executed by Giottino in Rome are believed to have perished.
  16. Fea considers this coronation to have been the work of a certain Frate Martino, whom he believes to have been the scholar of Simon of Siena. See his Descrizione della Basilica Assisiate.
  17. The paintings executed by Giottino in Assisi still remain. They are truly perfect for their time, and merit high praise.— G. Montani.
  18. This picture—a really wonderful work—is preserved in the Gallery of the Uffizj.—Ed. Flor. 1846. See also Lanzi, vol. i, pp. 65-66.
  19. In the first edition of Vasari, are the following lines, written on the death of Giottino:—

    “ Heu mortem, infandam mortem, quae cuspidi acuta
    Corda hominum laceras dum venis ante diem!”

    In him, says Lanzi, was cut off the best scion of the Giottescan family of painters.— G. Montani.

  20. Among the many artists of this name, it will be difficult to discover which is here alluded to. —Ed. Flor. 1846.
  21. The lives of these two artists will also be found in Vasari.
  22. Not Tuccerelli, but Tucciarelli, a noble family of Arezzo. The paintings are lost. — Bottari.
  23. The Annunciation has perished, but the St. James and St. Philip are still in existence. — G. Montani.
  24. If Giottino was born in 1324, how could Tossicani, whose last work was finished in 1335, have been his disciple? The want of documents, or other causes, have made Vasari fall into frequent error when speaking of Giottino’s disciples. —Ed. Flor. 1846.