Leader Scott.

Fra Bartolommeo online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryLeader ScottFra Bartolommeo → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Michelle Shephard, Tiffany Vergon, Charles
Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


By Leader Scott

Author Of "A Nook In The Apennines"

Re-Edited By Horace Shipp and Flora Kendrick, A.R.B.S.

_The reproductions in this series are from official photographs of the
National Collections, or from photographs by Messrs. Andersen, Alinari
or Braun._


Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael: the three great names of the noblest
period of the Renaissance take our minds from the host of fine artists
who worked alongside them. Nevertheless beside these giants a whole
host of exquisite artists have place, and not least among them the
three painters with whom Mr. Leader Scott has dealt in these pages. Fra
Bartolommeo linking up with the religious art of the preceding period,
with that of Masaccio, of Piero de Cosimo, his senior student in the
studio of Cosimo Roselli, and at last with that of the definitely
"modern" painters of the Renaissance, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo
himself, is a transition painter in this supreme period. Technique and
the work of hand and brain are rapidly taking the place of inspiration
and the desire to convey a message. The aesthetic sensation is becoming
an end in itself. The scientific painters, perfecting their studies of
anatomy and of perspective, having a conscious mastery over their tools
and their mediums, are taking the place of such men as Fra Angelico.

As a painter at this end of a period of transition - a painter whose
spiritual leanings would undoubtedly have been with the earlier men, but
whose period was too strong for him - Fra Bartolommeo is of particular
interest; and Albertinelli, for all the fiery surface difference of his
outlook is too closely bound by the ties of his friendship for the Frate
to have any other viewpoint.

Andrea del Sarto presents yet another phenomenon: that of the artist
endowed with all the powers of craftsmanship yet serving an end
neither basically spiritual nor basically aesthetic, but definitely
professional. We have George Vasari's word for it; and Vasari's blame
upon the extravagant and too-well-beloved Lucrezia. To-day we are so
accustomed to the idea of the professional attitude to art that we can
accept it in Andrea without concern. Not that other and earlier artists
were unconcerned with the aspect of payments. The history of Italian
art is full of quarrels and bickerings about prices, the calling in of
referees to decide between patron and painter, demands and refusals
of payment. Even the unworldly Fra Bartolommeo was the centre of such
quarrels, and although his vow of poverty forbade him to receive money
for his work, the order to which he belonged stood out firmly for the
_scudi_ which the Frate's pictures brought them. In justice to Andrea it
must be added that this was not the only motive for his activities;
it was not without cause that the men of his time called him "_senza
errori_," the faultless painter; and the production of a vast quantity
of his work rather than good prices for individual pictures made his art
pay to the extent it did. A pot-boiler in masterpieces, his works have
place in every gallery of importance, and he himself stands very close
to the three greatest; men of the Renaissance.

Both Fra Bartolommeo and Albertinelli are little known in this country.
Practically nothing has been written about them and very few of their
works are in either public galleries or private collections. It is in
Italy, of course, that one must study their originals, although the
great collections usually include one or two. Most interesting from
the viewpoint of the study of art is the evolution of the work of the
artist-monk as he came under the influence of the more dramatic modern
and frankly sensational work of Raphael, of the Venetians and of
Michelangelo. In this case (many will say in that of the art of
the world) this tendency detracted rather than helped the work. The
draperies, the dramatic poses, the artistic sensation arrests the mind
at the surface of the picture. It is indeed strange that this devout
churchman should have succumbed to the temptation, and there are moments
when one suspects that his somewhat spectacular pietism disguised the
spirit of one whose mind had little to do with the mysticism of the
mediaeval church. Or perhaps it was that the strange friendship between
him and Albertinelli, the man of the cloister and the man of the world,
effected some alchemy in the mind of each. The story of that lifelong
friendship, strong enough to overcome the difficulties of a definite
partnership between the strict life of the monastery and the busy life
of the _bottega_, is one of the most fascinating in art history.

Mr. Leader Scott has in all three lives the opportunity for fascinating
studies, and his book presents them to us with much of the flavour of
the period in which they lived. Perhaps to-day we should incline to
modify his acceptance of the Vasari attitude to Lucrezia, especially
since he himself tends to withdraw the charges against her, but leaves
her as the villainess of the piece upon very little evidence. The
inclusion of a chapter upon Ghirlandajo, treated merely as a follower
of Fra Bartolommeo, scarcely does justice in modern eyes to this fine
artist, whose own day and generation did him such honour and paid him
so well. But the author's general conclusions as to the place in art
and the significance of the lives of the three painters with whom he
is chiefly concerned remains unchallenged, and we have in the volume a
necessary study to place alongside those of Leonardo, of Michelangelo
and of Raphael for an understanding of the culmination of the
Renaissance in Italy.





IV. SAN MARCO. A.D. 1496-1500
VIII. CLOSE OF LIFE. A.D. 1514-1517


V. GOING TO FRANCE. A.D. 1518-1519







It seems to be a law of nature that progress, as well as time, should be
marked by periods of alternate light and darkness - day and night.

This law is nowhere more apparent than in the history of Art. Three
times has the world been illuminated by the full brilliance of Art, and
three times has a corresponding period of darkness ensued.

The first day dawned in Egypt and Assyria, and its works lie buried in
the tombs of prehistoric Pharaohs and Ninevite kings. The second day
the sun rose on the shores of many-isled Greece, and shed its rays over
Etruria and Rome, and ere it set, temples and palaces were flooded with
beauty. The gods had taken human form, and were come to dwell with men.

The third day arising in Italy, lit up the whole western world with the
glow of colour and fervour, and its fading rays light us yet.

The first period was that of mythic art; the world like a child
wondering at all around tried to express in myths the truths it could
not comprehend.

The second was pagan art which satisfies itself that in expressing the
perfection of humanity, it unfolds divinity. The third era of Christian
art, conscious that the divine lies beyond the human, fails in aspiring
to express infinitude.

Tracing one of these periods from its rise, how truly this similitude
of the dawn of day is carried out. See at the first streak of light
how dim, stiff, and soulless all things appear! Trees and objects bear
precisely the relation to their own appearance in broad daylight as the
wooden Madonnas of the Byzantine school do to those of Raphael.

Next, when the sun - the true light - first appears, how it bathes the sea
and the hills in an ethereal glory not their own! What fair liquid tints
of blue, and rose, and glorious gold! This period which, in art, began
with Giotto and ended with Botticelli, culminated in Fra Angelico, who
flooded the world of painting with a heavenly spiritualism not material,
and gave his dreams of heaven the colours of the first pure rays of

But as the sun rises, nature takes her real tints gradually. We see
every thing in its own colour; the gold and the rose has faded away with
the truer light, and a stern realism takes its place. The human form
must be expressed, in all its solidity and truth, not only in its
outward semblance, but the hidden soul must be seen through the veil of
flesh. And in this lies the reason of the decline; only to a few great
masters it was given to reveal spirituality in humanity - the others
could only emulate form and colour, and failed.

It is impossible to contemplate art apart from religion; as truly as the
celestial sun is the revealer of form, so surely is the heavenly light
of religion the first inspirer of art.

Where would the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Etruscan paintings and
sculptures have been but for the veneration of the mystic gods of the
dead, which both prompted and preserved them?

What would Greek sculpture have been without the deified
personifications of the mysterious powers of nature which inspired
it? and it is the fact of the pagan religion being both sensuous and
realistic which explains the perfection of Greek art. The highest ideal
being so low as not to soar beyond the greatest perfection of humanity,
was thus within the grasp of the artist to express. Given a manly figure
with the fullest development of strength; a female one showing the
greatest perfection of form; and a noble man whose features express
dignity and mental power; - the ideal of a Hercules, a Venus, and a
Jupiter is fully expressed, and the pagan mind satisfied. The spirit
of admirers was moved more by beauty of form than by its hidden
significance. In the great Venus, one recognises the woman before
feeling the goddess.

As with their sculpture, without doubt it was also with painting. Mr.
Symonds, in his _Renaissance of the Fine Arts_, speaks of the Greek
revival as entirely an age of sculpture; but the solitary glance into
the more perishable art of painting among the Greeks, to be seen at
Cortona, reveals the exquisite perfection to which this branch was also
brought. It is a painting in encaustic, and has been used as a door
for his oven by the contadino who dug it up - yet it remains a marvel
of genius. The subject is a female head - a muse, or perhaps only a
portrait; the delicacy and mellowness of the flesh tints equal those of
Raphael or Leonardo, and a lock of hair lying across her breast is so
exquisitely painted that it seems to move with her breath. The features
are of the large-eyed regular Greek type, womanly dignity is in every
line, but it is an essentially pagan face - the Christian soul has never
dawned in those eyes! With this before us, we cannot doubt that Greek
art found its expression as much in colour as in form and that the same
religion inspired both.

In an equal degree Renaissance Art has its roots in Christianity; but
the religion is deeper and greater, and has left art behind.

The early Christians must have felt this when they expressed everything
in symbols, for these are merely suggestive, and allow the imagination
full play around and beyond them; they are mere stepping-stones to the
ideal which exists but is as yet inexpressible.

"Myths and symbols always mark the dawn of a religion, incarnation and
realism its full growth." So after a time when the first vague wonder
and ecstasy are over, symbols no longer content people; they want to
bring religion home to them in a more tangible form, to humanize it,
in fact. From this want it arises that nature next to religion inspires
art, and finally takes its place. For it follows as a matter of course
that as art is a realistic interpreter of the spiritual, so it is more
easy to follow nature than spirituality, nature being the outward or
realistic expression of the mind of God.

It was a saying of Buffalmacco, who was _not_ one of the most devout
painters of the fourteenth century, "Do not let us think of anything but
to cover our walls with saints, and out of disrespect to the demons to
make men more devout." And Savonarola, though he has been accused
of being one of the causes of the decline, thus upheld the sacred
influences of art; when he exclaimed in one of his fervent bursts of
eloquence, "You see that Saint there in the Church and say, 'I will live
a good life and be like him.'" If these were the feelings of the least
devout and the religious fanatic, how hallowed must the influences of
Christian painting have been to the intermediate ranks. Mr. Symonds
beautifully expresses the tendency of that time: "The eyes of the
worshipper should no longer have a mere stock or stone to contemplate;
his imagination should be helped by the dogmatic presentation of the
scenes of sacred history, and his devotion quickened by lively images
of the passion of our Lord.... The body and soul moreover should be
reconciled, and God's likeness should be once more acknowledged in the
features and limbs of men." [Footnote: Symonds' _Renaissance of the Fine
Arts_, chap. i. p. 11.]

The school of Giotto was the first to feel this need of the soul. He,
taking his ideas from nature, clothed the soul in a thin veil; the
Italians call his school that of poetic art; it reached sentiment and
poetry, but did not pass them. Yet the thirteenth century was sublime
for the expression of the idea; one only has to study the intense
meaning in the works of Giotto, and Orcagna, Duccio, and the Lorenzetti
of Siena to perceive this. The fourteenth century, on the contrary,
rendered itself glorious for manifestation of form. "Artists thought the
veil of ideality a poor thing, and wished to give the solidity of the
body to the soul; they stole every secret from nature; the senses were
content, but not sentiment." [Footnote: _Purismo nell' Arte_, da Cesare

The artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of whom we have
to speak, blended the two schools, and became perfection as far as
they went. Michelangelo drew more from the vigorous thirteenth-century
masters, and Raphael from the more sensuous followers of Masaccio and
Lippi. The former tried to put the Christian soul into his works, but
its infinite depth was unattainable. As his many unfinished works prove,
he always felt some great overwhelming meaning in his inmost soul,
which all his passionate artistic yearnings were inadequate to express.
Raphael tried to bring realism into religion through painting, and
to give us the scenes of our Lord's and the Apostles' lives in such a
humanized aspect, that we should feel ourselves of his nature. But the
incarnation of religion in art defeated its own ends; sensuousness was
introduced in place of the calm, unearthly spirituality of the earlier
masters. Compare the cartoon of S. Paul preaching at Athens, in which
he has all the majesty of a Cæsar in the Forum, with the lowly spirit
of the Apostle's life! In truth, Raphael failed to approach nearer
to sublimity than Fra Angelico, with all his faulty drawing but pure

After him, artists loved form and colour for themselves rather than for
the spiritual meaning. Miss Owen [Footnote: _Art Schools of Medieval
Christendom_, edited by Ruskin.] accuses Raphael of having rendered Art
pagan, but this seems blaming him for the weakness of his followers, who
took for their type his works rather than his ideal. The causes of the
decline were many, and are not centred in one man. As long as Religion
slumbered in monasticism and dogma, Art seizing on the human parts, such
as the maternity of the Madonna, the personifications of saints who had
lived in the world, was its adequate exponent. The religion awakened by
the aesthetic S. Francis, who loved all kinds of beauty, was of the kind
to be fed by pictures. But when Savonarola had aroused the fervour of
the nation to its highest point, when beauty was nothing, the world
nothing, in comparison to the infinity of God; - then art, finding itself
powerless to express this overwhelming infinity, fell back on more
earthly founts of inspiration, the classics and the poets.

Lorenzo de' Medici and Pope Nicholas V. had fully as much to do with the
decline as Savonarola. The Pope in Rome, and Lorenzo in Florence, led
art to the verge of paganism; Savonarola would have kept it on the
confines of purism; it was divided and fell, passing through the various
steps of decadence, the mannerists and the eclectics, to rise again
in this nineteenth century with what is after all its true aim, the
interpretation of nature, and the illustration of the poetry of a

But with the decadence we have happily nothing to do; the artists of
whom we speak first, Fra Bartolommeo and Albertinelli, belong to the
culmination of art on its rising side, while Andrea del Sarto stands as
near to the greatest artists on the other side, and is the last of the
group before the decline. On Fra Bartolommeo the spirituality of Fra
Angelico still lingered, while the perfection of Raphael illumined him.
Andrea del Sarto, on the other side, had gathered into his hands
the gleams of genius from all the great artists who were his elder
contemporaries, and so blending them as to form seemingly a style of
his own, distinct from any, has left on our walls and in our galleries
hundreds of masterpieces of colour, as gay and varied as the tints the
orientals weave into their wondrous fabrics.

It might be said with truth that Fra Bartolommeo painted for the soul,
and Andrea del Sarto for the eye.



Amongst the thousand arteries in which the life blood of the Renaissance
coursed in all its fulness, none were so busy or so important as the
"botteghe" of the artists. In these the genius of the great masters,
the Pleiades of stars at the culmination of art in Florence, was either
tenderly nursed, or sharply pruned into vigour by struggling against
discouragement and envy. In these the spirit of awakened devotion found
an outlet, in altarpieces and designs for church frescoes which were
to influence thousands. Here the spirit of poetry, brooding in the
mysterious lines of Dante, or echoing from past ages in the myths of the
Greeks, took form and glowed on the walls in mighty cartoons to be
made imperishable in fresco. Here the spirit of luxury was satisfied
by beautiful designs for ornaments, dress stuffs, tapestries, vases
and "cassoni," &c., which brought beauty into every life, and made each
house a poem. The soul, the mind, and the body, could alike be supplied
at those fountains of the beautiful, the artshops or schools.

Whilst Michelangelo as a youth was drawing from the cartoons of the
Sassetti chapel in the school of Domenico Ghirlandajo, Cosimo Roselli
was just receiving as a pupil a boy only a little behind him in genius.
A small, delicate-faced, spiritual-eyed boy of nine years, known as
Baccio della Porta, who came with a roll of drawings under his arm and
high hopes in his soul, no doubt trotting along manfully beside Cosimo's
old friend, Benedetto da Majano, the sculptor, who had recommended his
being placed in the studio.

By the table given in the note [Footnote: Pietro, a Genoese, came in
1400 to the parish of S. Michele, at Montecuccioli in Mugello; he was
a peasant, and had a son Jacopo, who was father of Paolo, the muleteer;
and three other sons, Bartolo, Giusto, and Jacopo, who had a _podere_
at Soffignano, near Prato. Paolo married first Bartolommea, daughter of
Zanobi di Gallone, by whom he had a son, Bartolommeo, known as Baccio
della Porta, born 1475. The first wife dying, Paolo married Andrea di
Michaele di Cenni, who had four sons, Piero, Domenico, Michele,
and Francesco; only Piero lived to grow up, and he became a priest.
[_Favoured by Sig. Milanesi._]] it will be seen that Baccio was the son
of Paolo, a muleteer, which no doubt was a profitable trade in those
days when the country roads were mere mule-tracks, and the traffic
between different towns was carried on almost entirely by horses and
mulepacks. There is some doubt as to the place of Baccio's birth, which
occurred in 1475. Vasari gives it as Savignano near Prato; Crowe and
Cavalcaselle [Footnote: Vol. iii. chap. xiii. p. 427.] assert it was
Suffignano, near Florence, where they say Paolo's brothers, Jacopo and
Giusto, were contadini or peasants.

But on consulting the post-office authorities we find no place called
Suffignano near Florence; it must therefore have been a village near
Prato called Soffignano, which from similarity of sound Vasari confused
with the larger place, Savignano. This is the more probable, for Rosini
asserts that "Benedetto da Majano, _who had bought a podere near Prato_,
knew him and took him into his affections, and by his means placed him
with Cosimo." [Footnote: Rosini, _Storia della Pittura_, chap. xvii. p.

It is certainly probable that Paolo's wife lived with his family during
his wanderings, because it is the true Italian custom, and Baccio was
in that case born in his uncle's house; for it is not till 1480 that
we find Paolo retired from trade and set up in a house of his own in
Florence at the gate of S. Pier Gattolini, now the Porta Romana.

The friendship begun at Prato must have been continued in Florence,
for in 1480 Paolo not only owned that house at the gate of S. Pier
Gattolini, but was the proud possessor of a podere at Brozzi, which
yielded six barrels of wine. He is a merciful man too, for among his
possessions are two mules _disutili e vecchi_ (old and useless). At this
time Baccio was six years old, and his three stepbrothers quite babies.
[Footnote: Archives of Florence, Portate al Castato, 1480-1.] Paolo, as
well as his mules, had earned his repose, being certainly old, if not
useless, and was anxious for his little sons to be placed out in the
world as early as possible. Thus it came that in 1484 Baccio was taken
away from his brothers, who played under the shadow of the old gateway,
and was put to do the drudgery of the apprenticeship to art. He had to
grind colours for Cosimo - who, as we know, used a great deal of colour,
having dazzled the eyes of the Pope with the brilliancy of his blue and
gold in the Sistine Chapel some years before - he had to sweep out the
studio, no doubt assisted by Mariotto Albertinelli, a boy of his own
age, and to run errands, carrying designs for inspection to expectant
brides who wanted the chests painted to hold their wedding clothes, or
doing the messenger between his master and the nuns of S. Ambrogio, who
paid Cosimo their gold florins by the hand of the boy in 1484 and 1485.
[Footnote: Note to Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. iii. chap. xiii. p.

Whether his age made him a more acceptable means of communication with
the nuns, or whether Pier di Cosimo, the elder pupil, already displayed
his hatred of womankind, I know not; perhaps the boy already showed that
innate devotion and especial fitness for sanctity which marks his entire
art career. Truly everything in his youthful life combined to lead his
thoughts to higher things. The first fresco at which he assisted was in
this solemn cloister of St. Ambrogio, and the subject the _Miracle of
the Sacrament_; the saintly air of the place, the calm faces of the
white-hooded nuns, must all have had an influence in inspiring his
youthful mind with the spirit of devotion.

Baccio's fellow-students were not many, but they formed an interesting

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryLeader ScottFra Bartolommeo → online text (page 1 of 9)