Mona Lisa, 1568

Leonardo undertook to execute, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Monna Lisa, his wife; and after toiling over it for four years, he left it unfinished; and the work is now in the collection of King Francis of France, at Fontainebleau. In this head, whoever wished to see how closely art could imitate nature, was able to comprehend it with ease; for in it were counterfeited all the minutenesses that with subtlety are able to be painted, seeing that the eyes had that lustre and watery sheen which are always seen in life, and around them were all those rosy and pearly tints, as well as the lashes, which cannot be represented without the greatest subtlety. The eyebrows, through his having shown the manner in which the hairs spring from the flesh, here more close and here more scanty, and curve according to the pores of the skin, could not be more natural. The nose, with its beautiful nostrils, rosy and tender, appeared to be alive. The mouth, with its opening, and with its ends united by the red of the lips to the flesh tints of the face, seemed, in truth, to be not colors but flesh. In the pit of the throat, if one gazed upon it intently, could be seen the beating of the pulse. And, indeed, it may be said that it was painted in such a manner as to make every valiant craftsman, be he who he may, tremble and lose heart. He made use, also, of this device: Monna Lisa being very beautiful, he always employed, while he was painting her portrait, persons to play or sing, and jesters, who might make her remain merry, in order to take away that melancholy which painters are often wont to give to the portraits that they paint. And in this work of Leonardo’s there was a smile so pleasing, that it was a thing more divine than human to behold; and it was held to be something marvellous, since the reality was not more alive.

Giorgio Vasari, Life of Leonardo da Vinci, 1568.

Vasari: Antonio and Piero Pollaiuolo

MANY MEN BEGIN in a humble spirit with unimportant works, who, gaining courage from proficiency, grow also in power and ability, in such a manner that they aspire to greater undertakings and almost reach Heaven with their beautiful thoughts. Raised by fortune, they very often chance upon some liberal Prince, who, finding himself well served by them, is forced to remunerate their labors so richly that their descen- dants derive great benefits and advantages from them. Wherefore such men walk through this life to the end with so much glory, that they leave marvellous memorials of themselves to the world, as did Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo, who were greatly esteemed in their day for the rare acquirements that they had made with their industry and labour.

These men were born in the city of Florence, one no long time after the other [sic], from a father of humble station and no great wealth, who, recognizing by many signs the good and acute intelligence of his sons, but not having the means to educate them in letters, apprenticed Antonio to the goldsmith’s art under Bartoluccio Ghiberti, a very excellent master in that calling at that time; and Piero he placed under Andrea dal Castagno, who was then the best painter in Florence, to learn painting. Antonio, then, being pushed on by Bartoluccio, not only learnt to set jewels and to fire enamels on silver, but was also held the best master of the tools of that art. Wherefore Lorenzo Ghiberti, who was then working on the doors of S. Giovanni, having observed the manner of Antonio, called him into that work in company with many other young men, and set him to labor on one of the festoons which he then had in hand. On this Antonio made a quail which is still in existence, so beautiful and so perfect that it lacks nothing but the power of flight. Antonio, therefore, had not spent many weeks over this work before he was known as the best, both in design and in patient execution, of all those who were working there, and as more gifted and more diligent than any other. Whereupon, growing ever both in ability and in fame, he left Bartoluccio and Lorenzo, and opened a fine and magnificent goldsmith’s shop for himself in the Mercato Nuovo in that city. And for many years he followed that art, never ceasing to make new designs, and executing in relief wax candles and other things of fancy, which in a short time caused him to be held as he was the first master of his calling.

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Alessandro Allori: Susanna and the Elders (1561)

This is perhaps the strangest Susanna painting I’ve come across so far. The Elders get quite close and personal, more than in any other execution of the motif so far, yet it remains somehow abstract, stylized, like a choreographed dance. The life-size painting is located at the Musée Magnin in Dijon.

Alessandro Allori: Venus Disarming Cupid, c. 1570

Alessandro Allori: Venus Disarming Cupid, before 1570, 261×181cm, Musée Fabre, Montpellier.

Michelangelo's tomb

Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564 in Rome at the age of 88. He is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. The general design of his tomb was by Giorgio Vasari. The portrait bust is by Battista Lorenzi. The fresco with the pietà and putti is by Giovanni Battista Naldini. The three female figures represent the fields Michelangelo was active in, from left to right:

  • Sculpture (by Valerio Cioli)
  • Painting (by Stoldo Lorenzi)
  • Architecture (by Giovanni dall’ Opera)

Photo taken by Melissa Ranieri in May 2007.

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