CHAPTER IX. The Uffizi II: The First Six Rooms
Lorenzo Monaco - Fra Angelico - Mariotto Albertinelli turns innkeeper - The Venetian rooms - Giorgione's death - Titian - Mantegna uniting north and south - Giovanni Bellini - Domenico Ghirlandaio - Michelangelo - Luca Signorelli - Wild flowers - Leonardo da Vinci - Paolo Uccello.
The first and second rooms are Venetian; but I am inclined to think that it is better to take the second door on the left - the first Tuscan salon - and walking straight across it come at once to the Salon of Lorenzo Monaco and the primitives. For the earliest good pictures are here. Here especially one should remember that the pictures were painted never for a gallery but for churches. Lorenzo Monaco (Lawrence the Monk, 1370-c. 1425), who gives his name to this room, was a monk of the Camaldolese order in the Monastery of the Angeli, and was a little earlier than Fra Angelico (the Angelic Brother), the more famous painting monk, whose dates are 1387-1455. Lorenzo was influenced by Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto's godson, friend, pupil, and assistant. His greatest work is this large Uffizi altar-piece - he painted nothing but altar-pieces - depicting the Coronation of the Virgin: a great gay scene of splendour, containing pretty angels who must have been the delight of children in church. The predella - and here let me advise the visitor never to overlook the predellas, where the artist often throws off formality and allows his more natural feelings to have play, almost as though he painted the picture for others and the predella for himself - is peculiarly interesting. Look, at the left, at the death of an old Saint attended by monks and nuns, whose grief is profound. One other good Lorenzo is here, an "Adoration of the Magi," No. 39, a little out of drawing but full of life.
But for most people the glory of the room is not Lorenzo the Monk, but Brother Giovanni of Fiesole, known ever more as Beato, or Fra, Angelico. Of that most adoring and most adorable of painters I say much in the chapter on the Accademia, where he is very fully represented, and it might perhaps be well to turn to those pages (227-230) and read here, on our first sight of his genius, what is said. Two Angelicos are in this room - the great triptych, opposite the chief Lorenzo, and the "Crowning of the Virgin," on an easel. The triptych is as much copied as any picture in the gallery, not, however, for its principal figures, but for the border of twelve angels round the centre panel. Angelico's benignancy and sweetness are here, but it is not the equal of the "Coronation," which is a blaze of pious fervour and glory. The group of saints on the right is very charming; but we are to be more pleased by this radiant hand when we reach the Accademia. Already, however, we have learned his love of blue. Another altar-piece with a subtle quality of its own is the early Annunciation by Simone Martini of Siena (1285-1344) and Lippo Memmi, his brother (d. 1357), in which the angel speaks his golden words across the picture through a vase of lilies, and the Virgin receives them shrinkingly. It is all very primitive, but it has great attraction, and it is interesting to think that the picture must be getting on for six hundred years of age. This Simone was a pupil of Giotto and the painter of a portrait of Petrarch's Laura, now preserved in the Laurentian library, which earned him two sonnets of eulogy. It is also two Sienese painters who have made the gayest thing in this room, the predella, No. 1304, by Neroccio di Siena (1447-1500) and Francesco di Giorgio di Siena (1439-1502), containing scenes in the life of S. Benedetto. Neroccio did the landscape and figures; the other the architecture, and very fine it is. Another delightful predella is that by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1498), Fra Angelico's pupil, whom we have seen at the Riccardi palace. Gozzoli's predella is No. 1302. Finally, look at No. 64, which shows how prettily certain imitators of Fra Angelico could paint.
After the Sala di Lorenzo Monaco let us enter the first Tuscan room. The draughtsmanship of the great Last Judgment fresco by Fra Bartolommeo (1475-1517) and Mariotto Albertinelli (1474-1515) is very fine. It is now a ruin, but enough remains to show that it must have been impressive. These collaborators, although intimate friends, ultimately went different ways, for Fra Bartolommeo came under the influence of Savonarola, burned his nude drawings, and entered the Convent of S. Marco; whereas Albertinelli, who was a convivial follower of Venus, tiring of art and even more of art jargon, took an inn outside the S. Gallo gate and a tavern on the Ponte Vecchio, remarking that he had found a way of life that needed no knowledge of muscles, foreshortening, or perspective, and better still, was without critics. Among his pupils was Franciabigio, whose lovely Madonna of the Well we are coming to in the Tribuna.
Chief among the other pictures are two by the delightful Alessio Baldovinetti, the master of Domenico Ghirlandaio, Nos. 60 and 56; and a large early altar-piece by the brothers Orcagna, painted in 1367 for S. Maria Nuova, now the principal hospital of Florence and once the home of many beautiful pictures. This work is rather dingy now, but it is interesting as coming in part from the hand that designed the tabernacle in Or San Michele and the Loggia de' Lanzi. Another less-known painter represented here is Francesco Granacci (1469-1543), the author of Nos. 1541 and 1280, both rich and warm and pleasing. Granacci was a fellow-pupil of Michelangelo both in Lorenzo de' Medici's garden and in Ghirlandaio's workshop, and the bosom friend of that great man all his life. Like Piero di Cosimo, Granacci was a great hand at pageantry, and Lorenzo de' Medici kept him busy. He was not dependent upon art for his living, but painted for love of it, and Vasari makes him a very agreeable man.