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.

Here too is Gio. Antonio Sogliani (1492-1544), also a rare painter, with a finely coloured and finely drawn "Disputa," No. 63. This painter seems to have had the same devotion to his master, Lorenzo di Credi, that di Credi had for his master, Verrocchio. Vasari calls Sogliani a worthy religious man who minded his own affairs - a good epitaph. His work is rarely met with in Florence, but he has a large fresco at S. Marco. Lorenzo di Credi (1459-1537) himself has two pretty circular paintings here, of which No. 1528 is particularly sweet: "The Virgin and Child with St. John and Angels," all comfortable and happy in a Tuscan meadow; while on an easel is another circular picture, by Pacchiarotto (1477-1535). This has good colour and twilight beauty, but it does not touch one and is not too felicitously composed. Over the door to the Venetian room is a Cosimo Rosselli with a prettily affectionate Madonna and Child.

From this miscellaneous Tuscan room we pass to the two rooms which contain the Venetian pictures, of which I shall say less than might perhaps be expected, not because I do not intensely admire them but because I feel that the chief space in a Florentine book should be given to Florentine or Tuscan things. As a matter of fact, I find myself when in the Uffizi continually drawn to revisit these walls. The chief treasures are the Titians, the Giorgiones, the Mantegnas, the Carpaccio, and the Bellini allegory. These alone would make the Uffizi a Mecca of connoisseurs. Giorgione is to be found in his richest perfection at the Pitti, in his one unforgettable work that is preserved there, but here he is wonderful too, with his Cavalier of Malta, black and golden, and the two rich scenes, Nos. 621 and 630, nominally from Scripture, but really from romantic Italy. To me these three pictures are the jewels of the Venetian collection. To describe them is impossible: enough to say that some glowing genius produced them; and whatever the experts admit, personally I prefer to consider that genius Giorgione. Giorgione, who was born in 1477 and died young - at thirty-three - was, like Titian, the pupil of Bellini, but was greatly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Later he became Titian's master. He was passionately devoted to music and to ladies, and it was indeed from a lady that he had his early death, for he continued to kiss her after she had taken the plague. (No bad way to die, either; for to be in the power of an emotion that sways one to such foolishness is surely better than to live the lukewarm calculating lives of most of us.) Giorgione's claim to distinction is that not only was he a glorious colourist and master of light and shade, but may be said to have invented small genre pictures that could be earned about and hung in this or that room at pleasure - such pictures as many of the best Dutch painters were to bend their genius to almost exclusively - his favourite subjects being music parties and picnics. These Moses and Solomon pictures in the Uffizi are of course only a pretext for gloriously coloured arrangements of people with rich scenic backgrounds. No.621 is the finer. The way in which the baby is being held in the other indicates how little Giorgione thought of verisimilitude. The colour was the thing.

After the Giorgiones the Titians, chief of which is No.633, "The Madonna and Child with S. John and S. Anthony," sometimes called the "Madonna of the Roses," a work which throws a pallor over all Tuscan pictures; No.626, the golden Flora, who glows more gloriously every moment (whom we shall see again, at the Pitti, as the Magdalen); the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Nos.605 and 599, the Duchess set at a window with what looks so curiously like a deep blue Surrey landscape through it and a village spire in the midst; and 618, an unfinished Madonna and Child in which the Master's methods can be followed. The Child, completed save for the final bath of light, is a miracle of draughtsmanship.

The triptych by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) is of inexhaustible interest, for here, as ever, Mantegna is full of thought and purpose. The left panel represents the Ascension, Christ being borne upwards by eleven cherubim in a solid cloud; the right panel - by far the best, I think - shows the Circumcision, where the painter has set himself various difficulties of architecture and goldsmith's work for the pleasure of overcoming them, every detail being painted with Dutch minuteness and yet leaving the picture big; while the middle panel, which is concave, depicts an Adoration of the Magi that will bear much study. The whole effect is very northern: not much less so than our own new National Gallery Mabuse. Mantegna also has a charming Madonna and Child, No. 1025, with pleasing pastoral and stone-quarrying activities in the distance.

On the right of the triptych is the so-called Carpaccio (1450-1519), a confused but glorious melee of youths and halberds, reds and yellows and browns, very modern and splendid and totally unlike anything else in the whole gallery. Uccello may possibly be recalled, but only for subject. Finally there is Giovanni Bellini (1426-1516), master of Titian and Giorgione, with his "Sacra Conversazione," No. 631, which means I know not what but has a haunting quality. Later we shall see a picture by Michelangelo which has been accused of blending Christianity and paganism; but Bellini's sole purpose was to do this. We have children from a Bacchic vase and the crowned Virgin; two naked saints and a Venetian lady; and a centaur watching a hermit. The foreground is a mosaic terrace; the background is rocks and water. It is all bizarre and very curious and memorable and quite unique. For the rest, I should mention two charming Guardis; a rich little Canaletto; a nice scene of sheep by Jacopo Bassano; the portrait of an unknown young man by an unknown painter, No. 1157; and Tintoretto's daring "Abraham and Isaac".

The other Venetian room is almost wholly devoted to portraits, chief among them being a red-headed Tintoretto burning furiously, No. 613, and Titian's sly and sinister Caterina Cornaro in her gorgeous dress, No. 648; Piombo's "L'Uomo Ammalato"; Tintoretto's Jacopo Sansovino, the sculptor, the grave old man holding his calipers who made that wonderful Greek Bacchus at the Bargello; Schiavone's ripe, bearded "Ignoto," No. 649, and, perhaps above all, the Moroni, No. 386, black against grey. There is also Paolo Veronese's "Holy Family with S. Catherine," superbly masterly and golden but suggesting the Rialto rather than Nazareth.

One picture gives the next room, the Sala di Michelangelo, its name; but entering from the Venetian room we come first on the right to a very well-known Lippo Lippi, copied in every picture shop in Florence: No. 1307, a Madonna and two Children. Few pictures are so beset by delighted observers, but apart from the perfection of it as an early painting, leaving nothing to later dexterity, its appeal to me is weak. The Madonna (whose head-dress, as so often in Lippo Lippi, foreshadows Botticelli) and the landscape equally delight; the children almost repel, and the decorative furniture in the corner quite repels. The picture is interesting also for its colour, which is unlike anything else in the gallery, the green of the Madonna's dress being especially lovely and distinguished, and vulgarizing the Ghirlandaio - No. 1297 - which hangs next. This picture is far too hot throughout, and would indeed be almost displeasing but for the irradiation of the Virgin's face. The other Ghirlandaio - No. 1295 - in this room is far finer and sweeter; but at the Accademia and the Badia we are to see him at his best in this class of work. None the less, No. 1295 is a charming thing, and the little Mother and her happy Child, whose big toe is being so reverently adored by the ancient mage, are very near real simple life. This artist, we shall see, always paints healthy, honest babies. The seaport in the distance is charming too.

Ghirlandaio's place in this room is interesting on account of his relation to Michelangelo as first instructor; but by the time that the great master's "Holy Family," hanging here, was painted all traces of Ghirlandaio's influence had disappeared, and if any forerunner is noticeable it is Luca Signorelli. But we must first glance at the pretty little Lorenzo di Credi, No. 1160, the Annunciation, an artificial work full of nice thoughts and touches, with the prettiest little blue Virgin imaginable, a heavenly landscape, and a predella in monochrome, in one scene of which Eve rises from the side of the sleeping Adam with extraordinary realism. The announcing Gabriel is deferential but positive; Mary is questioning but not wholly surprised. In any collection of Annunciations this picture would find a prominent place.

The "Holy Family" of Michelangelo - No. 1139 - is remarkable for more than one reason. It is, to begin with, the only finished easel picture that exists from his brush. It is also his one work in oils, for he afterwards despised that medium as being fit "only for children". The frame is contemporary and was made for it, the whole being commissioned by Angelo Doni, a wealthy connoisseur whose portrait by Raphael we shall see in the Pitti, and who, according to Vasari, did his best to get it cheaper than his bargain, and had in the end to pay dearer. The period of the picture is about 1503, while the great David was in progress, when the painter was twenty-eight. That it is masterly and superb there can be no doubt, but, like so much of Michelangelo's work, it suffers from its author's greatness. There is an austerity of power here that ill consorts with the tender domesticity of the scene, and the Child is a young Hercules. The nude figures in the background introduce an alien element and suggest the conflict between Christianity and paganism, the new religion and the old: in short, the Twilight of the Gods. Whether Michelangelo intended this we shall not know; but there it is. The prevailing impression left by the picture is immense power and virtuosity and no religion. In the beautiful Luca Signorelli - No.74 - next it, we find at once a curious similarity and difference. The Madonna and Child only are in the foreground, a not too radiant but very tender couple; in the background are male figures nearly nude: not quite, as Michelangelo made them, and suggesting no discord as in his picture. Luca was born in 1441, and was thus thirty-four years older than Michelangelo. This picture is perhaps that one presented by Luca to Lorenzo de' Medici, of which Vasari tells, and if so it was probably on a wall in the Medici palace when Michelangelo as a boy was taught with Lorenzo's sons. Luca's sweetness was alien to Michelangelo, but not his melancholy or his sense of composition; while Luca's devotion to the human form as the unit of expression was in Michelangelo carried out to its highest power. Vasari, who was a relative of Luca's and a pupil of Michelangelo's, says that his master had the greatest admiration for Luca's genius.

Luca Signorelli was born at Cortona, and was instructed by Piero della Francesca, whose one Uffizi painting is in a later room. His chief work is at Cortona, at Rome (in the Sixtine Chapel), and at Orvieto. His fame was sufficient in Florence in 1491 for him to be made one of the judges of the designs for the facade of the Duomo. Luca lived to a great age, not dying till 1524, and was much beloved. He was magnificent in his habits and loved fine clothes, was very kindly and helpful in disposition, and the influence of his naturalness and sincerity upon art was great. One very pretty sad story is told of him, to the effect that when his son, whom he had dearly loved, was killed at Cortona, he caused the body to be stripped, and painted it with the utmost exactitude, that through his own handiwork he might be able to contemplate that treasure of which fate had robbed him. Perhaps the most beautiful or at any rate the most idiosyncratic thing in the picture before us is its lovely profusion of wayside flowers. These come out but poorly in the photograph, but in the painting they are exquisite both in form and in detail. Luca painted them as if he loved them. (There is a hint of the same thoughtful care in the flowers in No. 1133, by Luca, in our National Gallery; but these at Florence are the best.) No. 74 is in tempera: the next, also by Luca, No.1291, is in oil, a "Holy Family," a work at once powerful, rich, and sweet. Here, again, we may trace an influence on Michelangelo, for the child is shown deprecating a book which his mother is displaying, while in the beautiful marble tondo of the "Madonna and Child" by Michelangelo, which we are soon to see in the Bargello, a reading lesson is in progress, and the child wearying of it. We find Luca again in the next large picture - No.1547 - a Crucifixion, with various Saints, done in collaboration with Perugino. The design suggests Luca rather than his companion, and the woman at the foot of the cross is surely the type of which he was so fond. The drawing of Christ is masterly and all too sombre for Perugino. Finally, there is a Luca predella, No. 1298, representing the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ (in which Joseph is older almost than in any version), and the Adoration of the Magi, all notable for freedom and richness. Note the realism and charm and the costume of the two pages of the Magi.

And now we come to what is perhaps the most lovely picture in the whole gallery, judged purely as colour and sweetness and design - No.1549 - a "Madonna Adoring," with Filippino Lippi's name and an interrogation mark beneath it. Who painted it if not Filippino? That is the question; but into such problems, which confront one at every turn in Florence, I am neither qualified nor anxious to enter. When doctors disagree any one may decide before me. The thought, moreover, that always occurs in the presence of these good debatable pictures, is that any doubt as to their origin merely enriches this already over-rich period, since some one had to paint them. Simon not pure becomes hardly less remarkable than Simon pure.

If only the Baby were more pleasing, this would be perhaps the most delightful picture in the world: as it is, its blues alone lift it to the heavens of delectableness. By an unusual stroke of fortune a crack in the paint where the panels join has made a star in the tender blue sky. The Tuscan landscape is very still and beautiful; the flowers, although conventional and not accurate like Luca's, are as pretty as can be; the one unsatisfying element is the Baby, who is a little clumsy and a little in pain, but diffuses radiance none the less. And the Mother - the Mother is all perfection and winsomeness. Her face and hands are exquisite, and the Tuscan twilight behind her is so lovely. I have given a reproduction, but colour is essential.

The remaining three pictures in the room are a Bastiano and a Pollaiolo, which are rather for the student than for the wanderer, and a charming Ignoto, No. 75, which I like immensely. But Ignoto nearly always paints well.

In the Sala di Leonardo are two pictures which bear the name of this most fascinating of all the painters of the world. One is the Annunciation, No. 1288, upon the authenticity of which much has been said and written, and the other an unfinished Adoration of the Magi which cannot be questioned by anyone. The probabilities are that the Annunciation is an early work and that the ascription is accurate: at Oxford is a drawing known to be Leonardo's that is almost certainly a study for a detail of this work, while among the Leonardo drawings in the His de la Salle collection at the Louvre is something very like a first sketch of the whole. Certainly one can think of no one else who could have given the picture its quality, which increases in richness with every visit to the gallery; but the workshop of Verrocchio, where Leonardo worked, together with Lorenzo di Credi and Perugino, with Andrea of the True Eye over all, no doubt put forth wonderful things. The Annunciation is unique in the collection, both in colour and character: nothing in the Uffizi so deepens. There are no cypresses like these in any other picture, no finer drawing than that of Mary's hands. Luca's flowers are better, in the adjoining room; one is not too happy about the pedestal of the reading-desk; and there are Virgins whom we can like more; but as a whole it is perhaps the most fascinating picture of all, for it has the Leonardo darkness as well as light.

Of Leonardo I could write for ever, but this book is not the place; for though he was a Florentine, Florence has very little of his work: these pictures only, and one of these only for certain, together with an angel in a work by Verrocchio at the Accademia which we shall see, and possibly a sculptured figure over the north door of the Baptistery. Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Francis I of France, lured him away, to the eternal loss of his own city. It is Milan and Paris that are richest in his work, and after that London, which has at South Kensington a sculptured relief by him as well as a painting at the National Gallery, a cartoon at Burlington House, and the British Museum drawings.

His other work here - No. 1252 - in the grave brown frame, was to have been Leonardo's greatest picture in oil, so Vasari says: larger, in fact, than any known picture at that time. Being very indistinct, it is, curiously enough, best as the light begins to fail and the beautiful wistful faces emerge from the gloom. In their presence one recalls Leonardo's remark in one of his notebooks that faces are most interesting beneath a troubled sky. "You should make your portrait," he adds, "at the hour of the fall of the evening when it is cloudy or misty, for the light then is perfect." In the background one can discern the prancing horses of the Magi's suite; a staircase with figures ascending and descending; the rocks and trees of Tuscany; and looking at it one cannot but ponder upon the fatality which seems to have pursued this divine and magical genius, ordaining that almost everything that he put forth should be either destroyed or unfinished: his work in the Castello at Milan, which might otherwise be an eighth wonder of the world, perished; his "Last Supper" at Milan perishing; his colossal equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza broken to pieces; his sculpture lost; his Palazzo Vecchio battle cartoon perished; this picture only a sketch. Even after long years the evil fate still persists, for in 1911 his "Gioconda" was stolen from the Louvre by madman or knave.

Among the other pictures in this room is the rather hot "Adoration of the Magi," by Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507), over the Leonardo "Annunciation," a glowing scene of colour and animation: this Cosimo being the Cosimo from whom Piero di Cosimo took his name, and an associate of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Luca Signorelli on the Sixtine Chapel frescoes. On the left wall is Uccello's battle piece, No. 52, very like that in our National Gallery: rich and glorious as decoration, but quite bearing out Vasari's statement that Uccello could not draw horses. Uccello was a most laborious student of animal life and so absorbed in the mysteries of perspective that he preferred them to bed; but he does not seem to have been able to unite them. He was a perpetual butt of Donatello. It is told of him that having a commission to paint a fresco for the Mercato Vecchio he kept the progress of the work a secret and allowed no one to see it. At last, when it was finished, he drew aside the sheet for Donatello, who was buying fruit, to admire. "Ah, Paolo," said the sculptor reproachfully, "now that you ought to be covering it up, you uncover it."

There remain a superb nude study of Venus by Lorenzo di Credi, No. 3452 - one of the pictures which escaped Savonarola's bonfire of vanities, and No. 1305, a Virgin and Child with various Saints by Domenico Veneziano (1400-1461), who taught Gentile da Fabriano, the teacher of Jacopo Bellini. This picture is a complete contrast to the Uccello: for that is all tapestry, richness, and belligerence, and this is so pale and gentle, with its lovely light green, a rare colour in this gallery.