Andrea Di Michele Di Francesco Cioni – Called Verrocchio

BORN 1435: DIED 1488


ANDREA DI MICHELE DI FRANCESCO CIONI, surnamed Verrocchio after his earliest master, was born in 1435. With the exception of a few trifling notices, we possess no information as to his youth and early manhood, and even Vasari gives but a slight record. A few facts of his private life are revealed by the depositions of his father and himself to the Catasto, and from these we gather a general idea of his circumstances.

His father, Michele, carried on the trade of a brick and tile maker, and was entered in the Gild of Stoneworkers. Later in life he obtained a situation as tax-collector. He seems to have been fairly well off, owning a house in the Via dell’ Agnolo in the parish of San Ambrogio, as well as other property in the neighborhood of Florence. He was already over fifty years of age when Andrea was born, the youngest child of his first wife, Gemma. She died shortly after the birth of Andrea.

In 1452 the father, Michele, died, and in the same year Andrea, then aged seventeen, had the misfortune to kill one of his companions accidentally, while throwing stones. The youth died a fortnight after the blow, and Andrea was summoned to appear before the Council on the charge of homicide, of which, however, he was fully acquitted.

At what age he began his artistic career we have no certain knowledge, but it is without doubt that he received the rudiments of his education in the bottega of Giuliano dei Verrocchi, a noted goldsmith of his time. The style of his early work, in its minuteness of detail and sharp treatment, proves much practice in the goldsmith’s technique, and the fact that he adopted and was known by his master’s name points also to a long apprenticeship. The adoption of this name, which means “true eye,” also seems peculiarly appropriate in view of the remarkable skill shown even by his earlier work. That he was at one time in the bottega of Donatello and learned from him the art of sculpture we have the evidence of some of the earliest writers on Florentine art. Under Donatello, and in company with Antonio Pollajuolo, he must have been initiated into the scientific methods of the realistic school of which the two artists afterwards became the chiefs. That he received his training as a painter from Alessio Baldovinetti, certain imitations of that master in his early painting seem to prove, since his temperament was too widely different from that of Baldovinetti to allow the idea of any influence.

At the age of twenty-one, when he made his first deposition to the Catasto, Andrea was living with his stepmother, Mona Nanina, aged fifty-six, and his brother Tommaso, aged sixteen. They had many debts, and part of the property had been already sold to meet expenses. He declares himself to be poor and to have but little employment, and states that he had just been obliged to abandon the craft of goldsmith for want of work.

The first authentic date we have of work executed by Verrocchio is of an architectural design. In the year 1461 Francesco Monaldeschi, Bishop of Ascoli, ordered the erection of a chapel in the Cathedral of Orvieto to enshrine a Byzantine Madonna. He sent to Florence and to Siena for designs, and among the Florentine artists who furnished and were paid for drawings and models was Verrocchio. The commission was not, however, given to him.

We may imagine Verrocchio during his youth and early manhood settled definitely in Florence, engaged in perfecting himself in the technique of the different crafts he practised, and in laying the foundation of the famous bottega which became the principal training-school of Florentine art. When the multiplicity of these crafts and his proficiency in each are considered it will not seem surprising that little work, or record of work, that can be placed in his earlier years is forthcoming. To attain skill in the arts of sculpture, architecture, painting, goldsmith’s work, bronze-founding, and mechanical engineering, in all of which he excelled, besides being an accomplished musician, must have absorbed many years of study and experiment. We know that the apprentice of the fifteenth century learned the practice of his art in executing the most subordinate details of his master’s work, and it was not until he had acquired skill in the use of his tools that he was entered in the Gild of Masters and allowed to accept independent commissions.

The connection of Verrocchio with the Medici, who were throughout his life his chief employers, must have begun early. It is probable that he was first employed by Cosimo it Vecchio, in connection with a relief executed by him for the Villa of Careggi. It is certain that he executed the Tomb of Cosimo in the Church of S. Lorenzo for Piero, and from the presence of the falcon, Piero’s personal device, that he also received from him the commission for the lavabo of the inner sacristy. He was employed by Lorenzo and Giuliano constantly throughout his life in many and various works, and would seem to have taken the place of Donatello as the favorite artist of the family.

After the banishment of the Medici, Tommaso, the younger brother of Andrea, drew up and presented to the officials deputed by the rebels to value their possessions a list of works executed by Verrocchio for the family, precisely for what purpose is unknown. “The heirs of Lorenzo de’ Medici have to give for the work mentioned below . . . ” the document begins, and then follows a catalogue of fifteen works, with a blank space left for the valuation. The first entry is of the bronze `David’ which was executed for the Villa of Careggi, in all probability for Piero. Then follows a list of other works in marble and bronze, among them the ‘Putto with the Dolphin’ now in the Palazzo Vecchio, also executed for Careggi. We read of a portrait on panel of Lucrezia dei Donati, the mistress of Lorenzo; of standards painted for the jousts of Lorenzo and Giuliano; of a helmet decorated with the silver figure of a lady; and of arms and accoutrements for the Duke Galeazzo Sforza. The list is a proof of the versatility of his employment and that he carried on simultaneously the arts of painter, of sculptor, and of goldsmith.

Verrocchio seems to have enjoyed greater favor with the Medici than with the church authorities of Florence. Compared with his contemporaries he was employed but little by the ecclesiastics. From the Operai del Duomo he received, so far as is known, but two commissions, and one of these was for a bit of mechanical engineering—the casting of the bronze ball and cross to crown the lantern of Brunelleschi’s cupola. In 1477 he was commissioned at the same time as Antonio Pollajuolo to prepare models for the reliefs of the silver altar of S. Giovanni. He sent in two models for competition, but only one was accepted, which he executed in silver in 1480,—the `Decollation of the Baptist,’—one of the finest works of his mature years.

Records of Verrocchio’s work during his youth and early manhood are scanty, but from 1468 up to his death the notices are frequent. The Medici, the municipal authorities, the Signoria, and the gilds loaded him with important commissions, and from now till his death the record of his work is unbroken.

As early as 1465 he had been commissioned by the Gild of the Merchants to execute the bronze statues of Christ and St. Thomas for the tabernacle in the Church of Or San Michele; but it was eighteen years before he completed it, a long time even for those days when the patience of commissioners seems well-nigh inexhaustible. It may be that the management of his large bottega and his constant employment `by the Medici left him little time to execute other work, for he shows the same slackness, so strange in a man of his energetic temperament, in carrying out the commissions of the Council of Pistoja—the Forteguerri tomb and the altar-piece of the `Madonna and Saints.’ The former was begun by him in 1474, the latter presumably about 1472, yet both were left unfinished at his death. Other records testify to the pressure of work at this time. He was employed by the Signoria to execute bronze candelabra for the Palazzo Vecchio, payments for which he received in 1468, 1469, and 1480. In the autumn of the year 1474 he cast a bronze bell, wrought with figures and ornaments, for the Vallombrosan monks of Montescalari. With so many commissions it might have been presumed that his financial circumstances had improved; but in his declaration of goods to the Catasto of 1470 there is the same statement of poverty, of debts, and of “beni alienati.”

We have now reached the most important epoch of Verrocchio’s life—the commission for the equestrian statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni by the Venetian Signoria. Vasari has recorded that he occupied himself much with studies of horses, and it is certain that some proof of his proficiency as a master of equine anatomy must have induced the Venetians to apply to a Florentine artist. In 1479 he received the commission to prepare a model of the horse in competition with Vellano of Padua, the assistant of Donatello in the Gattemelata monument, and Leopardi of Ferrara, both well known and exceedingly popular with the Venetians.

Although no documentary evidence exists to prove it, there is no doubt, from the resemblance of his statue to the antique bronze steeds of San Marco, that on receipt of the commission he must have gone to Venice to study, although we know that the model was actually executed in the bottega at Florence. By July 12, 1481, the model was already completed, and sent to Venice by way of Ferrara, Verrocchio applying to the Ferrarese ambassador in Florence for its free passage through the State. It was exhibited together with the models of Vellano and Leopardi, in Venice, and was preferred to theirs. The commission for the bronze statue was now definitely conferred on him, though not without difficulties from the jealousy of the rival competitors. He took up his abode in Venice, hired and furnished a house in the parish of San Marciliano on the Rio della Misericordia, and left his business in Florence in the charge of Lorenzo di Credi. Precisely at what date he went to Venice has not yet been ascertained, but that he was there long enough to bring to full completion the clay model of both rider and horse is definitely proved by a letter of Lorenzo di Credi written after his death, in which he speaks of both as finished. He fell ill in the summer of 1488, and on June 25 of that year he made his will, in which he speaks of himself as “sound in mind and intellect, but languishing in body.” In this will he refers to his model of the Colleoni statue as unfinished, and demands of the Venetian Signoria that the task of completing it might be given to Credi. This, coupled with the statement of Credi above referred to, seems to prove that he must have temporarily recovered from his illness, and lived long enough after to complete the model.

The faithful Lorenzo, who had carried on the affairs of the bottega in Florence during his absence, and had made several journeys to Venice to render an account of his administration, went thither once more to pay the last service to his master and friend. In spite of the wish expressed by Verrocchio in his testament, that if he died in Venice he might be interred in the cemetery of Santa Maria del Orto in that city, Credi brought the body back to Florence, and it was buried in the family vault of San Ambrogio.

Andrea never married. Like so many of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, notably Donatello, Luca della Robbia, and Michelangelo, he seems to have had no time to touch life on its human side. He devoted himself entirely to his work, and dissipated no part of his forces in personal indulgence. There is no hint in any record of his life of any passion or of any relation other than that of family affection and friendship. Goldsmith, sculptor, painter, bronze… founder, architect, mechanician, and, as Vasari tells, musician and mathematician, he found in these various arts sufficient outlet for his energies. The management of his large bottega must have occupied also much of his time. It was, as has been said, the most important training-school for artists in Florence, and attracted besides many pupils from the neighborhood. Among his pupils the most important were Leonardo, Perugino, and Lorenzo di Credi. Leonardo seems to have received from Verrocchio his entire art education, for (if we may trust Vasari) he was placed with him as a mere child, and we know that as late as 1476 he was still living under his roof.—ABRIDGED FROM MISS MAUD CRUTTWELL’S MONOGRAPH ON VERROCCHIO

( Originally Published 1905 )

Verrocchio:Andrea Di Michele Di Francesco Cioni – Called VerrocchioThe Art Of VerrocchioThe Works Of VerrocchioA List Of The Principal Works Of Verrocchio With Their Present Locations