THE school which Francia gathered about him towards the latter part of his life was one of the most notable and popular that the records of Italian art reveal.
He is said to have had as many as 200 pupils, and the names of a large number of them are recorded.
It is the presence of all these pupils, and especially of the sons of Francia, that renders the task of determining which pictures were painted by the master one of such delicacy and hardship.
Notable amongst these pupils was Timoteo Viti, who entered the bottega in July, 1490, as Francia himself records in a note-book which Malvasia saw, but which does not appear to be now in existence. The entry is to the following effect :
” 1490, July.Timoteo Viti da Urbino was taken into our bottega. He will receive no salary during the first year, and 66 florins for three months during the second.”
In 1491 another entry records the settlement of accounts with Timoteo, and mentions that he has been passed on into the studio where the other artists are at work, as he was desirous of becoming one himself.
Then, finally, we have the entry recorded :
” 1495, April 4.My beloved Timoteo left us. God grant that all blessings and good fortune may be with him.”
It is impossible to vouch for the accuracy of these entries, inasmuch as the originals are not now available ; but they are quoted as genuine by successive historians of Bologna, and may well be so. Timoteo went, it is said, from Francia to Raphael, and Francia, if the words of his note-book are genuine, speaks of Timoteo in a way in which one would speak of a young man. But, notwithstanding this, there are certain critics, for whose opinion I have a profound regard, who insist on the influence that this youthful Timoteo had upon Raphael when both of them lived in Urbino. Into so vexed a question I shall not enter in these pages, especially as in this matter I am, to my regret, obliged to part company with the critics to whom I have alluded, considering that there is too little evidence of such influence to justify the position that they take up.
As to the influence of Raphael upon Francia, it must, I think, be accepted, and there is no reason to doubt the friendship that existed between the two painters, which is so often mentioned in the Bolognese records and accepted by the chroniclers of the city as a matter that admits of no doubt.
To go a step further and accept as genuine the letter that Malvasia gives in his ” Felsina Pittrice,” and the sonnet written by Francia, both of which he claims to have discovered in the Lambertini papers, is another matter.
Both are very interesting, and reveal a delightful spirit of affection existing between two men, who were so similar in their art ; but the originals have never been produced, nor has any other historian than Malvasia, who was notoriously anxious to say all he could to extol the artists of Bologna, ever named them.
Vasari certainly tells us in very definite manner that the two artists ” saluted each other by letters,” and the fact is not an improbable one, but to accept that does not imply an acceptance of the letters printed by Malvasia.
Later critics have stated that the style of these letters is not that of the sixteenth century, and it is certainly a somewhat mysterious fact that letters written by so great an artist as Raphael should never have been produced, and that no other historian should have heard of them.
It seems to be clear that Raphael did send his picture of St. Cecilia to Bologna to the care of Francia, and asked him to see to its erection in the chapel for which it was intended, and that Francia, as Vasari tells us, executed this commission with great delight for his friend ; but the conclusion of the story which Vasari tells (with some doubt in his words), that the sight of this picture filled Francia with astonishment and so disturbed his mind as to cause his death, is too foolish to be even entertained. Such stories are often to be found in the annals of art, and there is no evidence whatever to support this one any more than others.
Not one word as to such grievous disappointment causing the death of the artist appears in either of the records of his death, nor is such a statement breathed by any of the writers of Bologna, or by those who mentioned Francia, save in the pages of Vasari.
There is a tradition that he died of apoplexy, and that his death was very sudden, and it is quite possible that the exertion consequent upon the reception and hanging of his friend’s picture may have had some-thing to do with his death, and so given rise to the fable. But Francia was not the sort of man to die at the sight of another man’s picture, even were it the finest that Raphael ever painted, and certainly not at the sight of this St. Cecilia, which can never have been a world’s masterpiece, but was ever one of the less noteworthy pictures of the great painter of Urbino.
All the Bolognese historians accept, without a shadow of doubt, the statement that the two artists exchanged portraits, and speak, as does Oretti, of the portrait sent to Rome, and of the replica of it that was retained in Bologna.
This latter was in the Palazzo Boschi, and Oretti says the figure held a ring in the hand, but neither of the portraits attributed to either Francia or Raphael come up to this description.
It is quite possible that such portraits were painted, and that information may yet be found which will enable them to be identified, but at present nothing can be said as to them.
That the influence of Raphael is to be found in the work of Francia will, I think, be readily granted, for in the grouping of his figures, in the ruddiness of his flesh, the glossy sharpness of contrasting tints, and the clear outlines, the later work of our master has much affinity with the later Madonnas of Raphael.
In ” The Adoration of the Magi,” which is now in Dresden (Plate XXXIX.), the grouping of Raphael is to be very clearly noted. The very arrangement of the picture is Raphaelesque, and the drawing of the horse and the attitude of the Holy Family recalls the Umbrian influence, even if the landscape were not there to proclaim loudly the same origin.
The love of detail is, however, to be seen in this work as in all the rest. Francia painted the golden gifts, the necklaces around the necks of the Magi, the ornaments of the servants and the jewels in their turbans, as a goldsmith enamoured of his craft would do, and yet with it all is so careful never to allow mere ornament to usurp a place that does not belong to it, but keeps it under restraint in the most judicious manner.
There is little else that has to be said about the life of Francia. He married, we know, and his wife’s name was Caterina, and her family name is believed to have been Baldi, although some Bolognese writers affirm that she was a sister of his great friend, Polo Zambeccaro. We have heard that he had two sons, Giacomo and Giulio, the latter of whom was born in 1487. We have heard of his friends Zambeccari, Achillini, Gambare, and Casio. We know of his admission to the Guild of Goldsmiths, where afterwards he reigned as master, and we have seen the entry of his election to the office of Gonfaloniere. We hear of him reigning as master in 1514 over the entire body of Guilds of Bologna, chief of all the craftsmen of the place, and we have seen how many pupils gathered around him for instruction. The names of Marcantonio Raimondi, of Innocenza da Imola, of Bartolommeo Ramenghi, of his own two sons, and of Timoteo Viti, will hand down the memory of that school to future times ; and finally we come to the entry of his death, and to the striking words that are written of his character by the chronicler Seccadinari.
It is not known where he was buried, but he is believed to lie in the Church of San Francesco, or in its cloister near to the tomb which is now occupied by the remains of his son Giacomo.
There is no monument to be found of him in that church or cloister, but the words of the historian who recorded his death, and the fame of the paintings that he executed, are sufficient to insure that his memory will always live in the world of art, and his name be handed down as one of the great masters of that wonderful Renaissance period in Italy.