FRANCESCO DI’ CRISTOFORO, commonly called by his surname of Francia bigio, was the son of a Milanese weaver living in Florence, where he was born in 1482. He studied painting under Albertinelli, but early attached himself to Andrea del Sarto, whom he first met in the Pope’s hall, copying the cartoons of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and whose friend and assistant he became. In 1513, he painted the fresco of the Marriage of the Virgin, in the court of the Annunziata, but was so indignant with the Servi brothers for uncovering the work before it was finished, that he gave the head of the Virgin a blow with a hammer, and if the friars had not rushed up and seized his hands, would have destroyed the whole painting. Traces of the damage wrought by the angry master’s hammer are still to be seen in this fresco, which, with its bright colouring and graceful forms, is not unworthy of the place which it occupies among Andrea’s works. When Andrea went to France, Franciabigio was invited to continue his series in the cloisters of the Scalzo, and painted two subjects, the Baptist taking leave of his parents, and his meeting with Christ in the desert. Both in these frescoes and in his easel-pictures, this artist imitates Andrea’s manner closely, and follows his practice of borrowing figures from Albert Dürer’s engravings. This is especially the case in an early panel, intended for the front of a cassone, now in the Uffizi, in which Hercules is represented standing on a pedestal under a portico, and groups of soldiers and scholars are introduced.
Like his more illustrious friend, Franciabigio was an admirable portrait-painter, and several of his male heads have at different times been ascribed to Andrea and even to Raphael. A young knight of Malta, by his hand, is in the National Gallery, and a portrait of Pier Francesco de’ Medici’s steward may be seen at Windsor Castle, while several other good examples are in other private collections in England. Franciabigio assisted Ridolfo Ghirlandajo to design triumphal cars and arches for the wedding of Duke Lorenzo, in 1518, and painted a fresco of the Triumph of Cicero at Pope Leo’s villa of Poggio a Caiano. In 1523, he finished another cassone picture on the story of David and Bathsheba, which is now at Dresden, and died in the following year, at the age of forty-two. Vasari describes him as a very gentle and amiable man, who took warning from his friend Andrea’s experiences, and always refused to marry, saying that a wife only brings sorrow and anxieties. According to the old saying, ” Chi ha moglie, ha pene e doglie.”
One of Franciabigio’s best pupils was Francesco Ubertini, surnamed Bacchiacca, who began by learning of Perugino, when he was in Florence, but soon joined Franciabigio, and followed in the steps of Andrea del Sarto, whose smooth colouring and grey flesh-tones he adopted. He painted many predelle and cassoni, and six panels with different scenes from the story of Joseph, which were his share towards the decoration of the Borgherini chamber, are now in the Borghese Villa in Rome, while two others are in the National Gallery. Among his other works are an Adam and Eve in Signor Frizzoni’s possession at Milan, a large Madonna in Sir Francis Cook’s collection, and a small panel of Moses striking the Rock, containing no less than forty figures, and birds and beasts of every description, in the Giovanelli Palace at Venice. Bacchiacca was frequently employed by the Medici princes to adorn triumphal arches and decorate halls on festive occasions, and after Franciabigio’s death, paid a visit to Rome, where he became intimate with Giulio Romano and Benvenuto Cellini, who mentions him in his autobiography.
Two other artists were employed in the Annunziata with Andrea del Sarto. One of these was Giovanbattista, known as il Rosso, who after-wards entered the service of Francis I., and went to France, where he was called le Maitre Roux, and died in 1541. He painted a fresco of the Assumption in the court of the Servite church, but is better known by his graceful little panel of the rival songs of the Muses and Pierides on Parnassus, in the Louvre. The other master employed by the Servi friars was Jacopo Carrucci, commonly known as Pontormo, from his native village near Empoli, who remained during many years the favourite scholar and assistant of Andrea. His fresco of the Visitation in the Annunziata court (1516) comes nearer to Andrea’s work in grace and technical skill than any other of the series, while his lunette of Diana and Pomona in the villa at Poggio a Caiano, is both gay in colour and charming in fancy. He was among the artists employed on the nuptial chamber of the Borgherini Palace, and two panels of the story of Joseph, which he executed there, are at Panshanger, while a third is in the National Gallery. His portraits of the Medici princes, at Florence, his Gem-Cutter, in the Louvre, his bust of Andrea del Sarto, at Berlin, and his Florentine Lady, at Frankfort, are dignified and attractive works, marked by a refinement and penetration which make us regret that he ever attempted more ambitious subjects. Unfortunately, this graceful and imaginative artist was carried away by his admiration for Michelangelo, and wasted time and powers in futile endeavours to rival that master’s colossal nudes. His Venus and Cupid, in the Uffizi, his Holy Family, of 1543, in the Louvre, his Martyrdom of Forty Saints, in the Pitti, only show the folly of his ambition and the impotence of his efforts. He died in 1556, conscious of his failure to realise his ideal, and disappointed in his hopes of fame, and was buried, by his last wish, in the court of the Annunziata, under the Visitation, which he felt in the end was his best work.
Pontormo’s merits and defects were shared by his favourite scholar, Angelo di Cosimo, surnamed Bronzino, who was also the intimate friend of Vasari. Bronzino’s weakness is apparent when he tries to paint imaginative works, and vies with Michelangelo in designing nudes on a large scale. His Allegory, in the National Gallery, and his Christ in Hades, are tasteless conceptions, devoid alike of spiritual meaning and beauty. But many of his portraits are admirable works of art. Few later masters have surpassed his courtly representations of Eleonora of Toledo, and Lucrezia Panciatichi, of Duke Cosimo and Don Ferdinand, at Florence, or the full length portrait of the handsome boy in red and black, which still goes by the name of Pontormo, in the National Gallery.
CHIEF WORKS FRANCIABIGIO :
Florence.Pitti: 43. Portrait of Man. 427. Allegory of Calumny.
Uffizi : 92. Madonna and Child with St. John. 1223. Hercules. 1224. Holy Family. 1264. Madonna and Child with Saints.
” Annunziata, Court: FrescoMarriage of the Virgin.
Chiostro dello Scalzo : Two FrescoesFrom the life of St. John Baptist.
” La Calza : FrescoLast Supper.
” Poggio a Calano: FrescoTriumph of Cicero.
Rome.Borghese Villa: 177. Marriage of St. Katherine. 458. Holy Family. 570. Madonna and Child.
Turin.Gallery: 121. Annunciation.
Berlin.Gallery: 235, 245, 245A. Portraits.
Dresden.Gallery: 75. Story of Bathsheba.
London.National Gallery: 1035. Portrait of Knight of Malta.
” Mr. Benson: Apollo and Daphne.
” Earl of Northbrook: Portrait of Youth.
” Earl of Yarborough : Portrait of a Jeweller.
” Windsor Castle: Portrait of Youth.