Painters Of Florence – Lorenzo Di Credi

LEONARDO founded no school in Florence and had no Florentine pupils, but his influence made itself felt in the work of almost every artist of his age. Both his contemporaries Botticelli and Filippino, and the masters of the rising generation, Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolommeo, and Raphael himself, studied his works closely and followed in his steps. They adopted his method of handling colours, and tried to imitate his delicately blended tints and chiaroscuro effects. A new and more intimate note became evident in the character and expression of individual heads, together with a grace and suavity which had never been known before.

One of the second-rate masters who strove diligently to form themselves on Leonardo’s pattern, and succeeded in catching something of his charm, was Lorenzo di Credi, his fellow-student in Verrocchio’s workshop. Born in 1459, and belonging to a family of goldsmiths, Lorenzo began life in his father’s shop, and after his death entered that of Andrea Verrocchio. Here the lad grew up with Leonardo and Perugino as his comrades in that famous bottega where so much of the finest art of the Renaissance had its birth. His gentle and affectionate nature endeared him to all his brother-artists, and made him an especial favourite with his master. In his widowed mother’s income-tax return for the year 148o, Lorenzo, who was by this timetwenty-one, is described as a painter working under Messer Andrea Verrocchio for a yearly salary of twelve florins about twenty-four pounds. He must also have assisted his master in his sculptural works, for when Verrocchio died at Venice, in 1488, he recommended his pupil Lorenzo di Credi to the Doge and Signory as the artist best fitted to complete his unfinished statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni. Lorenzo, who had remained at Florence in charge of Andrea’s shop, hastened to Venice on hearing of his master’s death, and brought back Andrea’s body to be buried in Florence. But the casting of the great equestrian statue in bronze was a task beyond his powers, and the work was ultimately entrusted to the Venetian Leopardo. Andrea had further shown his confidence in his favourite scholar by appointing him executor of his will and leaving him the stock of metal and other contents of his shop as well as his household goods, both in Florence and Venice. After his return home, Lorenzo never left Florence, where he became Verrocchio’s recognised successor, and was held in high esteem by his fellow-citizens.

The range of his art was almost exclusively limited to panels of sacred subjects, chiefly Madonnas and Saints, Nativities or Annunciations. According to Vasari, he began by copying Madonnas of Verrocchio and Leonardo for the King of Spain, and did his work so well that it was almost impossible to distinguish the copies from the originals. The Madonna, in the Borghese, with the Child in her arms, leaning forward to bless the young St. John, and the wonderfully-painted glass of flowers on the parapet deceived Vasari even, who describes it as the work of Leonardo. This little picture, which once belonged to Pope Clement VII., unlike most of Lorenzo’s works, is painted in tempera, and is marked by that conscientious workmanship and miniature-like finish which made Vasari declare that such excessive care was as blameworthy as extreme negligence. This laborious and minute attention to detail, however, was characteristic of the artist, who ground his colours and distilled the oil with his own hands, and was so careful to keep his tints clear and distinct that he often had as many as thirty different shades of colour on his palette at the same time, and always used a different brush for each. His servant was forbidden to sweep out his studio, lest a single speck of dust should injure the transparency of his colours or spoil the polished surface of his pictures.

Lorenzo’s style was mainly derived from that of Verrocchio, whose sharply-defined outlines he preserves, and whose fat babies with awkward limbs and turned-up toes he imitates, while his smiling Virgins and curly-headed angels often recall Leonardo’s types. Although he never attained either the grace of Leonardo’s forms or the ardent devotion of Perugino’s heads, the deep sincerity and earnestness of the man’s nature breathes in every picture which he painted. Among his early works are the altar-piece of the Madonna and Saints, in the Duomo of Pistoia, which was probably executed in Verrocchio’s life-time ; a tempera-painting of an angel bringing the Sacrament to the penitent St. Mary of Egypt, formerly in the Convent of Santa Chiara and now at Berlin, and the graceful little Annunciation, in the Uffizi. Here the youthful Virgin turns round with uplifted hand and an expression of surprise on her face at the Angel just alighted on the floor, and through the round arches and elegant pilasters of the open loggia, we look out on a lovely stretch of green lawn and woodland shades. These park-like landscapes, watered with running streams and planted with long avenues of trees, whose spreading branches throw deep shadows on the grass, recur continually in the pictures of Lorenzo, and form charming settings for his favourite themes of the Annunciation or Noli me Tangere.

A nude Venus which has lately been discovered in the magazines of the Uffizi, and which originally adorned the Medici villa at Cafaggiuolo, reminds us that this gentle painter of sacred stories was among the artists who studied antiques in the Medici gardens with Leonardo and Michelangelo. But the fiery eloquence of Savonarola sank deep into Lorenzo’s gentle nature and influenced the whole course of his life and art. He became an ardent piagnone, and burnt his studies of nude and pagan subjects on the Bonfire of Vanities, during the Carnival of 1497. In later years he remained closely associated with the artists who had been known as the most devoted followers of Fra Girolamo. He painted the portrait of Benivieni, the poet who gave up writing carnival songs and licentious ballads to compose Lauds and hymns for the children of San Marco, and together with Giovanni della Corniole, the engraver of the famous gem bearing the head of Savonarola, he witnessed the will of the zealous piagnone architect, Cronaca. Again, in 1505, he was chosen, together with Perugino and Corniole, to value the mosaics executed in the Duomo by Monte da Giovanni, a miniature painter who illuminated choir-books for San Marco, and frequently introduced Savonarola’s portrait in his designs.

Lorenzo’s popularity among his brother artists, and the confidence which they reposed in his honesty and judgment, is proved by the frequent instances in which he was asked to settle disputes and decide the value of works of art. On one occasion he was called in to settle a quarrel between the Prior of San Marco and a patron who had ordered a picture from Fra Bartolommeo ; on another he was chosen to value the paintings of Ridolfo Ghirlandajo in the Palazzo Pubblico and a statue executed by Baccio Bandinelli for the Duomo. He was also among the artists summoned to consult over the façade of the Duomo and the repair of the cupola, and to give their advice regarding the site of Michelangelo’s David.

Among the most important works of Lorenzo di Credi’s mature period are the Adoration of the Shepherds, with the graceful boy carrying a lamb in his arms, which he painted for the nuns of Santa Chiara, and is now in the Academy, and the Madonna and Saints in the Louvre. This fine work which Vasari calls Lorenzo’s masterpiece, originally hung in the church of Cestello, afterwards S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, and was carried off to Paris by Napoleon. It is chiefly remarkable for the beauty and dignity of the saints who stand on either side of the Virgin’s throne the venerable bishop Nicholas and the chivalrous youth Giuliano with the Leonardesque face and flowing locks, clasping his hands and lifting his eyes to heaven. Both of these pictures were painted before 1508, and are mentioned by Albertini in his ” Memorials.”

In his latter years Lorenzo spent his time chiefly in repeating old subjects and executing small Madonnas for private chapels and oratories that were in great demand. In 1510, he painted the sadly-damaged altar-piece, now in the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, for the hospital of the Ceppo at Pistoia, by order of the Master of the Florentine hospital, S. Maria Nuova. In 1523, he finished the figure of the Archangel Michael, in the Sacristy of the Duomo, and a year later was employed to restore certain tombs and monuments in the same church. Finally, in 1531, being seventy-two years old, and caring more for a quiet life than for riches or honours, the aged master retired to end his days in the hospital of S. Maria Nuova, a foundation closely associated with the convent of San Marco and the Piagnone artists, where Fra Bartolommeo painted his Last Judgment, and the miniaturist, Monte da Giovanni’s brother, was organist. At the same time, Lorenzo made a will leaving certain sums to Andrea Verrocchio’s niece Ginevra and a few other friends, and bequeathing the rest of his fortune to the hospital, on condition that he should receive a yearly allowance of 36 florins, which was to be continued after his death to his old servant Mona Caterina. He expressly desires that his funeral should be as simple as possible, and that his money may be devoted to the sick and needy. Six years later, on the 12th of January, 1537, this excellent artist and faithful follower of Savonarola breathed his last, and was buried in the church of S. Pietro Maggiore.

Like his master, Lorenzo was an admirable portrait-painter, and several good specimens of his skill in this branch of art are still in existence. The Berlin Gallery contains an interesting profile of a young girl in a white, square-cut bodice, with pale red sleeves and a coral necklace, which goes by the name of Verrocchio, but is really an early work by Lorenzo di Credi. The words ” Noli me Tangere,” are written below, and at the back of the panel, on a shield wreathed in laurel, we read the following lines from the sonnet long ascribed to Leonardo, and evidently a favourite in his circle, but which we now know to have been composed by the poet Matteo di Meglio :

“Fù che Iddio volle, sarà che Iddio vorrà, Timore d’infamia, e solo disio d’onore. Piansi gil quello ch’io volli, poi ch’io l’ebbi.”

The portrait of a painter, which is described in the Uffizi catalogue as that of Verrocchio, is more probably that of Perugino, his comrade in that master’s workshop, while in a fine drawing of an old man, at Chatsworth, Morelli recognised the likeness of the sculptor Mino da Fiesole. Three or four striking heads in red chalk, by Lorenzo’s hand, are preserved in the Reiset Collection, in the Louvre, and a portrait of Costanza de’ Medici, lent by Mr. Salting to the National Gallery, has been lately ascribed by Mr. Fry to this master.

CHIEF WORKS-

Florence.—Accademia: 92. Adoration of the Shepherds. 94. Nativity.

” Uffizi: 24. Madonna and Child. 34. Portrait of Youth. 1160, 1314. Annunciation. 1165. Portrait of Perugino. 1311, 1313. Noli me Tangere. 3452. Venus,

” Duomo, Sacristy: St. Michael.

” S. Domenico di Fiesole: Baptism.

Bergamo.—Morelli Collection: 49. Madonna and Child.

Naples.—Museum, Sala Toscana: 27. Nativity.

Pistoia.—Duomo: Madonna and Child with Saints.

“Madonna del Letto: Madonna and Child with Saints.

Rome.—Borghese Villa: 433. Madonna and Child with St. John.

“Capitol Museum: 7o. Madonna and Child with Angels.

Turin.—Museum: 103, 356. Madonna and Child.

Venice.—Palazzo Querini-Stampalia, Sala IIL : 4. Madonna and Child with St. John.

Berlin.—Gallery: 80. Portrait of Girl. 100. Madonna and Child. 103. St. Mary of Egypt and Angel.

Carlsruhe.—Gallery: 409. Madonna and Child with St. John.

Dresden.—Gallery: 15. Madonna and Child with Saints.

London.—National Gallery: 593. Madonna and Child. 648. Madonna adoring Child. „ Mr Butler: Madonna and Child. Earl of Rosebery: St. George.

Longleat.—Marquis of Bath : Madonna and Child.

Oxford.=Unîversity Galleries. 26. Madonna.

Mayence.—Gallery: 105. Madonna and Child.

Paris.—Louvre: 1263. Madonna and Child with Saints. 1264. Noli me Tangere.

Strasburg.—Museum: 107. Madonna and Child.