Thursday, 18 May 2017

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter III: Simone Martini.

The next two chapters of Vasari's The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori; 1550) in my edition (abridged; published by Oxford World Classics) are rather short and they focus on Simone Martini and Duccio. However short though, I'd like to include some of my favourites of their artwork and give each artist a spotlight: today, then, I'll be putting up two posts, one on Simone Martini and one on Duccio. Here's the first (the second is here):

The Life of Simone [Martini] of Siena
[c. 1284 - 1344]

Truly happy are the men who are by nature inclined to those arts which can bring them not only honour and great profits but, what is more important, fame and an almost everlasting reputation; even happier are those who in addition to this inclination exhibit from infancy a gentility and civility of manners which make them most pleasing to all men. But happiest of all, finally, are those (speaking of artists) who, in addition to having a natural inclination towards the good as well as noble habits resulting from both their nature and education, live in the time of some famous writer from whom, in return for a small portrait or some other kind of gift of an artistic nature, they may on occasion receive, through his writings, the reward of eternal honour and fame. Such a thing should be especially desired and sought after by those most excellent artists who work in the field of design, for their works, being executed upon surfaces within a field of colour, cannot possess the eternal duration that bronze casting and marble objects bring to sculpture or buildings to architects. It was thus Simone's greatest good fortune to live in the time of Messer Francis Petrarch and to happen to find this most amorous poet at the court of Avignon, since he was anxious to have a picture of Madonna Laura by the hand of Maestro Simone for that reason, when he received a painting as beautiful as he had wished, he immortalised Simone in two sonnets, one of which begins in this fashion:
And all the others famous for that art,
No matter how hard Polyclitus looked,
while the other beings like this:
When Simone first received that high idea
Which for my sake he used his drawing pen,
Vasari goes on to suggest that it will be Petrarch that makes Simone immortal in his fame, and not his art. And yet he describes him as an excellent painter, singular even, though after the fashion of Giotto. He worked in Sienna, then Florence, though as Vasari notes, some of his greatest work was "ruined in the year 1560 by the monks who, unable to use the chapter house because it was so badly damaged by humidity, pulled down the little that remained of the paintings of this artist in constructing a vault to replace a worm-eaten scaffold". Fortunately other works survived; Vasari describes some, and then concludes,
... Simone did not excel in design, but he possessed a natural talent for invention and was very fond of drawing from life, and in this respect he was considered the best master of his day, causing Lord Pandolfo Malatesta to send him all the way to Avignon to paint the portrait of Messer Francis Petrarch, at whose request he then painted the portrait of Madonna Laura, which Petrarch praised so highly.
And before I turn my attention to Vasari's thoughts on Duccio, here's some of Simone's works:

Petrarch's Virgil (title page; 1336).
Christ Discovered in the Temple (1342).

The Angel of the Annunciation (1333).
St. Luke (1330).
La Maestà del Palazzo Pubblico di Siena (1312-15).
Saint Catherine Of Alexandria Polyptych (1319).
The Annunciation With St. Margaret And St. Ansanus (1333).
The Miracle Of The Child Attacked And Rescued By Augustine Novello (1328).
Guidoriccio Da Fogliano (1328).
Detail of Petrarch's Virgil (above).
Detail of Maestà (above).


  1. Once again the hands strike me, although the work seems a bit more unfocused and/or medieval; reflecting, I suppose Vasaris views...

    1. I, as ever, am still concentrating on the colours! I hope that Vasari, aside from introducing me to certain artists, teaches me a little more abut art appreciation :)


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