What would we do without our picture-books, I wonder? Before we knew
how to read, before even we could speak, we had learned to love them.
We shouted with pleasure when we turned the pages and saw the spotted
cow standing in the daisy- sprinkled meadow, the foolish-looking old
sheep with her gambolling lambs, the wise dog with his friendly eyes.
They were all real friends to us.
Then a little later on, when we began to ask for stories about the pictures,
how we loved them more and more. There was the little girl in the red
cloak talking to the great grey wolf with the wicked eyes; the cottage
with the bright pink roses climbing round the lattice-window, out of
which jumped a little maid with golden hair, followed by the great big
bear, the middle-sized bear, and the tiny bear. Truly those stories
were a great joy to us, but we would never have loved them quite so
much if we had not known their pictured faces as well.
Do you ever wonder how all these pictures came to be made? They had
a beginning, just as everything else had, but the beginning goes so
far back that we can scarcely trace it.
Children have not always had picture-books to look at. In the long-ago
days such things were not known. Thousands of years ago, far away in
Assyria, the Assyrian people learned to make pictures and to carve them
out in stone. In Egypt, too, the Egyptians traced pictures upon the
walls of their temples and upon the painted mummy- cases of the dead.
Then the Greeks made still more beautiful statues and pictures in marble,
and called them gods and goddesses, for all this was at a time when
the true God was forgotten.
Afterwards, when Christ had come and the people had learned that the
pictured gods were not real, they began to think it wicked to make beautiful
pictures or carve marble statues. The few pictures that were made were
stiff and ugly, the figures were not like real men and women, the animals
and trees were very strange-looking things. And instead of making the
sky blue as it really was, they made it a chequered pattern of gold.
After a time it seemed as if the art of making pictures was going to
die out altogether.
Then came the time which is called `The Renaissance,' a word which means
being born again, or a new awakening, when men began to draw real pictures
of real things and fill the world with images of beauty.
Now it is the stories of the men of that time, who put new life into
Art, that I am going to tell you-- men who learned, step by step, to
paint the most beautiful pictures that the world possesses.
In telling these stories I have been helped by an old book called The
Lives of the Painters, by Giorgio Vasari, who was himself a painter.
He took great delight in gathering together all the stories about these
artists and writing them down with loving care, so that he shows us
real living men, and not merely great names by which the famous pictures
It did not make much difference to us when we were little children whether
our pictures were good or bad, as long as the colours were bright and
we knew what they meant. But as we grow older and wiser our eyes grow
wiser too, and we learn to know what is good and what is poor. Only,
just as our tongues must be trained to speak, our hands to work, and
our ears to love good music, so our eyes must be taught to see what
is beautiful, or we may perhaps pass it carelessly by, and lose a great
joy which might be ours.
So now if you learn something about these great artists and their wonderful
pictures, it will help your eyes to grow wise. And some day should you
visit sunny Italy, where these men lived and worked, you will feel that
they are quite old friends. Their pictures will not only be a delight
to your eyes, but will teach your heart something deeper and more wonderful
than any words can explain. AMY STEEDMAN
FRA FILIPPO LIPPI
LEONARDO DA VINCI
ANDREA DEL SARTO
LIST OF PICTURES IN COLOUR
THE RELEASE OF ST. PETER. BY FILIPPO LIPPI, `The tall
angel in flowing white robes gently leads St. Peter out of prison,'
Church of the Carmine, Florence.
THE VISIT OF THE MAGI. BY GIOTTO, `The little Baby Jesus sitting on
His Mother's knee,' Academia, Florence.
THE MEETING OF ANNA AND JOACHIM. BY GIOTTO, `Two homely figures outside
the narrow gateway,' Sta. Maria Novella, Florence.
THE ANNUNCIATION. BY FRA ANGELICO, `The gentle Virgin bending before
the Angel messenger,' S. Marco, Florence.
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT. BY FRA ANGELICO, `The Madonna in her robe of
purest blue holding the Baby close in her arms,' Academia, Florence.
THE ANNUNCIATION. BY FILIPPO LIPPI, `The Madonna with the dove fluttering
near, and the Angel messenger bearing the lily branch,' Academia Florence.
THE NATIVITY. BY FILIPPO LIPPI, `His Madonnas grew ever more beautiful,'
THE ANGEL. BY BOTTICELLI, TOBIAS AND THE ANGEL. `His figures seemed
to move as if to the rhythm of music,' Academia, Florence.
ST. PETER IN PRISON. BY FILIPPO LIPPI, `The sad face of St. Peter looks
out through the prison bars,' Church of the Carmine, Florence.
TWO SAINTS. BY PERUGINO, THE FRESCO OF THE CRUCIFIXION. `Beyond was
the blue thread of river and the single trees pointing upwards,' Sta.
Maddalena de Pazzi, Florence.
TWO SAINTS. BY PERUGINO, THE FRESCO OF THE CRUCIFIXION. `Quiet dignified
saints and spacious landscapes,' Sta. Maddalena de Pazzi, Florence.
ST. JAMES. BY ANDREA DEL SARTO. `The kind strong hand of the saint is
placed lovingly beneath the little chin,' Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
CHERUB. BY GIOV. BELLINI, `Giovanni's angels are little human boys with
grave sweet faces,' Church of the Frari, Venice.
ST. TRYPHONIUS AND THE BASILISK. BY CARPACCIO, `The little boy saint
has folded his hands together and looks upward in prayer,' S. Giorgio
THE LITTLE VIRGIN. BY TITIAN, `The little maid is all alone,' Academia,
THE LITTLE ST. JOHN. BY VERONESE, THE MADONNA ENTHRONED. `The little
St. John with the skin thrown over his bare shoulder and the cross in
his hand,' Academia, Florence.
LIST OF PICTURES IN MONOCHROME
RELIEF IN MARBLE BY GIOTTO, `The shepherd sitting under
his tent, with the sheep in front,' Campanile, Florence.
DRAWING BY MASACCIO, `His models were ordinary Florentine youths,' Uffizi
DRAWING BY GHIRLANDAIO, `The men of the market-place,' Uffizi Gallery,
DRAWING BY LEONARDO DA VINCI, `He loved to draw strange monsters,' Uffizi
DRAWING BY RAPHAEL, `Round-limbed rosy children, half human, half divine,'
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
DRAWING BY MICHELANGELO, `A terrible head of a furious old man,' Uffizi
DRAWING BY GIORGIONE, `A man in Venetian dress helping two women to
mount one of the niches of a marble palace,' Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
DRAWING BY TINTORETTO, `The head of a Venetian boy, such as Tintoretto
met daily among the fisher-folk of Venice,' Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
It was more than six hundred years ago that a little peasant baby was
born in the small village of Vespignano, not far from the beautiful
city of Florence, in Italy. The baby's father, an honest, hard-working
countryman, was called Bondone, and the name he gave to his little son
Life was rough and hard in that country home, but the peasant baby grew
into a strong, hardy boy, learning early what cold and hunger meant.
The hills which surrounded the village were grey and bare, save where
the silver of the olive-trees shone in the sunlight, or the tender green
of the shooting corn made the valley beautiful in early spring. In summer
there was little shade from the blazing sun as it rode high in the blue
sky, and the grass which grew among the grey rocks was often burnt and
brown. But, nevertheless, it was here that the sheep of the village
would be turned out to find what food they could, tended and watched
by one of the village boys.
So it happened that when Giotto was ten years old his father sent him
to take care of the sheep upon the hillside. Country boys had then no
schools to go to or lessons to learn, and Giotto spent long happy days,
in sunshine and rain, as he followed the sheep from place to place,
wherever they could find grass enough to feed on. But Giotto did something
else besides watching his sheep. Indeed, he sometimes forgot all about
them, and many a search he had to gather them all together again. For
there was one thing he loved doing better than all beside, and that
was to try to draw pictures of all the things he saw around him.
It was no easy matter for the little shepherd lad. He had no pencils
or paper, and he had never, perhaps, seen a picture in all his life.
But all this mattered little to him. Out there, under the blue sky,
his eyes made pictures for him out of the fleecy white clouds as they
slowly changed from one form to another. He learned to know exactly
the shape of every flower and how it grew; he noticed how the olive-trees
laid their silver leaves against the blue background of the sky that
peeped in between, and how his sheep looked as they stooped to eat,
or lay down in the shadow of a rock.
Nothing escaped his keen, watchful eyes, and then with eager hands he
would sharpen a piece of stone, choose out the smoothest rock, and try
to draw on its flat surface all those wonderful shapes which had filled
his eyes with their beauty. Olive-trees, flowers, birds and beasts were
there, but especially his sheep, for they were his friends and companions
who were always near him, and he could draw them in a different way
each time they moved.
Now it fell out that one day a great master painter from Florence came
riding through the valley and over the hills where Giotto was feeding
his sheep. The name of the great master was Cimabue, and he was the
most wonderful artist in the world, so men said. He had painted a picture
which had made all Florence rejoice. The Florentines had never seen
anything like it before, and yet it was but a strange- looking portrait
of the Madonna and Child, scarcely like a real woman or a real baby
at all. Still, it seemed to them a perfect wonder, and Cimabue was honoured
as one of the city's greatest men.
The road was lonely as it wound along. There was nothing to be seen
but waves of grey hills on every side, so the stranger rode on, scarcely
lifting his eyes as he went. Then suddenly he came upon a flock of sheep
nibbling the scanty sunburnt grass, and a little brown-faced shepherd-boy
gave him a cheerful `Good-day, master.'
There was something so bright and merry in the boy's smile that the
great man stopped and began to talk to him. Then his eye fell upon the
smooth flat rock over which the boy had been bending, and he started
`Who did that?' he asked quickly, and he pointed to the outline of a
sheep scratched upon the stone.
`It is the picture of one of my sheep there,' answered the boy, hanging
his head with a shame- faced look. `I drew it with this,' and he held
out towards the stranger the sharp stone he had been using.
`Who taught you to do this?' asked the master as he looked more carefully
at the lines drawn on the rock.
The boy opened his eyes wide with astonishment `Nobody taught me, master,'
he said. `I only try to draw the things that my eyes see.'
`How would you like to come with me to Florence and learn to be a painter?'
asked Cimabue, for he saw that the boy had a wonderful power in his
little rough hands.
Giotto's cheeks flushed, and his eyes shone with joy.
`Indeed, master, I would come most willingly,' he cried, `if only my
father will allow it.'
So back they went together to the village, but not before Giotto had
carefully put his sheep into the fold, for he was never one to leave
his work half done.
Bondone was amazed to see his boy in company with such a grand stranger,
but he was still more surprised when he heard of the stranger's offer.
It seemed a golden chance, and he gladly gave his consent.
Why, of course, the boy should go to Florence if the gracious master
would take him and teach him to become a painter. The home would be
lonely without the boy who was so full of fun and as bright as a sunbeam.
But such chances were not to be met with every day, and he was more
than willing to let him go.
So the master set out, and the boy Giotto went with him to Florence
to begin his training.
The studio where Cimabue worked was not at all like those artists' rooms
which we now call studios. It was much more like a workshop, and the
boys who went there to learn how to draw and paint were taught first
how to grind and prepare the colours and then to mix them. They were
not allowed to touch a brush or pencil for a long time, but only to
watch their master at work, and learn all that they could from what
they saw him do.
So there the boy Giotto worked and watched, but when his turn came to
use the brush, to the amazement of all, his pictures were quite unlike
anything which had ever been painted before in the workshop. Instead
of copying the stiff, unreal figures, he drew real people, real animals,
and all the things which he had learned to know so well on the grey
hillside, when he watched his father's sheep. Other artists had painted
the Madonna and Infant Christ, but Giotto painted a mother and a baby.
And before long this worked such a wonderful change that it seemed indeed
as if the art of making pictures had been born again. To us his work
still looks stiff and strange, but in it was the beginning of all the
beautiful pictures that belong to us now.
Giotto did not only paint pictures, he worked in marble as well. To-day,
if you walk through Florence, the City of Flowers, you will still see
its fairest flower of all, the tall white campanile or bell- tower,
`Giotto's tower' as it is called. There it stands in all its grace and
loveliness like a tall white lily against the blue sky, pointing ever
upward, in the grand old faith of the shepherd-boy. Day after day it
calls to prayer and to good works, as it has done all these hundreds
of years since Giotto designed and helped to build it.
Some people call his pictures stiff and ugly, for not every one has
wise eyes to see their beauty, but the loveliness of this tower can
easily be seen by all. `There the white doves circle round and round,
and rest in the sheltering niches of the delicately carved arches; there
at the call of its bell the black-robed Brothers of Pity hurry past
to their works of mercy. There too the little children play, and sometimes
stop to stare at the marble pictures, set in the first story of the
tower, low enough to be seen from the street. Their special favourite
is perhaps the picture of the shepherd sitting under his tent, with
the sheep in front, and with the funniest little dog keeping watch at
Giotto always had a great love for animals, and whenever it was possible
he would squeeze one into a corner of his pictures. He was sixty years
old when he designed this wonderful tower and cut some of the marble
pictures with his own hand, but you can see that the memory of those
old days when he ran barefoot about the hills and tended his sheep was
with him still. Just such another little puppy must have often played
with him in those long-ago days before he became a great painter and
was still only a merry, brown-faced boy, making pictures with a sharp
stone upon the smooth rocks.
Up and down the narrow streets of Florence now, the great painter would
walk and watch the faces of the people as they passed. And his eyes
would still make pictures of them and their busy life, just as they
used to do with the olive-trees, the sheep, and the clouds.
In those days nobody cared to have pictures in their houses, and only
the walls of the churches were painted. So the pictures, or frescoes,
as they were called, were of course all about sacred subjects, either
stories out of the Bible or of the lives of the saints. And as there
were few books, and the poor people did not know how to read, these
frescoed walls were the only story-books they had.
What a joy those pictures of Giotto's must have been, then, to those
poor folk! They looked at the little Baby Jesus sitting on His mother's
knee, wrapped in swaddling bands, just like one of their own little
ones, and it made Him seem a very real baby. The wise men who talked
together and pointed to the shining star overhead looked just like any
of the great nobles of Florence. And there at the back were the two
horses looking on with wise interested eyes, just as any of their own
horses might have done.
It seemed to make the story of Christmas a thing which had really happened,
instead of a far-away tale which had little meaning for them. Heaven
and the Madonna were not so far off after all. And it comforted them
to think that the Madonna had been a real woman like themselves, and
that the Jesu Bambino would stoop to bless them still, just as He leaned
forward to bless the wise men in the picture.
How real too would seem the old story of the meeting of Anna and Joachim
at the Golden Gate, when they could gaze upon the two homely figures
under the narrow gateway. No visionary saints these, but just a simple
husband and wife, meeting each other with joy after a sad separation,
and yet with the touch of heavenly meaning shown by the angel who hovers
above and places a hand upon each head.
It was not only in Florence that Giotto did his work. His fame spread
far and wide, and he went from town to town eagerly welcomed by all.
We can trace his footsteps as he went, by those wonderful old pictures
which he spread with loving care over the bare walls of the churches,
lifting, as it were, the curtain that hides Heaven from our view and
bringing some of its joys to earth.
Then, at Assisi, he covered the walls and ceiling of the church with
the wonderful frescoes of the life of St. Francis; and the little round
commonplace Arena Chapel of Padua is made exquisite inside by his pictures
of the life of our Lord.
In the days when Giotto lived the towns of Italy were continually quarrelling
with one another, and there was always fighting going on somewhere.
The cities were built with a wall all round them, and the gates were
shut each night to keep out their enemies. But often the fighting was
between different families inside the city, and the grim old palaces
in the narrow streets were built tall and strong that they might be
the more easily defended.
In the midst of all this war and quarrelling Giotto lived his quiet,
peaceful life, the friend of every one and the enemy of none. Rival
towns sent for him to paint their churches with his heavenly pictures,
and the people who hated Florence forgot that he was a Florentine. He
was just Giotto, and he belonged to them all. His brush was the white
flag of truce which made men forget their strife and angry passions,
and turned their thoughts to holier things.
Even the great poet Dante did not scorn to be a friend of the peasant
painter, and we still have the portrait which Giotto painted of him
in an old fresco at Florence. Later on, when the great poet was a poor
unhappy exile, Giotto met him again at Padua and helped to cheer some
of those sad grey days, made so bitter by strife and injustice.
Now when Giotto was beginning to grow famous, it happened that the Pope
was anxious to have the walls of the great Cathedral of St. Peter at
Rome decorated. So he sent messengers all over Italy to find out who
were the best painters, that he might invite them to come and do the
The messengers went from town to town and asked every artist for a specimen
of his painting. This was gladly given, for it was counted a great honour
to help to make St. Peter's beautiful.
By and by the messengers came to Giotto and told him their errand. The
Pope, they said, wished to see one of his drawings to judge if he was
fit for the great work. Giotto, who was always most courteous, `took
a sheet of paper and a pencil dipped in a red colour, then, resting
his elbow on his side, with one turn of the hand, he drew a circle so
perfect and exact that it was a marvel to behold.' `Here is your drawing,'
he said to the messenger, with a smile, handing him the drawing.
`Am I to have nothing more than this?' asked the man, staring at the
red circle in astonishment and disgust.
`That is enough and to spare,' answered Giotto. `Send it with the rest.'
The messengers thought this must all be a joke.
`How foolish we shall look if we take only a round O to show his Holiness,'
But they could get nothing else from Giotto, so they were obliged to
be content and to send it with the other drawings, taking care to explain
just how it was done.
The Pope and his advisers looked carefully over all the drawings, and,
when they came to that round O, they knew that only a master-hand could
have made such a perfect circle without the help of a compass. Without
a moment's hesitation they decided that Giotto was the man they wanted,
and they at once invited him to come to Rome to decorate the cathedral
walls. So when the story was known the people became prouder than ever
of their great painter, and the round O of Giotto has become a proverb
to this day in Tuscany.
`Round as the O of Giotto, d' ye see; Which means as well done as a
thing can be.'
Later on, when Giotto was at Naples, he was painting in the palace chapel
one very hot day, when the king came in to watch him at his work. It
really was almost too hot to move, and yet Giotto painted away busily.
`Giotto,' said the king, `if I were in thy place I would give up painting
for a while and take my rest, now that it is so hot.'
`And, indeed, so I would most certainly do,' answered Giotto, `if I
were in your place, your Majesty.'
It was these quick answers and his merry smile that charmed every one,
and made the painter a favourite with rich and poor alike.
There are a great many stories told of him, and they all show what a
sunny-tempered, kindly man he was.
It is said that one day he was standing in one of the narrow streets
of Florence talking very earnestly to a friend, when a pig came running
down the road in a great hurry. It did not stop to look where it was
going, but ran right between the painter's legs and knocked him flat
on his back, putting an end to his learned talk.
Giotto scrambled to his feet with a rueful smile, and shook his finger
at the pig which was fast disappearing in the distance.
`Ah, well!' he said, `I suppose thou hadst as much right to the road
as I had. Besides, how many gold pieces I have earned by the help of
thy bristles, and never have I given any of thy family even a drop of
soup in payment.'
Another time he went riding with a very learned lawyer into the country
to look after his property. For when Bondone died, he left all his fields
and his farm to his painter son. Very soon a storm came on, and the
rain poured down as if it never meant to stop.
`Let us seek shelter in this farmhouse and borrow a cloak,' suggested
So they went in and borrowed two old cloaks from the farmer, and wrapped
themselves up from head to foot. Then they mounted their horses and
rode back together to Florence.
Presently the lawyer turned to look at Giotto, and immediately burst
into a loud laugh. The rain was running from the painter's cap, he was
splashed with mud, and the old cloak made him look like a very forlorn
`Dost think if any one met thee now, they would believe that thou art
the best painter in the world?' laughed the lawyer.
Giotto's eyes twinkled as he looked at the funny figure riding beside
him, for the lawyer was very small, and had a crooked back, and rolled
up in the old cloak he looked like a bundle of rags.
`Yes!' he answered quickly, `any one would certainly believe I was a
great painter, if he could but first persuade himself that thou dost
know thy A B C.'
In all these stories we catch glimpses of the good- natured kindly painter,
with his love of jokes, and his own ready answers, and all the time
we must remember that he was filling the world with beauty, which it
still treasures to-day, helping to sow the seeds of that great tree
of Art which was to blossom so gloriously in later years.
And when he had finished his earthly work it was in his own cathedral,
`St. Mary of the Flowers,' that they laid him to rest, while the people
mourned him as a good friend as well as a great painter. There he lies
in the shadow of his lily tower, whose slender grace and delicate-tinted
marbles keep his memory ever fresh in his beautiful city of Florence.
Nearly a hundred years had passed by since Giotto lived and worked in
Florence, and in the same hilly country where he used to tend his sheep
another great painter was born.
Many other artists had come and gone, and had added their golden links
of beauty to the chain of Art which bound these years together. Some
day you will learn to know all their names and what they did. But now
we will only single out, here and there, a few of those names which
are perhaps greater than the rest. Just as on a clear night, when we
look up into the starlit sky, it would bewilder us to try and remember
all the stars, so we learn first to know those that are most easily
recognised--the Plough, or the Great Bear, as they shine with a clear
steady light against the background of a thousand lesser stars.
The name by which this second great painter is known is Fra Angelico,
but that was only the name he earned in later years. His baby name was
Guido, and his home was in a village close to where Giotto was born.
He was not a poor boy, and did not need to work in the fields or tend
the sheep on the hillside. Indeed, he might have soon become rich and
famous, for his wonderful talent for painting would have quickly brought
him honours and wealth if he had gone out into the world. But instead
of this, when he was a young man of twenty he made up his mind to enter
the convent at Fiesole, and to become a monk of the Order of Saint Dominic.
Every brother, or frate, as he is called, who leaves the world and enters
the life of the convent is given a new name, and his old name is never
used again. So young Guido was called Fra Giovanni, or Brother John.
But it is not by that name that he is known best, but that of Fra Angelico,
or the angelic brother--a name which was given him afterwards because
of his pure and beautiful life, and the heavenly pictures which he painted.
With all his great gifts in his hands, with all the years of youth and
pleasure stretching out green and fair before him, he said good-bye
to earthly joys, and chose rather to serve his Master Christ in the
way he thought was right.
The monks of St. Dominic were the great preachers of those days--men
who tried to make the world better by telling people what they ought
to do, and teaching them how to live honest and good lives. But there
are other ways of teaching people besides preaching, and the young monk
who spent his time bending over the illuminated prayer- book, seeing
with his dreamy eyes visions of saints and white-robed angels, was preparing
to be a greater teacher than them all. The words of the preacher monks
have passed away, and the world pays little heed to them now, but the
teaching of Fra Angelico, the silent lessons of his wonderful pictures,
are as fresh and clear to-day as they were in those far-off years.
Great trouble was in store for the monks of the little convent at Fiesole,
which Fra Angelico and his brother Benedetto had entered. Fierce struggles
were going on in Italy between different religious parties, and at one
time the little band of preaching monks were obliged to leave their
peaceful home at Fiesole to seek shelter in other towns. But, as it
turned out, this was good fortune for the young painter-monk, for in
those hill towns of Umbria where the brothers sought refuge there were
pictures to be studied which delighted his eyes with their beauty, and
taught him many a lesson which he could never have learned on the quiet
slopes of Fiesole.
The hill towns of Italy are very much the same to-day as they were in
those days. Long winding roads lead upwards from the plain below to
the city gates, and there on the summit of the hill the little town
is built. The tall white houses cluster close together, and the overhanging
eaves seem almost to meet across the narrow paved streets, and always
there is the great square, with the church the centre of all.
It would be almost a day's journey to follow the white road that leads
down from Perugia across the plain to the little hill town of Assisi,
and many a spring morning saw the painter-monk setting out on the convent
donkey before sunrise and returning when the sun had set. He would thread
his way up between the olive-trees until he reached the city gates,
and pass into the little town without hindrance. For the followers of
St. Francis in their brown robes would be glad to welcome a stranger
monk, though his black robe showed that he belonged to a different order.
Any one who came to see the glory of their city, the church where their
saint lay, which Giotto had covered with his wonderful pictures, was
never refused admittance.
How often then must Fra Angelico have knelt in the dim light of that
lower church of Assisi, learning his lesson on his knees, as was ever
his habit. Then home again he would wend his way, his eyes filled with
visions of those beautiful pictures, and his hand longing for the pencil
and brush, that he might add new beauty to his own work from what he
Several years passed by, and at last the brothers were allowed to return
to their convent home of San Dominico at Fiesole, and there they lived
peaceably for a long time. We cannot tell exactly what pictures our
painter-monk painted during those peaceful years, but we know he must
have been looking out with wise, seeing eyes, drinking in all the beauty
that was spread around him.
At his feet lay Florence, with its towers and palaces, the Arno running
through it like a silver thread, and beyond, the purple of the Tuscan
hills. All around on the sheltered hillside were green vines and fruit-trees,
olives and cypresses, fields flaming in spring with scarlet anemones
or golden with great yellow tulips, and hedges of rose-bushes covered
with clusters of pink blossoms. No wonder, then, such beauty sunk into
his heart, and we see in his pictures the pure fresh colour of the spring
flowers, with no shadow of dark or evil things.
Soon the fame of the painter began to be whispered outside the convent
walls, and reached the ears of Cosimo da Medici, one of the powerful
rulers of Florence. He offered the monks a new home, and, when they
were settled in the convent of San Marco in Florence, he invited Fra
Angelico to fresco the walls.
One by one the heavenly pictures were painted upon the walls of the
cells and cloister of the new home. How the brothers must have crowded
round to see each new fresco as it was finished, and how anxious they
would be to see which picture was to be near their own particular bed.
In all the frescoes, whether he painted the gentle Virgin bending before
the angel messenger, or tried to show the glory of the ascended Lord,
the artist- monk would always introduce one or more of the convent's
special saints, which made the brothers feel that the pictures were
their very own. Fra Angelico had a kind word and smile for all the brothers.
He was never impatient, and no one ever saw him angry, for he was as
humble and gentle as the saints whose pictures he loved to paint.
It is told of him, too, that he never took a brush or pencil in his
hand without a prayer that his work might be to the glory of God. Often
when he painted the sufferings of our Lord, the tears would be seen
running down his cheeks and almost blinding his eyes.
There is an old legend which tells of a certain monk who, when he was
busily illuminating a page of his missal, was called away to do some
service for the poor. He went unwillingly, the legend says, for he longed
to put the last touches to the holy picture he was painting; but when
he returned, lo! he found his work finished by angel hands.
Often when we look at some of Fra Angelico's pictures we are reminded
of this legend, and feel that he too might have been helped by those
same angel hands. Did they indeed touch his eyes that he might catch
glimpses of a Heaven where saints were swinging their golden censers,
and white-robed angels danced in the flowery meadows of Paradise? We
cannot tell; but this we know, that no other painter has ever shown
us such a glory of heavenly things.
Best of all, the angel-painter loved to paint pictures of the life of
our Lord; and in the picture I have shown you, you will see the tender
care with which he has drawn the head of the Infant Jesus with His little
golden halo, the Madonna in her robe of purest blue, holding the Baby
close in her arms, St. Joseph the guardian walking at the side, and
all around the flowers and trees which he loved so well in the quiet
home of Fiesole.
He did not care for fame or power, this dreamy painter of angels, and
when the Pope invited him to Rome to paint the walls of a chapel there,
he thought no more of the glory and honour than if he was but called
upon to paint another cell at San Marco.
But when the Pope had seen what this quiet monk could do, he called
the artist to him.
`A man who can paint such pictures,' he said, `must be a good man, and
one who will do well whatever he undertakes. Will you, then, do other
work for me, and become my Archbishop at Florence?' But the painter
was startled and dismayed.
`I cannot teach or preach or govern men,' he said, `I can but use my
gift of painting for the glory of God. Let me rather be as I am, for
it is safer to obey than to rule.'
But though he would not take this honour himself, he told the Pope of
a friend of his, a humble brother, Fra Antonino, at the convent of San
Marco, who was well fitted to do the work. So the Pope took the painter's
advice, and the choice was so wise and good, that to this day the Florentine
people talk lovingly of their good bishop Antonino.
It was while he was at work in Rome that Fra Angelico died, so his body
does not rest in his own beloved Florence. But if his body lies in Rome,
his gentle spirit still seems to hover around the old convent of San
Marco, and there we learn to know and love him best. Little wonder that
in after ages they looked upon him almost as a saint, and gave him the
title of `Beato,' or the blessed angel- painter.
It must have been about the same time when Fra Angelico was covering
the walls of San Marco with his angel pictures, that a very different
kind of painter was working in the Carmine church in Florence.
This was no gentle, refined monk, but just an ordinary man of the world--an
awkward, good- natured person, who, as long as he had pictures to paint,
cared for little else. Why, he would even forget to ask for payment
when his work was done; and as to taking care of his clothes, or trying
to keep himself tidy, that was a thing he never thought of!
What trouble his mother must have had with him when he was a boy! It
was no use sending him on an errand, he would forget it before he had
gone a hundred yards, and he was so careless and untidy that it was
enough to make any one lose patience with him. But only let him have
a pencil and a smooth surface on which to draw, and he was a different
It is said that even now, in the little town of Castello San Giovanni,
some eighteen miles from Florence, where Tommaso was born, there are
still some wonderfully good figures to be seen, drawn by him when he
was quite a little boy. Certainly there was no carelessness and nothing
untidy about his work.
As the boy grew older all his longings would turn towards Florence,
the beautiful city where there was everything to learn and to see, and
so he was sent to become a pupil in the studio of Masolino, a great
Florentine painter. But though his drawings improved, his careless habits
continued the same.
`There goes Tommaso the painter,' the people would say, watching the
big awkward figure passing through the streets on his way to work. `Truly
he pays but little heed to his appearance. Look but at his untidy hair
and the holes in his boots.'
`Ay, indeed!' another would answer; `and yet it is said if only people
paid him all they owed he would have gold enough and to spare. But what
cares he so long as he has his paints and brushes? ``Masaccio'' would
be a fitter name for him than Tommaso.'
So the name Masaccio, or Ugly Tom, came to be that by which the big
awkward painter was known. But no one thinks of the unkind meaning of
the nickname now, for Masaccio is honoured as one of the great names
in the history of Art.
This painter, careless of many things, cared with all his heart and
soul for the work he had chosen to do. It seemed to him that painters
had always failed to make their pictures like living things. The pictures
they painted were flat, not round as a figure should be, and very often
the feet did not look as if they were standing on the ground at all,
but pointed downwards as if they were hanging in the air.
So he worked with light and shadow and careful drawing until the figures
he drew looked rounded instead of flat, and their feet were planted
firmly on the ground. His models were taken from the ordinary Florentine
youths whom he saw daily in the studio, but he drew them as no one had
drawn figures before. The buildings, too, he made to look like real
houses leading away into the distance, and not just like a flat picture.
He painted many frescoes both in Florence and Rome, this Ugly Tom, but
at the time the people did not pay him much honour, for they thought
him just a great awkward fellow with his head always in the clouds.
Perhaps if he had lived longer fame and wealth would have come to him,
but he died when he was still a young man, and only a few realised how
great he was.
But in after years, one by one, all the great artists would come to
that little chapel of the Carmine there to learn their first lessons
from those life-like figures. Especially they would stand before the
fresco which shows St. Peter baptizing a crowd of people. And in that
fresco they would study more than all the figure of a boy who has just
come out of the water, shivering with cold, the most natural figure
that had ever been painted up to that time.
All things must be learnt little by little, and each new thing we know
is a step onwards. So this figure of the shivering boy marks a higher
step of the golden ladder of Art than any that had been touched before.
And this alone would have made the name of Masaccio worthy to be placed
upon the list of world's great painters.
FRA FILIPPO LIPPI
It was winter time in Florence. The tramontana, that keen wind which
blows from over the snow mountains, was sweeping down the narrow streets,
searching out every nook and corner with its icy breath. Men flung their
cloaks closer round them, and pulled their hats down over their eyes,
so that only the tips of their noses were left uncovered for the wind
to freeze. Women held their scaldinoes, little pots of hot charcoal,
closer under their shawls, and even the dogs had a sad, half-frozen
look. One and all longed for the warm winds of spring and the summer
heat they loved. It was bad enough for those who had warm clothes and
plenty of polenta, but for the poor life was very hard those cold wintry
In a doorway of a great house, in one of the narrow streets, a little
boy of eight was crouching behind one of the stone pillars as he tried
to keep out of the grip of the tramontana. His little coat was folded
closely round him, but it was full of rents and holes so that the thin
body inside was scarcely covered, and the child's blue lips trembled
with the cold, and his black eyes filled with tears.
It was not often that Filippo turned such a sad little face to meet
the world. Usually those black eyes sparkled with fun and mischief,
and the mouth spread itself into a merry grin. But to-day, truly things
were worse than he ever remembered them before, and he could remember
fairly bad times, too, if he tried.
Other children had their fathers and mothers who gave them food and
clothes, but he seemed to be quite different, and never had had any
one to care for him. True, there was his aunt, old Mona Lapaccia, who
said he had once had a father and mother like other boys, but she always
added with a mournful shake of her head that she alone had endured all
the trouble and worry of bringing him up since he was two years old.
`Ah,' she would say, turning her eyes upwards, `the saints alone know
what I have endured with a great hungry boy to feed and clothe.'
It seemed to Filippo that in that case the saints must also know how
very little he had to eat, and how cold he was on these wintry days.
But of course they would be too grand to care about a little boy.
In summer things were different. One could roll merrily about in the
sunshine all day long, and at night sleep in some cool sheltering corner
of the street. And then, too, there was always a better chance of picking
up something to eat. Plenty of fig skins and melon parings were flung
carelessly out into the street when fruit was plentiful, and people
would often throw away the remains of a bunch of grapes. It was wonderful
how quickly Filippo learned to know people's faces, and to guess who
would finish to the last grape and who would throw the smaller ones
away. Some would even smile as they caught his anxious, waiting eye
fixed on the fruit, and would cry `Catch' as they threw a goodly bunch
into those small brown hands that never let anything slip through their
Oh, yes, summer was all right, but there was always winter to face.
To-day he was so very hungry, and the lupin skins which he had collected
for his breakfast were all eaten long ago. He had hung about the little
open shops, sniffing up the delicious smell of fried polenta, but no
one had given him a morsel. All he had got was a stern `be off' when
he ventured too close to the tempting food. If only this day had been
a festa, he might have done well enough. For in the great processions
when the priests and people carried their lighted candles round the
church, he could always dart in and out with his little iron scraper,
lift the melted wax of the marble floor and sell it over again to the
But there were no processions to-day, and there remained only one thing
to be done. He must go home and see if Mona Lapaccia had anything to
spare. Perhaps the saints took notice when he was hungry.
Down the street he ran, keeping close to the wall, just as the dogs
do when it rains. For the great overhanging eaves of the houses act
as a sheltering umbrella. Then out into the broad street that runs beside
the river, where, even in winter, the sun shines warmly if it shines
Filippo paused at the corner of the Ponte alla Carraja to watch the
struggles of a poor mule which was trying to pull a huge cartload of
wood up the steep incline of the bridge. It was so exciting that for
a moment he forgot how cold and hungry he was, as he shouted and screamed
directions with the rest of the crowd, darted in and out in his eagerness
to help, and only got into every one's way.
That excitement over, Filippo felt in better spirits and ran quickly
across the bridge. He soon threaded his way to a poor street that led
towards one of the city gates, where everything looked dirtier and more
cheerless than ever. He had not expected a welcome, and he certainly
did not get one, as, after climbing the steep stairs, he cautiously
pushed open the door and peeped in.
His aunt's thin face looked dark and angry. Poor soul, she had had no
breakfast either, and there would be no food that day unless her work
was finished. And here was this troublesome boy back again, when she
thought she had got rid of him for the day
`Away!' she shouted crossly. `What dost thou mean by coming back so
soon? Away, and seek thy living in the streets.'
`It is too cold,' said the boy, creeping into the bare room, `and I
`Hungry!' and poor Mona Lapaccia cast her eyes upwards, as if she would
ask the saints if they too were not filled with surprise to hear this
word. `And when art thou anything else? It is ever the same story with
thee: eat, eat, eat. Now, the saints help me, I have borne this burden
long enough. I will see if I cannot shift it on to other shoulders.'
She rose as she spoke, tied her yellow handkerchief over her head and
smoothed out her apron. Then she caught Filippo by his shoulder and
gave him a good shake, just to teach him how wrong it was to talk of
being hungry, and pushing him in front of her they went downstairs together.
`Where art thou going?' gasped the boy as she dragged him swiftly along
`Wait and thou shalt see,' she answered shortly; `and do thou mind thy
manners, else will I mind them for thee.'
Filippo ran along a little quicker on hearing this advice. He had but
a dim notion of what minding his manners might mean, but he guessed
fairly well what would happen if his aunt minded them. Ah! here they
were at the great square of the Carmine. He had often crept into the
church to get warm and to see those wonderful pictures on the walls.
Could they be going there now?
But it was towards the convent door that Mona Lapaccia bent her steps,
and, when she had rung the bell, she gave Filippo's shoulder a final
shake, and pulled his coat straight and smoothed his hair.
A fat, good-natured brother let them in, and led them through the many
passages into a room where the prior sat finishing his midday meal.
Filippo's hungry eyes were immediately fixed on a piece of bread which
lay upon the table, and the kindly prior smiled as he nodded his head
Not another invitation did Filippo need; like a bird he darted forward
and snatched the piece of good white bread, and holding it in both hands
he began to munch to his heart's content. How long it was since he had
tasted anything like this! It was so delicious that for a few blissful
moments he forgot where he was, forgot his aunt and the great man who
was looking at him with such kind eyes.
But presently he heard his own name spoken and then he looked up and
remembered. `And so, Filippo, thou wouldst become a monk?' the prior
was saying. `Let me see--how old art thou?'
`Eight years old, your reverence,' said Mona Lapaccia before Filippo
could answer. Which was just as well, as his mouth was still very full.
`And it is thy desire to leave the world, and enter our convent?' continued
the prior. `Art thou willing to give up all, that thou mayest become
a servant of God?'
The little dirty brown hands clutched the bread in dismay. Did the kind
man mean that he was to give up his bread when he had scarcely eaten
half of it?
`No, no; eat thy bread, child,' said the prior, with an understanding
nod. `Thou art but a babe, but we will make a good monk of thee yet.'
Then, indeed, began happy days for Filippo. No more threadbare coats,
but a warm little brown serge robe, tied round the waist with a rope
whose ends grew daily shorter as the way round his waist grew longer.
No more lupin skins and whiffs of fried polenta, but food enough and
to spare; such food as he had not dreamt of before, and always as much
as he could eat.
Filippo was as happy as the day was long. He had always been a merry
little soul even when life had been hard and food scarce, and now he
would not have changed his lot with the saints in Paradise.
But the good brothers began to think it was time Filippo should do something
besides play and eat.
`Let us see what the child is fit for,' they said.
So Filippo was called in to sit on the bench with the boys and learn
his A B C. That was dreadfully dull work. He could never remember the
names of those queer signs. Their shapes he knew quite well, and he
could draw them carefully in his copy- book, but their names were too
much for him. And as to the Latin which the good monks tried to teach
him, they might as well have tried to teach a monkey.
All the brightness faded from Filippo's face the moment a book was put
before him, and he looked so dull and stupid that the brothers were
in despair. Then for a little things seemed to improve. Filippo suddenly
lost his stupid look as he bent over the pages, and his eyes were bright
`Aha!' said one brother nudging the other, `the boy has found his brains
But great indeed was their wrath and disappointment when they looked
over his shoulder. Instead of learning his lessons, Filippo had been
making all sorts of queer drawings round the margin of the page. The
A's and B's had noses and eyes, and looked out with little grinning
faces. The long music notes had legs and arms and were dancing about
like little black imps. Everything was scribbled over with the naughty
This was really too much, and Filippo must be taken at once before the
`What, in disgrace again?' asked the kindly old man. `What has the child
`We can teach him nothing,' said the brother, shaking a severe finger
at Filippo, who hung his head. `He cannot even learn his A B C. And
besides, he spoils his books, ay, and even the walls and benches, by
drawing such things as these upon them.' And the indignant monk held
out the book where all those naughty figures were dancing over the page.
The prior took the book and looked at it closely.
`What makes thee do these things?' he asked the boy, who stood first
on one foot and then on the other, twisting his rope in his fingers.
At the sound of the kind voice, the boy looked up, and his face broke
into a smile.
`Indeed, I cannot help it, Father,' he said. `It is the fault of these,'
and he spread out his ten little brown fingers.
The prior laughed.
`Well,' he said, `we will not turn thee out, though they do say thou
wilt never make a monk. Perhaps we may teach these ten little rascals
to do good work, even if we cannot put learning into that round head
So instead of books and Latin lessons, the good monks tried a different
plan. Filippo was given as a pupil to good Brother Anselmo, whose work
it was to draw the delicate pictures and letters for the convent prayer-books.
This was a different kind of lesson, indeed. Filippo's eyes shone with
eagerness as he bent over his work and tried to copy the beautiful lines
and curves which the master set for him.
There were other boys in the class as well, and Filippo looked at their
work with great admiration. One boy especially, who was bigger than
Filippo, and who had a kind merry face, made such beautiful copies that
Filippo always tried to sit next him if possible. Very soon the boys
became great friends.
Diamante, as the elder boy was called, was pleased to be admired so
much by the little new pupil; but as time went on, his pride in his
own work grew less as he saw with amazement how quickly Filippo's little
brown fingers learned to draw straighter lines and more beautiful curves
than any he could manage. Brother Anselmo, too, would watch the boy
at work, and his saintly old face beamed with pleasure as he looked.
`He will pass us all, and leave us far behind, this child who is too
stupid to learn his A B C,' he would say, and his face shone with unselfish
Then when the boys grew older, they were allowed to go into the church
and watch those wonderful frescoes, which grew under the hand of the
great awkward painter, `Ugly Tom,' as he was called.
Together Filippo and Diamante stood and watched with awe, learning lessons
there which the good father had not been able to teach. Then they would
begin to put into practice what they had learned, and try to copy in
their own pictures the work of the great master.
`Thou hast the knack of it, Filippo,' Diamante would say as he looked
with envy at the figures Filippo drew so easily.
`Thy pictures are also good,' Filippo would answer quickly, `and thou
thyself art better than any one else in the convent.'
There was no complaint now of Filippo's dullness. He soon learned all
that the painter-monks could teach him, and as years passed on the prior
would rub his hands in delight to think that here was an artist, one
of themselves, who would soon be able to paint the walls of the church
and convent, and make them as famous as the convent of San Marco had
been made famous by its angelical painter.
Then one day he called Filippo to him.
`My son,' he said, `you have learned well, and it is time now to turn
your work to some account. Go into the cloister where the walls have
been but newly whitewashed, and let us see what kind of pictures thou
With burning cheeks and shining eyes, Filippo began his work. Day after
day he stood on the scaffolding, with his brown robe pinned back and
his bare arm moving swiftly as he drew figure after figure on the smooth
He did not pause to think what he would draw, the figures seemed to
grow like magic under his touch. There were the monks in their brown
and white robes, fat and laughing, or lean and anxious- minded. There
were the people who came to say their prayers in church, little children
clinging to their mothers' skirts, beggars and rich folks, even the
stray dog that sometimes wandered in. Yes, and the pretty girls who
laughed and talked in whispers. He drew them all, just as he had often
seen them. Then, when the last piece of wall was covered, he stopped
The news soon spread through all the convent that Brother Filippo had
finished his picture, and all the monks came hurrying to see. The scaffolding
was taken down, and then they all stood round, gazing with round eyes
and open mouths. They had never seen anything like it before, and at
first there was silence except for one long drawn `ah-h.'
Then one by one they began to laugh and talk, and point with eager,
excited fingers. `Look,' cried one, `there is Brother Giovanni; I would
know his smile among a hundred.'
`There is that beggar who comes each day to ask for soup,' cried another.
`And there is his dog,' shouted a third.
`Look at the maid who kneels in front,' said Fra Diamante in a hushed
voice, `is she not as fair as any saint?'
Then suddenly there was silence, and the brothers looked ashamed of
the noise they had been making, as the prior himself looked down on
them from the steps above.
`What is all this?' he asked. And his voice sounded grave and displeased
as he looked from the wall to the crowd of eager monks. Then he turned
to Filippo. `Are these the pictures I ordered thee to paint?' he asked.
`Is this the kind of painting to do honour to God and to our Church?
Will these mere human figures help men to remember the saints, teach
them to look up to heaven, or help them with their prayers? Quick, rub
them out, and paint your pictures for heaven and not for earth.'
Filippo hung his head, the crowd of admiring monks swiftly disappeared,
and he was left to begin his work all over again.
It was so difficult for Filippo to keep his thoughts fixed on heaven,
and not to think of earth. He did so love the merry world, and his fingers,
those same ten brown rascals which had got him into trouble when he
was a child, always longed to draw just the faces that he saw every
day. The pretty face of the little maid kneeling at her prayers was
so real and so delightful, and the Madonna and angels seemed so solemn
and far off.
Still no one would have pictures which did not tell of saints and angels,
so he must paint the best he could. After all, it was easy to put on
wings and golden haloes until the earthly things took on a heavenly
But the convent life grew daily more and more wearisome now to Filippo.
The world, which he had been so willing to give up for a piece of good
white bread when he was eight years old, now seemed full of all the
things he loved best.
The more he thought of it, the more he longed to see other places outside
the convent walls, and other faces besides the monks and the people
who came to church.
And so one dark night, when all the brothers were asleep and the bells
had just rung the midnight hour, Fra Filippo stole out of his cell,
unlocked the convent door, and ran swiftly out into the quiet street.
How good it felt to be free! The very street itself seemed like an old
friend, welcoming him with open arms. On and on he ran until he came
to the city gates of San Frediano, there to wait until he could slip
through unnoticed when the gates were opened at the dawn of day. Then
on again until Florence and the convent were left behind and the whole
world lay before him.
There was no difficulty about living, for the people gave him food and
money, and good-natured countrymen would stop their carts and offer
him a lift along the straight white dusty roads. So by and by he reached
Ancona and saw for the first time the sea.
Filippo gazed and gazed, forgetting everything else as he drank in the
beauty of that great stretch of quivering blue, while in his ears sounded
words which he had almost forgotten--words which had fallen on heedless
ears at matins or vespers--and which never had held any meaning for
him before: `And before the throne was a sea of glass, like unto crystal.'
He stood still for a few minutes and then the heavenly vision faded,
and like any other boy he forgot all about beauty and colour, and only
longed to be out in a boat enjoying the strange new delight.
Very lucky he thought himself when he reached the shore to find a boat
just putting of, and to hear himself invited to jump in by the boys
who were going for a sail.
Away they went, further and further from the shore, laughing and talking.
The boys were so busy telling wonderful sea-tales to the young stranger
that they did not notice how far they had gone. Then suddenly they looked
ahead and sat speechless with fear.
A great Moorish galley was bearing down upon them, its rows of oars
flashed in the sunlight, and its great painted sails towered above their
heads. It was no use trying to escape. Those strong rowers easily overtook
them, and in a few minutes Filippo and his companions were hoisted up
on board the galley.
It was all so sudden that it seemed like a dream. But the chains were
very real that were fastened round their wrists and ankles, and the
dark cruel faces of the Moors as they looked on smiling at their misery
were certainly no dream.
Then followed long days of misery when the new slaves toiled at the
oars under the blazing sun, and nights of cold and weariness. Many a
time did Filippo long for the quiet convent, the kindly brothers, and
the long peaceful days. Many a time did he long to hear the bells calling
him to prayer, which had once only filled him with restless impatience.
But at last the galley reached the coast of Barbary, and the slaves
were unchained from the oars and taken ashore. In all his misery Filippo's
keen eyes still watched with interest the people around him, and he
was never tired of studying the swarthy faces and curious garments of
the Moorish pirates.
Then one day when he happened to be near a smooth white wall, he took
a charred stick from a fire which was built close by, and began to draw
the figure of his master.
What a delight it was to draw those rapid strokes and feel the likeness
grow beneath his fingers! He was so much interested that he did not
notice the crowd that gathered gradually round him, but he worked steadily
on until the figure was finished.
Just as the band of monks had stood silent round his first picture in
the cloister of the Carmine, so these dark Moors stood still in wonder
and amazement gazing upon the bold black figure sketched upon the smooth
No one had ever seen such a thing in that land before, and it seemed
to them that this man must be a dealer in magic. They whispered together,
and one went off hurriedly to fetch the captain.
The master, when he came, was as astonished as the men. He could scarcely
believe his eyes when he saw a second self drawn upon the wall, more
like than his own shadow. This indeed must be no common man; and he
ordered that Filippo's chains should be immediately struck off, and
that he should be treated with respect and honour.
Nothing now was too good for this man of magic, and before long Filippo
was put on board a ship and carried safely back to Italy. They put him
ashore at Naples, and for some little time Filippo stayed there painting
pictures for the king; but his heart was in his own beloved town, and
very soon he returned to Florence.
Perhaps he did not deserve a welcome, but every one was only too delighted
to think that the runaway had really returned. Even the prior, though
he shook his head, was glad to welcome back the brother whose painting
had already brought fame and honour to the convent.
But in spite of all the troubles Filippo had gone through, he still
dearly loved the merry world and all its pleasures. For a long time
he would paint his saints and angels with all due diligence, and then
he would dash down brushes and pencils, leave his paints scattered around,
and of he would go for a holiday. Then the work would come to a stand-
still, and people must just wait until Filippo should feel inclined
to begin again.
The great Cosimo de Medici, who was always the friend of painters, desired
above all things that Fra Filippo should paint a picture for him. And
what is more, having heard so many tales about the idle ways of this
same brother, he was determined that the picture should be painted without
`Fra Filippo shall take no holidays while at work for me,' he said,
as he talked the matter over with the prior.
`That may not be so easy as thou thinkest,' said the prior, for he knew
Filippo better than did this great Cosimo.
But Cosimo did not see any difficulty in the matter whatever. High in
his palace he prepared a room for the painter, and placed there everything
he could need. No comfort was lacking, and when Filippo came he was
treated as an honoured guest, except for one thing. Whenever the heavy
door of his room swung to, there was a grating sound heard, and the
key in the lock was turned from outside. So Filippo was really a captive
in his handsome prison.
That was all very well for a few days. Filippo laughed as he painted
away, and laid on the tender blue of the Virgin's robe, and painted
into her eyes the solemn look which he had so often seen on the face
of some poor peasant woman as she knelt at prayer. But after a while
he grew restless and weary of his work.
`Plague take this great man and his fine manners,' he cried. `Does he
think he can catch a lark and train it to sing in a cage at his bidding?
I am weary of saints and angels. I must out to breathe the fresh sweet
air of heaven.'
But the key was always turned in the lock and the door was strong. There
was the window, but it was high above the street, and the grey walls,
built of huge square stones, might well have been intended to enclose
a prison rather than a palace.
It was a dark night, and the air felt hot as Filippo leaned out of the
window. Scarce a breath stirred the still air, and every sound could
be heard distinctly. Far below in the street he could hear the tread
of the people's feet, and catch the words of a merry song as a company
of boys and girls danced merrily along.
`Flower of the rose, If I've been happy, what matter who knows,'
It was all too tempting; out he must get. Filippo looked round his room,
and his eye rested on the bed. With a shout of triumphant delight he
ran towards it. First he seized the quilt and tore it into strips, then
the blankets, then the sheets.
`Whoever saw a grander rope?' he chuckled to himself as he knotted the
Quick as thought he tied it to the iron bar that ran across his window,
and, squeezing out, he began to climb down, hand over hand, dangling
and swinging to and fro. The rope was stout and good, and now he could
steady himself by catching his toes in the great iron rings fastened
into the wall, until at last he dropped breathless into the street below.
Next day, when Cosimo came to see how the painting went on, he saw indeed
the pictures and the brushes, but no painter was there. Quickly he stepped
to the open window, and there he saw the dangling rope of sheets, and
guessed at once how the bird had flown.
Through the streets they searched for the missing painter, and before
long he was found and brought back. Filippo tried to look penitent,
but his eyes were dancing with merriment, and Cosimo must needs laugh
`After all,' said Filippo, `my talent is not like a beast of burden,
to be driven and beaten into doing its work. It is rather like one of
those heavenly visitors whom we willingly entertain when they deign
to visit us, but whom we can never force either to come or go at will.'
`Thou art right, friend painter,' answered the great man. `And when
I think how thou and thy talent might have taken wings together, had
not the rope held good, I vow I will never seek to keep thee in against
thy will again.'
`Then will I work all the more willingly,' answered Filippo.
So with doors open, and freedom to come and go, Filippo no longer wished
to escape, but worked with all his heart. The beautiful Madonna and
angel were soon finished, and besides he painted a wonderful picture
of seven saints with St. John sitting in their midst.
From far and near came requests that Fra Filippo Lippi should paint
pictures for different churches and convents. He would much rather have
painted the scenes and the people he saw every day, but he remembered
the prior's lecture, and still painted only the stories of saints and
holy people--the gentle Madonna with her scarlet book of prayers, the
dove fluttering near, and the angel messenger with shining wings bearing
the lily branch. True, the saints would sometimes look out of his pictures
with the faces of some of his friends, but no one seemed to notice that.
On the whole his was a happy life, and he was always ready to paint
for any one that should ask him.
Many people now were proud to know the famous young painter, but his
old companion Fra Diamante was still the friend he loved best. Whenever
it was possible they still would work together; so, great was their
delight when one day an order came from Prato that they should both
go there to paint the walls of San Stefano.
`Good-bye to old Florence for a while,' cried Filippo as they set out
merrily together. He looked back as he spoke at the spires and sunbaked
roofs, the white marble facade of San Miniato, and the dark cypresses
standing clear against the pure warm sky of early spring. `I am weary
of your great men and all your pomp and splendour. Something tells me
we shall have a golden time among the good folk of Prato.'
Perhaps it was the springtime that made Filippo so joyous that morning
as he rode along the dusty white road.
Spring had come with a glad rush, as she ever comes in Italy, scattering
on every side her flowers and favours. From under the dead brown leaves
of autumn, violets pushed their heads and perfumed all the air. Under
the grey olives the sprouting corn spread its tender green, and the
scarlet and purple of the anemones waved spring's banner far and near.
It was good to be alive on such a day.
Arrived at Prato, the two painters, with a favourite pupil called Botticelli,
worked together diligently, and covered wall after wall with their frescoes.
It seemed as if they would never be done, for each church and convent
had work awaiting them.
`Truly,' said Filippo one day when he was putting the last touches to
a portrait of Fra Diamante, whom he had painted into his picture of
the death of St. Stephen, `I will undertake no more work for a while.
It is full time we had a holiday together.'
But even as he spoke a message was brought to him from the good abbess
of the convent of Santa Margherita, begging him to come and paint an
altarpiece for the sisters' chapel.
`Ah, well, what must be, must be,' he said to Fra Diamante, who stood
smiling by. `I will do what I can to please these holy women, but after
The staid and sober abbess met him at the convent door, and silently
led him through the sunny garden, bright with flowers, where the lizards
darted to right and left as they walked past the fountain and entered
the dim, cool chapel. In a low, sweet voice she told him what they would
have him paint, and showed him the space above the high altar where
the picture was to be placed.
`Our great desire is that thou shouldst paint for us the Holy Virgin
with the Blessed Child on the night of the Nativity,' she said.
The painter seemed to listen, but his attention wandered, and all the
time he wished himself back in the sunny garden, where he had seen a
fair young face looking through the pink sprays of almond blossoms,
while the music of the vesper hymn sounded sweet and clear in his ears.
`I will begin to-morrow,' he said with a start when the low voice of
the abbess stopped. `I will paint the Madonna and Babe as thou desirest.'
So next day the work began. And each time the abbess noiselessly entered
the room where the painter was at work and watched the picture grow
beneath his hand, she felt more and more sure that she had done right
in asking this painter to decorate their beloved chapel.
True, it was said by many that the young artist was but a worldly minded
man, not like the blessed Fra Angelico, the heavenly painter of San
Marco; but his work was truly wonderful, and his handsome face looked
good, even if a somewhat merry smile was ever wont to lurk about his
mouth and in his eyes.
Then came a morning when the abbess found Filippo standing idle, with
a discontented look upon his face. He was gazing at the unfinished picture,
and for a while he did not see that any one had entered the room.
`Is aught amiss?' asked the gentle voice at his side, and Filippo turned
and saw the abbess.
`Something indeed seems amiss with my five fingers,' said Filippo, with
his quick bright smile. `Time after time have I tried to paint the face
of the Madonna, and each time I must needs paint it out again.'
Then a happy thought came into his mind.
`I have seen a face sometimes as I passed through the convent garden
which is exactly what I want,' he cried. `If thou wouldst but let the
maiden sit where I can see her for a few hours each day, I can promise
thee that the Madonna will be finished as thou wouldst wish.'
The abbess stood in deep thought for a few minutes, for she was puzzled
to know what she should do.
`It is the child Lucrezia,' she thought to herself. `She who was sent
here by her father, the noble Buti of Florence. She is but a novice
still, and there can be no harm in allowing her to lend her fair face
as a model for Our Lady.'
So she told Filippo it should be as he wished.
It was dull in the convent, and Lucrezia was only too pleased to spend
some hours every morning, idly sitting in the great chair, while the
young painter talked to her and told her stories while he painted. She
counted the hours until it was time to go back, and grew happier each
day as the Madonna's face grew more and more beautiful.
Surely there was no one so good or so handsome as this wonderful artist.
Lucrezia could not bear to think how dull her life would be when he
was gone. Then one day, when it happened that the abbess was called
away and they were alone, Filippo told Lucrezia that he loved her and
could not live without her; and although she was frightened at first,
she soon grew happy, and told him that she was ready to go with him
wherever he wished. But what would the good nuns think of it? Would
they ever let her go? No; they must think of some other plan.
To-morrow was the great festa of Prato, when all the nuns walked in
procession to see the holy centola, or girdle, which the Madonna had
given to St. Thomas. Lucrezia must take care to walk on the outside
of the procession, and to watch for a touch upon the arm as she passed.
The festa day dawned bright and clear, and all Prato was early astir.
Procession after procession wound its way to the church where the relic
was to be shown, and the crowd grew denser every moment. Presently came
the nuns of Santa Margherita. A figure in the crowd pressed nearer.
Lucrezia felt a touch upon her arm, and a strong hand clasped hers.
The crowd swayed to and fro, and in an instant the two figures disappeared.
No one noticed that the young novice was gone, and before the nuns thought
of looking for their charge Lucrezia was on her way to Florence, her
horse led by the painter whom she loved, while his good friend Fra Diamante
rode beside her.
Then the storm burst. Lucrezia's father was furious, the good nuns were
dismayed, and every one shook their heads over this last adventure of
the Florentine painter.
But luckily for Filippo, the great Cosimo still stood his friend and
helped him through it all. He it was who begged the Pope to allow Fra
Filippo to marry Lucrezia (for monks, of course, were never allowed
to marry), and the Pope, too, was kind and granted the request, so that
all went well.
Now indeed was Lucrezia as happy as the day was long, and when the spring
returned once more to Florence, a baby Filippo came with the violets
`How wilt thou know us apart if thou callest him Filippo?' asked the
`Ah, he is such a little one, dear heart,' Lucrezia answered gaily.
`We will call him Filippino, and then there can be no mistake.'
There was no more need now to seek for pleasures out of doors. Filippo
painted his pictures and lived his happy home life without seeking any
more adventures. His Madonnas grew ever more beautiful, for they were
all touched with the beauty that shone from Lucrezia's fair face, and
the Infant Christ had ever the smile and the curly golden hair of the
And by and by a little daughter came to gladden their hearts, and then
indeed their cup of joy was full.
`What name shall we give the little maid?' said Filippo.
`Methought thou wouldst have it Lucrezia,' answered the mother.
`There is but one Lucrezia in all the world for me,' he said. `None
other but thee shall bear that name.'
As they talked a knock sounded at the door, and presently the favourite
pupil, Sandro, looked in. There was a shout of joy from little Filippino,
and the young man lifted the child in his arms and smiled with the look
of one who loves children.
`Come, Sandro, and see the little new flower,' said Filippo. `Is she
not as fair as the roses which thou dost so love to paint?'
Then, as the young man looked with interest at the tiny face, Filippo
clapped him on the shoulder.
`I have it!' he cried. `She shall be called after thee, Alessandra.
Some day she will be proud to think that she bears thy name.'
For already Filippo knew that this pupil of his would ere long wake
the world to new wonder.
The only clouds that hid the sunshine of Lucrezia's life was when Filippo
was obliged to leave her for a while and paint his pictures in other
towns. She always grew sad when his work in Florence drew to a close,
for she never knew where his next work might lie.
`Well,' said Filippo one night as he returned home and caught up little
Filippino in his arms, `the picture for the nuns of San Ambrogio is
finished at last! Truly they have saints and angels enough this time--rows
upon rows of sweet faces and white lilies. And the sweetest face of
all is thine, Saint Lucy, kneeling in front with thy hand beneath the
chin of this young cherub.'
`Is it indeed finished so soon?' asked Lucrezia, a wistful note creeping
into her voice.
`Ay, and to-morrow I must away to Spoleto to begin my work at the Chapel
of Our Lady. But look not so sad, dear heart; before three months are
past, by the time the grapes are gathered, I will return.'
But it was sad work parting, though it might only be for three months,
and even her little son could not make his mother smile, though he drew
wonderful pictures for her of birds and beasts, and told her he meant
to be a great painter like his father when he grew up.
Next day Filippo started, and with him went his good friend Fra Diamante.
`Fare thee well, Filippo. Take good care of him, friend Diamante,' cried
Lucrezia; and she stood watching until their figures disappeared at
the end of the long white road, and then went inside to wait patiently
for their return.
The summer days passed slowly by. The cheeks of the peaches grew soft
and pink under the kiss of the sun, the figs showed ripe and purple
beneath the green leaves, and the grapes hung in great transparent clusters
of purple and gold from the vines that swung between the poplar-trees.
Then came the merry days of vintage, and the juice was pressed out of
the ripe grapes.
`Now he will come back,' said Lucrezia, `for he said ``by the time the
grapes are gathered I will return.'' '
The days went slowly by, and every evening she stood in the loggia and
gazed across the hills. Then she would point out the long white road
to little Filippino.
`Thy father will come along that road ere long,' she said, and joy sang
in her voice.
Then one evening as she watched as usual her heart beat quickly. Surely
that figure riding so slowly along was Fra Diamante? But where was Filippo,
and why did his friend ride so slowly?
When he came near and entered the house she looked into his face, and
all the joy faded from her eyes.
`You need not tell me,' she cried; `I know that Filippo is dead.'
It was but too true. The faithful friend had brought the sad news himself.
No one could tell how Filippo had died. A few short hours of pain and
then all was over. Some talked of poison. But who could tell?
There had just been time to send his farewell to Lucrezia, and to pray
his friend to take charge of little Filippino.
So, as she listened, joy died out of Lucrezia's life. Spring might come
again, and summer sunshine make others glad, but for her it would be
ever cold, bleak winter. For never more should her heart grow warm in
the sunshine of Filippo's smile--that sunshine which had made every
one love him, in spite of his faults, ever since he ran about the streets,
a little ragged boy, in the old city of Florence.
We must now go back to the days when Fra Filippo Lippi painted his pictures
and so brought fame to the Carmine Convent.
There was at that time in Florence a good citizen called Mariano Filipepi,
an honest, well-to-do man, who had several sons. These sons were all
taught carefully and well trained to do each the work he chose. But
the fourth son, Alessandro, or Sandro as he was called, was a great
trial to his father. He would settle to no trade or calling. Restless
and uncertain, he turned from one thing to another. At one time he would
work with all his might, and then again become as idle and fitful as
the summer breeze. He could learn well and quickly when he chose, but
then there were so few things that he did choose to learn. Music he
loved, and he knew every song of the birds, and anything connected with
flowers was a special joy to him. No one knew better than he how the
different kinds of roses grew, and how the lilies hung upon their stalks.
`And what, I should like to know, is going to be the use of all this,'
the good father would say impatiently, `as long as thou takest no pains
to read and write and do thy sums? What am I to do with such a boy,
Then in despair the poor man decided to send Sandro to a neighbour's
workshop, to see if perhaps his hands would work better than his head.
The name of this neighbour was Botticelli, and he was a goldsmith, and
a very excellent master of his art. He agreed to receive Sandro as his
pupil, so it happened that the boy was called by his master's name,
and was known ever after as Sandro Botticelli.
Sandro worked for some time with his master, and quickly learned to
draw designs for the goldsmith's work.
In those days painters and goldsmiths worked a great deal together,
and Sandro often saw designs for pictures and listened to the talk of
the artists who came to his master's shop. Gradually, as he looked and
listened, his mind was made up. He would become a painter. All his restless
longings and day dreams turned to this. All the music that floated in
the air as he listened to the birds' song, the gentle dancing motion
of the wind among the trees, all the colours of the flowers, and the
graceful twinings of the rose-stems--all these he would catch and weave
into his pictures. Yes, he would learn to painst music and motion, and
then he would be happy.
`So now thou wilt become a painter,' said his father, with a hopeless
Truly this boy was more trouble than all the rest put together. Here
he had just settled down to learn how to become a good goldsmith, and
now he wished to try his hand at something else. Well, it was no use
saying `no.' The boy could never be made to do anything but what he
wished. There was the Carmelite monk Fra Filippo Lippi, of whom all,
men were talking. It was said he was the greatest painter in Florence.
The boy should have the best teaching it was possible to give him, and
perhaps this time he would stick to his work.
So Sandro was sent as a pupil to Fra Filippo, and he soon became a great
favourite with the happy, sunny-tempered master. The quick eye of the
painter soon saw that this was no ordinary pupil. There was something
about Sandro's drawing that was different to anything that Filippo had
ever seen before. His figures seemed to move, and one almost heard the
wind rustling in their flowing drapery. Instead of walking, they seemed
to be dancing lightly along with a swaying motion as if to the rhythm
of music. The very rose-leaves the boy loved to paint, seemed to flutter
down to the sound of a fairy song. Filippo was proud of his pupil.
`The world will one day hear more of my Sandro Botticelli,' he said;
and, young though the boy was, he often took him to different places
to help him in his work.
So it happened that, in that wonderful spring of Filippo's life, Sandro
too was at Prato, and worked there with Fra Diamante. And in after years
when the master's little daughter was born, she was named Alessandra,
after the favourite pupil, to whom was also left the training of little
Now, indeed, Sandros good old father had no further cause to complain.
The boy had found the work he was most fitted for, and his name soon
became famous in Florence.
It was the reign of gaiety and pleasure in the city of Florence at that
time. Lorenzo the Magnificent, the son of Cosimo de Medici, was ruler
now, and his court was the centre of all that was most splendid and
beautiful. Rich dresses, dainty food, music, gay revels, everything
that could give pleasure, whether good or bad, was there.
Lorenzo, like his father, was always glad to discover a new painter,
and Botticelli soon became a great favourite at court.
But pictures of saints and angels were somewhat out of fashion at that
time, for people did not care to be reminded of anything but earthly
pleasures. So Botticelli chose his subjects to please the court, and
for a while ceased to paint his sad-eyed Madonnas.
What mattered to him what his subject was? Let him but paint his dancing
figures, tripping along in their light flowing garments, keeping time
to the music of his thoughts, and the subject might be one of the old
Greek tales or any other story that served his purpose.
All the gay court dresses, the rich quaint robes of the fair ladies,
helped to train the young painter's fancy for flowing draperies and
wonderful veils of filmy transparent gauze.
There was one fair lady especially whom Sandro loved to paint--the beautiful
Simonetta, as she is still called.
First he painted her as Venus, who was born of the sea foam. In his
picture she floats to the shore standing in a shell, her golden hair
wrapped round her. The winds behind blow her onward and scatter pink
and red roses through the air. On the shore stands Spring, who holds
out a mantle, flowers nestling in its folds, ready to enwrap the goddess
when the winds shall have wafted her to land.
Then again we see her in his wonderful picture of `Spring,' and in another
called `Mars and Venus.' She was too great a lady to stoop to the humble
painter, and he perhaps only looked up to her as a star shining in heaven,
far out of the reach of his love. But he never ceased to worship her
from afar. He never married or cared for any other fair face, just as
the great poet Dante, whom Botticelli admired so much, dreamed only
of his one love, Beatrice.
But Sandro did not go sadly through life sighing for what could never
be his. He was kindly and good-natured, full of jokes, and ready to
make merry with his pupils in the workshop.
It once happened that one of these pupils, Biagio by name, had made
a copy of one of Sandro's pictures, a beautiful Madonna surrounded by
eight angels. This he was very anxious to sell, and the master kindly
promised to help him, and in the end arranged the matter with a citizen
of Florence, who offered to buy it for six gold pieces.
`Well, Biagio,' said Sandro, when his pupil came into the studio next
morning, `I have sold thy picture. Let us now hang it up in a good light
that the man who wishes to buy it may see it at its best. Then will
he pay thee the money.'
Biagio was overjoyed.
`Oh, master,' he cried, `how well thou hast done.'
Then with hands which trembled with excitement the pupil arranged the
picture in the best light, and went to fetch the purchaser.
Now meanwhile Botticelli and his other pupils had made eight caps of
scarlet pasteboard such as the citizens of Florence then wore, and these
they fastened with wax on to the heads of the eight angels in the picture.
Presently Biagio came back panting with joyful excitement, and brought
with him the citizen, who knew already of the joke. The poor boy looked
at his picture and then rubbed his eyes. What had happened? Where were
his angels? The picture must be bewitched, for instead of his angels
he saw only eight citizens in scarlet caps.
He looked wildly around, and then at the face of the man who had promised
to buy the picture. Of course he would refuse to take such a thing.
But, to his surprise, the citizen looked well pleased, and even praised
`It is well worth the money,' he said; `and if thou wilt return with
me to my house, I will pay thee the six gold pieces.'
Biagio scarcely knew what to do. He was so puzzled and bewildered he
felt as if this must be a bad dream.
As soon as he could, he rushed back to the studio to look again at that
picture, and then he found that the red-capped citizens had disappeared,
and his eight angels were there instead. This of course was not surprising,
as Sandro and his pupils had quickly removed the wax and taken off the
`Master, master,' cried the astonished pupil, `tell me if I am dreaming,
or if I have lost my wits? When I came in just now, these angels were
Florentine citizens with red caps on their heads, and now they are angels
once more. What may this mean?'
`I think, Biagio, that this money must have turned thy brain round,'
said Botticelli gravely. `If the angels had looked as thou sayest, dost
thou think the citizen would have bought the picture?'
`That is true,' said Biagio, shaking his head solemnly; `and yet I swear
I never saw anything more clearly.'
And the poor boy, for many a long day, was afraid to trust his own eyes,
since they had so basely deceived him.
But the next thing that happened at the studio did not seem like a joke
to the master, for a weaver of cloth came to live close by, and his
looms made such a noise and such a shaking that Sandro was deafened,
and the house shook so greatly that it was impossible to paint.
But though Botticelli went to the weaver and explained all this most
courteously, the man answered roughly, `Can I not do what I like with
my own house?' So Sandro was angry, and went away and immediately ordered
a great square of stone to be brought, so big that it filled a waggon.
This he had placed on the top of his wall nearest to the weaver's house,
in such a way that the least shake would bring it crashing down into
the enemy's workshop.
When the weaver saw this he was terrified, and came round at once to
`Take down that great stone at once,' he shouted. `Do you not see that
it would crush me and my workshop if it fell?'
`Not at all,' said Botticelli. `Why should I take it down? Can I not
do as I like with my own house?'
And this taught the weaver a lesson, so that he made less noise and
shaking, and Sandro had the best of the joke after all.
There were no idle days of dreaming now for Sandro. As soon as one picture
was finished another was wanted. Money flowed in, and his purse was
always full of gold, though he emptied it almost as fast as it was filled.
His work for the Pope at Rome alone was so well paid that the money
should have lasted him for many a long day, but in his usual careless
way he spent it all before he returned to Florence.
Perhaps it was the gay life at Lorenzo's splendid court that had taught
him to spend money so carelessly, and to have no thought but to eat,
drink, and be merry. But very soon a change began to steal over his
There was one man in Florence who looked with sad condemning eyes on
all the pleasure-loving crowd that thronged the court of Lorenzo the
Magnificent. In the peaceful convent of San Marco, whose walls the angel-painter
had covered with pictures `like windows into heaven,' the stern monk
Savonarola was grieving over the sin and vanity that went on around
him. He loved Florence with all his heart, and he could not bear the
thought that she was forgetting, in the whirl of pleasure, all that
was good and pure and worth the winning.
Then, like a battle-cry, his voice sounded through the city, and roused
the people from their foolish dreams of ease and pleasure. Every one
flocked to the great cathedral to hear Savonarola preach, and Sandro
Botticelli left for a while his studio and his painting and became a
follower of the great preacher. Never again did he paint those pictures
of earthly subjects which had so delighted Lorenzo. When he once more
returned to his work, it was to paint his sad-eyed Madonnas; and the
music which still floated through his visions was now like the song
The boys of Florence especially had grown wild and rough during the
reign of pleasure, and they were the terror of the city during carnival
time. They would carry long poles, or `stili,' and bar the streets across,
demanding money before they would let the people pass. This money they
spent on drinking and feasting, and at night they set up great trees
in the squares or wider streets and lighted huge bonfires around them.
Then would begin a terrible fight with stones, and many of the boys
were hurt, and some even killed.
No one had been able to put a stop to this until Savonarola made up
his mind that it should cease. Then, as if by magic, all was changed.
Instead of the rough game of `stili,' there were altars put up at the
corners of the streets, and the boys begged money of the passers-by,
not for their feasts, but for the poor.
`You shall not miss your bonfire,' said Savonarola; `but instead of
a tree you shall burn up vain and useless things, and so purify the
So the children went round and collected all the `vanities,' as they
were called--wigs and masks and carnival dresses, foolish songs, bad
books, and evil pictures; all were heaped high and then lighted to make
one great bonfire.
Some people think that perhaps Sandro threw into the Bonfire of Vanities
some of his own beautiful pictures, but that we cannot tell.
Then came the sad time when the people, who at one time would have made
Savonarola their king, turned against him, in the same fickle way that
crowds will ever turn. And then the great preacher, who had spent his
life trying to help and teach them, and to do them good, was burned
in the great square of that city which he had loved so dearly.
After this it was long before Botticelli cared to paint again. He was
old and weary now, poor and sad, sick of that world which had treated
with such cruelty the master whom he loved.
One last picture he painted to show the triumph of good over evil. Not
with the sword or the might of great power is the triumph won, says
Sandro to us by this picture, but by the little hand of the Christ Child,
conquering by love and drawing all men to Him. This Adoration of the
Magi is in our own National Gallery in London, and is the only painting
which Botticelli ever signed.
`I, Alessandro, painted this picture during the troubles of Italy ...
when the devil was let loose for the space of three and a half years.
Afterwards shall he be chained, and we shall see him trodden down as
in this picture.'
It is evident that Botticelli meant by this those sad years of struggle
against evil which ended in the martyrdom of the great preacher, and
he has placed Savonarola among the crowd of worshippers drawn to His
feet by the Infant Christ.
It is sad to think of those last days when Sandro was too old and too
weary to paint. He who had loved to make his figures move with dancing
feet, was now obliged to walk with crutches. The roses and lilies of
spring were faded now, and instead of the music of his youth he heard
only the sound of harsh, ungrateful voices, in the flowerless days of
poverty and old age.
There is always something sad too about his pictures, but through the
sadness, if we listen, we may hear the angel-song, and understand it
better if we have in our minds the prayer which Botticelli left for
`Oh, King of Wings and Lord of Lords, who alone rulest always in eternity,
and who correctest all our wanderings, giver of melody to the choir
of angels, listen Thou a little to our bitter grief, and come and rule
us, oh Thou highest King, with Thy love which is so sweet.'
Ghirlandaio! what a difficult name that sounds to our English ears.
But it has a very simple meaning, and when you understand it the difficulty
It all happened in this way. Domenico's father was a goldsmith, one
of the cleverest goldsmiths in Florence, and he was specially famous
for making garlands or wreaths of gold and silver. It was the fashion
then for the young maidens of Florence to wear these garlands, or `ghirlande'
as they were called, on their heads, and because this goldsmith made
them better than any one else they gave him the name of Ghirlandaio,
which means `maker of garlands,' and that became the family name.
When the time came for the boy Domenico to learn a trade, he was sent,
of course, to his father's workshop. He learned so quickly, and worked
with such strong, clever fingers, that his father was delighted.
`The boy will make the finest goldsmith of his day,' he said proudly,
as he watched him twisting the delicate golden wire and working out
his designs in beaten silver.
So he was set to make the garlands, and for a while be was contented
and happy. It was such exquisite work to twine into shape the graceful
golden leaves, with here and there a silver lily or a jewelled rose,
and to dream of the fair head on which the garland would rest.
But the making of garlands did not satisfy Domenico for long, and like
Botticelli he soon began to dream of becoming a painter.
You must remember that in those days goldsmiths and painters had much
in common, and often worked together. The goldsmith made his picture
with gold and silver and jewels, while the painter drew his with colours,
but they were both artists.
So as the young Ghirlandaio watched these men draw their great designs
and listened to their talk, he began to feel that the goldsmith's work
was cramped and narrow, and he longed for a larger, grander work. Day
by day the garlands were more and more neglected, and every spare moment
was spent drawing the faces of those who came to the shop, or even those
of the passers-by.
But although, ere long, Ghirlandaio left his father's shop and learned
to make pictures with colours, instead of with gold, silver, and jewels,
still the training he had received in his goldsmith's work showed to
the end in all his pictures. He painted the smallest things with extreme
care, and was never tired of spreading them over with delicate ornaments
and decorations. It is a great deal the outward show with Ghirlandaio,
and not so much the inward soul, that we find in his pictures, though
he had a wonderful gift of painting portraits.
These portraits painted by the young Ghirlandaio seemed very wonderful
to the admiring Florentines. From all his pictures looked out faces
which they knew and recognised immediately. There, in a group of saints,
or in a crowd of figures around the Infant Christ, they saw the well-known
faces of Florentine nobles, the great ladies from the palaces, ay, and
even the men of the market-place, and the poor peasant women who sold
eggs and vegetables in the streets. Once he painted an old bishop with
a pair of spectacles resting on his nose. It was the first time that
spectacles had ever been put into a picture.
Then off he must go to Rome, like every one else, to add his share to
the famous frescoes of the Vatican. But it was in Florence that most
of his work was done.
In the church of Santa Maria Novella there was a great chapel which
belonged to the Ricci family. It had once been covered by beautiful
frescoes, but now it was spoilt by damp and the rain that came through
the leaking roof. The noble family, to whom the chapel belonged, were
poor and could not afford to have the chapel repainted, but neither
would they allow any one else to decorate it, lest it should pass out
of their hands.
Now another noble family, called the Tournabuoni, when they heard of
the fame of the new painter, greatly desired to have a chapel painted
by him in order to do honour to their name and family.
Accordingly they went to the Ricci family and offered to have the whole
chapel painted and to pay the artist themselves. Moreover, they said
that the arms or crest of the Ricci family should be painted in the
most honourable part of the chapel, that all might see that the chapel
still belonged to them.
To this the Ricci family gladly agreed, and Ghirlandaio was set to work
to cover the walls with his frescoes.
`I will give thee twelve hundred gold pieces when it is done,' said
Giovanni Tournabuoni, `and if I like it well, then shalt thou have two
Here was good pay indeed. Ghirlandaio set to work with all speed, and
day by day the frescoes grew. For four years he worked hard, from morning
until night, until at last the walls were covered.
One of the subjects which he chose for these frescoes was the story
of the Life of the Virgin, so often painted by Florentine artists. This
story I will tell you now, that your eyes may take greater pleasure
in the pictures when you see them.
The Bible story of the Virgin Mary begins when the Angel Gabriel came
to tell her of the birth of the Baby Jesus, but there are many stories
or legends about her before that time, and this is one which the Italians
specially loved to paint.
Among the blue hills of Galilee, in the little town of Nazareth, there
lived a man and his wife whose names were Joachim and Anna. Though they
were rich and had many flocks of sheep which fed in the rich pastures
around, still there was one thing which God had not given them and which
they longed for more than all beside. They had no child. They had hoped
that God would send one, but now they were both growing old, and hope
began to fade.
Joachim was a very good man, and gave a third of all that he had as
an offering to the temple; but one sad day when he took his gift, the
high priest at the altar refused to take it.
`God has shown that He will have nought of thee,' said the priest, `since
thou hast no child to come after thee.'
Filled with shame and grief Joachim would not go home to his wife, but
instead he wandered out into the far-of fields where his shepherds were
feeding the flocks, and there he stayed forty days. With bowed head
and sad eyes when he was alone, he knelt and prayed that God would tell
him what he had done to deserve this disgrace.
And as he prayed God sent an angel to comfort him.
The angel placed his hand upon the bowed head of the poor old man, and
told him to be of good cheer and to return home at once to his wife.
`For God will even now send thee a child,' said the angel.
So with a thankful heart which never doubted the angel's word, Joachim
turned his face homewards.
Meanwhile, at home, Anna had been sorrowing alone. That same day she
had gone into the garden, and, as she wandered among the flowers, she
wept bitterly and prayed that God would send her comfort. Then there
appeared to her also an angel, who told her that God had heard her prayer
and would send her the child she longed for.
`Go now,' the angel added, `and meet thy husband Joachim, who is even
now returning to thee, and thou shall find him at the entrance to the
So the husband and wife did as the angel bade them, and met together
at the Golden Gate. And the Angel of Promise hovered above them, and
laid a hand in blessing upon both their heads.
There was no need for speech. As Joachim and Anna looked into each other's
eyes and read there the solemn joy of the angel's message, their hearts
were filled with peace and comfort.
And before long the angel's promise was fulfilled, and a little daughter
was born to Anna and Joachim. In their joy and thankfulness they said
she should not be as other children, but should serve in the temple
as little Samuel had done. The name they gave the child was Mary, not
knowing even then that she was to be the mother of our Lord.
The little maid was but three years old when her parents took her to
present her in the temple. She was such a little child that they almost
feared she might be frightened to go up the steps to the great temple
and meet the high priest alone. So they asked if she might go in company
with the other children who were also on their way to the temple. But
when the little band arrived at the temple steps, Mary stepped forward
and began to climb up, step by step, alone, while the other children
and her parents watched wondering from below. Straight up to the temple
gates she climbed, and stood with little head bent low to receive the
blessing of the great high priest.
So the child was left there to be taught to serve God and to learn how
to embroider the purple and fine linen for the priests' vestments. Never
before had such exquisite embroidery been done as that which Mary's
fingers so delicately stitched, for her work was aided by angel hands.
Sleeping or waking, the blessed angels never left her.
When it was time that the maiden should be married, so many suitors
came to seek her that it was difficult to know which to choose. To decide
the matter they were all told to bring their staves or wands and leave
them in the temple all night, that God might show by a sign who was
the most worthy to be the guardian of the pure young maid.
Now among the suitors was a poor carpenter of Nazareth called Joseph,
who was much older and much poorer than any of the other suitors. They
thought it was foolish of him to bring his staff, nevertheless it was
placed in the temple with the others.
But when the morning came and the priest went into the temple, behold,
Joseph's staff had budded into leaves and flowers, and from among the
blossoms there flew out a dove as white as snow.
So it was known that Joseph was to take charge of the young maid, and
all the rest of the suitors seized their staves and broke them across
their knees in rage and disappointment.
Then the story goes on to the birth of our Saviour as it is told to
you in the Bible.
It was this story which Ghirlandaio painted on the walls of the chapel,
as well as the history of John the Baptist. Then, as Giovanni directed,
he painted the arms of the Tournabuoni on various shields all over the
chapel, and only in the tabernacle of the sacrament on the high altar
he painted a tiny coat of arms of the Ricci family.
The chapel was finished at last and every one flocked to see it, but
first of all came the Ricci, the owners of the chapel.
They looked high and low, but nowhere could they see the arms of their
family. Instead, on all sides, they saw the arms of the Tournabuoni.
In a great rage they hurried to the Council and demanded that Giovanni
Tournabuoni should be punished. But when the facts were explained, and
it was shown that the Ricci arms had indeed been placed in the most
honourable part, they were obliged to be content, though they vowed
vengeance against the Tournabuoni. Neither did Ghirlandaio get his extra
two hundred gold pieces, for although Giovanni was delighted with the
frescoes he never paid the price he had promised.
To the end of his days Ghirlandaio loved nothing so much as to work
from morning till night. Nothing was too small or mean for him to do.
He would even paint the hoops for women's baskets rather than send any
work away from his shop.
`Oh,' he cried, one day, `how I wish I could paint all the walls around
Florence with my stories.'
But there was no time to do all that. He was only forty-four years old
when Death came and bade him lay down his brushes and pencil, for his
work was done.
Beneath his own frescoes they laid him to rest in the church of Santa
Maria Novella. And although we sometimes miss the soul in his pictures
and weary of the gay outward decoration of goldsmith's work, yet there
is something there which makes us love the grand show of fair ladies
and strong men in the carefully finished work of this Florentine `Maker