Perino del Vaga
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists


THERE was in the city of Florence one Giovanni Buonaccorsi, who being young and highspirited, joined the service of Charles VIII., and spent all his property in the wars and in gambling. To him was born a son named Piero, whose mother died of the plague wI n he was only two months old, and he was brought up in great poverty, being fed with goat's milk, until his father going to Bologna took as his second wife a woman who had lost her first husband and her sons of the plague. She nursed the little Piero, calling him by the pet name of Pierino, and this name clung to him always. His father afterwards brought him to Florence, and left him with some of his relations there when he returned to France. He was taken as he grew older by Andrea de' Ceri, a painter who was pleased with his ways and looks. Andrea was a very ordinary painter, and kept an open shop, working in public all sorts of mechanical things, and he used to paint tapers every year for the feast of S. John, by which he obtained the name of Andrea de' Ceri, and Perino for a time was known as Perino de' Ceri. Andrea kept Perino for some years, and taught him to the best of his power the principles of art, but was forced when he reached the age of eleven years to put him with a better master, and being intimate with Ridolfo, son of Domenico Ghirlandaio, who had many youths in his workshop, he put Perino with him. There was one among them named Toto del Nunziata, who was a continual spur to urge him on, and Perino competing with him was not long in becoming an excellent scholar.

There came at that time to Florence Il Vaga the Florentine, who was working in Toscanella, and though he was not an excellent master, work was abundant with him, and he needed helpers. Therefore, seeing Perino working in Ridolfo's workshop, and superior to the other scholars, being also a beautiful youth, and courteous, modest, and gentle, he asked him if he would go with him to Rome. Perino had such a great desire to attain a high rank in his profession that when he heard of Rome his heart glowed, but he said he must speak to Andrea de' Ceri, for he would not abandon him who had helped him till that time. So Vaga persuaded Ridolfo and An~rea to let him go, and took him with him to Toscanella, where he began to work, and Perino to help him. And when Perino lamented that the promise of taking him to Rome was delayed, and began to think of going by himself, Vaga left his work and took him himself to Rome; and when he would return to Toscanella he recommended Perino to all the friends he had that they might help him, and so from that time forward he was always called Perino del Vaga.

Perino, burning with the love of art and his desire to become great in it, was forced to work like a day labourer, now with one painter and now with another, but finding this very inconvenient for his studies, he determined to work half the week for pay, and to give the other half to study, reserving also all the feast days and a great part of the nights. So he studied in the Pope's chapel, taking Raffaello as his model, and learnt how to work in stucco, and copied ancient marbles, stinting himself to the utmost and begging his bread, if only he might through any misery become excellent in his profession. And before long he became the best draughtsman among those who were studying in Rome, and Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco, called Il Fattore, made him known to their master, Raffaello. Now Raffaello was then working at the loggie that Leo X. had ordered, and he had chosen in Rome or brought thither many masters, a company of men of worth, to work, some in stucco, some in grotesques, some on leaves, festoons, and such things; and as soon as he found that any one did well, he brought him forward and gave him better wages, and by this means many youths were perfected who afterwards became well known. Into this company Perino was brought, and soon showed himself the best for drawing and colour. He always showed submission and reverent obedience towards Raffaello, so that he was loved by him as his own son. And his name becoming known, he was employed by others, accomplishing many works in Rome and making himself famous.

In the year 1523 the plague broke out in Rome, and Perino, to save his life, determined to leave; and Piloto the goldsmith, a friend of Perino's, being at table with him one day, persuaded him to go with him to Florence. It was many years since he had been there, but although Andrea de' Ceri and his wife were dead, it was still dear to him as the place of his birth. So it was not long before he and Piloto set off one morning and came to Florence. And being arrived there, he found the greatest pleasure in looking again at the old things painted by masters long dead, which had been his study in his childish years, and also in seeing the works of the masters then living.

One day it happened that many artists, sculptors, architects, and goldsmiths, having met together according to the old custom to do him honour, some wishing to see Perino and hear what he had to say, and some wanting to see what was the difference between the artists of Rome and those of Florence in their methods of working, it happened, I say, that talking of one thing and another, they came to the church of the Carmine to see Masaccio's chapel. And each one considering it attentively, and adding his mite to the praise of this great master, all affirmed that it was marvellous that he who had seen nothing but Giotto's paintings should have worked in so modern a style, and that even now there was no one who could equal him in relief and in execution. This conversation pleased Perino well, and he replied to the artists, "I do not deny that what you say is true, and much more besides, but that no one has equalled his manner, I deny; rather, I should say, that I know many a one whose style is bolder and more graceful, and I, who am not among the first in art-I am sorry that there is no room here for me to paint a figure by the side of one of these in fresco, that you may see if there is no one among the moderns who can equal him." There was present a master who was considered the first in Florence, and he being curious to see Perino's work, and perhaps desirous to lower his pride, said, "Although this side is full, yet as you have such a desire-certainly a good and praiseworthy one--there is a space on the other side where his S. Paul is, and you can easily show us what you say, by painting another apostle by the side either of Masolino's S. Peter or Masaccio's S. Paul." The S. Peter was nearest the window, and there was more space there and better light, while it was as fine a figure as the S. Paul. So they all urged Perino to do it, because they wanted to see this Roman manner, and many said he would be the means of ridding their minds of a fancy which they had held to for scores of years, and if his was better they would all run after the modern things. So Perino was persuaded at last by hearing one of the masters say that he might paint a figure in fresco in a fortnight, and they would spend years in praising it, and he resolved to make the attempt. And the prior of the convent was called, and courteously gave them leave to paint in the place. And they took the measure of the space, the height and the width, and departed.

Then Perino made a cartoon, choosing the apostle S. Andrew, and finished it carefully, and had the scaffolding prepared for painting it. But before his coming some of his friends, who had seen his works in Rome, had procured for him a commission for a painting in fresco. There were a number of men in the Camaldoli in Florence who had formed themselves into a company called the Company of the Martyrs; and they desired to have painted the story of those martyrs who having been taken in battle were condemned by the two Roman emperors to be crucified. And this had been entrusted to Perino, who undertook it gladly, although the price was small, for he thought it would bring him the consideration he deserved among the citizens and artists in Florence. He made therefore a small drawing, which was pronounced divine, and then began a cartoon as large as the work. And when this was seen, all said that nothing equal in beauty and drawing had been seen since Michael Angelo had made his cartoon for the Council Hall.

Now Perino had long been friendly with a Ser Raffaello di Sandro, a priest of S. Lorenzo, and he persuaded him to take up his quarters with him, and Perino lodged there many weeks. But the plague began to show itself in certain places in Florence, and Perino for fear of it determined to depart. He wished first, however, to remunerate Ser Raffaello, but he would not consent to take anything, saying, "A scrap of paper from your hand would be enough." So Perino took a thick piece of cloth about four braccia in size, and fixed it to a wall, and painted on it in bronze colour in a day and a night the Crossing of the Red Sea. And this he gave to Ser Raffaello, who was as glad of it as if he had made him prior of S. Lorenzo.

Then Perino departed from Florence, leaving the Martyrs unfinished, to his great regret; mdeed, if it had been in any other place than the Camaldoli he would have finished it, but that convent had been set apart for the infected, and he chose rather to save his life than to leave a fame of himself in Florence, having already shown by his drawings what he was worth.

For many months he fled from place to place to escape the plague, but when it had ceased he returned to Rome. Now after the death of Raffaello it had been resolved to make Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco, called Il Fattore, directors of the works, that they might divide the work among the other painters; but Perino showed himself so excellent that they did not doubt he would be placed above them, being also a disciple of Raffaello. They therefore determined to attach him to their interests, and for that purpose gave him the sister of Giovan Francesco to wife, and thus changed their friendship into kinship.

And this lasted until in the year 1527 came the ruin of Rome, and Perino, with his wife and his little girl hanging on his neck, ran about from place to place seeking a shelter, and at last was made prisoner. And they made him pay such a sum for his ransom that he was nearly out of his mind; and even after the fury of the sack was over, he was so much overwhelmed by his ruin that he could do nothing in his art, until Il Baviera, who was the only one who had not lost much, made him draw for him the Metamorphoses of the Gods, which was engraved by Jacopo Caraglio.

But while he was in such misery there came to Rome Niccola Veniziano, a servant of Prince Doria's, and he out of old friendship for Perino persuaded him to go to Genoa, promising him that the prince, who was a lover of painting, would give him work; and Perino was not hard to persuade. So leaving his wife and child with their relatives in Rome, he set out for Genoa, and was received with great kindness by the prince. And the prince determined to make a palace adorned with stucco and with pictures in fresco and oil; and there Perino produced thosc works which are his best.

It is said that before his coming Girolamo da Trevigi had been painting there, and when he saw Perino making cartoons and sketches on different sheets of papers, and not beginning the work itself, he began to raise a complaint against him, saying, "Cartoons, nothing but cartoons! I carry my art at the end of my brush." These words came to Perino's ears, and being angry, he caused his cartoon to be fixed on the ceiling where he was to paint, and taking away some of the scaffolding that it might be seen from below, he opened the hall. And all Genoa ran to see the picture, and were astonished at it. And among them came Girolamo da Trevigi, and seeing what he had never expected to see from Perino's hand, overwhelmed by its beauty, he departed from Genoa, without even taking leave of Prince Doria, and returned to Bologna.

So Perino proceeded with his work, and adorned many of the rooms with his paintings, and decorated the poops of Prince Doria's galleys, and made many banners and standards, so that he was much loved by the prince, and would have been greatly rewarded by him. But while he was working there the fancy took him to fetch his wife from Rome, and to buy himself a house in Pisa. He intended, as he was growing old, to settle there, but the remembrance of Rome in the happy days of Leo filled him with a great desire to return, and one morning the whim took him and he left Pisa and went to Rome.

Nevertheless for some months he was left without employment, and was tempted to depart again; but his friends comforted him, and bade him have patience, saying that Rome was no longer what she had been. And after a time he was employed in the chapel of the Pope, where Michael Angelo painted the Last Judgment, and by degrees much work came into his hands.

But in his last works he followed the example of Raffaello, and the designing of his works pleasing him more than the completing of them, he gave them to others to carry out. He, however, who would preserve his name should do the whole work himself. But Perino had so many things entrusted to him that he was forced to employ others; besides, he had now a thirst for gain rather than glory, having prospered so ill in his youth. He acquired such an influence that almost all the work in Rome was en~rusted to him. But he had taken upon himself too great a burden, considering his infirmtties. He had to work day and night, not only at great works, but at drawings for embroidery, carving, and all kinds of ornaments, so that he had not an hour of repose, except when he sat with his friends at the tavern, which he held to be the true blessedness of life. So, worn out with his labours and the hardships of his life, he fell into a consumption, and one evening while talking to a friend near his house he fell dead, at the age of fortyseven.