Rustici
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists


IT is a wonderful thing that all those who studied in the school of the Medici garden, and were favourites of the magnificent Lorenzo, became excellent masters. lt could not have happened if this true Mecanas of men of talent had not been a man of great judgment, able to recognise genius as well as to reward it. Giovan Francesco Rustici, having distinguished himself there, was placed by Lorenzo with Andrea del Verrocchio, with whom was the rarely gifted youth, Lionardo da Vinci. And Lionardo's manner greatly pleasing Rustici, when Andrea went away to work in Venice he joined himself to him, serving him with loving submission. Being of a noble family, he had enough to live upon, and gave himself to art for his pleasure and from desire of honour. To have to work indeed, as many have to do, to supply the need of the day, is not good for men who should be working for glory and honour, for good work does not come without long consideration. Rustici used to say in his more mature years that you should first think over your subject, then make sketches, afterwards drawings, and then put them away for weeks and months and not look at them, after that choosing the best, set to work upon them,-which no one can do who works for gain.

When the Medici family returned to Florence, Rustici made himself known to Cardinal Giovanni as one who had been favoured by his father Lorenzo, and was received by him with many caresses. But the ways of the court did not please him, being contrary to his nature, which was quiet and sincere, and not full of envy and ambition.

When he had gained some reputation, the consuls of the Guild of the Merchants entrusted to him the making of three bronze figures for the door of S. Giovanni, the subject being S. John preaching, with a Levite and Pharisee beside him. The work was greatly to his taste, being for a place so celebrated and important. He would have nobody near him when he worked but Lionardo da Vinci, who, while he was making the mould, and in fact until the statues were cast, did not leave him, so that many said (but they did not really know), that Lionardo worked at them himself, or at least aided him with his counsel. While he was working upon them Rustici, not liking the annoyance of having to ask the consuls or their servants for money, sold a farm which he had outside Florence. But after all the expense and trouble, he was badly remunerated by the consuls and the citizens. For one of the Ridolfi, out of private spite, or perhaps because Rustici had not shown him enough honour, nor let him see the figures before they were finished, was always against him. And when his work was to be valued, Rustici having called Michael Angelo Buonarroti to act for him, at the persuasion of Ridolfi, Baccio d'Agnolo was named for the other side. At this Rustici was much grieved, saying before them all that it was strange that a wood carver should have to value the labours of a statuary, and almost told the magistrates they were a herd of oxen, to which Ridolfi answered that Rustici was a proud, arrogant man. But what was worse, the work, which was well worth two thousand crowns, was only estimated at five hundred, and this was never entirely paid, but only four hundred, through the intercession of Cardinal Giulio de' Medici. Rustici therefore, almost in despair, resolved never to work for the public again, nor to undertake anything where the matter would depend upon more than one man.

So he withdrew into private, and lived a solitary life, only working for pastime and not to be idle. He used to go and stroll about outside the city, taking off his long robe and carrying it over his shoulder; and once, finding it hot, he hid it in a wood among some bushes, and going on to the palace of the Salviati, stayed there two days before he remembe~ed it. Then sending one of his men to seek for it, when he saw he had found it, he exclaimed, "The world is too good; it will not last long." He was a man of great kindness and very good to the poor, and would never let any one go away without assistance, but keeping his money in a basket, whether he had little or much, he gave to those who asked. A poor man, therefore, who often went to him for alms, seeing him always go to the basket, said, not thinking to be heard, "Oh, if I only had what is in that basket, my difficulties would soon be over." Rustici heard him, and looking at him fixedly said, "Come here, I will content you," and he emptied the basket into a corner of his cloak. Niccolo Buoni, a great friend of his, managed all his ms.tters for him, and gave him so much money every week. There never was a man who delighted more in animals. He had a porcupine which was so tame that it went about under the table like a dog, and used to rub itself against people's legs and make them draw back very quickly. He had an eagle, and a crow who could say many things as clearly as a human being. He also gave himself to necromancy, and by the things he did caused great terror to his pupils and acquaintances. He had walled up a place like a fishpond, and in this he kept a great many snakes and worms, which could not get out, and he used to take great pleasure in standing watching their mad gambols.

There used to assemble in his rooms a number of good fellows called the Company of the Saucepan, which was limited to twelve members, and each one of the twelve might bring four and no more to their suppers. And each one was bound to bring something to the supper made with skill and invention, and when he came he presented it to the master of the feast, who handed it on to any one he liked. One evening when Rustici was giving a supper to his Company of the Saucepan, he ordered that, instead of a table, a great kettle or saucepan should be made out of a wine vat, and they all sat inside it, and it was lighted from the handle which was over their heads. And when they were all comfortably settled, there rose up in the middle a tree with many branches bearing the supper, that is, the food on plates. And then it descended again and brought up a second course, and afterwards a third, and so on, while there were servants going round with precious wines and musicians playing below. This was greatly praised by the men of the Company. Rustici's dish that time was a cauldron made of pastry, in which Ulysses was dipping his father to make him young again. The two figures were capons with their limbs arranged to make them look like men. Andrea del Sarto, who was one of the Company, presented a tem ple with eight sides, like S. Giovanni, but resting on columns. The pavement was of gelatine, like differentcoloured mosaics; the pillars, which looked like porphyry, were great sausages, the base and capitals of Parmesan cheese, the cornices of sugar, and the tribunes of marchpane. In the middle was placed the choir desk of cold veal, with a book of macaroni paste, having the letters and notes for singing made with peppercorns, and those who were singing were thrushes with their beaks open and wearing little surplices, and behind these for the bassi were two fat pigeons, with six ortolans for the soprani. Spillo, another member, brought the model of a smith, made of a great goose, or some such bird, with all the tools for mending the saucepan if it were necessary. Domenico Puligo brought a roast pig, made to represent a girl with her distaff by her side watching a brood of chickens. The other things represented were also very good, but we cannot tell them one by one.

There was also the Company of the Trowel to which Giovan Francesco belonged, and which began in this way. A supper was being given by Feo d'Agnolo, a humpbacked piper and a very amusing fellow, in his garden in the Campaccio, and while they were eating their ricotta, Il Baja, one of the guests, noticed a little heap of mortar, with a trowel lying by it, as a mason had left it the day before. Taking a little of the mortar on the trowel, he popped it into Feo's mouth, which happened to be opening for a great mouthful of ricotta, upon which all the company cried aloud, "A trowel! a trowe !" Out of this incident the Company was formed, which was to contain twentyfour members, the sign of which was a trowel (cazzuola), to which they added those little black vessels with a large body and a tail which are also called cazzuole. Their patron saint was S. Andrew, and they celebrated his feast day with a solemn supper.

Before many years had passed it grew into such reputation that Giuliano de' Medici and many other important people joined it. Their feasts were innumerable. On one occasion, under the direction of Bugiardino and Rustici, they all appeared in the dress of masons and labourers, and set to work to build an edifice for the Company with ricotta for mortar, cheese for sand. The bricks, carried in baskets and barrows, were loaves of bread and cakes. But their building being pronounced badly done, it was condemned to be pulled down, upon which they threw themselves upon the materials and devoured them all. At the end, when it was time to break up, there came a cleverly managed shower of rain with much thunder, which forced them to leave off work and return home.

Another time Ceres seeking Proserpine came to the members of the Company and prayed them to accompany her to the lower regions. Descending, they found Pluto, who refused to give her up, but invited them to his wedding feast, where all the provisions were in the form of horrid and disgusting animals, snakes, spiders, frogs, and scorpions, and such creatures, which being opened contained food of the most delicate kinds.

Another time the master of the feast, intending to reprove some who had spent too much on the banquets of the Company, eating themselves alive, as the expression is, arranged his banquet in this way. At the place where they were used to meet, he caused to be painted on the facade such figures as are usually seen represented on the outside of an almshouse or hospital, the master receiving the poor and strangers, and this picture was uncovered just as the members arrived. They were received in a large room like the wards of a hospital, with beds on each side, and in the middle of the room near a great fire were some of the members dressed like beggars, who taking no notice of the others coming in, carried on a conversation about the Company and themselves, abusing them for throwing away more than was right in feasts and suppers. And when all the guests were come, S. Andrew, their patron, came in, and delivering them from the poorhouse, led them to another room magnificently prepared, where they sat down to supper and feasted gaily, after which their saint commanded them to content themselves with one feast a year, and so save themselves from the poorhouse. And this command they obeyed, having one magnificent feast only, with a dramatic representation.

But to return to the life of Rustici. After the Medici were driven out in 1528, not finding life at Florence to his taste, he went to France, and was received by King Francis with great favour, and received a provision of five hundred crowns a year. But when King Francis died and Henry began his reign, the expenses of the court being curtailed, his pension was taken from him, and he, being now old, was reduced to living on the rent of a palace which Francis I. had given him. But fortune inflicted another blow upon him, for King Henry presented this palace to Signor Piero Strozzi, and Rustici found himself in extreme need. But Strozzi, hearing of his ill fortune, came to his aid and sent him to an abbey, or some such place, which belonged to his brother, where he was taken care of to the end of his life.