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they bear the impress of his genius far more clearly than his panels, though unfortunately, like most frescos of the fourteenth century, they have suffered much from the ravages of time enough of them remaining, however, to enable a critic to judge of the artist's power.
Vasari mentions Andrea Pisano as the master of Orcagna, and the tabernacle of Or San Michele makes the statement probable. It would have been impossible to find any teacher fitter to train, in that severe style which his work developed, a man of such comprehensive genius as Orcagna; and it is perhaps in part due to the influence of sculpture on the general evolution of painting that Orcagna's pictures possess the measure of plastic quality, unprecedented at that time, which he shows. It has been remarked that the sculptors of the centuries from the twelfth to the fifteenth were in advance of the painters; and in fact it was not until the Venetian genius became an element in the art of Italy that the balance was restored. It is only necessary to compare the work of old Niccola Pisano with any contemporary painting to see how far beyond the painters of his day that sculptor was in the perception and expression of the essentials of art apart from color. The dealing with forms as they are felt, and not as they seem, is characteristic of all genuine art, and this was the character of Niccola's work. Who was Orcagna's master in painting is neither certain nor important, for the art education of that epoch was so "all round" that the passing from one branch of it to another was not a difficult matter. The world of Florence breathed an atmosphere of art, by which even Dante was greatly influenced.
What Orcagna did beyond the attainment of the sculpturesque qualities of painting was to unite with the Florentine traditions something of the elements of Sienese art, then in its fullest vigor. Cavalcaselle says that he united the dramatic qualities of Florentine art with the more vivid coloring of the Sienese school; but it is difficult to accept any such distinction, for what Giotto had shown of dramatic power could hardly be said to have been handed down to the Giottesques, whose work remaining to us is mainly tame repetition of Giotto's types. The Florentine school was in decadence when Orcagna came on the stage, and he naturally turned for comparisons to Siena, where art had not been thus depressed, and as the works of Memmi were then accessible, he came under the influence of Giotto's great rival and his own only other great prede
Sacchetti makes mention of a banquet given by a number of artists at San Miniato, where,
much wine having been drunk, Orcagna proposed the question, Who was the greatest painter after Giotto? That the jury disagreed is tolerably certain as well as that the palm was not then awarded to Orcagna himself, though he had then executed his principal frescos— the entire chief chapel of Santa Maria Novella, besides the retro-choir and the altar-piece in the same church. In 1357 we find as members of the commission of architects and painters summoned to decide on the completion of the Duomo of Florence, Orcagna, Taddeo Gaddi, and six other painters. After repeated trials and competitions the model of Orcagna was accepted. In 1358 he was called to Orvieto to design the mosaics for the ornamentation of the façade of the cathedral there,- a church destined to commemorate the miracle of the mass of Bolsena,— in which it was intended to employ the highest talent of the day.
We have no clue as to the time when Orcagna painted the retro-choir of Santa Maria Novella. Baldinucci mentions the fact of his pictures there having been injured by a storm in 1358, and a century later Ghirlandaio repainted them and repeated many of the subjects treated by his predecessors. The altar-piece of Santa Maria Novella was painted in 1357, but it is not known whether the frescos in the Strozzi Chapel were executed before or after that date. The first, representing the Last Judgment, occupies the partition behind the altar. The Christ appears in an oblong aureole, half hidden by clouds, surrounded by rays, and with his arms outstretched. Three angels on each side play on musical instruments and hold the symbols of the passion, while the Virgin and St. John kneel lower down, gazing at the Saviour in adoration, each with six apostles seated on the clouds behind them. Below are patriarchs, prophets, saints, kings, and popes, and a group of women dancing for joy. In one corner an angel helps one of the elect to leave his tomb. The elect looks steadfastly towards Paradise, which is painted on the wall to the right. Sinners tear their hair and gnash their teeth, and a demon is dragging off a lost soul to Hell, which is painted on the wall to the left, opposite the Paradise.
The expression of the Christ in the "Last Judgment" is noble, and that of the Virgin is sweet and gracious, while St. John is thin and austere. The apostles are grave and majestic. These are the best preserved portions of the fresco. The group of dancing women is most graceful in design and action, and may be looked upon as the original conception of the heavenly dances which so delight us in the pictures of Beato Angelico. In this splendid composition Orcagna has scrupulously obeyed the laws of composition then recognized; the
fingers are well proportioned and full of movement, and the foreshortening is masterly.
In the" Paradise" the Saviour and the Virgin, crowned and surrounded by aureoles, are seated on a throne upheld by clouds. On each side are angels, cherubim, and seraphim in adoration. Below the throne are two angels singing and playing, and on each side of them stand saints and martyrs, apostles and prophets, each carrying the symbol of his or her martyrdom, and accompanied by a guardian angel in the act of playing, singing, or praying. On the clouds are men and women dancing, while an angel invites a woman to take part.
The "Hell" has been entirely repainted, and we can hardly guess at the original design.
Under these three frescos is a false base, painted in imitation of white marble, and surrounded by a frame. It is upheld by columns, between which are painted busts in chiaroscuro. On the ceiling are figures of various saints, the symbols of the four Evangelists, and the arms of the Strozzi. The stained window was probably designed by Orcagna also.
This chapel must have been decorated before 1354, the date on which Orcagna received the commission to paint the altar-piece for Tommaso di Rosselli. Part of the agreement was that the picture should be completed within a year and eight months, but we learn that Orcagna failed to comply with the contract. The panel is in five parts, with a predella. In the center, surrounded by an oval ring of cherubim and seraphim, sits the Christ, offering with his right hand the gospel to St. Thomas Aquinas, and with his left the key to St. Peter. The two kneel before him, the former presented by the Virgin, at whose right stand St. Catherine and St. Michael; the latter by St. John the Baptist, with St. Paul and St. Laurence on his left. The predella is painted with three legends: a priest in ecstasy before the altar, Christ saving Peter on the waves, and a dispute between St. Michael and a demon for the soul of a dead king.
In this work there is much energy and vivacity of action, and the color is clear and vivacious, but there is not the mastery which we find in Orcagna's frescos. The same is the case with his other easel paintings; for example, the panel in Santa Maria del Fiore, representing St. Zenobius, patron of the city of Florence,treading under foot Pride and Cruelty, while Charity and Humility hold a canopy over his throne, and two minor saints kneel on each side of him.
The painting by Orcagna which once hung in S. Pietro Maggiore in Florence is now in the National Gallery of London. The central panel represents the Madonna being crowned; two angels stand beside her, and ten others
kneel before her, playing on various instruments. On the side panels are twenty-four saints kneeling, among them St. Peter, holding on his knees the model of the Church of S. Pietro Maggiore designed by Orcagna.
In 1355 he set to work on the Church of Or San Michele, one of the noblest examples of architecture, sculpture, and mosaic of the day. The bas-reliefs here show that Orcagna was even a better sculptor than painter. They are full of energy and delicacy, and possess the grandeur of composition and grace of type which distinguish his frescos.
In 1364 and 1366 we find Orcagna again called in to give his advice on the completion of the Duomo. Vasari says that he lived till 1389; but this is certainly incorrect, for in 1376 we find one Ristori named guardian to his two daughters, Tessa and Romola. The last certain date concerning him is 1368, in which year he was dangerously ill.
According to Vasari, Órcagna painted in the Campo Santo of Pisa the great frescos of the Triumph of Death and the Universal Judgment; but this assertion is open to doubt, if indeed not certainly wrong. Modern research has shown that some of the frescos are by Andrea di Firenze, a painter who lived some years longer than Orcagna. It is more than probable that Vasari confused the two painters, and, not knowing which frescos this Andrea had painted, chose these two without considering whether the style and technical execution were attributable to Orcagna.
It is very probable that Nardo Cione, elder brother to Orcagna, was his assistant in many of his labors, and that even in executing commissions on his own account Nardo got help from the younger brother, who was the artistic head of the family. It is quite natural that both Nardo and Jacopo, painting with Andrea, should follow his style, both in painting on his frescos and in their own works. This is the case in the frescos in Santa Croce and the Badia of Florence, in which we recognize the conception of Orcagna, but not his execution. Another follower of Orcagna, to whom may be attributed many of the paintings wrongly considered to be by his master, is Niccolo Tommaso, who took part with Orcagna and Taddeo Gaddi in the council of painters consulted about the Duomo.
In dramatic conception Orcagna can hardly be said to rival Giotto; but without in any way falling into the modern manner of following Nature through the use of the model, it is certain that he had a far more delicate perception of her beauty than any of his predecessors, and some of the female heads in the Spanish chapel are not surpassed in subtile spiritual qualities by anything in later art, certainly not