Friday 24 November 2017

'A splendid person and a most arrogant spirit...'

Pietro Torrigiani, great sculptor and violent thug, was born on this day in 1472. He it was who created the astonishing tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Westminster Abbey, described by John Pope-Hennessy as 'the finest Renaissance tomb North of the Alps'. England would not see anything remotely comparable in quality or originality until the end of the century, when refugee sculptors from the Low Countries again showed us how much we had to learn from our Continental cousins.
 As a young man, Torrigiani, while copying Masaccio's frescoes in the Carmine church with various other learners, got into a row with Michelangelo and punched him so hard that he broke his nose. After this he seems to have fled Florence, turned up again in Rome, then spent some years as a hired soldier – the perfect job for him – before catching the eye of Henry VIII, who wanted a suitably splendid tomb for his parents . He certainly got it, along with various other pieces of work by Torrigiano, most of which were later destroyed by the Puritans.
 Cellini, according to himself, refused to come to England from Florence to work with Torrigiano.
'This man,' he recalls, 'had a splendid person and a most arrogant spirit, with the air of a great soldier more than a sculptor, especially in regard to his vehement gestures and his resonant voice, together with a habit he had of knitting his brows, enough to frighten any man of courage. He kept talking every day about his gallant feats among those beasts of Englishmen.' 
 Beasts, indeed! Still, he left us with one of our greatest works of funerary art.

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