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Title: Carlo Dolci - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Hay, George, 1876-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Carlo Dolci - Masterpieces in Colour Series" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.




    ARTIST.          AUTHOR.

    REYNOLDS.        S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.          C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROMNEY.          C. LEWIS HIND.
    BELLINI.         GEORGE HAY.
    RAPHAEL.         PAUL G. KONODY.
    TITIAN.          S. L. BENSUSAN.
    MILLAIS.         A. LYS BALDRY.
    LUINI.           JAMES MASON.

    _Others in Preparation._

[Illustration: PLATE I.--VIRGIN AND CHILD (Frontispiece).

This work, which is the only one by Dolci in the National Gallery,
represents the Virgin presenting flowers to the Divine Infant. In
composition and drawing it is one of the most happy efforts of Dolci. A
small canvas of 2 feet 6 inches, it came into the possession of the
National Gallery in 1876 through the Wynn Ellis bequest.]

    Carlo Dolci



    [Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]

    LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK


      I. Introduction                                       11

     II. The Artist's Life                                  22

    III. The Artist's Work                                  62


       I. Virgin and Child                        Frontispiece
              National Gallery, London

      II. Poetry                                            14
              In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

     III. The Magdalen                                      24
              In Florence

      IV. The Eternal Father                                34
              Part of an alter-piece in Fresco, Florence

       V. Angel of the Annunciation                         40
              In Florence

      VI. The Magdalen                                      50
              In the Corsini Palace, Rome

     VII. Portrait of the Artist                            60
              In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

    VIII. The Sleep of St. John                             70
              In the Pitti Palace, Florence




If, in dealing with the life and work of Carlo Dolci, a writer sets down
an apology by way of preface, it is in recognition of the fact that the
art form of this painter, for all that it is serious and beautiful, is
one of the first that we outgrow. There are artists in plenty, and their
names are written large in the roll of fame, whose work makes no
immediate appeal to us. Rembrandt, Velazquez, Tintoretto, one and all
must be approached with an eye that has received some measure of
training, and then the beauty of their work brings perennial enjoyment,
though at first it could not be easily seen. Other men who lived and
thought and wrought on quite a different plane appeal to the eye right
away. Their work conceals nothing, its beauties are patent and entirely
free from reticence or subtlety; such painters bear the same relation to
the really great masters of the art as the writers of the songs sung at
Ballad Concerts bear to the composers of the Pastoral, Unfinished or
Pathetic Symphonies. Yet in their way it must be admitted that both
the writer of ballads, and the painter of pictures that please, do a
certain service. They help the uninitiated along the path that leads to
higher things; they are a support that the timid explorer may rely upon
until he has learnt to walk alone. There comes a time when the painter
of pretty pictures and the writer of pretty songs cease to please us; we
have mastered what we are pleased to regard as the tricks of both, and
feel a little contempt for them. Then, perhaps, some of us are even
anxious to forget our former attitude towards the men who charmed our
youthful fancy. We think we have become as gods, knowing good from evil,
and in this mood we ignore the fine points of work we criticise. Carlo
Dolci was in many ways a man who never grew up, but he had a keen and
almost childish sense of beauty and of righteousness, and he sought to
express it on canvas, leaving the deeper truths of art, and the more
important aspects of life, to be treated by those who cared to deal with
them. Beauty obvious, palpable; sentimental virtue as broad and
unblushing as that of Edmund Spenser's heroines, were the themes that
the artist chose to dwell upon, and it would be in the last degree
unwise to forget that such a message as his will make a strong appeal to
the rising generation as long as the world endures, and that by the time
those who have been pleased are pleased no longer, there will be others
waiting to take their place. Moreover Carlo Dolci laboured with a
certain measure of sincerity until the message he had chosen to deliver
to his generation became as true to him as the visions that helped Fra
Angelico while he laboured in the cells of St. Mark's Convent in
Florence. To-day in Florence and in Rome the younger generation seek
the pictures of Carlo Dolci and find in them a realisation of certain
ideals. We may be a little shocked or even contemptuous, but to
recognise the claims of those who are coming on as well as the claims of
those who are passing, is to keep a sane outlook on life. For the world
was not made for the middle-aged and the experienced, any more than it
was created for the immature enthusiasts. There is a place on this
planet for us all.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--POETRY

This canvas was painted for the head of the Corsini Family in Rome, when
Dolci was a young man. It is one of a series that included Hope,
Patience, and Painting. It is now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.]

Carlo Dolci painted, or over-painted, the romance of life. It was his
misfortune that he always saw it in the same way. He was like a musician
who, having all the keys of the piano at his disposal, regards anything
more than the simplest modulation from tonic to dominant and back again
as an extravagance to which he must not surrender. Nowadays the horizon
of art has widened very considerably; even in literature the obvious has
passed out of fashion, but in the rather degenerate days when Carlo
Dolci lived physical beauty was in a sense the keynote of all art work.
No heroine could reach the last chapter of a romance in safety unless
she chanced to be equipped with a measure of beauty that defied the
assaults of time. Beauty other than physical was entirely overlooked, or
was associated deliberately with good looks. Handsome sinners were as
far removed from the public ken as ugly saints. In many senses the world
was younger than it is to-day; indeed, it has aged more in the past two
hundred years than in five hundred that went before. Consequently the
living painter of prettiness stands now at a certain disadvantage.
Perhaps he is more handicapped in the struggle for recognition now than
he will be a hundred years hence, because we have but recently taken
possession of our heritage of culture and judgment and are a little
anxious to forget that we have been young. It may be granted that while
a large collection of the works of a painter who laboured for all time
pleases our every mood, it would be hard to live in a room in which
Dolci's pictures dominated the walls. Swinburne has expressed the
position very simply in the first volume of his famous "Poems and
Ballads": "A month or twain to live on honeycomb is pleasant; but one
tires of scented time."

We suffer from the painter's excess of sweetness, from a sentiment that
comes dangerously near to sentimentality, from a quality that is almost
as cloying as saccharine; but taken in the proper proportions, relegated
to their proper place, the pictures of Carlo Dolci are bound to please,
and we feel perhaps a little envious of the man who throughout his life
could see nothing that was not gracious and pleasing, and moral and
sweet. As we have said, he has his counterpart in literature and in
music, and had he not been forced by circumstances he could not control
into the immediate neighbourhood of men who had so much more to say than
he, Dolci would have received more attention from his contemporaries and
from succeeding generations. But, perhaps unfortunately for himself,
Dolci is to be found only in the best artistic company of the world. His
work hangs in Florence and in Rome cheek by jowl with that of the
world's great masters; before the flame of their genius his light pales
and becomes insignificant. Yet he is by no means to be despised, for he
saw through his own little window a view of the pageantry of life that
must have made him happy, and was destined to stimulate generations that
have passed and generations still unborn. His pictures do not lack
sincerity, and do not fail to express the best that was in him. He saw
Holy Families and saints and living sitters with an eye that insisted
upon beauty and righteousness. He painted with exquisite finish, with
delicate colouring, and with a measure of enthusiasm that the years have
not dimmed. In short, though many men have done better, he did his best,
and the pictures that are reproduced in these pages indicate very fairly
the measure of his achievement, even while they do nothing to conceal
his limitations. Moreover, while greater artists have had their
biographers by the score, it is hard to find in the literature of Great
Britain, France, or Italy any work dealing even in the simplest fashion
with this painter's life, though it does not deserve to be neglected.
Dolci would seem to have been ignored altogether, and this attitude of
contempt is quite unfair, because no man who has pleased so many simple
minds is unworthy of our attention, and it is more reasonable to praise
a man for the gifts that were his than to ignore him on account of what
he lacked.



As was said on a previous page, few people seem to have been at pains to
deal with the life and work of our painter, and while the curators of
the Italian museums can tell you little about him, save the approximate
dates of his life and death, and a few stories relating to events that
would perhaps have occurred if they could, the catalogue of the
British Museum has no more than one reference to his name. Tracing the
reference to its source, we find a little paper-covered pamphlet,
written in the closing years of the seventeenth century and published in
Florence some quarter of a century ago. In the British Museum library it
is bound with two or three other booklets relating to totally different
matters. The pamphlet that concerns us was written by Carlo Dolci's
friend and patron, Signor Baldinucci, and has never been translated into
English. Baldinucci was one of Dolci's intimates, evidently a good
friend and an ardent admirer, a man who praises generously, but is
rather reticent about the painter's artistic shortcomings, just as
though reticence would avail to keep them hidden from the understanding
eye. However, it is no bad thing for us that Signor Baldinucci should
have been an enthusiast, because without enthusiasm the bounteous
harvest of facts to which we can turn would not have been gathered, and
we should have been left in such a state of doubt with regard to the
incidents of the painter's life as besets us in dealing with so many of
the earlier and more notable men of his art and country.


This is an early picture, painted for one of the Florentine religious
houses, finished with the utmost care. It has preserved its colour
remarkably, and is now to be seen in Florence.]

Signor Baldinucci's work describes the artist's pictures in terms of
quaint enthusiasm, and happily, too, it does not despise biographical
details. This is as well, for, while there is no call for very subtle
criticism in the case of Dolci, it is of great interest for us to
discover what manner of man he was and how he came to paint so many
pretty pictures all in the same key, why he never sought to enlarge the
boundaries of his art, or to see "with dilated eye." Our biographer is
generous; he gives us facts in plenty, and writes just enough about art
to enable us to understand that his knowledge and his enthusiasm stood
in inverse ratio to one another. That the author had a following is
proved by the fact that the little pamphlet is now out of print, and
though the writer sought diligently throughout Florence to procure a
copy, he was quite unsuccessful.

Carlo Dolci was born about the year 1616. His father was a highly
respected tailor of Florence, Andrea Dolci by name, his mother a
daughter of Pietro Marinari, a painter (says Baldinucci) of repute.
Carlo's parents seem to have been an exemplary couple, who earned the
esteem of all who knew them and raised a family of five children to
follow the straight and narrow paths of probity. Carlo is said to have
been born on the 25th of May 1616, a day devoted to the honour of St.
Zenobius and Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi. The elder Dolci died when
Carlo was four years old, and his mother was left in straitened
circumstances, with which she struggled bravely and not without success.
Carlo seems to have been in every respect a model boy; in fact, if his
biographer is strictly reliable, he was almost too good for the wicked
world he lived in. It would be a relief to hear that he had moments when
he was not on his best behaviour, that he robbed orchards, or played
truant, or got into one or other of the scrapes that are associated with
boyhood; but, alas, he did nothing of the kind. He was not even content
to be good, but wanted all his schoolfellows to follow his example, and
used to persuade them to tell their beads and say their prayers even
when they were out walking.

At the early age of nine Carlo Dolci gave unmistakable signs of
possessing an artist's gifts, and was entrusted by his mother to the
care of Jacopo Vignali and Matteo Rosselli. He worked very hard under
these masters, and was so good that Mr. Barlow of "Sandford and Merton"
fame would have been moved to tears of joy had he belonged to the
seventeenth century and flourished in the neighbourhood of Florence,
while Master Harry Sandford would have hidden a diminished head and
confessed that he had found a greater saint than himself. At the age of
eleven Carlo Dolci painted his first heads of Christ, one as a child,
and the other crowned with thorns; he also painted a full-length figure
of St. John. Then he painted a portrait of his mother, who was so
pleased with the work that she took it to his master's studio, where, as
good luck would have it, Pietro de Medici was in the habit of passing
some of his idle hours. This patron of the arts was so pleased with the
boy's work that he ordered a portrait of himself and another of a
friend, the musician Antonio Landini. He also took the pictures that
little Carlo had just painted and showed them to the leaders of society
in Florence, presenting the young artist to the duke, who could hardly
believe that the work before him had been accomplished by one so young.
In order to assure himself, he told the boy to sketch two heads in his
presence, only to be so pleased with the work that he rewarded him
handsomely for it.

Florence, of course, began to talk of the boy painter, for a prodigy is
neither to be despised nor overlooked in any wealthy city. His
reputation passed from palace to studio, gathering commissions on its
travels, and in a very little time young Dolci had all the work he could
do. He painted the portrait of the head of the Bardi family, and that
of his nephew John de Bardi. He painted a portrait of Raphael Ximenes.
When he was not painting portraits he turned his attention to still
life, painting some fruit and flower pictures for his Confessor, Canon
Carpanti. His next work was for Lorenzo de Medici, an "Adoration," for
which he asked twenty scudi and received forty, and then he painted the
subject again on a rather larger canvas for one of the Genitori family,
who paid seventy scudi. This picture was sold at the owner's death and
realised just four times the sum that had been paid for it, while some
pictures of the Evangelists painted by Dolci for one of his Confessors
realised nearly twenty times as much as he had received.

It may be suggested without much fear of contradiction, that the success
of the painter's earliest work was not the best thing that could have
happened to him. If he had been compelled to develop slowly and in the
face of adverse circumstance, it is more likely that Carlo Dolci would
have given the world work of more lasting merit, but circumstance forced
him to paint for patrons at a time when he should have been studying for
himself. The style and method of his labours were settled for him, his
development was limited and circumscribed; with his native gifts he
might have travelled far had he not been hampered by these early


This plate, so characteristic of the sentiment of Dolci, is only part of
an altar-piece in fresco, painted for one of the religious houses in the
middle of the artist's career.]

From his youth Carlo Dolci had been devout, the rules of the brotherhood
of St. Benedict appealed to him very strongly. He passed much of his
scanty leisure within the walls of the brethren in Florence, and,
probably under the influence of his advisers there, made a firm
resolve to paint nothing but religious subjects, or those that
illustrated some one of the cardinal virtues. At the back of each canvas
it was his custom to write the date upon which he had started the work
and the name of the saint to whom the day was dedicated. In Holy Week
his brush was devoted entirely to subjects relating to the Passion.

One of his greatest early successes was a picture of the Madonna with
the Infant Christ and St. John, painted for Signor Grazzini. This work
added so much to his commissions that he could no longer stay in
Vignali's studio, finding it more convenient to work at home, where
there was more accommodation in his mother's house. Here he painted his
beautiful picture of St. Paul for one of the family of Strozzi, and his
picture of St. Girolamo writing, and the penitence of Mary Magdalen. He
also painted the picture of Christ blessing the bread, a head of St.
Philip of Neri, and the picture of St. Francis and St. George. For one
of his Corsican patrons he painted a woman with weights and scales in
her hand as Justice, and for one of the Corsini he painted the Hope,
Patience, Poetry, and Painting, of which series the Poetry is reproduced

In 1648 Carlo Dolci was elected a member of the Florentine Academy, and,
in accordance with the custom that prevailed, was required to present
one of his pictures to the Academy on election. Not unnaturally,
perhaps, his thoughts turned to the man with whose art he sympathised
most, Fra Angelico of Fiesole--the man whose exquisite work has made the
Florentine Convent of St. Mark a place of pilgrimage to this day. Oddly
enough there was no portrait of Fra Angelico in the Academy. It was
necessary to send to Rome to procure a drawing from which the portrait
could be painted.

The public demand for Carlo Dolci's work at this time was very greatly
in excess of the supply, but the painter was hardly a man who sought or
obtained the highest price for his labours. A very little would seem to
have contented him; cases might be multiplied in which his work was
re-sold at far higher prices than he received for it. For example, he
painted a picture of Mary Magdalen washing the feet of Christ, and sold
the work to his doctor for 160 scudi. The Marquis Niccolini offered the
doctor 1200 scudi for it, but could not tempt him to give it up.

By this time the fame of Carlo Dolci had spread well beyond the
boundaries of Florence; he was known and taken seriously in art circles
of Italy, and his work had special attractions for the religious houses
whose heads saw that its influence was bound to be beneficial. We find
the monks of the Italian Monastery dedicated to Santa Lucia of Vienna
commissioning him to copy one of their pictures of the Virgin. He made
several drawings and started work on the picture, but did not finish it
for a long time, and some eight years later he sold it to some
distinguished visitors to Florence for 160 scudi. Dolci was never idle,
and his brush was always busy on canvas or wood, always setting out some
sacred story or seeking to glorify some virtue. Among the important
pictures belonging to this period are one of the Martyrdom of St.
Andrew, which was taken to Venice, and one of the Flight into Egypt,
painted for Andrea Rosselli, a rather graceful if not original
composition, in which the Virgin is seen riding with the Infant
Christ in her arms. The same subject was commissioned by Lord Exeter and
sent to England.


This was painted about 1656 for the house of the Benedictines in
Florence. It is one of the most popular of the artist's work, and has
been widely reproduced.]

The picture of an angel pointing out to Christian souls the road to
Heaven attracted great comment and praise when it was painted; so too
did two oval pictures, one of the Archbishop of Florence, and the other
of St. Philip of Neri. A half-length figure of St. Catherine was another
of the painter's notable works that may be referred to his middle life.
He had acquired the art of giving to his canvas the high finish of a
miniature, and his colours were very fresh and glowing. Indeed, it may
be said of Carlo Dolci's work that it has preserved its freshness to a
very remarkable extent; some of the pictures painted more than 250 years
ago are still glowing with colour, while the work of many men who came
after Dolci has lost all its original brightness and has become muddy.
This suggests that Dolci had found time to study the composition of
paint with great care, and that some of the secrets of glazing surfaces
had been revealed to him. Belonging to the middle period is the picture
of St. Andrew embracing the Cross and the picture in octagon shape
called Charity, presenting a beautiful woman nursing a sleeping babe,
and holding a flaming heart in her right hand. A small picture of Hagar
and Ishmael belongs to these years.

In 1655 Carlo Dolci's teacher, Rosselli, passed away, and in the
following year the artist completed the painting of a standard that his
master had begun. The subject is St. Benedict on a cloud in a blue sky,
and Dolci is said to have made studies of it from a picture that was
already in possession of another brotherhood. Composition was never his
strong point. He painted another standard for the Benedictines, to their
great delight, and in the following year a St. Dominic on wood, and the
famous Angel of the Lily.

Carlo Dolci was now a married man, for in 1654, apparently on the advice
of his friends, he married the Signora Teresa di Giovanni. The
suggestion that Carlo Dolci married to order is supported to some extent
by the incidents of the marriage day. Baldinucci tells us that the
painter's friends and family, together with the friends and family of
his wife, were all gathered together, but Carlo did not keep his
appointment, and messengers were despatched all over the city to find
him. He was not at home, he was not with the Benedicts, he was not in
the churches he favoured most, and dinner-time had come round when some
happy searcher found the painter in a church that the others had
overlooked. Having scolded him for forgetting his appointment, the bride
forgave her absent-minded partner, and the marriage took place. It was a
very happy one.

Some time after this alliance, and when he had passed his fortieth year,
Carlo Dolci turned his attention to fresco, and painted a figure of God
the Father, the Holy Ghost, and four archangels. We learn that one of
his pupils painted in the other angels, and this little fact is worth
noting, because it shows that Carlo Dolci had reached the period of his
life in which the demands for his work could not be satisfied without
assistance, and he had been forced to follow the example of great
predecessors. We know that Titian and Tintoretto and other masters of
the Renaissance period in Italy never scrupled to avail themselves of
the services of clever pupils, and many a picture that left the studio
with the master's name upon it did not receive more than the slightest
touch of the master's brush. This scandal, for so we must describe it,
has been common to nearly every period in the development of art, and
was perhaps justified to some small extent in days when artists were not
rewarded on a generous scale. While their commissions came from patrons
who would not brook delay, and were quite well able to make their anger
effective, it was unwise to be too scrupulous about the means to an end.
For the preparation of a canvas and the painting in of draperies for
portraits the use of pupils may escape adverse criticism, but when the
pressure of commission became very serious, too many great artists have
succumbed to the temptation of leaving the bulk of the work to be
painted by a pupil, trusting to a few skilled touches to give the
completed canvas the stamp of their own individuality. We have no means
of saying how far Carlo Dolci indulged in a custom that was common to
his time. We are quite sure that had he thought it an immoral one he
would have abandoned it without hesitation.

After turning his attention to fresco work the painter sent a St. Agatha
to Venice, together with a portrait of St. John the Evangelist, and a
picture entitled Sincerity, a woman garlanded with lilies. For another
picture sent to Venice, representing Christ crowned with flowers and
sitting at the entrance of a garden, Dolci received 200 scudi, a rather
considerable sum when it is compared with those that were generally paid
for his pictures. This picture was so successful that he painted another
version of it in 1675 for a daughter of the Archduke Ferdinand and Anna
de Medici. For this he received no less than 300 scudi, and the Marquis
Runecini paid the same price for a picture of St. John, in which the
saint sees in a vision a lady trampling a dragon under foot. Among other
works belonging to this period are a St. Girolamo, a St. Luke, and a St.
Benedict, all commissioned by his doctor, Signor Lorenzo.

For one of the Corsini family Dolci painted St. Anthony with a skull in
his hand, and for Signor Corbinelli the full-length life-size canvas of
the figure of St. Peter. For the Scalzi Brotherhood he painted the
picture of the Eternal Father that was placed over the high altar, and a
picture of Herodiade with the head of St. John the Baptist. A David with
the head of Goliath was painted for the Marquis Runecini, and a copy
was made for the English ambassador in Florence. This picture created a
sensation when it was sent to England, and brought the painter many
commissions for the portraits of Englishmen. The head of the Corsini
house had given Dolci certain commissions, and they were so well
executed that requests followed for another St. John, and a picture of
King Casimir of Poland. The St. Cecilia playing the organ, which was
sent to Poland, was painted shortly afterwards.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--THE MAGDALEN

This picture, painted for a Roman patron, is at present to be in the
Corsini Palace, Rome. It has, however, not been so well preserved as
some of the best work from the same hand.]

About this time Sustermans, a painter some of whose work may be seen and
admired in Florence to-day, was commissioned to paint a portrait of
Claudia, daughter of the Grand-duke Ferdinand and Anna de Medici, on the
occasion of her marriage with the Emperor Leopold. But Sustermans on
account of his great age could not accept the commission, and it was
then offered to Carlo Dolci, who, although he had lived so long, and
had achieved so large a measure of renown, had never travelled beyond
the walls of Florence. However, he did not hesitate, but started out for
Innsbrück in the spring of the year. He arrived in Holy Week, when,
according to his rule of life, he would not paint secular subjects, but
as soon as Easter had come to an end he began the portrait commissioned,
and was then asked by the Duke to paint a second one of the same subject
in a different pose. At Innsbrück Dolci received another commission of
the sort that throws a strong light upon the ethics of the art world of
his time. He was asked to repaint or touch up several devotional
pictures by great masters who had passed away, and he does not seem to
have hesitated. It was sufficient for him that the pictures were of a
kind that met his approval; he asked nothing more, but set to work on
the canvases of other men without a qualm. He was the guest at Innsbrück
of the Abbé Viviani, and by way of expressing his gratitude for his
host's unvarying attention and kindness he painted a beautiful head of
St. Philip of Neri and gave it to him. Dolci remained at Innsbrück from
April until the end of August, and received in addition to a
considerable sum of money a gift of valuable jewels from his grateful

It was characteristic of the man that on his return to his native city
and before he took the picture he had painted to the Palace of the
Medici, he went to the church in Florence at which he was accustomed to
pray, and returned thanks for the happy termination of his travels. Then
he was instructed by the Medici family to finish the portrait, so that
it might stand for Santa Galla Placidia, the Empress whose famous tomb
may be seen in Ravenna to this day, and, indeed, is one of the
show-places of that quaint old city. Dolci then painted a very charming
picture reproduced in these pages, the sleeping St. John with St.
Zacharias and St. Elizabeth, and following the painting of this picture
is associated the great misfortune of a life that had hitherto been
pleasant and peaceful. The religious feelings that had been with him
since the days when he was a little boy busily instructing his
schoolfellows to turn from profane to sacred thoughts now degenerated
into melancholy, and Dolci suffered from the true melancholia which
baffles physicians to-day, and was then, of course, quite beyond the
reach of palliative or cure. He could not speak without deep sighs; he
was convinced that he had lost all his ability as a painter, and that
the world had no more use for him. His wife, who gave up much of her
time and attention to him, suffered in health from the premature birth
of a child, and then Baldinucci, who wrote the little biography of the
artist that was printed in Florence in the early 'eighties, and is the
foundation of our knowledge of the artist's life, took the painter away
from Florence to the country to the house of one Domenico Valdinotti.
This man, an artist, had one or two pictures in his studio commissioned
for wealthy patrons. He took up a palette with colours mixed, and gave
it to Dolci, commanding him in sternest tones to finish a veil on one of
the pictures of the Virgin. The painter obeyed, and succeeded so well in
his task that all the doubt and fear that had clouded his life for the
greater part of a year vanished in an hour, and he returned to Florence
with a perfectly healthy mind to finish the Santa Galla Placidia, and
one or two altar-pieces, including one for the Church of San Francesco.

Dolci then received a commission from the Empress Claude to paint a
canvas for the Imperial Palace, but as she died in the following April
this work was not completed. But he painted a fine martyrdom of St.
Lorenzo and a striking picture of St. Francis of Assisi for the Duke.
Then came more commissions from Venice, and the painter worked at
half-a-dozen well-known pictures for that city. These pictures showed,
perhaps, even more finish than those that had gone before, because
concentration seems to have been the keynote of the painter's life, and
while other men in all ages have used art as a means to an end, and have
been unable to avoid the social temptations that have beset them in the
day of their success, Carlo Dolci, like Tintoretto before him, had no
care for anything save his work. So long as health was good he desired
nothing better than to devote the whole day to labour, and his closest
and most complete attention to what he had in hand. Of course, one only
compares Dolci with Tintoretto in point of industry; all the
developments that the great Venetian had made, all the truths he had
discovered, were either unknown to Dolci or ignored by him. He was
painting for a public that knew very little about art, and regarded
exquisite finish as the surest sign of artistic accomplishment.
Consequently the painter did not seek to develop along lines of
independent thought; he had no pressing need to do so while everything
he could reasonably require in the way of patronage and commission was
at his command.

In 1682 Luca Giordano came to Florence to paint frescoes in the Chapel
of the Corsini Palace. He admired Carlo Dolci's work very much, but used
to rally him about the time he spent on it. "You do beautiful work, my
Carlo," he said; "but how can you make it pay when you give hours and
hours to that close finish? When I think of the 150,000 scudi I have
earned since I took up the brush, I begin to fear that you will die


This is one of the collection of portraits of artists painted, each by
his own hand. As may be seen from the canvas, Dolci executed it in 1674
when he was approaching his sixtieth year. The canvas hangs in the
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.]

It was perhaps a little unwise to talk in this fashion to a man who had
been suffering from some form of brain disease, but it is certain that
the words, though they were only spoken in jest, made a very deep
impression upon the painter. Dolci had just finished an Adoration of the
Magi, and had sent it to the Palace of the Duchess Vittoria. Receiving a
summons from the Palace, he went there and heard the Duchess express
herself to him in terms of high praise. Then she sent his Adoration back
to its wall and ordered one of Giordano's pictures to be brought to her.
"What do you think of this," she said to Dolci; "is it not a wonderful
piece of work? Can you believe that it was really painted in such a
short time?" and she named the dates of its commission and completion.
This unlucky remark brought back all the painter's forebodings. His
friend and biographer tells us that the Duchess did not mean to hurt his
feelings, she had admired his work for the qualities it possessed, and
in praising Giordano's she had commented upon what had struck her most
about it--that is, the rapidity with which it had been executed. From
that hour the painter went about silent and miserable, he was seldom
heard to speak, and then to add to his troubles, his wife, to whom
he had been devoted so passionately, died. His melancholy returned, and
his Confessor, remembering how successfully he had been treated in the
country beyond Florence, ordered him to turn to a picture of St. Ludovic
and paint the vestments of one of the figures on the canvas. Dolci did
as he was told, but this time the effort was in vain. Doubtless his
brain had been weakened by the first attack of melancholia, and fears
for the future, coupled with the shock of a beloved wife's death, were
altogether too much for the enfeebled constitution of a man of seventy.
He took to his bed, and died on the 17th of January 1686, leaving a
family of seven daughters and one son. Dolci was buried in the family
vault in the Church of the Santissima Nunziata, where he had worshipped
so long, and where one of his friends had found him on his marriage day
when he should have been with his bride. He did not leave much money
behind him, but quite a large number of pictures that doubtless served
his family in lieu of legacies at a time when the painter's work would
be in greater demand than ever, because the limit of his output had been



When we turn from a résumé of the chief events of the painter's
comparatively uneventful life to an endeavour to estimate the place he
takes in the history of his country's art we have, in the first place,
to consider the season in which he was born. Looking at the art history
of Florence we see that Dolci came very late into the world. From the
close of the fourteenth century, when Fra Angelico was born, down to the
late years of the sixteenth century, when the last of the great masters
seemed to pass away, Florence had enjoyed the services of a long series
of distinguished artists. Lippo Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandajo, da
Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Lorenzo di Credi, Andrea del Sarto,
Bronzino, Cigoli, all these and many others whose names can hardly be
recalled without delight flourished in Florence, and while they lived
there the city's reputation filled all the rest of Italy with envy. But
neither a man nor his influence is everlasting; the great ones passed
and left no successors; when Carlo Dolci appeared upon the scene the
last trace of their influence had disappeared. Consequently he brought
his gifts to a city from which inspiration had departed. The great
achievements of the art world were no more than echoes. Florence had
excelled herself in all directions. Painting had served her greatest men
as no more than one form of expression. The greatest of them had sought
to give their message to the world through the medium of more arts than
one, and consequently, he who was a simpler painter was of comparatively
small account. When Carlo Dolci was born, the time of great men having
passed, no great forces were at work in his native city. He did not have
the advantage of travel, he was never called upon to struggle hard and
anxiously for the necessities of life. In some ways he was regarded as
an infant prodigy and treated as such, and it would be hard to say that
the premature development of gifts however great has ever served their
possessor in the long run. No man's work can be judged properly save in
relation to his circumstances and his time, and, in order that we may
avoid the danger of underrating Carlo Dolci's achievement and dismissing
for obvious faults what we should praise for merit, we are forced to
consider the case carefully lest we treat a deserving man with
injustice. Bearing time, place, and limitations in mind, it is possible
then to consider the painter without the prejudice that the most glaring
defects of his art are calculated to arouse.

We have seen in the course of our necessarily short survey that Carlo
Dolci lived to the established age of man, and started his work before
he was in his teens, that no long journeys or extended sojourns in
foreign countries withdrew him from the area of his normal activities;
we have seen that he never left Florence save on one occasion. And, as
he was working throughout his life, his output would have been
uncomfortably large but for the fact that he never allowed a canvas to
leave his studio until every stroke that his brain could suggest, and
his hand execute, had been added to it. His conscientiousness alone
availed to check his output, and so intent was he upon expressing
himself as well as he could within the obvious limitations of his gift
that he never attempted to grapple with the problems that beset bigger

In composition, for example, Carlo Dolci was distinctly deficient; there
is no more serious charge against him as an artist than that he could
not compose a large figure picture. If he had to devote himself to one,
under the terms of some commission from a wealthy patron, he would not
hesitate to go to other masters in search of a composition that would
suit his purpose. It may be put to his credit that he did these things
openly, he does not seem to have claimed for himself the work that he
borrowed from his contemporaries. In fact, it is quite probable that he
knew his gifts did not lie in the direction of composition; he regarded
it as something that did not matter very much, and was quite content
with the praises that his single figure subjects received. One cannot
help thinking that he would have been very successful as a painter of

Dolci impresses us to-day with the feeling that he was a man who
struggled valiantly and conscientiously with a very considerable gift,
which he had neither the time nor the will to develop along the lines
that lead from mediocrity to remarkable achievement. Then again we must
remember that the fates were not auspicious, he was not taken in the
early days to the studio of a first-class master, he did not have the
inspiration of great work. By the time the seventeenth century had
travelled over a third of its appointed course Florentine art, as we
have seen, was hardly in a very flourishing condition. The days of great
experiments and earnest striving had passed, and, although Venice is
comparatively close to Florence, and was full even in Carlo Dolci's days
of some of the world's most inspiring work, although the Venetians were
delighted by Carlo Dolci's rich vivid colouring, and commissioned many
pictures from his brush, there is no evidence to show that he ever
visited the great city of the Adriatic, or that he found the time or the
inclination to learn any of the lessons she has to teach.


This is one of the last efforts of Dolci. It was painted after his
return from Innsbrück, just before he was taken ill. It hangs in the
Pitti Palace, Florence.]

We cannot, then, look upon Carlo Dolci's life or work as being complete.
He seems to afford an example of what talent will do when it lacks
adequate direction, and we see too the danger into which the art of the
painter falls when his inclinations are too literary. For it was no part
of Carlo Dolci's aim in life to express harmonies in colour and line,
although such expression may be taken to be the beginning and end of all
that is greatest in painting. Dolci was always keen on telling a story,
always intent upon preaching a sermon in paint, always forgetful that
the provinces of art and literature have a very wide boundary line. It
is rather interesting to compare the lives of Carlo Dolci and Fra
Angelico of Fiesole, because each was a man who sought to express moral
principles, sentiments, and belief on canvas, and, while the one
succeeded beyond all possibility of doubt, the other has met with only a
modified success. Beato Angelico was influenced by the Dominicans as
Dolci was by the Benedictines; each gave his life work to the service of
the Church and the pursuit of virtues that the Church teaches man to
practise. One laboured in the cloister and the other outside it, but
oddly enough, he who came first and decorated the walls of St. Mark's
Convent knew the more about life and more about art, more about
perspective and more about composition, than his successor, who followed
so many years later. The truth is, perhaps, that when Fra Angelico came
to the convent of the Dominicans the Renaissance was just blossoming in
Italy. It was a season of great inspiration. Man and Learning were being
discovered, and although some aspects of the discovery were hidden from
the good brother of St. Dominic, all the attendant enthusiasms came to
him. Moreover, Angelico travelled and mingled freely with scholars and
great artists, so that we can divide his life work into three stages, of
which the second is better than the first, and the last is best of all.

On the other hand, when Dolci came on the scene the Renaissance had
blossomed and budded and filled the face of the earth with fruit, but
the fruit was already overripe. The great stimulus had passed;
degeneration had set in, not only in the world of art. The mere fact
that Carlo Dolci's gifts found an immediate acceptance shows that the
times were not distinguished, and we do not find in Baldinucci's life of
his friend one solitary suggestion that any of the great rulers who
employed his brush ever turned to him with the request that he should
enter into competition with those who had gone before, that he should
take a course of study and learning to strengthen the weak points of his
work, sacrificing a little of its sweetness to gain some small measure
of strength. At the same time we must not underrate Carlo Dolci's work
because we have outgrown it, since, as was suggested on an early page of
this little essay, his charm in certain aspects is perennial, and
although its powers to hold us must pass when we have turned to higher
things, those who are following us will find pleasure and inspiration in
the painter's art when they visit for the first time the galleries of
Italy. They will travel by easy degrees from pictures that please to
those that call in the first place for study, and then for admiration
and the recognition of masterpieces.

Carlo Dolci's place in art is not altogether unlike that of some of his
living countrymen in the world of music. There are Italian musicians
known to all of us who have such a gift of sweetness that we cannot
endure their melodies for long. A song now and again, or some sparkling
little work for piano or violin, gives us a passing thrill of pleasure,
and then we turn with complete content to the clearer atmosphere and
more serene moods of the great masters whose works endure for all time.
So it is with Carlo Dolci; we go to him now and again, if only for a
little while, conscious that sweetness as well as strength has its place
in the world of art as in the world of music and letters. And we know,
too, that criticism can say nothing worse about Carlo Dolci's gifts than
that he was never able to turn them to the best account, that the rough
diamond of his talent was never in the hands of a competent lapidary.
His life is not one we are called upon to overlook, for his achievement,
though it has little variety, is marked by certain definite qualities
that call for recognition, even though these qualities are often moral
rather than artistic.

Dolci was eminently a sentimentalist; he had no redeeming vices; a
little of the devilry of a Benvenuto Cellini would have been invaluable
to him and to his art. But it is futile to complain of a man for being
as Nature made him, and if we will turn to Carlo Dolci's pictures for
pretty, agreeable, and highly finished interpretations of moral ideas in
terms of paint, we shall find no small amount of momentary satisfaction.

We must not forget that the world at large had suffered not a little
when Carlo Dolci came upon the scene from the excessive daring and
superb initiative of the Renaissance. Its eyes were a little dimmed by
the splendour of the great men who had gone before, and had travelled to
heights beyond the ken of the average citizen. Carlo Dolci helped to
bring his greatly dazzled fellow-countrymen back to earth, pleasantly
and in fashion that flattered their vanity. In the eyes of hundreds of
his contemporaries the devout, God-fearing, conscientious Florentine
must have been regarded as the greatest artist Italy had ever seen, and
if such a thought pleases some of the unsophisticated among their
descendants, who should desire to complain? Let us rather put to Dolci's
credit the facts that he did not pose as a heaven-born genius, that he
was not greedy or grasping, that he did not seek to found a school. The
portrait he painted of himself suggests that he was not altogether
deficient in humour; perhaps there were hours when he laughed with
himself at those who praised him for the gifts he lacked. If we could
but be sure that he laughed now and again at himself and his pictures,
recognising the limitations that are so patent to us to-day, the most
superior critic could refuse no longer to have some regard for Carlo

    The plates are printed by BEMROSE DALZIEL, LTD., Watford
    The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh

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