Who is Buonamico Buffalmacco?

Buonamico di [son of] Martino or Buonamico Buffalmacco (active c. 1315–1336) was an Italian painter who worked in Florence, Bologna and Pisa. Although none of his known perform has survived, he is widely assumed to be the painter of a most influential fresco cycle in the Camposanto in Pisa, featuring The Three Dead and the Three Living, the Triumph of Death, the Last Judgement, the Hell, and the Thebais (several episodes from the lives of the Holy Fathers in the Desert). Painted some ten years before the Black Death spread beyond Europe in 1348, the cycle – a “painted sermon” (L. Bolzoni) – enjoyed an wonderful success after that date, and was often imitated throughout Italy. The youngsters’ party enjoying themselves in a beautiful garden while Death piles mounds of corpses anything around is likely to have inspired the mood of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, written a few years after the Black Death.

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Boccaccio (in his Decameron) and Franco Sacchetti (in his Il trecentonovelle) both describe Buonamico as brute a practical joker. Boccaccio features Buonamico along similar to his associates and fellow painters Calandrino and Bruno in several tales (Day VIII, tales 3, 6, and 9; Day IX, tales 3 and 5). Typically in these stories, Buonamico uses his wits to function tricks on his friends and associates: convincing Calandrino that a stone he possesses (heliotrope) confers invisibility (VIII/3), stealing a pig from Calandrino (VIII, 6), convincing the physician Master Simone of an opportunity to ally himself with the devil (VIII, 9), convincing Calandrino that he has become pregnant (IX, 3), convincing Calandrino that a particular scroll can cause a girl to slip in adore with him (IX, 5). Throughout the stories, Buonamico is frequently depicted at take steps painting in the houses of notable gentlemen in Florence but burning to take time to eat, drink and be merry.

Giorgio Vasari includes a biography of Buonamico in his Lives, in which he tells several anecdotes more or less his comic escapades. Vasari tells of Buonamico’s young person tricking of his master Tafi during his apprenticeship, various pranks and tricks that Buonamico played on his patrons, and his habit of embedding texts within his paintings. Dismissed by Vasari as just different of the entertaining painter’s gags, which his “clumsy” contemporaries had misunderstood and foolishly imitated, the Camposanto frescoes are actually scattered gone texts, a attainable indication of the veracity of Vasari’s remark. In the scroll higher than the cripple beggars in the middle of The Triumph of Death, for instance, it says, “Since riches has definitely deserted us, O Death, you who are the medicine for whatever pain, come to come happening with the keep for us our last supper.”

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One of the Egyptian desert recluses, St Macarius the Great, a disciple of St Anthony the Great, is depicted on the right edge of the scene. A bureau of leisurely aristocrats and their animals occupy the central ration of the fresco. These rich young men and women riding horses, surrounded by their decorative hunting dogs have gone upon a pleasant journey. But suddenly, their path, somewhere deep in the wood, is barred by three contact sarcophagi taking into account bodies in stand-in degrees of decomposition. Everybody in the scene including men, women and even the animals are horror-struck by this Awful and palpable presence of Death. The unsupportable stench hits their noses. The abhorring scene of cruel Truth dismays them. Only the wise and powerful by his faith St Macarius the Great, stands above them all. The mystic Saint man teaches the young people a lesson virtually life and death by reading from the scroll.

Vasari discusses various paintings by the artiste which no longer exist, and many of which had already perished by the become old of Vasari’s writing in the sixteenth century. He describes a series of paintings at the convent of Faenza in Florence (already destroyed by the sixteenth century), works for the abbey of Settimo (now then lost), tempera paintings for the monks of the abbey of Certosa (also in Florence), and frescoes in the Badia at Florence. He describes a series of paintings depicting the liveliness of Saint Catherine of Siena in a chapel in her honor in Assisi at the Basilica of Saint Francis (an attribution rejected by progressive scholars), and several prominent commissions at various abbeys and convents in Pisa. Vasari does not attribute the famed Pisan frescoes now associated with Buonamico to the painter, but rather, credits him past four frescoes at the Camposanto depicting the arrival of the world through the building of Noah’s Ark, which future scholars have instead qualified to Piero di Puccio of Orvieto.

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Vasari presents conflicting information concerning Buonamico’s death, dating it to the year 1340, but next stating that he was yet alive in 1351. In any case, he is said to have died at the age of 78, in poverty, and to have been buried at the hospital of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence.

Land, Norman, “Vasari’s Buffalmacco and the Transubstantiation of Paint,” Renaissance Quarterly, 58 (2005): 881-895.

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