Lorenzo di Bicci and the 15th Century Florentine Workshop
The consistent collection of paintings by Neri di Bicci as well as one by his grandfather, Lorenzo di Bicci, housed in the Museum of Sacred Art, invites us to talk about one of the main Florentine workshops. Often a family-run business consisting of different generations of artists linked by kinship, the workshop guaranteed the continuity of the craft and offered advantages to its numerous members.
Not only were the sons of artists exempted from paying the membership fee to the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries, but they also had the possibility of an early apprenticeship. The handing down of management also took place gradually, as in the case of Bicci who inherited the management from his father Lorenzo, and of Neri who received it from Bicci.
Neri, as an apprentice and disciple, following the paternal characteristic, as a youth collaborated with his father, but then later became a real “colleague” of his, sharing expenses and proceeds, until the management was handed down to him – in 1447, as a consequence of Bicci’s illness – which allow him to inherit also the clientele. If at the beginning of the 15th century, Cennino Cennini’s book “ Libro dell’Arte” documented the role of the workshop as a training center for the painter, around mid-century Le Ricordanze by Neri di Bicci (1453-1475, edited by B. Santi, Pisa, 1976) introduces us to the structure and organization of this workshop.
The 1458 lease for the new Neri’s workshop in Via di Porta Rossa, nerve center where numerous painters were concentrated, is also a precise description of the traditional 15th century workshop. Located on the ground floor of a building, Neri’s workshop consisted of a room with a gallery used for storage, which could be reached by a ladder. Rather spacious, it had a “vault” or basement and a “ fondachetto” used as a storeroom. Generally, the access door to the street was flanked by two low walls, the so-called “shop windows”, on which handicrafts were displayed.
The workshop furniture – as one reads in the ancient inventories – was rather sober, with benches, cupboards, cabinets, tables and chests, but they were especially full of the objects they produced. These were often minor furnishings like birthing stools, boxes, mirrors, large candles, crests and standards. Next to some of the specialized workshops – fabric painters (sargie, i.e., lightweight linen or wool in lively colors used in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance), playing cards painters (naibi that is playing cards), illuminators, strongbox makers ( forzinerai) – there were other handicraft workshops, those of joiners, goldbeaters, silk workers, flag makers that had work relationships with the painters’ workshops.
Neri’s workshop was an important point of reference for the generation of 15th century painters who were trained there (Giusto di Andrea, Cosimo Rosselli, Francesco Botticini). The relationships between master and pupil were regulated by precise agreements. In addition to wages, the master was, in fact, obliged to provide room and board and, at times, they even took care of the pupil’s clothing (Le Ricordanze, pp.5 6-57).
In, Museo d’arte sacra di Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio. A cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005