1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Finiguerra, Maso

FINIGUERRA, MASO [i.e. Tommaso] (1426–1464), Florentine goldsmith, draughtsman, and engraver, whose name is distinguished in the history of art and craftsmanship for reasons which are partly mythical. Vasari represents him as having been the first inventor of the art of engraving (using that word in its popular sense of taking impressions on paper from designs engraved on metal plates), and Vasari’s account was universally accepted and repeated until recent research proved it erroneous. What we actually know from contemporary documents of Finiguerra, his origin, his life, and his work, is as follows. He was the son of Antonio, and grandson of Tommaso Finiguerra or Finiguerri, both goldsmiths of Florence, and was born in Sta Lucia d’Ognissanti in 1426. He was brought up to the hereditary profession of goldsmith and was early distinguished for his work in niello. In his twenty-third year (1449) we find note of a sulphur cast from a niello of his workmanship being handed over by the painter Alessio Baldovinetti to a customer in payment or exchange for a dagger received. In 1452 Maso delivered and was paid for a niellated silver pax commissioned for the baptistery of St John by the consuls of the gild of merchants or Calimara. By this time he seems to have left his father’s workshop: and we know that he was in partnership with Piero di Bartolommeo di Sali and the great Antonio Pollaiuolo in 1457, when the firm had an order for a pair of fine silver candlesticks for the church of San Jacopo at Pistoia. In 1459 we find Finiguerra noted in the house-book of Giovanni Rucellai as one of several distinguished artists with whose works the Casa Rucellai was adorned. In 1462 he is recorded as having supplied another wealthy Florentine, Cino di Filippo Rinuccini, with waist-buckles, and in the years next following with forks and spoons for christening presents. In 1463 he drew cartoons, the heads of which were coloured by Alessio Baldovinetti, for five or more figures for the sacristy of the duomo, which was being decorated in wood inlay by a group of artists with Giuliano da Maiano at their head. On the 14th of December 1464 Maso Finiguerra made his will, and died shortly afterwards.

These documentary facts are supplemented by several writers of the next generation with statements more or less authoritative. Thus Baccio Bandinelli says that Maso was among the young artists who worked under Ghiberti on the famous gates of the baptistery; Benvenuto Cellini that he was the finest master of his day in the art of niello engraving, and that his masterpiece was a pax of the Crucifixion in the baptistery of St John; that being no great draughtsman, he in most cases, including that of the above-mentioned pax, worked from drawings by Antonio Pollaiuolo. Vasari, on the other hand, allowing that Maso was a much inferior draughtsman to Pollaiuolo, mentions nevertheless a number of original drawings by him as existing in his own collection, “with figures both draped and nude, and histories drawn in water-colour.” Vasari’s account was confirmed and amplified in the next century by Baldinucci, who says that he has seen many drawings by Finiguerra much in the manner of Masaccio; adding that Maso was beaten by Pollaiuolo in competition for the reliefs of the great silver altar-table commission by the merchants’ gild for the baptistery of St John (this famous work is now preserved in the Opera del Duomo). But the paragraph of Vasari which has chiefly held the attention of posterity is that in which he gives this craftsman the credit of having been the first to print off impressions from niello plates on sulphur casts and afterwards on sheets of paper, and of having followed up this invention by engraving copper-plates for the express purpose of printing impressions from them, and thus became the inventor and father of the art of engraving in general. Finiguerra, adds Vasari, was succeeded in the practice of engraving at Florence by a goldsmith called Baccio Baldini, who, not having much invention of his own, borrowed his designs from other artists and especially from Botticelli. In the last years of the 18th century Vasari’s account of Finiguerra’s invention was held to have received a decisive and startling confirmation under the following circumstances. There was in the baptistery at Florence (now in the Bargello) a beautiful 15th-century niello pax of the Coronation of the Virgin. The Abate Gori, a savant and connoisseur of the mid-century, had claimed this conjecturally for the work of Finiguerra; a later and still more enthusiastic virtuoso, the Abate Zani, discovered first, in the collection of Count Seratti at Leghorn, a sulphur cast from the very same niello (this cast is now in the British Museum), and then, in the National library at Paris, a paper impression corresponding to both. Here, then, he proclaimed, was the actual material first-fruit of Finiguerra’s invention and proof positive of Vasari’s accuracy.

Zani’s famous discovery, though still accepted in popular art histories and museum guides, is now discredited among serious students. For one thing, it has been proved that the art of printing from engraved copper-plates had been known in Germany, and probably in Italy also, for years before the date of Finiguerra’s alleged invention. For another, Maso’s pax for the baptistery, if Cellini is to be trusted, represented not a Coronation of the Virgin but a Crucifixion. In the next place, its recorded weight does not at all agree with that of the pax claimed by Gori and Zani to be his. Again, and perhaps this is the strongest argument of any, all authentic records agree in representing Finiguerra as a close associate in art and business of Antonio Pollaiuolo. Now nothing is more marked than the special style of Pollaiuolo and his group; and nothing is more unlike it than the style of the Coronation pax, the designer of which must obviously have been trained in quite a different school, namely that of Filippo Lippi. So this seductive identification has to be abandoned, and we have to look elsewhere for traces of the real work of Finiguerra. The only fully authenticated specimens which exist are the above-mentioned tarsia figures, over half life-size, executed from his cartoons for the sacristy of the duomo. But his hand has lately been conjecturally recognized in a number of other things: first in a set of drawings of the school of Pollaiuolo at the Uffizi, some of which are actually inscribed “Maso Finiguerra” in a 17th-century writing, probably that of Baldinucci himself; and secondly in a very curious and important book of nearly a hundred drawings by the same hand, acquired in 1888 for the British Museum. The Florence series depicts for the most part figures of the studio and the street, to all appearance members of the artist’s own family and workshop, drawn direct from life. The museum volume, on the other hand, is a picture-chronicle, drawn from imagination, and representing parallel figures of sacred and profane history, in a chronological series from the Creation to Julius Caesar, dressed and accoutred with inordinate richness according to the quaint pictures which Tuscan popular fancy in the mid-15th century conjured up to itself of the ancient world. Except for the differences naturally resulting from the difference of subject, and that the one series are done from life and the other from imagination, the technical style and handling of the two are identical and betray unmistakably a common origin. Both can be dated with certainty, from their style, costumes, &c., within a few years of 1460. Both agree strictly with the accounts of Finiguerra’s drawings left us by Vasari and Baldinucci, and disagree in no respect with the character of the inlaid figures of the sacristy. That the draughtsman was a goldsmith is proved on every page of the picture-chronicle by his skill and extravagant delight in the ornamental parts of design—chased and jewelled cups, helmets, shields, breastplates, scabbards and the like,—as well as by the symmetrical metallic forms into which he instinctively conventionalizes plants and flowers. That he was probably also an engraver in niello appears from the fact that figures from the Uffizi series of drawings are repeated among the rare anonymous Florentine niello prints of the time (the chief collection of which, formerly belonging to the marquis of Salamanca, is now in the cabinet of M. Edmond de Rothschild in Paris). That he was furthermore an engraver on copper seems certain from the fact that the general style and many particular figures and features of the British Museum chronicle drawings are exactly repeated in some of those primitive 15th-century Florentine prints which used to be catalogued loosely under the names of Baldini or Botticelli, but have of late years been classed more cautiously as anonymous prints in the “fine manner” (in contradistinction to another contemporary group of prints in the “broad manner”). The fine-manner group of primitive Florentine engravings itself falls into two divisions, one more archaic, more vigorous and original than the other, and consisting for the most part of larger and more important prints. It is this division which the drawings of the Chronicle series most closely resemble; so closely as almost to compel the conclusion that drawings and engravings are by the same hand. The later division of fine-manner prints represent a certain degree of technical advance from the earlier, and are softer in style, with elements of more classic grace and playfulness; their motives moreover are seldom original, but are borrowed from various sources, some from German engravings, some from Botticelli or a designer closely akin to him, some from the pages of the British Museum Chronicle-book itself, with a certain softening and attenuating of their rugged spirit; as though the book, after the death of the original draughtsman-engraver, had remained in his workshop and continued to be used by his successors. We thus find ourselves in presence of a draughtsman of the school of Pollaiuolo, some of whose drawings bear an ancient attribution to Finiguerra, while all agree with what is otherwise known of him, and one or two are exactly repeated in extant works of niello, the craft which was peculiarly his own; others being intimately related to the earliest or all but the earliest works of Florentine engraving, the kindred craft which tradition avers him to have practised, and which Vasari erroneously believed him to have invented. Surely, it has been confidently argued, this draughtsman must be no other than the true Finiguerra himself. The argument has not yet been universally accepted, but neither has any competent criticism appeared to shake it; so that it may be regarded for the present as holding the field.

Bibliography.—See Bandinelli in Bottari, Raccolta di lettere (1754), i. p. 75; Vasari (ed. Milanesi), i. p. 209, iii. p. 206; Benvenuto Cellini, I Trattati dell’ orificeria, &c. (ed. Lemonnier), pp. 7, 12, 13, 14; Baldinucci, Notizie dei professori di disegno (1845), i. pp. 518, 519, 533; Zani, Materiali per servire, &c. (1802); Duchesne, Essai sur les nielles (1824); Dutuit, Manuel de l’amateur d’estampes, vol. i. pref. and vol. ii.; and for a full discussion of the whole question, with quotations from earlier authorities and reproductions of the works discussed, Sidney Colvin, A Florentine Picture Chronicle (1898).  (S. C.)