Art biographer, painter and collector; his biographies of more than 150 painters in the Venetian state contributed to his title, "the Venetian Vasari." Ridolfi's father was a tailor (he used the name Marco Sartor in his will), who died when the young Ridlofi was five. Eventually his mother, Angela, remarried and he entered the studio of a local German painter (Ridolfi was of German decent himself). At thirteen, he traveled to Venice to study uner Antonio Vassilacchi, known as l'Aliense. A diligent student, he made drawings from reliefs and assisted the master. He left Vassilacchi's studio after only five year because of dissatification with other students, and, after a brief stay at home, returned to Venice studying drawing. He also mastered history, architecture, and classical literature. Various commissions followed, but the great plague in Venice forced him to flee, living with a friend in Spineda. His mother, friends and some of his patrons were lost to the outbreak. Artistically, his paintings reflect the artistic influence of Tintoretto and Titian. Ridolfi collected drawngs, perhaps already styling himself after his earlier counterpart, Giorgio Vasari, assembling works in the 1630s by earlier masters Vittore Carpaccio and works attributed to Tintoretto and Leonardo da Vinci. By 1641 Ridolfi was in Dalmatia painting works now in a Mannerist style. His petition to the Venetian government to receive a "favor," probably a pension, was refused. Ridolfi had also been collecting material for a life of Tintoretto, the first on that artist, and this appeared in 1642 as La vita di Giacopo Robusti. The success of this literary venture meant that Ridolfi was made a Knight of the Order of St. Mark by the Venetian Senate, perhaps because the Vita was dedicated to Doge Francesco Erizzo (d. 1646) and the Venetian Republic. He was knighted in 1645 by Pope Innocent X. Ridolfi published a life of Veronese in 1646. In 1648 he issued his major work, a complilation of more than 150 biographies of painters active in the Venetian Republic, Le meraviglie dell'arte (The Marvels of Art) including his Tintoretto biography as well as his own. The work provides a strong counter to Vasari's Vite (1550/1568) which was strongly biased against Venetian artists. Where Vasari had ignored and depricated Venetian talent, Le meraviglie dell'arte covers Venice artists in a positive light and contains the earliest reference, for example, to Giorgione's Castelfranco Altarpiece in San Liberale. Conversely it ignores Sebastiano del Piombo, a Venetian who spent most of his career in Rome. Ridolfi painted throughout his career. He married in 1656, but died of a fever two years later. Le meraviglie dell'arte was an important source for Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens paintres anciens et modernes (1666ff.), by Andé Félibien. His collection of drawings survives in three volumes, dating from the 1630s at Oxford University, Christ Church Collection.
Ridolfi's Le meraviglie dell'arte is important in the history of art because it documents many Venetian art works gone today and locates a provenance for those still known. His work is the starting point in researching many major and minor Venetian artists. Like Vasari's Vite, many of Ridolfi's attributions were incorrect. Unlike Vasari, however, Ridolfi avoided a stylistic development of Venice; he considered the 16th-century Venetice the acme of its artistic production at the expense of his contemporaries. He also diverged from Vasari contending that painting was above all the other arts (Vasari consister paintng, sculpture and architecture equal). His basic premise countered Vasari's assertion that Florence had rediscovered the arts after the dissolution of the classical tradition in the Middle (Dark) Ages. Le meraviglie dell'arte instead maintained that artistic endeavor had never been lost in Venice because of the constant influence of the Byzantines. He took great pains to cite documents and letters supporting his arguments. Consistent with the writing of his age, Le meraviglie dell'arte contains many asides. Ridolfi sees creation of fine art as a closeness to God. Painting for him was the universal impulse that included all things within it. The work may have been supported financially by the Venetian government to counter Vasari's Vite of a hundred year before which was strongly biased against Venetian artists. Ridolfi's biography of Tintorietto was the first on the artist and remains an important early source on Tintoretto's working methods
Vita di Giacopo Robusti detto il Tintoretto, celebre pittore cittadino venetiano. Venice: Appresso Guglielmo Oddoni., 1642, English, Enggass, Catherine, and Enggass, Robert. The Life of Tintoretto, and of his Children Domenico and Marietta. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984; Le maraviglie dell'arte, ouero, Le vite de gl'illvstri pittori veneti, e dello stato: Oue sono raccolte le opere insigni, i costumi, & i ritratti loro. Con la narratione delle historie, delle fauole, e delle moralità da quelli dipinte. Venetia: Presso Gio. Battista Sgaua, 1648
Puppi, Lionello. "La fortuna delle Vite nel Veneto dal Ridolfi al Temanza." Il Vasari storiografo e artista: atti del Congresso internazionale nel IV centenario della morte, Arezzo-Firenze, 2-8 settembre 1974. Florence: Istituto nazionale di studi sul Rinascimento, 1976, pp. 405-37; Byam Shaw, James. Drawings by Old Masters at Christ Church Oxford. vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. pp. 401-8; Carroll, Alison. "On the Credibility of Carlo Ridolfi's Lives of the Venetian Painters." Australian Journal of Art 2 (1980): 51-62; Pace, Claire. Félibien's Life of Poussin. London: A. Zwemmer, 1981, pp. 66-67; Hope, Charles. "Historians of Venetian Painting." in The Genius of Venice, 1500-1600. New York: Abrams, 1984, p. 39; Gould, Cecil. "Ridolfi the Historian" Apollo 125, no. 301 (1987): 197-199; Shiffman, Jody Robin. "'Artistic License:' Titian in the works of Vasari and Ridolfi." in Bondanello, Julia Conaway, ed. Ridolfi, Carlo. The Life of Titian. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996; Hope, Charles. Giorgione or Titian? History of a Controversy. Council of The Frick Collection Lecture series. New York: Frick Collection, 2003, p. 12.