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Vasari, Giorgio

    Full Name: Vasari, Giorgio

    Other Names:

    • Giorgio Vasari

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 30 July 1511

    Date Died: 27 June 1574

    Place Born: Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

    Place Died: Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre) and sculpture (visual works)


    Considered the first art historian and often referred to as the “father of art history”; architect and painter. Vasari was the son of Antonio Vasari (d. 1527), a potter [Vasari = “maker of vases”], and Maddelena Tacci (d. 1558). His family stemmed from Cortona where his grandfather, Lazzaro, had been a craftsman of saddles and painted scenes. His great-aunt married the painter Lucca Signorelli, who became Vasari’s first teacher. Vasari himself learned Latin and other humanist disciplines in the 1520’s by Antonio da Saccone and Giovanni Pollastra (1465-1540). Throughout his career, Vasari practiced as an artist. He entered the Arezzo studio of Guillaume de Marcillat, a Frenchman commissioned to make the stained-glass windows for the cathedral in Arezzo. Guillaume’s previous commissions at the Vatican in Rome brought Vasari into conversance with the work of Michelangelo and Raphael. Vasari’s own skills as a painter led the Cardinal of Cortona, Silvio Passerini (1470-1529), tutor of Alessandro and Ippolito de’ Medici, to take Vasari with him to Florence in 1524. There Vasari and the two Medici received further instruction by Pierio Valeriano (1477-1558). He lodged with Niccolo Vespucci beginning studies under Michelangelo, though this may have entailed little more than errands (Sonio). After Michelangelo left for Rome, Vasari trained in the Florentine workshop of Andrea del Sarto and in the sculpture workshop of Baccio Bandinelli, under Francesco Salviati. When the Medici were expelled in 1527, it was Vasari and Salviati who rescued the pieces of the broken “David” statue of Michelangelo for repair. Vasari returned to Arezzo where entered the service of Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici in January 1532. He studied ancient and modern Roman art and architecture again with Salviati and began collecting drawings which he assembled into a large folio for study purposes. When Alessandro de’ Medici was murdered in 1537, Vasari was once again devoid of a princely patron. From that point on, he decided to exist on his own. He painted several work for the monks at Camaldoli before journeying to Rome in 1538, accompanied by his assistant Giovanni Battista Cungi. Already he was interested in studying ancient with a view of their effect on contemporary art, the core idea later into his masterwork of writing, the Vite. Vasari went to Venice in 1541. Back in Rome, Vasari purportedly got the idea to write a book on the lives of famous artists from the scholar and collector Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) during a dinner party given by Pope Paul III in 1546, although Vasari seems to have been collecting snippets from 1543. In 1548 he built a house in Arezzo (in which he seldom lived) marrying the well-connected Nicolosa Bacci the following year. Documents indicate he had two previous children either by Nicolosa’s sister, Maddalena Bacci (d. 1542) or his housemaid, Isabella Mora (Cheney). He published the first edition of his account of artist’s lives–most famous book–Le vite de più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori in 1550. The printer was the Florentine humanist Lorenzo Torrentino (d. 1563). The two-volume, octavo work was dedicated to Cosimo de’ Medici. After its appearance several other biographies of artists appeared, most notably the life of Michelangelo by Ascanio Condivi. Vasari settled permanently in Florence in 1554. There he was commissioned to design the offices for the magistrates and civil records in 1560, the Uffizi (today the Uffizi Gallery). Vasari corrected and enlarged the text to the Vite, issuing a second edition in 1568. It is this version that all subsequent editions and translations are based, and for which Vasari owes his fame. For the second edition, Vasari incorporated information from the works of other writers who had taken his biography as a model, in particularly Lodovico Guicciardini (a Florentine living in Antwerp) and his Descrittione di m. Lodouico Guicciardini patritio fiorentino, di tutti i Paesi Bassi, 1567. A second book, somewhat of a supplement to the Lives, entitled Ragionamenti sopra le Invenzioni appeared from Vasari’s hand after his death in 1588. The book is a catalog of the allegorical compositions in the Palazzo Vecchio. He continued as supervisor for the redesign and redecoration of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence until 1572. While engaged in the frescos for the dome of the Cathedral in Florence, he died. He is interred in the family tomb in Arezzo. At his death his drawing collection was dispersed, much of it still identifiable in major collections today. His Arezzo house is today a museum on the Via XX Settembre 55. Le vite de più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori – The work is divided into a preface (proemio), a discussion of the various media, and then three sections devoted to artist biographies arranged chronologically. The first section covers Cimabue to Lorenzo di Bicci, section two from Jacopo della Quercia to Pietro Perugino, and the final section, from Leonardo da Vinci to Michelangelo. Michelangelo was the only artist still living when the Vite appeared. Vasari ends with a section to ‘artists and readers’. Several indexes complete the work. Chronological biographies of artists had previously existed. Vasari’s contribution was to create a critical, i.e., evaluative, history of artistic style, although he was far from unbiased. Core to Vasari was the notion of the rebirth of art, a rinascita. Art had a history and by new birth, it reestablished itself as a noble pursuit worthy of study. Vasari’s division of art history into ages took as its paradigm the stages of human development. This, too, was not a novel conception with Vasari, but in his book, it took on a logical sense of order. Art’s early perfection was the antique, but hade then declined under Constantine. This low period of barbaric or Germanic art (“Gothic” Vasari called it) far removed from classical models, was ready for renaissance. Cimabue, Giotto and others formed the nascence of art, inspired by the imitation of nature, a primary stage (primi lumi). A developmental period (augumento) was ultimately succeeded by the age of perfection (perfezione)–coincidentally Vasari’s own time and that of Michelangelo. Vasari’s book created a sensation. Benvenuto Cellini found much fault, but Michelangelo, Gherardi, Salviati and Carlo Fontana praised it.

    Selected Bibliography

    Le vite de’più eccellenti pittori, scuttori e architetti. Florence: Lorenzo Torrentino, 1550. Enlarged ed., Florence: T. Giunti, 1568. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptures and Architects. Translated by Gaston du C. de Vere. 10 vols. London: Macmillan and the Medici Society, 1912-15; Ragionamenti del Sig. cavaliere Giorgio Vasari, pittore et architetto aretino, sopra le inuentioni da lui dipinte in Firenze nel palazzo di Loro Altezze Serenissime. Florence: F. Giunti, 1588.


    Blunt, Anthony. Artistic Theory in Italy: 1450-1600. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962, pp. 86-102; Rud, Einar. Vasari’s Life and Lives: The First Art Historian. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand Company, 1963; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 68-9; Kultermann, Udo. Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte: Der Weg einer Wissenschaft. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main and Vienna: Ullstein, 1981, p. 438 n. 9; Sonio, Michael. “Giorgio Vasari and his Lives.” introduction to, Vasari, Giorgio. The Great Masters. New York: Park Lane, 1988, pp. 7-12; Rubin, Patricia Lee. Giorgio Vasari: Art and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995; Cheney, Liana. The Homes of Giorgio Vasari. New York: P. Lang, 2006, esp. p. 173, n. 140, 141; Cast, David. The Delight of Art: Giorgio Vasari and the Traditions of Humanist Discourse. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Vasari, Giorgio." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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