VASARI, Giorgio

(1511-1574)
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian writer, painter, draughtsman, architect, and col­lector. Born in Arezzo, Vasari remained loyal to his Tuscan roots, placing his fellow Tuscans among those he felt were the best and the most innovative of the artists in the Renaissance in his Lives ofthe Artists. For this book he is often called the father of art history, though his observations are often subjective.
Vasari came from a family of potters (his name is derived from the Italian word for potter, vasaio). One should take his biographical data with a grain of salt, as almost all of them are based upon his autobiography. He was well educated in Latin and mythology and began his training as a painter with Guil­laume de Marcillat, an artist familiar with Rome and its masterpieces. Vasari's connection with the Medici began in 1524, and he trained in Florence at that time in the workshops of Andrea del Sarto* and others.
After the Medici were expelled in 1527, Vasari went back to Arezzo, where he was influenced by the Mannerist painter Rosso Fiorentino.* He returned to Florence in 1532 and again worked for the Medici, painting portraits of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Alessandro (1534), using complex symbolism to convey personality traits of the sitters. When Alessandro was murdered in 1537, Vasari began working for the monks at Camaldoli. He traveled to Rome and returned to Camaldoli and Florence, where he painted the Immaculate Conception for SS. Apostoli. This painting helped establish the subsequent iconography for the theme in later sixteenth-century and especially seventeenth-century art.
In the 1540s Vasari went to Venice with the writer Pietro Aretino,* for whose play La talanta he painted the stage set and the room where it was presented. Vasari also returned to Rome, where he and numerous assistants frescoed the Sala dei Cento Giorni (Room of one hundred days, the name based upon the time of execution), and went on to Naples.
In the late 1540s Vasari began writing the first edition of his Lives of the Artists (published in 1550). This work, published in a second edition in 1568, has proven to be his most important legacy. He interviewed contemporaries, looked at artworks of his illustrious predecessors, and provided a framework for the history of Italian Renaissance art that continues—despite serious critiques - to the present. Vasari put Tuscans, especially Florentines and Aretines, at the center of the new art of the Renaissance. He set up a structure of three periods. The first was dominated by Giovanni Cimabue and Giotto, the primi lume (first lights) of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The second period of Vasari's construct roughly corresponds to the fifteenth century; he thought that these artists, such as Masaccio, improved upon the observation of nature. The third period, according to Vasari, culminated in the work of the master Michelangelo,* who enjoys the longest biography in Vasari's work.
In addition to his writing, Vasari continued working for the Medici after a stable dynasty under Cosimo I,* grand duke of Tuscany, was established in Florence. Cosimo asked Vasari to execute numerous works for the public spaces of sixteenth-century Florence. Most notably, Vasari painted the ceiling of the Sala dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), a meeting room designed at the turn of the century for the new Republic of Florence. The republican dec­oration by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo had never been completed, and the republican ideas of the original patrons were subsumed in a glorification of the new aristocratic ruler. There are many battle scenes showing the victories of Florentine armies, but in the center there is an apotheosis of Cosimo I.
Vasari also designed the Uffizi, originally an office building for the admin­istration of the Grand Duchy, but today the world-famous art gallery. In his design Vasari manipulated Renaissance architectural themes in a way that was undoubtedly inspired by Michelangelo's later architecture. He also designed the "Vasari corridor," a passage from the Uffizi over the top of the Ponte Vecchio that connected to the Palazzo Pitti on the left bank of the Arno, the new resi­dence of the grand ducal family. Cosimo could therefore walk in safety from home to work without risking attacks from enemies. This gallery, much damaged during World War II, is now the home of the Uffizi's collection of artists' self-portraits.
Vasari was also one of the earliest serious collectors of drawings. Drawings were usually workshop property, used by apprentices to learn the techniques of the master, and thus were often worn to death by repeated handling. Vasari changed this idea by collecting drawings of master artists and mounting them in a book, the Libro de disegni. Thus he established the idea that the drawing, the disegno, was not just a sketch, but rather a major intellectual articulation of the artist's idea.
Bibliography
T. Boase, Giorgio Vasari: The Man and the Book, 1979.
G. Vasari, Lives of the Artists, trans. George Bull, 1987.
Lynne E. Johnson

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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