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Giorgio Vasari
Vasari's self-portrait
Born 30 July 1511(1511-07-30)
Arezzo, Tuscany
Died 27 June 1574 (aged 62)
Florence, Italy
Nationality Italian
Field Painting, architect
Training Andrea del Sarto
Movement Renaissance
Works Biographies of Italian artists

Giorgio Vasari (30 July 1511 – 27 June 1574) was an Italian painter and architect, who is today famous for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.



Vasari was born in Arezzo, Tuscany. Recommended at an early age by his cousin Luca Signorelli, he became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia, a skilful painter of stained glass. Sent to Florence at the age of sixteen by Cardinal Silvio Passerini, he joined the circle of Andrea del Sarto and his pupils Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo Pontormo where his humanist education was encouraged. He was befriended by Michelangelo whose painting style would influence his own.

In 1529, he visited Rome and studied the works of Raphael and others of the Roman High Renaissance. Vasari's own Mannerist paintings were more admired in his lifetime than afterwards. He was consistently employed by patrons in the Medici family in Florence and Rome, and he worked in Naples, Arezzo and other places. Many of his pictures still exist, the most important being the wall and ceiling paintings in the great Sala di Cosimo I of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, where he and his assistants were at work from 1555, and his uncompleted frescoes inside the vast cupola of the Duomo, completed by Federico Zuccari and with the help of Giovanni Balducci. He also helped organize the decoration of the Studiolo, now reassembled in the Palazzo Vecchio.

As an architect, Vasari was perhaps more successful than as a painter. His loggia of the Palazzo degli Uffizi by the Arno opens up the vista at the far end of its long narrow courtyard, a unique piece of urban planning that functions as a public piazza, and which, if considered as a short street, is the unique Renaissance street with a unified architectural treatment. The view of the Loggia from the Arno reveals that, with the Vasari Corridor, it is one of very few structures that line the river which are open to the river itself and appear to embrace the riverside environment.

The Vasari Corridor passing over the Ponte Vecchio

In Florence, Vasari also built the long passage, now called Vasari Corridor, which connects the Uffizi with the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river. The enclosed corridor passes alongside the River Arno on an arcade, crosses the Ponte Vecchio and winds around the exterior of several buildings.

Vasari also renovated the fine medieval churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, from both of which he removed the original rood screen and loft, and remodelled the retro-choir in the Mannerist taste of his time.

In Rome, Vasari worked with Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Bartolomeo Ammanati at Pope Julius III's Villa Giulia. Vasari enjoyed high repute during his lifetime and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1547, he built himself a fine house in Arezzo (now a museum honouring him), and laboured to decorate its walls and vaults with paintings. He was elected to the municipal council or priori of his native town, and finally rose to the supreme office of gonfaloniere.

In 1563, he helped found the Florence Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno, with the Grand Duke and Michelangelo as capi of the institution and 36 artists chosen as members. Vasari died at Florence on 27 June 1574.

The Lives

A cover of the Lives

As the first Italian art historian, he initiated the genre of an encyclopedia of artistic biographies that continues today. Vasari coined the term "Renaissance" (rinascita) in print, though an awareness of the ongoing "rebirth" in the arts had been in the air from the time of Alberti. Vasari's Le Vite delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects) — dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici — was first published in 1550. It included a valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in the arts. It was partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568, with the addition of woodcut portraits of artists (some conjectural).

The work has a consistent and notorious bias in favour of Florentines and tends to attribute to them all the developments in Renaissance art — for example, the invention of engraving. Venetian art in particular (along with arts from other parts of Europe), is systematically ignored in the first edition. Between the first and second editions, Vasari visited Venice and while the second edition gave more attention to Venetian art (finally including Titian) it did so without achieving a neutral point of view.

Vasari's biographies are interspersed with amusing gossip. Many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth, while others are inventions or generic fictions, such as the tale of young Giotto painting a fly on the surface of a painting by Cimabue that the older master repeatedly tried to brush away, a genre tale that echoes anecdotes told of the Greek painter Apelles. With a few exceptions, however, Vasari's aesthetic judgement was acute and unbiased. He did not research archives for exact dates, as modern art historians do, and naturally his biographies are most dependable for the painters of his own generation and those of the immediate past. Modern criticism — with new materials opened up by research — has corrected many of his traditional dates and attributions. The work remains a classic, though it must be supplemented by modern critical research.

Vasari includes a sketch of his own biography at the end of his Lives, and adds further details about himself and his family in his lives of Lazzaro Vasari and Francesco Salviati.

Competition and "Competition"

According to the historian Richard Goldthwaite, Vasari was one of the earliest authors to use the word "competition" (or "concorrenza") in Italian in its economic sense. He used it repeatedly, but perhaps most notably while explaining the reasons for Florentine preeminence, in the introduction to his life of Pietro Perugino.

In Vasari's view, Florentine artists excelled because they were hungry, and they were hungry because their fierce competition for commissions each with the others kept them hungry. Competition, he said, is "one of the nourishments that maintain them."


See also


The Castration of Uranus: fresco by Vasari & Cristofano Gherardi (c. 1560, Sala di Cosimo I, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  • The Lives of the Artists Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 019283410X
  • Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Volumes I and II. Everyman's Library, 1996. ISBN 0679451013
  • Vasari on Technique. Dover Publications, 1980. ISBN 0-486-20717-X
  • Life of Michelangelo. Alba House, 2003. ISBN 0-8189-0935-8
  • Biography of Vasari and analysis for four major works
  • Brief Vita

External links

Copies of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists online:


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GIORGIO VASARI (1511-1571), Italian painter and architect, whose main distinction, however, rests on his valuable history of Italian art, was born at Arezzo on the 30th of July 1511.. At a very early age he became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia, a very skilful painter of stained glass, to whom he was recommended by his own kinsman, the painter Luca Signorelli. At the age of sixteen he went to Florence, where he studied under Michelangelo and Andrea del Sarto, aided by the patronage of the Medici princes. In 1529 he visited Rome and studied the works of Raphael and others of his school. The paintings of Vasari were much admired by the rapidly degenerating taste of the 16th century; but they possess the smallest amount of merit, being in the main feeble parodies of the powerful works of Michelangelo. Vasari was largely employed in Florence, Rome, Naples, Arezzo and other places. Many of his pictures still exist, the most important being the wall and ceiling paintings in the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and his frescoes on the cupola of the cathedral, which, however, were not completed at the time of his death. As an architect he was perhaps more successful: the loggia of the Uffizi by the Arno, and the long passage connecting it with the Pitti Palace, are his chief works. Unhappily he did much to injure the fine medieval churches of S. Maria Novella and Santa Croce, from both of which he removed the original rood-screen and loft, and remodelled the retro-choir in the degraded taste of his time. Vasari enjoyed a very high repute during his lifetime and amassed a considerable fortune. He built himself in 1547 a fine house in Arezzo, and spent much labour in decorating its walls and vaults with paintings. He was elected one of the municipal council or priori of his native town, and finally rose to the supreme office of gonfaloniere. He died at Florence on the 27th of June 1571.

Personally Vasari was a man of upright character, free from vanity, and always ready to appreciate the works of others: in spite of the narrow and meretricious taste of his time, he expresses a warm admiration of the works of such men as Cimabue and Giotto, which is very remarkable. As an art historian of his country he must always occupy the highest rank. His great work was first published in 1550, and afterwards partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568, bearing the title Delle Vite de' pi.0 eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori. It was dedicated to Cosimo de' Medici, and was printed at Florence by the Giunti; it is a small quarto illustrated with many good woodcut portraits. This editio princeps of the complete work is usually bound in three volumes, and also contains a very valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in all branches of the arts, entitled Le Tre Arti del disegno, cioe architettura, pittura, e scoltura. His biographies are written in a very pleasant style, interspersed with amusing stories. With a few exceptions Vasari's judgment is acute and unbiased. And though modern criticism - with all the new materials opened up by research - has done valuable work in upsetting a good many of his traditional accounts and attributions, the result is a tendency very often to underestimate Vasari's accuracy and to multiply hypotheses of a rather speculative character. The work in any case remains a classic, however it may be supplemented by the more critical research of modern days.

Vasari gives a sketch of his own biography at the end of his Vile, and adds further details about himself and his family in his lives,of Lazzaro Vasari and Francesco Salviati. The best edition of Vasari's works is that published at Florence by Milanesi (1878-1882), which embodies the valuable notes in the earlier edition by Le Monnier (1846); another, by Venturi, was begun in 1896. The Lives has been translated into French, German and English (by Mrs Foster, London, 1850).

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Simple English

File:Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari's self-portrait

Giorgio Vasari, (1511-1574), was an Italian painter, architect and writer. He is most famous for his book "The Lives of the Great Architects, Painters and Sculptors of Italy", which is usually known as "Vasari's Lives". Although some other writers had written about art, this book, which was published in 1550 makes Vasari the first art historian.


Vasari's life

Vasari was born in 1511 to a wealthy family in the city of Arezzo in Tuscany. When he was 13 he was sent to Florence to study at the workshops of the well-known artists Andrea del Sarto. Florence is so famous for the arts that students like Vasari have been going there to learn painting and sculpture, ever since Giotto in the 1200s. The two most famous artists in the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were both alive when Vasari was a boy and had both studied in Florence. Vasari had the good luck to meet Michelangelo, who was like a great hero to Vasari.

Vasari learnt well, and became one of the favourite artists of the Grand Duke Cosimo I of the Medici family who ruled Florence at that time. He did all sorts of important jobs for them. One of the most important buildings in the city was the Palazzo Vecchio (the "Old Palace") which was really a Medieval fortress, where the town council had always met. Vasari got the job of decorating the walls of the enormous meeting room with painted frescos.

Vasari was very good at directing important artistic jobs, but he was not really as good a painter as he was architect. One of his most important architectural jobs was to begin the building of the Uffizi (Offices) in Florence. These are two long buildings that face each other across a long narrow courtyard with one end opening on the town square, and the other end opening onto the Arno River. At the end where the river is, Vasari designed a beautiful "loggia" which is a sort of two-storey veranda that joins the two buildings. It makes the narrow courtyard and the view of the river look like a stage set where wonderful things might happen. The Uffizi is now one of the most famous art galleries in the world. [[File:|thumb|The Vasari Corridor crosses over the Ponte Vecchio.]] Vasari had another important job for the Medici family. Eleanor, the wife of Duke Cosimo I, had bought a house. It was by far the biggest house in the city, and was across the river from the Uffizi. The Medici family was not always popular. The previous duke, Alessandro, had been murdered. So to keep the family safe, they needed an escape route from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river. Vasari was expected to design it. The escape route is named after its designer. It is called the "Vasari Corridor".

The corridor begins at the Palazzo Vecchio and runs along the top floor of the Uffizi and across the loggia near the river, then it runs on top of arches along the street by the riverbank, above a nice covered walkway at street-level where nowadays people can buy souvenirs. The Vasari Corridor then gets to a bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. It is the oldest, most famous bridge in the city, and on both sides it had rows of shops and houses. But the Medici did not mind that! They just had anything that was in the way pulled down. When the Corridor gets to the other side of the river, it makes some twists and turns. Some buildings were knocked down to make way, but the Mannelli family who lived in a large tower were not so obliging and so the corridor is made to go around its walls. Eventually it gets to the Pitti Palace, which is an enormous building of brown stone, with big carved lions' heads beneath all the windows. Vasari built other buildings that are more beautiful, but the Vasari Corridor is probably his most famous.

"Vasari's Lives"

[[File:|thumb|The front page of "Vasari's Lives"]] Vasari's masterpiece is his book, "The Lives of the Great Architects, Painters and Sculptors of Italy", first published in 1550. It is a book of biography. It tells the stories of the lives of Italian artists from Giotto who lived around 1300 to Michelangelo who was still alive when Vasari was writing his book. For some of the artists, very little is known about them except the stories that Vasari heard and wrote in his book. Even though nowadays it is known that Vasari sometimes made mistakes, he gives a wonderful picture of the characters of the artists, and tells all sorts of amusing stories.

Vasari does not just tell the stories of the artists' lives. He also describes their artworks in great detail. It is because of Vasari that art historians know of many important artworks that have been lost. It is because of Vasari that we know that the Mona Lisa once had eyebrows. Vasari writes about the artworks as a history. He believed that the Gothic art of the Middle Ages was not as good as the art of Florence in the 15th century (1400s) and that Michelangelo, who painted in the early 16th century (1500s) was the greatest artist since the days of Ancient Greece. He believed that the change towards the great art of the Renaissance began with Giotto around 1300. Vasari puts all these ideas into his book and shows how one artist learnt from each other, and how the changes in art came about. "Vasari's Lives" is the first art history book that was ever written.

Related pages


  • Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists, (1568), 1965 edition, trans George Bull, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-044164-6
  • Frederick Hartt, A History of Italian Renaissance Art, (1970) Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-23136-2
  • Helen Gardner, Art through the Ages, (1970) Harcourt, Brace and World, ISBN 155037628
  • Ilan Rachum, The Renaissance, an Illustrated Encyclopedia, (1979) Octopus, ISBN 0-7064-0857-8
  • Luciano Berti, Florence: the city and its art, (1971) Scala, ISBN unknown
  • Luciano Berti, The Ufizzi, (1971) Scala, Florence. ISBN unknown
  • Zewande Bk. Bhengu, A true artist at heart, 1991-now,

Other websites

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