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Giorgio di Antonio Vasari

Italian Painter, Architect, and Art Historian

Giorgio di Antonio Vasari Photo
Born: July 30, 1511
Arezzo, Italy
Died: June 27, 1574
Florence, Italy
This disegno, when it brings forth a creative idea from our critical faculty, requires a hand ready and able, thanks to years of study and practice, to draw and to express well whatever thing Nature has created, with a pen, a stylus, a charcoal stick, a pencil...
Giorgio Vasari

Summary of Giorgio di Antonio Vasari

Missing the so-called High Renaissance period of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael by almost a generation, Giorgio di Antonio Vasari emerged around the 1530s as an important link in the development of Italian Renaissance art. He is well respected as a painter and architect, especially in his frescos and his use of the lt;span class="marked_text chart-tooltip-target-top tooltip_id-mannerism">Mannerism style to intensify his biblical narratives. Yet most commentators would agree that his great contribution to the history of Western art history came not via an artwork at all, but rather via a tome: The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, first published in 1550. In The Lives (as it has become known), Vasari introduced for the first time the now familiar art historical convention of using biological models to bring meanings to specific artworks. According to scholar Andrew Ladis, Vasari turned Michelangelo (in particular) into "the triumphant savior of the arts, a figure of light" as he put it. Presenting a view on the Renaissance which persists to this day, The Lives decreed Vasari's era as the "rebirth" of art after the fall of Rome, with the works by proto-Renaissance artist Giotto representing the beginnings of art's aesthetic ascent.

Key Ideas

Biography of Giorgio di Antonio Vasari

Giorgio di Antonio Vasari Photo

Giorgio Vasari, the eldest of six children, was born in 1511 into a middle-class family living in the Arezzo region of Tuscany. Giorgio's artistic leanings were passed down to him through the generations of family members. His great-grandfather Lazzaro Vasari had been a versatile artiste: a potter, a creator of decorated saddles, a painter of miniatures, and later, under the influence of his mentor Piero della Francesco, a fresco painter. Vasari's grandfather, after whom Giorgio was named, was less of an all-rounder but, like Antonio, he too was an accomplished potter. Vasari had been especially close to his great uncle, Luca Signorelli, himself a sitter for della Francesco's teachings and his perspective drawing. Indeed, little Giorgio had been a sickly child, stricken with frequent nosebleeds (and possibly severe eczema). Vasari would tell the story of how Signorelli would try to staunch his nosebleeds by applying a folk remedy that involved holding "a piece of red jasper to my neck with infinite tenderness."

Important Art by Giorgio di Antonio Vasari

Portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici (1533)

Portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici (1533)

Painted by Vasari at the age of 22, this is a portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici - also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent - the Italian Statesman and famous ruler of Florence. De' Medici was held by many, including da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, to be the most important patron of the Renaissance art. He is shown here seated wearing a blue tunic with ermine sleeves surrounded by objects glorifying his reign with Latin inscriptions. The inscription on the vase reads "virtutum omnium vas" (the vessel of all the virtues) which sits on top of the mask of Vice. To his left is the mask of Music with a flute protruding from an eye. The inscription on the column reads "As my ancestors did for me, I honor them by my virtue". Hanging on his belt is a red purse as a symbol of his role as a financier and banker to the Papacy.

As Vasari wrote: "My intention [was] to include in this portrait every ornament significant of the great qualities that made him illustrious in life and show that all his honors were solely of this own attainment." The portrait was commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici, the Second duke of Florence (1537-74) in waiting, as an act of homage (Lorenzo had died in 1492, aged just 43) for one of his most powerful and revered ancestors. Vasari was pleased to oblige his most important patron and acknowledged his debt to the Medici family for their patronage throughout his life.

Although an accurate rendering of its subject, Vasari is known to have disliked painting portraits, preferring compositions in which he could avoid a focus on the detail necessary to achieve a likeness of the sitter. We see in this work that Vasari managed to reveal a pensive and powerful patron of the arts. This image, painted in subdued colors, shows Vasari's ability to encourage the viewer's empathy in understanding his subject's power and humility. Lorenzo de' Medici was in fact painted by many important artists of the Renaissance including Verrocchio, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, as well as Leonardo da Vinci in his Portrait of Lorenzo of 1500, and Bronzino.

Allegory of the Immaculate Conception (1541)

Allegory of the Immaculate Conception (1541)

The subject of the painting is salvation which is explained by the scrolls carried by angels on either side of Mary: "Those who Eve's fault condemned, Mary's grace set free." Mary is bathed in splendor, with the moon at her feet. In the bottom half of the painting we see Adam and Eve tied to the Tree of Original Sin, surrounded by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua and David and other prophets from the Old Testament. Samuel and St John the Baptist are shown bound only by one hand "because they were blessed in the womb."

Allegory of the Immaculate Conception was commissioned by Bindo Altoviti, a Florentine banker, for the family chapel at the Church of Santi Apostoli in Florence. As Vasari himself acknowledged, "I had not executed any work up to that time with more study or with more lovingness and labour." He is said, however, not to have been satisfied with what he achieved despite the time and effort he had put in. Indeed, one of the important paintings of religious subjects by Vasari, it is also one of the most difficult to read due to the excessive number of allegorical symbols contained within the frame. It also calls on the influence of Raphael in the upper part of the painting in which Mary is carried to the heavens by a group of angels; and Michelangelo, in the fluidity and dynamism in the allegorical figures in the bottom half of the painting.

Six Tuscan Poets (1544)

Six Tuscan Poets (1544)

As its title suggests, this painting shows six famous poets and philosophers from 13th and 14th century Tuscany engaged in conversation. They converse - as they wrote - in the Tuscan language. It shows Dante Alighieri (most famous for his poem about the afterlife, The Divine Comedy) seated, facing Guido Cavalcanti, a poet famed for his love sonnets. To his right is the humanist scholar, Francesco Petrarch holding a copy of his Scattered Rhymes. Between them is Giovanni Boccaccio, author of the Decameron, and to the far left are the humanist, Marsilio Ficino and the philosopher, Cristoforo Landino. The four great poets of the Italian language wear laurel wreaths as a symbol of honor. In front of Dante is a table with objects of learning; the solar quadrant and celestial globe representing astronomy, a compass representing geometry, a terrestrial globe for geography, and books for rhetoric.

Vasari received the commission from Luca Martini in 1543 to paint this picture as to announce the cultural supremacy of Tuscany, and to help raise Italian over Latin as the language of Italian culture. Dante holds a copy of Virgil, one of the great Latin poets, to remind the audience that all six poets in the painting were in fact masters of the Latin language. This was an important detail because some critics have suggested that the men had written in Italian because they were not well versed in Latin. This painting is then an important historical reference to the debate current to the times over the literary standing of the poets and the merits of Italian literature. As Vasari wrote in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, "Tuscan genius has ever been raised high above all others."

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Content compiled and written by Zaid Sethi

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Giorgio di Antonio Vasari Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Zaid Sethi
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 18 Nov 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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