Cornaro crest

Giorgio Vasari

Born: 30 July 1511, Arezzo

Died: 27 June 1574, Florence


GIORGIO VASARI, an admired and successful artist and architect in his own right, is celebrated today primarily for his pioneering work as one of Italy's premiere art historians.

Already a student of Guglielmo da Marcilla, Vasari removed to Florence when he was just 13 years of age to continue his studies under Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and Baccio Bandinelli. Later, after a four-year period in Rome, 1542-6, highlighted by the major painting cycle that he executed for the Palazzo della Cancelleria [Chancellery] under the patronage of Cardinal Farnese, Vasari returned to Florence.

In Florence he began a series of projects for the ruling Medici family that was to occupy him for the rest of his career. Among his legacies there are the extensive reworking of the interior of the Palazzo Vecchio [Old Palace] (including design of the Studiolo [Little Study] of Francesco I, 1570-5, and of the Salone dei Cinquecento [Hall of the Five Hundred] celebrating the victories of Cosimo I), construction of the Uffizi [Offices, now the famous museum], begun 1560 (completed by Buontalenti), and the remarkable Vasari Corridor, 1564, the elevated passageway connecting the Uffizi with the Pitti Palace (the residence of Francesco I across the Arno River almost a kilometre away).

Vasari also executed major painting cycles for the Duomo [cathedral] of Florence and the Sala Regia [Royal Hall] at the Vatican. His early portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent, c. 1533, and his painting Vulcan's Forge are now in the Uffizi collection in Florence. His self-portrait is shown above.

Vasari's modern fame, however, derives from his historic contribution to art history, Delle Vite de piu' Eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, ed Architettori [Lives of the Greatest Painters, Sculptors and Architects], published in Florence in 1550 and succeeded by a revised and enlarged edition in 1568. The success of the work resulted not only from its broad assembly of facts, many of which have required correction by later scholars, but from Vasari's astute and largely unbiased critical judgments.

1997-9 C. I. Gable