Giorgio Vasari is more famous for his comprehensive biographies of artists than for his paintings and building designs. He authored the Le Vita delle Piu eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, ed Architettori, which in English translation means Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects that he wrote during High Renaissance. This significant biographical account of Italian artists has been extremely useful for art history students, historians and Italian art enthusiasts throughout the passing centuries.
Many of Vasari’s art works today are in Uffizi Gallery while some of it had already been lost and now part of Renaissance history. He was also famous for designing the Palazzo degli Uffizi, which was a proof of his solid capabilities in laying out architectural designs that would be timeless and significant to the country.
Giorgio Vasari was born on July 30, 1511 in Arezzo, Tuscany. Like many artists he started young in his career by becoming a student of Guglielmo da Marsiglia through a recommended by his cousin Luca Signorelli. His master was an esteemed painter of stained glass so his earliest training had been about painting rather than architecture.
When he was sixteen, he met Cardinal Silvio Passerini in Florence to which he moved to after finishing his apprenticeship for da Marsiglia. There he had also met Andrea del Sarto, a master. Sarto introduced him to his top students, Jacopo Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino. With these two, he learned of the Humanist movement and later on applies its principles on his paintings. Historians believed that Vasari have also met Michelangelo in Florence, who was already highly influential at that time it was not impossible for the Arezzo painter to absorb Michelangelo’s painting style.
Giorgio Vasari went to Rome in 1529 to study the arts executed by the famous artists working in the Vatican. He must have a close observation of Raphael Santi’s works and of the other artists from the former generation. It is through this approach that he was able to paint art works using the classical Mannerism style.
In fact, he received his first major commission by the Vatican. He frescoed the hall of the Palazzo della Cancelleria. This achievement put the spotlight on him that the Medici family employed him to become one of the family’s court painters. While working for the Medici’s, he would still go to Naples, Arezzo to complete some works.
In 1555, Vasari finished a masterpiece together with his assistants – they filled the ceilings and walls of the Sala di Cosimo I with magnificent paintings. This room is located at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, where he also did some more frescoes such as the huge cupola of the Duomo, which he started but only to be finished by Federico Zuccari and Giovanni Balducci. Vasari was the main painter assigned to reconstructing the Palazzo Vecchio at that time.
Vasari’s talent extends beyond painting because apparently he was also an esteemed architect. He manned the construction of Palazzo degli Uffizi located by the Arno river. The said palace consisted of red tile roofs, arches at the entrance ways and front porches. The overlooking view from the windows stretches to its courtyard while the corridor is almost leveled to the river bank, giving a nice appeal to its surroundings.
Giorgio Vasari also designed and led the construction of Vasari Corridor, which is a passage that connects Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti to allow people to cross from one side of the river to another. The corridor is enclosed and it also winds out around several buildings near the river bank. While in Florence, he also reconstructed middle-period churches like Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella.
As Vasari reconstructed Santa Croce in 1566, he also painted The Adoration of the Magi for it which was sponsored by Pope Pius V. He completed this painting after a year and is now being preserved by art collectors and it even appeared on an exhibition conducted in Naples and Rome in 2011. Following this stint was a secular work for the Basilica of Our Lady of Humility in Pistoia for which he built its octagonal dome in 1562. It became one of the significant edifices produced during High Renaissance that is now subject to study of architecture students.
In 1550, Giorgio Vasari had published his major literary work Le Vite. His expansive knowledge of Western art history, from Cimabue of Byzantine (1240-1302), golden age of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Tiziano (1485-1576), garnered him the accolade “the first art historian”. Le vite is a collection of biographies of various artists that existed anywhere between the abovementioned periods.
In fact, Vasari was the one who coined the word “Renaissance” in print as well as the word Gothic art which for him meant the barbaric style of the Germans. The book was originally dedicated to Cosimo I de Medici in 1550, and was re-written to make a better printed outcome in 1568.
However, some critics stated that Vasari was biased towards Florentine artists because mainly of the artists featured on the book were from Florence as well as the major contributions of the city when it comes to painting, architecture and sculpture. One proof to support this claim was in the first edition, Vasari overlooked of the Venetian art, which was flouring during his time. But later on, he incorporated Venice and its artists like Titian in the second and third editions but his point of view still favored the Florentines.
Although some modern critics found Le Vite filled with exaggerating stories, Vasari still gave art historians a book that they can consider a bible of Italian arts. The book was undeniably Vasari’s brainchild that had stood the test of time. He began writing it in 1543 when he had to tour all over Italy to gather materials for the composition of Le Vite and then he re-published it two decades later.
Vasari’s fame brought him fortune that he was able to afford to build a house in Arezzo. Aside from designing the blueprint, he also frescoed it walls and ceilings with paintings that gave it an excellent quality to be a museum. His popularity and genius also lured the people to elect him as the municipal council and then assumed the highest position, supreme office of gonfaloniere, years after.
Eleven years before he died in June 27, 1574, Vasari co-founded the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence. He founded with Medici and Michelangelo and altogether they employed 36 artists as the institution’s members. The establishment of this institution served instrumental in leaving his legacy to the next generation of artists.