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Giorgio Vasari - Founder of the History of Art

By Edited Jul 3, 2015 1 2

Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574)

Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, architect and historian. A pupil of Michelangelo, he was one of the most prolific artists of the 16th century. He was highly successful courtier artist. From 1555 he worked for Cosimo I, Duke of Florence, for whom he served as a painter, architect and designer.

He helped to found one of the earliest academies of art, in Florence the "Academia Del Disegno" in 1563.

Not only renowned for his works as an artist but on the fact that he wrote extensively on the subject. He produced the 'Lives of the Artists', a comprehensive collection of biographical material and an account of the history of Italian Renaissance Art. The edition dedicated to Cosimo de' Medici, was published in 1550 and an enlarged and revised edition, appeared in 1568. It's a classic of Italian Literature written in a lively style, colourful descriptions and anecdotes.

Giorgio Vasari
Along with the stress on the primacy of the individual, Vasari proposes that the arts have their own internal cycle which transcends the contribution of any one artist, since architecture, painting and sculpture 'like human beings themselves, are born, grow up, become old, and die.' He exemplifies this biological model of historical development by using the arts of antiquity, which rose from nothing via the conquest of various technical difficulties to a peak of perfection under the Greek and Roman Empire, after which under the later Caesars in the 4th Century, 'their earlier perfection and excellence was not sustained'. This decline continued because ' once human affairs start to deteriorate improvement is impossible until the nadir has been reached '. That is, the next stage in the cycle is inevitable, something which happens as a part of the natural order of things, like decay and death, as the biological model proposes.

He ascribes the revival of the arts to the Renaissance. 1st stage extending roughly from the end of the 14th century is the infancy of the art, 2nd stage covers till 15th century is youth and the 3 rd and the last of 15th century to Vasari's own time is maturity and perfection.

Vasari's approaches: They are the concentration on biography, patronage and the use of documents, the importance of the individual genius, the centrality of the work of art and hence of the techniques of connoisseurship, the assessment of quality, the definition of style, the identifying of sources, the criteria of naturalistic representation, progress and a biological cyclic model of development internal to arts.

However old fashioned Vasari's work may appear to us to be, he had a sensitive eye, an ability to identify useful categories of analysis, a mastery of anecdote, a persuasive literary style and a honesty about his motives in writing. This combination has earned him the designation 'founder of the history of art' among many art historians and makes him a formidable measure against which to judge later students of the subject.


Oct 11, 2010 7:58pm
A tribute to Giorgio Vasari that he is still remembered for his works, which he did nearly 500 years ago. Well written post, very descriptive, nice writing skills.
Dec 3, 2011 1:04am
Excellent research on the father of art history. Thanks for the info.
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