Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574)

Vasari (1511-1574), intendant of Fine Arts and ideologist of the Medici reign, was also the architect of the political and cultural importance of Florence. His work reflects the Tuscan genius for posterity.

Biography of Giorgio Vasari

Giorgio Vasari was born in Arezzo, coming from a family of craftsmen (his surname means «potters» in Italian). His rise, marked by the constant search for influential patrons, reached its peak when he was appointed collaborator of the grand duke Cosimo I de Medicis.

Vasari carried out his first works in Rome, where he painted the cycle of the palace of the Chancellery in 1546. Subsequently, he worked in the Sala Reggia of the Vatican and also spent time in Venice, Naples and Pisa, where he built the Palazzo dei Cavalieri in 1558. However, it was in Florence where his activity became decisive.

Duke Cosimo I de Medicis, who had undertaken in 1553 the consolidation of the Tuscan state after a republican period, wished to make Florentine artistic life the ambassador of his politics. The mutual understanding between the two men was decisive.

Giorgio Vasari, as a court artist, was avid for honors and to obtain them he used all his abilities, with which he succeeded in seducing the powerful.

As director of Fine Arts in the Medici reign, Vasari joined the court’s pomp. Thus, in 1564 he organized the funeral of Michelangelo, and in 1565 he created the decorations for the wedding of Francesco de’ Medici and Joan of Austria.

In 1560, he undertook the construction of the palace of the Ufizzi, destined to replace the Palazzo Vecchio as the center of power of the grand duchy and to highlight the political rebirth of Florence.

The «Lives»: between myth and reality. When Giorgio Vasari published in 1550 the first edition of «Lives of the most excellent architects, painters and sculptors from Cimabue to our times» (hereafter, the «Vite»), there was no precedent for such works.

Revised by its author in 1562 and 1568, the book has constituted an important source of knowledge about Italian art, from the 13th century to the height of the Renaissance.

With around two hundred entries, this work provides a comprehensive and documented overview of those who, over three centuries, shaped Italian art.

The chronological order of the entries is based on the idea of a constant progression of art, culminating, in the 1550 edition, with the appearance of Michelangelo, the brilliant and unsurpassed Florentine artist.

Subsequently, they reproached Giorgio Vasari for his prejudice and his tendency to favor Tuscan art, as well as the distortions and the abundance of anecdotes, with relative significance, that tended to turn some of these lives into myths.

It should not be forgotten that this work, even seen from a historical perspective, was the fruit of a period in which Tuscany claimed cultural supremacy over its rivals and which, as a whole, sought to demonstrate the existence of genius rather than to construct a record of concrete facts.