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The Lives of the Artists

by Giorgio Vasari

Other authors: Julia Conaway Bondanella (Translator), Peter Bondanella (Translator)

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736523,941 (3.83)12
These biographies of the great quattrocento artists have long been considered among the most important of contemporary sources on Italian Renaissance art. Vasari, who invented the term "Renaissance," was the first to outline the influential theory of Renaissance art that traces a progression through Giotto, Brunelleschi, and finally the titanic figures of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael. This new translation, specially commisioned for the World's Classics series, contains thirty-six of the most important lives and is fully annotated.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
A series of artist biographies written by 16th-century Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari, which is considered "perhaps the most famous, and even today the most-read work of the older literature of art", "some of the Italian Renaissance's most influential writing on art", and "the first important book on art history".

The writer Paolo Giovio expressed his desire to compose a treatise on contemporary artists at a party in the house of Cardinal Farnese, who asked Vasari to provide Giovio with as much relevant information as possible. Giovio instead yielded the project to Vasari.

As the first Italian art historian, Vasari initiated the genre of an encyclopedia of artistic biographies that continues today. Vasari's work was first published in 1550 by Lorenzo Torrentino in Florence, and dedicated to Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. It included a valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in the arts. It was partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568 and provided with woodcut portraits of artists.

The work has a consistent and notorious favour of Florentines and tends to attribute to them all the new developments in Renaissance art – for example, the invention of engraving. Venetian art in particular, let alone other parts of Europe, is systematically ignored. Between his first and second editions, Vasari visited Venice and the second edition gave more attention to Venetian art (finally including Titian) without achieving a neutral point of view. John Symonds claimed in 1899 that, "It is clear that Vasari often wrote with carelessness, confusing dates and places, and taking no pains to verify the truth of his assertions" (in regards to Vasari's life of Nicola Pisano), while acknowledging that, despite these shortcomings, it is one of the basic sources for information on the Renaissance in Italy.

Vasari's biographies are interspersed with amusing gossip. Many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth, although likely inventions. Others are generic fictions, such as the tale of young Giotto painting a fly on the surface of a painting by Cimabue that the older master repeatedly tried to brush away, a genre tale that echoes anecdotes told of the Greek painter Apelles. He did not research archives for exact dates, as modern art historians do, and naturally his biographies are most dependable for the painters of his own generation and the immediately preceding one. Modern criticism—with all the new materials opened up by research—has corrected many of his traditional dates and attributions. The work is widely considered a classic even today, though it is widely agreed that it must be supplemented by modern scientific research.

Vasari includes a forty-two-page sketch of his own biography at the end of his Vite, and adds further details about himself and his family in his lives of Lazzaro Vasari and Francesco de' Rossi.

Vasari's Vite has been described as "by far the most influential single text for the history of Renaissance art" and "the most important work of Renaissance biography of artists". Its influence is situated mainly in three domains: as an example for contemporary and later biographers and art historians, as a defining factor in the view on the Renaissance and the role of Florence and Rome in it, and as a major source of information on the lives and works of early Renaissance artists from Italy. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Mar 1, 2021 |
This is a compilation of biographies of the great Florentine painters by one who knew them. Wonderful read, interesting insight. It has been disparaged today by some who insist that peer review articles take precedence because modern authorities are more critical. Oh, please. What the egos of the small minded are capable of! ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Quite simply, this is one of the greatest treatises on art in the history of man. It's hard to overstate the significance that this work has had on the art world through the ages. ( )
  conceptDawg | Aug 10, 2007 |
This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in the lives of some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance from a contemparary source. Vasari, who also coined the phrase "Renaissance" is able to simultaniously humanize and praise the artists who left an indelible mark on Western civilization. ( )
  Tipton_Renwick | Aug 18, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Giorgio Vasariprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bondanella, Julia ConawayTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bondanella, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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I know it is an opinion commonly accepted amongst all writers that sculpture, as well as painting, was first discovered in nature by the peoples of Egypt; and that some others attribute to the Chaldeans the first rough rough carvings in marble and the first figures in relief; just as others assign to the Greeks the invention of the brush and the use of colour.
The greatest discovery of the Renaissance was, undoubtedly, that man is the measure of all things, and the best, no, the only proper, study of man. Portraiture, rarely practiced during the Middle Ages, and biography, virtually dead after Plutarch, became favored pursuits, and it was an artist who was to combine both with distinction.
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These biographies of the great quattrocento artists have long been considered among the most important of contemporary sources on Italian Renaissance art. Vasari, who invented the term "Renaissance," was the first to outline the influential theory of Renaissance art that traces a progression through Giotto, Brunelleschi, and finally the titanic figures of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael. This new translation, specially commisioned for the World's Classics series, contains thirty-six of the most important lives and is fully annotated.

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