Giorgio Vasari, the First Art Historian

A good recommendation for all of our students who are interested in Florence, and Renaissance art history: read this post, read the book, read “Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architetti  !”

A Scholarly Skater

Vasari Self-Portrait Giorgio Vasari’s self-portrait, c. 1561-6. Part of a fresco in a private collection. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) was an Italian Renaissance/Mannerist artist, architect, courtier, and art historian. He’s best remembered as the author of The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, a lengthy set of biographies of Italian Renaissance artists and architects. More importantly, Vasari is widely considered to be the father of art history. (Thanks, Giorgio!) Apparently, Vasari was the first person to think that a) artists’ biographies are worth writing, and b) learning about an artist’s life is useful towards better appreciating their work. Art lovers take both of these facts for granted today*, but they were revolutionary in Vasari’s time. The idea of art history being a real avenue of academic study didn’t come until the nineteenth century, but the authors of a brand-new biography of Vasari argue that he is responsible for…

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