Giorgio Vasari was a very prolific and eclectic artist. He was born in Arezzo in 1511 and died in Florence in 1574, and has an important role in Dan Brown’s Inferno. He was a brilliant polymath, and his expertise covered a number of different subjects, including writing, painting, and planning.
Because of his fame and talent, Vasari was one of the most important Medici court artists. Vasari met Michelangelo, Rosso Fiorentino, and Vittore Ghiberti. He traveled frequently, visiting Rome, Venice, Bologna, Pisa, Naples, and in every city, including his hometown of Arezzo, he left an example of his art and learned something about the artistic trends of the time.
During the first part of his artistic career, he devoted himself to painting. Some of his most famous works are Portrait of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (Ritratto di Alessandro de’ Medici), a Nativity for the Monastrery of Camaldoli (Natività Camaldoli), and the Allegory of the Immaculate Conception (Allegoria dell’Immacolata Concezione) in the church of Saint Apostoli in Florence.
After that, he dedicated himself to altarpieces and frescoes. In 1550 he wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri), his most famous literary work. The second edition in 1568 became a classic of art historiography: it is a fundamental text that changed the way of thinking about art history and was also a valuable source of news.
In his Lives, Giorgio Vasari chronicled the evolution of Italian art, from Giotto’s innovation to the celebrated perfection of Michelangelo, through a series of artist biographies, with information about their art works, styles, and techniques. Several anecdotes and stories are also included.
His biographies are naturally most dependable for the painters of his own generation and the preceding one. It is widely agreed that The Lives of the Artists must be supplemented by modern critical research. Nonetheless, its influence has been unparalleled: This book has formed and defined the way we think about Renaissance art, and it has also been adopted as a sort of classical reference guide for names of artists.
Giorgio Vasari was in contact with the leading artists of his era, and Michelangelo suggested him to explore the field of architecture. He became famous throughout Italy for the works he created in Rome on behalf of Pope Julius II and others in Arezzo. Later, Cosimo I de’ Medici invited Giorgio Vasari to move to Florence, as he wanted to surround himself with the most important artists of the time. This meeting led to a partnership that enriched the city of Florence with important works.
In fact, Cosimo I commissioned Giorgio Vasari works in almost all construction sites in Florence, which was rich in artistic ferment. In Florence, Giorgio Vasari created the decoration in Palazzo Vecchio (Apartments of the Elements, Quarters of Leo X, Hall of the Five Hundred, Studiolo of Francesco I).
The decoration of the Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) involved considerable work, which Vasari completed in two phases, interrupted by a period in Rome, where he frescoed some chapels in the Vatican. In the Hall of the Five Hundred, Vasari built the magnificent paneled ceiling, and a number of famous paintings still enrich it.
On the walls, Giorgio Vasari painted six scenes of battle that represent the military successes of Cosimo I over Pisa and Siena, including the Battle of Marciano, which is also called the Battle of Scannagallo. Giorgio Vasari also decorated the Studiolo of Francesco I in the Mannerist style of the time. In 1560 he began work on the Uffizi Gallery, designed as a connection between Piazza della Signoria and the Arno River. The Uffizi was the largest building built in 16th century Florence.
An important Vasari contribution to the Uffizi is the Vasari Corridor, which was built in 1565 as a connection between Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. Giorgio Vasari also worked on the decorations of the dome of Florence Cathedral, but they remained unfinished at his death. In the dome, however, we can still admire a number of his frescoes.
Vasari played an important role in the founding of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing, 1563) and collected drawings by Italian masters. Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence features the Resurrection and four saints (Resurrezione e quattro santi) by Vasari, who also worked on renovating the church. Finally, Vasari worked at the Basilica of Santa Croce.
The palace where Giorgio Vasari used to live in Florence is now a museum, situated in borgo Santa Croce 8. Casa Vasari was the residence of this great Florentine painter, architect, and art historian and preserves a remarkable cycle of frescoes in the hall, which he designed and built.
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