Giorgio Vasari
Italian Painter & Architect, Author of Lives of The Artists.

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Giorgio Vasari, Self-Portrait (c.1567)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

For a guide see:
Proto-Renaissance Art (1300-1400)
Early Renaissance Art (1400-1490)
High Renaissance Art (1490-1530)
Mannerism (1530-1600)
Renaissance Sculptors

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)

Although famous for his painting and architecture, Giorgio Vasari is today best-known for his volume of biographies of Italian artists - Le Vita delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects) or "the Vite" for short) - published in 1550.

The book chronicles the origins, evolution and historical development of Renaissance art via the lives and works of the greatest Old Masters of the period, providing a unique insight into their techniques, habits, relationships and aesthetic accomplishments. Vasari profiled the proto-Renaissance painters like Cimabue (1240-1302) and Giotto (1267-1337); pioneers of the Florentine Renaissance such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Donatello (1386-1466), and Tommaso Masaccio (c.1401-28); and the giants of the High Renaissance (c.1490-1530) like Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), Raphael (1483-1520), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Correggio (1490-1534).

Also, as the first significant commentary on the Italian Renaissance, the Vite effectively shaped our impression of this era for centuries afterwards.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Giorgio Vasari in his
colour painting, see:
Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.

For a short guide to the
aesthetic issues surrounding
the creative visual arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

For a list of the finest works of
painting and sculpture, by the
world's most famous artists, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed media
from 1300-present.
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Works in stone, bronze, wood
from 33,000 BCE-present.
Greatest Sculptors
The world's best 3-D artists in
bronze, marble, wood and stone.

Early Life

Vasari was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, and became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia (1475-1537), a painter of stained glass. In 1527 he was sent to Florence by Cardinal Silvio Passerini. Here, he joined the studio of Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531) and his pupils Rosso Fiorentino (born Giovanni Battista di Jacopo) (1494-1540) and Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556). He met and made friends with Michelangelo who would become a major influence on (but not a great admirer of) his painting style. In 1529, Vasari left Florence for Rome, where he studied the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and other esteemed artists of the High Renaissance.

Vasari's Paintings

Vasari was employed by the Medici family mainly in Florence and Rome, and also undertook projects further afield in Arezzo, Naples and other Italian cities. As a painter, he was a wonderful interior decorator, his cinquecento Mannerist style paintings being more admired in his lifetime than afterwards! He painted portraits as well as religious works, but his most important work is probably the decoration of the grand salon in the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, featuring scenes from the life of Pope Paul III, commissioned by Paul's grandson Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Other notable works by Vasari include the ceiling and mural paintings in the great Sala di Cosimo I of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and his frescoes inside the vast cupola of the Florentine Duomo.


Vasari's Architecture

Vasari was more successful as an architect. In Florence, his most important building design was for the Uffizi Gallery. His loggia of the Palazzo degli Uffizi with its unified architectural treatment represents a unique example of urban planning that functions like a public piazza, and - like the Vasari Corridor which connects the Uffizi with the Palazzo Pitti across the Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno - appears to embrace the riverside environment. Vasari also redesigned and renovated the medieval churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, where he removed the original rood screen and loft, and remodelled the choir area according to the Mannerist taste of his time. In Rome, he collaborated with Bartolomeo Ammanati and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola at Pope Julius III's Villa Giulia.

Vasari's Lives of The Artists (1550)

Begun in 1543 and completed in 1550, Vasari's seminal book of artist biographies focuses principally on painters and sculptors involved in the Renaissance in Florence. In fact the first edition ignored Venice art completely! A second edition, finished in 1568, was less biased and included biographical details of several artists from the Renaissance in Venice, including Titian, but did not succeed in eliminating the disparity between Florence and the remainder of Italy. Dedicated to his friend and patron, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-1574), the book was the first to introduce the terms "rinascita" and "rinascimento" (Italian for "Renaissance") in print, and was the first encyclopedic style of biography. It also included descriptions of important techniques used by master artists, and promoted the new Mannerist painting style, known as the maniera. Significantly, in matters of aesthetics and artistic judgement, a high proportion of Vasari's opinions have stood the test of time. That said, Vasari was occasionally prone to spiteful inaccuracies, such as his misleading comments on Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), whose reputation was severely damaged as a result.

Lives of The Artists includes nearly all the major artists of the Renaissance as well as many of the minor ones whose reputations have since declined. As well as those listed above, it includes the sculptors Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488); the painters Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), Fra Angelico (c.1400-55), Piero della Francesca (1420-92) Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506), Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Giorgione (c.1476-1510), Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (c.1487-1576), Correggio (1490-1534); and the architect and author of De Sculptura, Della Pittura, and De Aedificatoria, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), to name but a few.


Vasari was highly thought of as an artist, architect, project-director and critic during his lifetime, and amassed a considerable fortune. He designed, built and decorated his own large house in Arezzo (now a museum dedicated to him), and was elected to a leading post in the local civic administration. In 1563, along with the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and Michelangelo, he helped to establish the Academy of Art in Florence (Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno), with 36 artist members.

Giorgio Vasari passed away in Florence, in June 1574, at the age of sixty-three.

Paintings by Vasari can be seen in the best art museums in Italy, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

• For profiles of the major art styles/movements/periods, see: History of Art.
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