Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Vasari, Giorgio

Born: 30 July 1511
Died: 27 June 1574
  • Eliana CarraraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_107-1


Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect from Arezzo, who obtained many important commissions during his long artistic career (1532–1574), is the author of the Lives, published in Florence in 1550 (Vasari 1550) and reedited in 1568 (Vasari 1568b).

The text is the first example of modern artistic literature: after analyzing the three arts (architecture, sculpture, and painting), Vasari traces the biographical profile of the artists from the Middle Ages to his era and focuses on their works.

Cited, imitated, translated, the Lives represented a model of artistic historiography for at least two centuries and still remain an essential source for the documentation and information provided as well as for the careful reading of the works of art.

The role of Vasari as a man of letters, and also as an important artist, it is already clear in the letter that he sent to Benedetto Varchi during the survey launched by the latter in 1547 (and published in Florence by Lorenzo Torrentino in January 1550 with the title Due lezzioni di M. Benedetto Varchi, nella prima delle quali si dichiara un sonetto di M. Michelagnolo Buonarroti. Nella seconda si disputa quale sia più nobile arte, la scultura o la pittura, con una lettera d’esso Michelagnolo, et più altri eccellentissimi pittori et scultori, sopra la quistione sopradetta).


Seventeenth Century Artistic Career Technical Terminology Important Artist Medici Family 
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Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect from Arezzo, is the author of the Lives, published in Florence in 1550 and then reedited in 1568.

The Lives is the first example of modern artistic literature: after a general introduction of the three arts (architecture, sculpture, and painting), Vasari traces the biographical profiles of artists from the Middle Ages up to his own time and analyzes their works. In his opinion, the revival of the arts begins only with Cimabue and Giotto; as he explains in the preface to the Whole Work, art slowly rose to the height of perfection in antiquity and then decreased gradually from the time of Constantine onwards and later was completely destroyed after the invasions of the barbarians, the Goths.

Vasari subdivides the history of art into three phases (and a specific Part of the Lives corresponds to each one of them) on the basis of an anthropomorphic model, such as representation of childhood, youth, and maturity; Vasari based his division of history into epochs on a biological concept of history known since antiquity and present in authors such as Polybius (but also attested in Machiavelli): the comparison between the age of a human being and the development of a State (Mattioda 2007).

After the first phase (primi lumi), a period of growth and improvement followed (augumento), and finally the third epoch arrived, which extended up to Vasari’s time, the time of perfection (perfezione), reached by Michelangelo. In the first (whose greatest exponent is Giotto), artists had begun to imitate the colors and forms of nature, the three-dimensional appearance of the figure, and the expressiveness of the living human body. In the second, datable from ca. 1400 to ca. 1500 (Masaccio was its main exponent), artists had dedicated themselves to a long series of experiments, especially in perspective and anatomy, leading art to the ability of recording the real world almost completely, although with an artistic expressiveness still stiff or imposed by the rules. Only in the third period, which included the Lives of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, artists not only showed mastery of nature, but they triumphed over it. Vasari did not invent the idea of the process of perfection of art through its greater similarity with nature; it was also known in ancient literature, for example, in a passage of Cicero’s Brutus that Vasari quoted almost word for word (Gombrich 1960). He applied this model to the art of his age and also used it as a means of classifying the art of the past: so the artists of earlier times could be judged and ranked according to their proximity to his ideal, the perfetta regola dell’arte (perfect rule of art). In the third preface (which introduces the third part of the Lives), Vasari defines the perfetta regola dell’arte as the practice of five precepts in art, that is, regola (rule), ordine (order), misura (measure), disegno (drawing), maniera (style), this later one especially when it becomes bella maniera (beautiful style). By borrowing the concepts of regola, ordine, and misura from the theory of architecture, he applied them also to the other arts. Art attained perfection in the third epoch – says Vasari – thanks to the contemporary discovery of ancient statues, which allowed artists to overcome the rules imposed by study and artistic discipline with some freedom (licenzia) that was not, however, arbitrary, but regulated by the judgment of the eye, the supreme authority (De Girolami Cheney 2005).

Together with the perfetta regola dell’arte, Vasari, as he explains in the second preface, introduces another norm, the qualità de’ tempi (the peculiarity of time). That means that the art of earlier times, which could only be described as imperfect when judged by contemporary criteria, could, however, be praised. In this way, Vasari established the general principle of his historiography, which was to evaluate time, place, circumstances, and people in judging historical facts. The Lives is much more than a chronological sequence of biographies (a literary genre that already existed): it is the first critical history of style in the arts (i.e., architecture, painting, and sculpture) (Sohm 2000).

The Lives is, in fact, based on the humanistic concept that history can instruct and encourage through remembering the most important men and their careers and achievements.

Vasari’s book is an important document of the cultural world in sixteenth-century Italy and well attests that an artist has been able to master the cultured instrumentation hitherto the preserve of the high social classes in order to draft the first systematic treatise of art history.

In the sixteenth century, its value had been recognized by writers on art such as Raffaello Borghini (author of Il Riposo) and Francesco Bocchi (and again in the seventeenth century by Giovanni Baglione and Filippo Baldinucci), but had also become the subject of strong criticism: already in 1557, Lodovico Dolce wrote the dialogue entitled the Aretino, where he argues vigorously against Vasari’s text and asserts the superiority of Titian even over Michelangelo. Strong allegations of partisanship in favor of the Tuscan artists were repeated in the seventeenth century by Marco Boschini (La Carta del navegar pitoresco) and Carlo Cesare Malvasia (Sohm 1995, 2001; Cropper 2013).

The large number of marginal notes in copies of the Lives (Ruffini 2009), written in their own hand by artists such as Federico Zuccaro, Annibale Carracci, Francisco de Holanda, and El Greco, or by connoisseurs, such as Sebastiano Resta, testifies to the interest with which Vasari’s work was read and the controversies that followed (Spagnolo 2007).

The numerous histories of art modeled on Vasari’s book, as well as the new editions of the Lives in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, are the clearest evidence of the impact that the work has had on European culture: from the Netherlands (Karel van Mander, Schilder-boeck, 1603–1604) to Spain (Francisco Pacheco, Arte de la pintura, 1649) and Germany (Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Academie, 1675).

Cited, imitated, translated, the Lives has represented a historiographical model for at least two centuries and still today remains an essential source for the documentation and information provided as well as for the careful reading of artworks.


Vasari was born in Arezzo, the son of Antonio Vasari (d. 1527) and Maddalena Tacci (d. 1558). His family came from Cortona, where his great-grandfather, Lazzaro di Nicolò de’ Taldi, was a craftsman of saddles and painted scenes: one of his four children, Giorgio, was a potter (in Italian “vasaio”); Giorgio Vasari, his nephew, inherited his name and patronymic. As claimed by Vasari in the Life of Luca da Cortona (but only in the second edition published in 1568 by Giunti in Florence), the painter was his relative, because the father of Luca, Egidio, had married Lazzaro Vasari’s sister.

Vasari studied Latin and the humanities in the late 1510s under Antonio da Saccone and Giovanni Lappoli (called il Pollastra, 1465–1540). He also became a pupil of Guillaume de Marcillat, a French master glassmaker at that time working in Arezzo, where he ended his life (1529), and in 1524 Cardinal Silvio Passerini of Cortona, a man of the court of Pope Clement VII, introduced Vasari to the circle of the Medici family in Florence. While he was living in the house of Niccolò Vespucci, he received further instruction from the teacher of Alessandro and Ippolito de’ Medici, Pierio Valeriano (1477–1558), and he met Michelangelo Buonarroti and attended the workshops of Andrea del Sarto, Vittorio Ghiberti, and Baccio Bandinelli, who taught him draughtsmanship very well. After the expulsion of the Medici in 1527 and because of the spread of the plague (which reaped among its victims Vasari’s father), the young artist was called back home by his uncle Antonio to Arezzo, where he became familiar with the teachings of Rosso Fiorentino, who took refuge in the countryside to escape the epidemic. Vasari arrived in Rome in 1532 as a member of the retinue of Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici (d. 1535): together with Francesco Salviati, he devoted himself to the study and making drawings of antiquities and works of art kept in the Urbe. After his return to Florence, Vasari was benevolently received by Ottaviano de’ Medici and then entered the service of Duke Alessandro (his portrait now in the Uffizi is by the young painter) until his death, killed by his own cousin, Lorenzo de’ Medici (January 6, 1537) (Plaisance 2013). Shocked and stricken by the assassination and disgusted by court life, Vasari took refuge in Camaldoli, thanks to the good offices of the Aretine scholar Giovanni Lappoli (il Pollastra, his former teacher), and Don Miniato Pitti, with whom he had been familiar since his stay in Pisa in 1529, when the Olivetan monk was in charge as abbott at the monastery of St. Jerome in Agnano Pisano. Thanks to the Olivetan patronage, Vasari got assignments that took him to other monasteries and Italian cities: he was in Bologna, at S. Michele in Bosco, in 1539; in Naples, at S. Anna dei Lombardi or Monteoliveto, in 1544–45; in Rimini and Ravenna in 1547–48; and in Arezzo in 1548 (where he painted the Wedding Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus for the Refectory of the Abbey of Saints Flora and Lucilla, now kept in the Medieval and Modern Gallery and Museum, in Arezzo) (Carrara 2006); in the meantime, he got to meet and work for people such as Pietro Aretino (who called him to Venice in 1541 to prepare and paint the scenic apparatus for his comedy, La Talanta); Bindo Altoviti, the wealthy Florentine banker living in exile in Rome; and Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the nephew of Pope Paul III, who commissioned from him the Allegory of Justice, Truth and the Vices (the Farnese Justice, 1543, now in Naples), and the cycle of frescoes in the Sala dei Cento Giorni in the Palace of the Chancellery in Rome (1546) (Fenech Kroke 2011).

Vasari had already returned to Rome in 1538 to continue his training by drawing antiquities and was called again to the Urbe in 1550 by Pope Julius III who appointed him to the building of his family chapel in S. Pietro in Montorio and, together with Bartolomeo Ammannati, of the nymphaeum of Villa Giulia. In 1554 Vasari moved to Florence to enter the service of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici: he worked in Palazzo Vecchio and in Palazzo Pitti (Romby and Ferretti 2002, pp. 164–196) and built the Uffizi; he also restored numerous churches in the city (St. Maria Novella, St. Croce) and began the frescoes of the dome of St. Maria del Fiore, the Florentine Duomo (1574). He was also active in Arezzo (he restored the parish church of St. Maria, 1560–1564, where he erected also his tomb and built the Lodges of Piazza Grande, 1570–1572) and in Pisa (church and palace of the Knights of St. Stephen, 1562–1569). He returned again in Rome in 1571–1573, thanks to the commissions obtained from Pope Pius V for the decoration of three chapels in the Vatican (Aurigemma 2009–2010).

In 1549 he married in Arezzo the young Nicolosa Bacci, who could not bear children. Vasari had already fathered, however, a daughter (and perhaps also a son) with Maddalena Bacci, his wife’s sister, and then later had another son by Isabella Mora, his domestic servant (Lepri and Palesati 2003; Fubini Leuzzi 2014).

In 1563 he founded the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, under the influence of Cosimo de’ Medici, together with Vincenzio Borghini, the Prior of the Foundling Hospital (Ospedale degli Innocenti), and Lelio Torelli, first secretary of the Duke (Waźbiński 1987; Barzman 2000; Carrara 2008; Zangheri 2013).

His house in Arezzo (via XX settembre 55) is now a museum (Casa Vasari), while his home in Florence, which was a private residence for a long time, after a total restoration is visitable by appointment: both the palaces were decorated by Vasari with an ample cycle of frescoes (De Girolami Cheney 2006; Cecchi 2014). In the Aretine house are still kept some pieces of the precious collection of Vasari: a plaster statue of Venus by Bartolomeo Ammannati and a terracotta head of the Emperor Galba by Andrea Sansovino, while the painting by Piero di Cosimo, Venus, Mars, and Cupid, is in Berlin (Staatliche Museen) (Baldini 2014).

His famous Libro de’ disegni (composed probably at least of seven volumes if not twelve) (Collobi Ragghianti 1974) is now disassembled, and many of its pages are housed in Paris (The Louvre) and in Florence (Gabinetto disegni e stampe degli Uffizi); some sheets are even in Oxford, Stockholm, and other collections. Vasari began to collect drawings during his apprenticeship (1528–29) with Vittorio Ghiberti, who gave him a group of sheets by Lorenzo Ghiberti and artists of the fourteenth century, maybe from Lorenzo’s collection. He assembled with great care his drawings in the book, with marginal decorations along its pages and portraits of the artists who had drawn them; unfortunately where the characteristic Vasari mount has been removed from the drawings, as in the Uffizi, their provenance is seldom demonstrable. The dispersal of the Vasari collection began soon after his death: Francesco I de’ Medici obtained a volume from Vasari’s heirs; then some others were acquired by Niccolò Gaddi, the wealthy Florentine collector and patron. In the seventeenth century, the volumes began to be broken up and the sheets were scattered all over (Forlani Tempesti 2014).

Works and Themes

The Paragone Debate and the Letter to Benedetto Varchi

In 1547 the philosopher and scholar Benedetto Varchi (1503–1565) launched a survey among the Florentine artists about the “maggioranza delle arti”, that is, a debate on the competition and rivalry among the arts: he collected the letters with their opinions, and in January 1550 he published them together with his own text on the question (Due lezzioni di M. Benedetto Varchi, nella prima delle quali si dichiara un sonetto di M. Michelagnolo Buonarroti. Nella seconda si disputa quale sia più nobile arte, la scultura o la pittura, con una lettera d’esso Michelagnolo, et più altri eccellentissimi pittori et scultori, sopra la quistione sopradetta, Florence, Torrentino) (Bätschmann 2010; Andreoni 2012, pp. 16 and 20). Vasari, together with Agnolo Bronzino, Jacopo Pontormo, and Niccolò Pericoli, called Il Tribolo, Giovanni Battista del Tasso, Benvenuto Cellini, and Michelangelo, answered the call, and his letter, very well elaborated and refined, is – not coincidentally – the first in the Varchi book, while Michelangelo’s closes the list (Varchi and Borghini 1998, pp. 61–66 and 84): Vasari strongly affirms the superiority of painting over sculpture based on the increased capacity of imitation (“mimesis”) through the use of colors.

Vasari’s letter to Varchi reveals a remarkable skill in writing literary texts, which is the result of the education, certainly not a poor one, he received in his youth (Carrara 2011a), as well as a tireless ability to entertain an increasingly larger network of personal relationships, making use of correspondence as a privileged vehicle: the correspondence of Vasari, extensive since his early years (Der literarische Nachlass Giorgio Vasaris, Frey and Frey 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940; Agosti 2010), testifies to his continual assiduity and friendship with scholars – Pietro Aretino, Paolo Giovio, Annibal Caro, or Lodovico Domenichi, just to name a few – while the artist was traveling in Italy, finding hospitality and commissions in the most important cities and courts, from Florence to Venice and Rome, from the “familia” of Alessandro de’ Medici to the circle of Aretino and the palace of Cardinal Farnese (see Agosti 2011, 2013; Carrara 2013).

The “Lives”

First Edition

The aforementioned letter written by Vasari to Varchi was an essential starting point for the drafting of the Lives, appeared in Florence in 1550, and published by Torrentino (Vasari 1550, 1986). Le Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri, descritte in lingua toscana da Giorgio Vasari pittore aretino is composed of a dedicatory letter addressed to Cosimo I de’ Medici, the prefaces (one to the Whole Work and the other three before the three parts – tre età – of the Lives), and the biographies (from Cimabue to Michelangelo, and the latter was the only artist still living except Benedetto da Rovezzano, a blind sculptor, “dead” for making art), followed by the conclusion, that is a letter to artists and to readers. It is in the preface to the Whole Work that Vasari elaborates the thesis expressed in his letter to Varchi, to achieve a new synthesis whereby the two arts, painting and sculpture, are both daughters of disegno (i.e., drawing, Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, p. 26), an innovative and successful formulation, which in turn had much in common with the views expressed by Varchi in his own text (Varchi and Borghini 1998, p. 43). For Vasari the unity of the arts (which are therefore sisters) was embodied by Michelangelo, the artist who is excellent not only in painting and in sculpture but also in architecture, and for that reason he can rightly be called “divine” (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, pp. 26–27): Buonarroti by virtue of his exceptional draughtsmanship and excellence in all fields of art puts an end to disputes between painters and sculptors.

Disegno is the common “father” of all the arts a concept which Vasari described with greater fullness in the second edition of 1568 (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, pp. 111–113), and its role is discussed extensively in the introductions to the three arts, that is the Teoriche, where Vasari explains and tries to set his technical knowledge: he analyzes in detail what materials can be used, their mode of utilization, the necessary skills for artists, and how they can learn these ways of proceeding (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, pp. 31–172).

Vasari’s insistence on technical terminology is one of the main themes of the entire body of the Lives, and, as he anticipates and states in the abovementioned preface to the Whole Work, he apologizes if he had to use nonliterary terms but more suitable and precise words to express the language of the artistic profession (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, p. 29). The use of that technical terminolo-gy arises from the intent to be fully understood, because the Lives was written for those interested in art and its history, as artists, collectors, or scholars. This was the aim of Vasari, when he started collecting copious amounts of material for his book, and he wanted to make sure that, as he states in the Conclusion of his work, anyone could read his Lives (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, VI, p. 412). Again in the Conclusion of the Lives, Vasari explains how he collected his data, by trying to verify and check what he had learned from memories written by artists of the past or from oral stories by older artists (ibidem, p. 411). Vasari, indeed, in the preface to the Whole Work declares that he dedicated a long time to the collection of data on artists (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, I, p. 30), and in the Conclusion he affirms that he had the help and support of many good friends (Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, VI, pp. 409–410).

Among the buoni amici, the name of Paolo Giovio cannot be left out, the scholar and bishop from Como, who met Vasari in 1532, when he was in Rome for the first time (Agosti 2013, pp. 16–17): Giovio, who began writing in Latin the Lives of some famous artists (Vincii Leonardi, Michaelis Angeli et Raphaelis Urbinatis vitae, in Giovio 1999, pp. 234–279), recognized the skills of Vasari also as a writer and encouraged him to write biographies of artists.

In a letter, dated September 2, 1547, Paolo Giovio urged Vasari to present his work to Benedetto Varchi, in order to have an informed opinion, equal to that of Annibal Caro, to whom Vasari had sent the Lives by then finished, as a letter written by Caro on 15 December of the same year confirms (see Frey and Frey 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, I, pp. 209–210).

The preparation of the text to be printed by Torrentino was begun at least by the end of November 1546, as a letter written by Vasari to Giovio testifies (see Frey and Frey 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, I, p. 175). A decisive boost arrived thanks to the writing of a complete apograph (i.e., a copy not by Vasari’s hand) at the abbey of Scolca near Rimini, where the painter worked for the Olivetan abbot Gian Matteo Faetani between September and December 1547. On this specimen intervened, by correcting its mistakes, Pier Francesco Giambullari, in order to proceed with the preparation of the copy to be sent to the Torrentino workshop; Giambullari then checked the mere typographic work, together with Don Vincenzio Borghini, who assumed the task of drawing up the indexes and revising the text to remove as many errors as possible (Scapecchi 1998).

The charge against Vasari – strongly asserted in recent years (Hope 2014) – to be just one of the many authors of the Lives, which has to be considered only as the result of the collaboration of several writers, and in particular of Cosimo Bartoli (Frangenberg 2011), as is clear from the diversity of writing and methodological approach between the prefaces, literally more refined, and the drafting of the Teoriche and the biographies, more colloquial (Blum 2011, p. 159), fails fatally thanks to a thorough reading of the correspondence of Vasari, documenting the precise sequence of events and the real role of the men of letters mentioned (cf. Scapecchi 2011).

An allegation destined to disappear, moreover, thanks to a thorough analysis of the narrative structure and composition of the Lives, which shows clearly how Vasari reused - just in some particularly complex and sophisticated passages - historical texts and compendia written in the vernacular, widely present in the Italian book market in the mid-sixteenth century (Rubin 1995, p. 169 note 104; Carrara 2010, 2011, 2012, p. 161), and so easily accessible to an artist, although the cultural dimension of this figure has been reduced recently (Hope 2010).

On the contrary, the Lives confirms once more the greatness of Vasari as a writer and author in the Italian Renaissance and his extensive knowledge of many sources (from Vitruvius to Leon Battista Alberti, Francesco Albertini and Sebastiano Serlio), sometime no longer preserved (Rubin 1995, pp. 165–177; Fratini 2012).

Second Edition

The volumes of the first edition of the Lives – which caused both the resentful reaction of Michelangelo (so much troubled by the lack of firsthand documentation in his Vita that he asked Ascanio Condivi to write the Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti, Blado, Rome 1553) and the criticisms of Lodovico Dolce, eager to defend the Venetian art and the grandeur of Titian – were sold out quickly (Simonetti 2005, p. 105).

Vasari decided to draft a second version of the Lives. To this end, in just two months (between April and June 1566), he faced a long journey that took him from Florence in Central Italy (Rome, Umbria, and the Marche) and then through Emilia Romagna to Lombardy and Veneto, and finally he returned to Florence via Ferrara, Bologna, and Pistoia (Davis 1981). The visual and documentary material collected in his travels was to be used to obtain accurate and reliable information on the main centers of Italian art and to allow him to see up close the work of the most important artists of his contemporary period.

Vasari changed in depth and radically, therefore, the 1550 edition, aimed at the celebration of the greatness of Michelangelo, who died February 18, 1564 (Ruffini 2011, pp. 85–88), by accepting instances that came from non-Tuscans areas and ultimately to legitimize his work as a painter and architect of the court of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, the dedicatee of his book.

The second edition, published by Giunti in three volumes in 1568 (Vasari 1568), presents a greater number of Vite than the first one printed by Torrentino, but the biographies have almost always lost the wide introduction expressing thoughts of a moral nature (such as reflections about the good fortune or misfortune of artistic careers), present in the printing of 1550 (Pozzi and Mattioda 2006, pp. 310–330). The biographies are coupled with the artists’ portraits: Vasari planned these engravings already for the first edition of the Lives, but he could realize his project only in the one printed in 1568 (Prinz 1966).

The second edition of the Lives represents a significant extension of the first both in chronological order and in its contents, as a result of thoughtful reflections by Vasari, thanks to the possibility of acquiring new information (Carrara 2012) and to a constant comparison with Vincenzio Borghini:

in a letter sent to Vasari on August 11, 1564, Borghini invited him to write a “comprehensive history of all paintings and sculptures of Italy” (Frey and Frey 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, II, p. 98), that is, a history focused more on works than on artists.

As a matter of fact, in the Lives published in 1568, even greater attention is devoted to techniques, especially for those most neglected like engraving, which became the subject of extensive analysis in the Vita of Marcantonio Raimondi, as well as a great importance given to the production of engravings in the Flemish area, much of which is indebted to the letter in Latin sent by Dominicus Lampsonius to Vasari in April 25, 1565 (Gregory 2012).

Significant additions were made to the Prima Età of the Lives, like the Vita of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, sculptors and architects, in a general expansion of information provided in its first section (Barocchi 2000), and was added the Lettera di messer Giovambatista di messer Marcello Adriani a messer Giorgio Vasari, which explains Greek and Roman art history, in order to fulfill the comprehensive information required by the competent authority of Borghini (Carrara 2011b, pp. 1–2).

A detailed description of the festivities of 1565–1566 in occasion of the marriage of Francesco I de’ Medici to Joanna of Austria is printed at the end of Vasari’s paragraph on the Accademia del Disegno and its artists: the text, attributed in the Lives to “a person of leisure who delights not a little in our profession” (“persona oziosa, e che della nostra professione non poco si diletta,” Vasari 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, VI, p. 255), was written by Giovan Battista Cini (Feo 1981; van Veen 2006, p. 93 and passim).

Other Writings

The vast amount of Vasari’s letters – recently increased by new findings (Carrara 2010; Sottili 2011; Fratini 2013) – is only a part of the extensive body of his manuscript texts: the Ricordanze (Vasari 1927) and the Zibaldone (Vasari 1938) are important, in particular, for information provided about the career and the life of the artist.

In 1588, Giorgio Vasari il Giovane, Vasari’s nephew, published his Ragionamenti (Vasari 1588), but the text – a long description of the works realized by Vasari and his workshop in Palazzo Vecchio – had already been in its manuscript form and was mentioned by Vasari himself in the Lives. The last book published by Vasari was instead the description of the ephemeral apparati for the baptism of Eleonora de’ Medici in 1568 (Vasari 1568a), which testifies again to his seminal importance not only as artist at the Medici court but also as author in first person of literary texts in the Italian Renaissance of the sixteenth century.



Leon Battista Alberti, Pietro Aretino, Pierio Valeriano or Valeriano Bolzanio Pierio (born Giovanni Pietro Dalle Fosse), Vincenzio Borghini, Dominicus Lampsonius (Dominique Lampsone), Paolo Giovio, Benedetto Varchi.


Disegno (drawing), Rebirth of Art, Renaissance, Reception of Pliny in Italian Renaissance, Fortune/Misfortune.


Primary Literature

  1. Vasari G (1550) Le vite de’ più eccellenti architettori, pittori et scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri, descritte in lingua toscana da Giorgio Vasari pittore aretino. Con una sua utile et necessaria introduzzione a le arti loro, 2 vols. Torrentino, FlorenceGoogle Scholar
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Tertiary Literature

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MoliseCampobassoItaly