I made an error on my last blog post. Giorgio Vasari who was alive from 1511- 1574, is actually the author of The Lives, the first and most esteemed model in the west for writing about artist’s life and work. I made the mistake of mentioning that Johann David Passavant, (alive from 1787-1860), was the first writer of the monograph, that was false. Since I made such a silly error, I’d like to take the time to explain who’s who between the two artist monograph writers. Today, I will start with Giorgio Vasari.
According to Theartstory.org, Vasari was the oldest of six and lived in Arezzo, Tuscany. He was blessed with art as part of his upbringing. Art and creativity had been passed down through generations. When he was young, he was raised artists, but he was also considered a sick kid. That didn’t hold him back though. He attended public school and by the time he finished school, he was ready for an apprenticeship with Michelangelo Buonarroti. After his apprenticeships, at 16, he took over his family’s financial needs due to his father passing from the plague. Though it was a tragic loss, this experience gave him an insight on financials that other artists did not gain while they lived the artist life. Finally, he returned to art after a friend invited him back where they studied the greats like Raphael and Michelangelo. Even with such a profound background in the arts, Vasari did not publish his first book until he was 39 years old.
Let’s talk about the book. According to Art as Existence by Gabriele Guercio, Giorgio Vasari’s first book was titled, “The Lives of Painters, Sculptors and Architects.” It “is grouped into three parts or ‘ages’ (artistic periods), each marking the beginning of a different style.” He uses this to organize dates and times and progression of artistic proficiency within each period. Vasari’s intention was to “rescue from oblivion ‘the names of sculptors, painters, and architects’ and to enable readers to discern in what way the masters differed from each other.”
Vasari preferred to combine more than just the evolutionary process of their art, he intentionally included; the artists’ individuality, talent, and character. He gave a perception of artists in a way no one else in that time had done yet. He was revolutionary in the way he presented an artist and their work. His work is the roots for the nineteenth century monograph, so many monographers even today refer to his work.
After some time, Vasari found his place in the art world and gave us insights we would have never had. He was a sick kid who lost his father at 16 and now we refer to him when we need to understand the evolution of the great artists from before our time. Imagine seeing a need in the writing world and filling it for lifetimes after you’re gone. What an accomplishment.