Vasari, George

, an artist, though better known as the biographer of his profession, was born at Arezzo, in 1512, and was taught the rudiments of drawing by his father, and the first principles of painting by William of Marseilles, a Frenchman, and a painter on glass; but being taken to Florence by cardinal da Cortona, he improved himself under Michael Angelo, Andrea del Sarto, and other eminent masters. By the cardinal he was introduced into the Medici family, but in 1527, when they were driven from Florence, he returned to his native city. Finding an epidemic disease prevailing there, he spent his time in the surrounding country, improving himself by painting subjects of devotion for the farmers. His father unfortunately died of the contagion, and left a young family unprovided for. Vasari, to contribute more effectually to their support, quitted the uncertain profession of a painter, and applied himself to the more lucrative trade of a goldsmith. In 1529, the civil war, which then existed at Florence, obliged the goldsmiths’ company to remove to Pisa: and there, receiving commissions to paint some pictures both in oil and in fresco, he was induced to resume his former profession, and afterwards through life met with encouragement, that left him neither motive nor desire to change. The dukes of Florence and other distinguished persons were his liberal patrons, and he was constantly employed in works both profitable and honourable to himself.

In 1544, by the friendship of PaulJovius, he was recommended to make designs and paint a hall for the cardinal Farnese, in Rome. While he was executing this work, he attended the cardinal’s evening parties, which were frequented by men of genius. At one of these parties, Jovius, speaking of his own museum, arranged and embellished with inscriptions and portraits of illustrious men, said, “that it had always been his desire to add to it, and | make his book of eulogiums more complete, by a treatise on the celebrated artists, from Cimabue down to his own time;” and enlarged upon the subject with much general information. The cardinal then turned to Vasari, and asked him “if he did not think that subject would make a fine work?” Vasari concurred with his eminence, but added, that “it would require the assistance of an artist to collate the materials, and arrange them in their proper order: for although Jo?ius displayed great knowledge in his observations, yet he had not been equally accurate in the arrangement of his facts.” “You can then,” replied the cardinal, “give him assistance, which will be doing an essential service to the arts.” To pay a proper deference to so flattering an opinion, he collected such materials as he thought necessary to the plan then suggested: and the information he contributed was drawn up so much to Jovius’s satisfaction, that he recommended him to enlarge upon it, and make a more complete work, alleging his own want of leisure and capacity to do justice to such an undertaking. Vasari, with reluctance, consented; and with his own industry, and some assistance from others, he fulfilled his task; and, in 1550, published his work in 2 vols, entitled “Vite de piu eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, e Architetti.” In 1571 he reprinted it in 3 vols. 4to, with portraits cut in wood, and with the addition of his own life to the fifty-fifth year of his age. The subsequent editions are, that of Bottari, Rome, 1759 60, 3 vols. 4to, and those printed at Leghorn, 1767 72, 7 vols. 4to; at Sienna, 1791—98, 11 vols. 8vo. There is likewise one printed at Bologna in 1647, 3 vols. 4to, but not esteemed a good one.

Vasari died in 1574, and in 1588 his nephew published a work to commemorate and honour his uncle’s abilities, entitled, “Ragionamenti del Sig. Cavaliere Georgio Vasari pittore ed architetto sopra le invenzioni de lui depinta in Fiorenza nel palazzo di Loro Altezze Serenissime, &c.” It is not however to painting that Vasari is indebted for his present fame, but to his miscellaneous work; which, though crude and incorrect, affords the most ample source of our information concerning the painters of Italy before his time, or contemporary with himself. As an artist he had little originality, and the extravagances of genius mark the most predominant feature of his style. 1


Dnppa’s Life of Michel Angelo, Preface. —Tiraboschi.