Author: Giorgio Vasari
Category: Biography & Autobiography
The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects Often called "the first art historian", Vasari invented the genre of the encyclopedia of artistic biographies with his Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, which was first published in 1550. He was the first to use the term "Renaissance" (rinascita) in print, though an awareness of the ongoing "rebirth" in the arts had been in the air since the time of Alberti, and he was responsible for our use of the term Gothic Art, though he only used the word Goth which he associated with the "barbaric" German style. The Lives also included a novel treatise on the technical methods employed in the arts. The book was partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568, with the addition of woodcut portraits of artists (some conjectural). The work has a consistent and notorious bias in favour of Florentines, and tends to attribute to them all the developments in Renaissance art — for example, the invention of engraving. Venetian art in particular (along with arts from other parts of Europe), is systematically ignored in the first edition. Between the first and second editions, Vasari visited Venice and while the second edition gave more attention to Venetian art (finally including Titian) it did so without achieving a neutral point of view. Vasari's biographies are interspersed with amusing gossip. Many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth, while others are inventions or generic fictions, such as the tale of young Giotto painting a fly on the surface of a painting by Cimabue that the older master repeatedly tried to brush away, a genre tale that echoes anecdotes told of the Greek painter Apelles. With a few exceptions, however, Vasari's aesthetic judgement was acute and unbiased. He did not research archives for exact dates, as modern art historians do, and naturally his biographies are most dependable for the painters of his own generation and those of the immediate past. Modern criticism – with new materials opened up by research – has corrected many of his traditional dates and attributions. Vasari includes a sketch of his own biography at the end of the Lives, and adds further details about himself and his family in his lives of Lazzaro Vasari and Francesco Salviati. According to the historian Richard Goldthwaite, Vasari was one of the earliest authors to use the term "competition" (or "concorrenza" in Italian) in its economic sense. He used it repeatedly, and stressed the concept in his introduction to the life of Pietro Perugino, in explaining the reasons for Florentine artistic preeminence. In Vasari's view, Florentine artists excelled because they were hungry, and they were hungry because their fierce competition amongst themselves for commissions kept them so. Competition, he said, is "one of the nourishments that maintain them."