Vasari: Lives of the Artists

Giorgio Vasari, considered the ideological founder of art history, published The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in 1550. In it he included not only facts, but judgments. He saw art progressing through an increase in the depiction of naturalism and beauty and the expression of abstract ideas and narrative. Vasari describes disegno (design, defined as intellectual ability to invent and technical capacity to make drawings) as uniting the visual arts. In Vasari’s eyes, the union of the visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) was brought to perfection by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo, David

Michelangelo
David
1501-1504
marble
Galleria d’Accademia, Florence

Vasari valued draughtsmanship (the ability to reproduce nature with accuracy and precision) and, somewhat paradoxically, manner (the ability to copy the most beautiful parts of things). He also valued the work of the ancients. Michelangelo, who not only painted and sculpted accurately and beautifully but also looked to the ancients, was therefore his ideal artist.

Laocoon, c. 50-20 BCE, discovered 1506 CE, marble, Vatican Museums, Rome

Laocoon
c. 50-20 BCE, discovered 1506 CE
marble
Vatican Museums, Rome

For more information, visit Chapter 2 in Art Theory: An Historical Introduction by Robert Williams (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pp. 55-94), selections from Vasari in Donald Preziosi’s The Art of Art History (Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 22-26), or locate an edition of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists.

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