July 30 – Happy Birthday, Giorgio Vasari

Posted on July 30, 2015

On this date in 1511, one of the founders of art history was born.

Giorgio Vasari was one of those polymath guys: he was a painter, he was an architect, he was a writer, and he was a historian. Combine all that together, and you get someone who writes one of the seminal books on art history!

Born in Italy, Vasari was a pupil of a man who painted stained glass, and at age he traveled to Florence to study. He became a friend of none other than Michelangelo!

Soon he visited Rome to study the works of Raphael and other artists. He was making his own paintings and frescoes and was steadily employed in various Italian cities, such as Florence, Rome, and Naples. He was also successful as an architect, constructing a loggia here and a passage there, renovating churches, and even building an octagonal dome for a basilica.

A loggia is an open-sided extension of a house or building...

As I hinted above, however, Vasari is now famous, not for his painting or architecture, but for his art historical writing. He is often called “the first art historian.” In his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Vasari invented the idea of creating an encyclopedia of artists' biographies. Also, Vasari was the first to use the term “Renaissance” in print about the “rebirth” in arts that started more than a century before his birth.

Of course, Vasari's book is not perfect. He gave more kudos to artists who lived in Florence, even, than they deserved, and he ignored artists from Venice and other parts of Europe to some extent, in the first edition. Later editions did include artists from Venice, however.

Critics say that Vasari included some amusing gossip in his biographies, and many of the stories sound quite realistic – although some anecdotes are known to be fictional. Vasari didn't do as much research as he might have done, and some of what he wrote has been corrected by modern art historians (we're talking birth dates and exact dates of a painting, for example). However, most critics think that Vasari's opinions about artworks are very well-stated and accurate and unbiased.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the invention of corn flakes

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