Vasari’s Lives of the Artists

Vasari, Giorgio (1511-1574)

Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori et architetti di Giorgio Vasari, pittore & architetto aretino; parte prima e seconda [-terza] ; in questa nuoua edizione diligentemente riviste, ricorrette, accresciute d'alcuni ritratti, & arricchite di postille nel margine.

Bologna: Presso gli heredi di Euangelista Dozza, 1647


Quarto: 3 volumes: each measures: 23.3 x 16 cm. I. π6 (includes engraved frontis.), b-h4, i6, A-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Hhh4. II. π6 (includes engraved frontis.), B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Yyy4. III. π4 (includes engraved frontis.), ††4, a-c4, d6, a4, A-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Vvv4, Xxx6. There are two cancels in this set, in Vol. I sig. Yy, and Vol. III sig. A, with the original cancellands still in place.

THIRD EDITION (1st ed. 1550) and the SECOND ILLUSTRATED EDITION (1st 1568) of Vasari’s “Lives”.

Bound in three uniform bindings of contemporary stiff vellum, somewhat soiled. The text is in overall fine condition, with some light browning, occasional foxing, and a some marginal damp-stains.

The three volumes are illustrated throughout with the well-known woodcut portraits of the artists set within ornate frames. For this edition the editor, Carlo Monalessi, acquired the original woodblocks used for the 1568 edition, and had several new portraits added. All three volumes feature an added engraved frontispiece by Bloemaert after a drawing by the celebrated Roman painter and engraver, Giovanni Angelo Canini (1617-1666).

“Giorgio Vasari invented Renaissance art. In 1550, he published a collection of one hundred and forty-two biographies, his ‘Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors from Cimabue to our Times’, and defined a period of artistic activity spanning nearly three hundred years in terms of rebirth (rinascità) and progress. He gave the history of the visual arts in Italy a determined course as they advanced towards the perfection of his own day through the contributions of individual artists. He turned a fragmentary discussion and appreciation into a coherent and forceful representation of achievement that has endured since his time. Scattered notices, dim memories, direct encounters, rumor, gossip, anecdote, and experience were structured and transformed by association with exemplary notions of behavior and shaped by a vision of stylistic development and historical continuity.

“Vasari organized the lives in his book into three parts, or ages, roughly corresponding to the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, each defined by their distinctive character. He dated the initial stages of the rebirth or recovery of the lost attainments of antiquity to around 1240, when Giovanni Cimabue was born to kindle ‘the first lights of painting’. He regarded the arts to be in their infancy in this era, and traced the artists’ faltering steps towards the perfection of later years. For Vasari the means of arriving at perfection lay in the mastery of the principles and models offered by ancient art: a correct understanding of the architectural orders and the imitation of the poses, proportions, and dramatic possibilities of ancient sculpture. To these were added the naturalistic rendering of light with harmoniously blended colors and chiaroscuro modeling in painting, and above all, in all the arts, in ‘disegno’ –the command of idealized form that resulted from manual dexterity (drawing) and an intellectual perception of beauty (design). In the first era painters and sculptors are described as valiantly, if crudely, overthrowing the stiff, coarse, and clumsy figures of the style Vasari labeled as Greek, achieving more lifelike poses and expression in their figures. Architects are valued for building with more order, beginning to improve from what Vasari called the German manner, which had prevailed since the invasion of the Roman Empire and the destruction of its monuments. In the second era, Vasari shows how the prime goal of art –the imitation of nature- is nearly attained as a result of the successive technical discoveries made by the artists of that time through their diligence and study. These included the rediscovery of the measures, proportions, and ornaments of ancient architecture, and the mastery of anatomy and perspective. This era of technical advance is followed by Vasari’s modern age, when, in various ways, artists bring those techniques to their highest realization. They do so on the basis of their immediate past and the recovery and full comprehension of a distinguished repertory of classical models. With this comes the ability to surpass previous accomplishments, going beyond the rules with new and graceful inventions. The conquest of nature is complete. The palm of victory is granted to Michelangelo –the culminating figure of the ‘Lives’.”…

“[Vasari’s] sources in both writing and painting were absorbed and transformed into new expressive forms, whether on palace walls or in artists’ lives. Both were meant to charm and please, to be varied and lifelike. They were true to nature but not idealized. Both were modern. The book was more original. Nothing like it had existed before. Literary friends could offer suggestions, but no plan or scheme or program. The ‘Lives’ are Vasari’s own, and probably greatest invention.” (Patricia Lee Rubin, Giorgio Vasari: Art and History)

Churchill, Bibliografia Vasariani, #12 note. All of the following references record the 1648 Dozza edition unless where noted. Graesse VI, 264. Brunet V, 1096. Choix, 15790; Schlosser, 251; Gamba, 1725 (1568 ed.); Cicognara, 2391