Giorgio Vasari published his Lives of the Artists in 1550, with a revised edition in 1568. His book conforms to the Renaissance understanding that the purpose of biography is to teach lessons to the reader. Vasari envisioned a wide range of readers for his book: his fellow artists, collectors, patrons and the general educated public. Therefore, he has a broad range of lessons to teach. Among these are:
- What is good artistic practice? For example, what are the best models for an artist to imitate (Nature? Antique statues? Other artists?). Is natural ability more important than good training? How important is drawing?
- What is the proper relationship between artists and patrons?
- Which traits of personal character are good ones, and which ones are bad?
The purpose of this assignment is to choose one of the biographies in Vasari’s Lives (some recommendations are below, but feel free to choose another one), and analyze the biography in light of which major lessons you think Vasari is trying to convey in it. You should be able to back up your argument with quotations from Vasari himself (giving page numbers).
Alternatively, you can find one of his descriptions of works of art (in comparison with the actual work of art).
- What does Vasari focus on in his description?
- Does his description seem accurate?
- What does he praise or condemn in the work of art?
Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the painters, sculptors and architects, 10 volumes. Trans. Gaston du C. de Vere. London: MacMillan, 1912-14.
Available on Project Gutenberg:
1. Life of Paolo Uccello (Vol. 2, pp. 129-140)
2. Life of Lorenzo Ghiberti (Vol. 2, pp. 141-162)
3. Life of Masaccio (Vol. 2, pp. 181-192)
4. Life of Fra Filippo Lippi (Vol. 3, pp. 77-88)
5. Life of Andrea del Verrocchio (Vol. 3, pp. 265-276)
6. Life of Andrea Mantegna (Vol. 3, pp. 277-286)
7. Life of Pietro Perugino (Vol. 4, pp. 31-48)
8. Life of Leonardo da Vinci (Vol. 4, pp. 87-106)
9. Life of Giorgione (Vol. 4, pp. 107-115)
10. Life of Piero do Cosimo (Vol. 4, 123-134)
11. Life of Raphael (Vol. 4, pp. 207-250).
12. Life of Madonna Properzia de’Rossi (pp. 121-128) * female artist
13. Life of Michelangelo (Vol. 8, pp. 1-142) *longest of all the Lives
14. Life of Titian (Vol. 8, pp. 157-184)
The biography you choose is the only source you should really need for this assignment (and perhaps a website where you have sourced images of works of art)– but if you do use other sources, you should acknowledge them using footnotes or endnotes. The essay is really meant to be about what Vasari says, and what you think he is trying to say. It should be about 1000 words, or 4 double-spaced pages.
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