Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574) is for many aspects the first “modern” art historian. But he was also a lot more than that, and, for sure, one of the most important witness of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore in its making and a privileged spectator of the Renaissance Florence.
Giorgio Vasari was born in Arezzo. He has been himself a painter and architect, he has been himself part of the Renaissance.
But if Vasari as an artist has been less important for the Florentine Renaissance in its making than Ghiberti or Brunelleschi, Donatello or Masaccio, Leonardo or Michelangelo, he had a peculiar quality for which we will never thank him enough: he was a genius of a storyteller, and his amazing storytelling skills made him the first art historian, and a sort of correspondent straight from the Renaissance.
“Le Vite”: a best seller from the Renaissance Florence
Giorgio Vasari is the author of Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a' tempi nostri (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times).
Le Vite is the first ever artists’ dictionary. The first edition was published in Florence in 1550 (the first Gutenberg Bible “hit the shelves” in 1454 - 1455) by Lawrence Torrentinus, Dutch typographer and printer for the House of Medici. The second “expanded and updated” was published in 1568.
For good and for bad, and for obvious reasons, Le Vite is definitely a Florence - centered book. Of course the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and its artists recurs many times.
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore at the heart of the Renaissance Florence
The Florence cathedral is mentioned by Vasari about the young Cimabue; about Giotto and his design of the Campanile (the cathedral’s bell tower); and, of course, about Lorenzo Ghiberti (the creator of the bronze doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni - the Florence Baptistery), Filippo Brunelleschi (the architect and engineer of the Cupola - the dome of the cathedral) and Michelangelo (the sculptor of the David - probably the first and best ever case of “upcycling” in the whole history of mankind: but this is another story…).
The best way to thank Vasari for his Le Vite is to visit his works: in Florence (the frescoes of the interior of the dome of Florence cathedral, the Uffizi colonnade, the Michelangelo's tomb in the basilica di Santa Croce), Arezzo (the Loggia del Vasari) or Rome (the frescoes of the San Pietro in Montorio church).