Who was the first art historian in the modern era? He was an Italian, Giorgio Vasari

Not many people know that the first art historian of the modern era he was an Italian of the sixteenth century. We are talking about the multifaceted artist, as well as art theorist, George Vasari. It was he, among other things, who coined the term “Renaissance“. But how do we know that Vasari was the first art historian? Because in the mid-16th century he wrote the first modern treatise on art historycalled The lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters and sculptorstoday simply known as The lives.

Giorgio Vasari, life and biography in brief of the first art historian

Born in Arezzo The 30 July 1511 in a family of modest merchants, Vasari attended various art workshopswhere he learned notions of painting and architecture. Through Cardinal Passerini, Vasari entered the good graces of powerful Medici familythe dukes of Florence. However, since he was forced to support his mother and four brothers after his father’s death, Vasari did not devote himself too much to increasing his fortune at their court, but began to paint more frequently – especially altarpieces for the churches around Arezzo. He was successful enough to have a house built, the Casa Museo Vasari, which can still be visited.

Once the family’s well-being was assured, and after a period of semi-monastic retreat, around the end of the 1530s Vasari began travelling, creating works throughout Italy and expanding his knowledge of art and architecture. It is these trips that have allowed him to accumulate enough knowledge to create his masterpiece, The lives.

Then, in the 1554 , gave in to the insistence of Cosimo de’ Medici, who wanted him at his service in Florence. He immediately saw himself commissioned a series of major projects: the renovation of Building Old, at the time known as Palazzo della Signoria; the construction of a gallery adjacent to the Palace for the administrative offices, which would be the Offices; and a corridor that connected these offices with the new apartments for the ducal court in Palazzo Pitti, on the other side of the Arno river: the latter, which runs “above” Ponte Vecchio, took his name and is today known as Vasari Corridor. Vasari, who in this period produced many paintings, was also supposed to paint the frescoes in the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiorebut died before, the June 27, 1574. But leaving us a priceless treasure.

The lives by Vasari

With The lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters and sculptorsVasari – a man of wide culture despite his modest origins – managed to create a work that is still considered one of the main sources of information on biographies of the artists of the Italian Renaissanceas well as the first document that underlines the fundamental importance of the period between the mid-fifteenth century and the mid-seventeenth century as moment of “rebirth” of art (in contrast to the Middle Ages). This extensive treatise was published in 1550 and had an extraordinary successwhich pushed the author to make a second edition, enlarged and revised, then published in 1568 from the Giunti family.

Specifically, this great work of his hosted the biographies of approximately 150 of the most important artists of the time – including himself in the second edition – as well as a general introduction to the techniques of the major arts (architecture, sculpture and painting). This text is not alone one of the most important primary sources for the history of art Renaissance but in many cases it is the only source that has reached us today. Of course, a risk of inaccuracy it is always there, also because the author often passes off anecdotes, legends and gossip as certain facts – not to mention the fact that he attributes greater importance to the artists of Tuscany compared to those of other Italian schools.