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Giorgio Vasari’s «Prefaces»

Art and Theory- With a foreword by Wolfram Prinz

Liana De Girolami Cheney

Giorgio Vasari’s Prefaces: Art and Theory provides students and scholars alike with the opportunity to study and understand the art, theory, and visual culture of Giorgio Vasari and sixteenth century Italy. For the first time all of Vasari’s Prefaces from the Lives of the Artists (1568) are included translated into English as well as in the original Italian. Also included is an English translation of Giovanni Battista Adriani’s letter to Giorgio Vasari enlightening Vasari on the art of the ancient masters.
Through the eyes of Vasari, this book captures the creative achievements of his fellow artists – how they adopt nature and the classical tradition as their muses and how they ingeniously interpret the secular and religious themes of the past and present. Vasari himself is lauded for the transformation of the artist from one of being a mere laborer to one who imbues his work with intellectual depth and is recognized as a creator of beautiful visual myths.


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Introduction xiii


Introduction It is undeniably true that if the artists of our own time were justly rewarded, they would produce even greater works of art, far superior to those of the ancient world.1 —Giorgio Vasari, Vite Giorgio Vasari (1511–74, Figs. 8–10), Tuscan painter, architect, art collector and writer, is best known for his Le Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori e scultori italiani, da Cimabue insino a’ tempi nostri2 (Lives of the Most Excel- lent Architects, Painters and Sculptors of Italy, from Cimabue to the Present Time), which was first published in 1550, followed in 1568 by an enlarged edition illustrated with woodcuts of artists’ portraits.3 By virtue of this text, Vasari is known as “the first art historian”4 since the time of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historiae (Natural History), c. 79. Vasari’s classical upbringing, cultural experiences and intellectual pursuits provide him with an extended repertoire of visual imagery and conceits. This type of visual culture manifests not only in the depiction of his secular and religious programs, but also in the formation of a new pictorial language, a vocabulary of images. This pictorial dictionary with ascribed emblematic con- ceits anticipates Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593). Thus, Vasari emerges as the founder of the discipline of art history, and his work serves as a precursor of the emblematic tradition.5 As a young man, Vasari starts collecting the drawings of early painters in order to assemble examples of their work that he can learn from through imi- tation. In the...

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