Giorgio Vasari (Arezzo, Tuscany July 3, 1511 - Florence, June 27, 1574) was an Italian painter and architect, mainly known for his famous biographies of Italian artists.
At a very early age he became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia, a very skilful painter of stained glass, to whom he was recommended by his own kinsman, the painter Luca Signorelli. At the age of sixteen Cardinal Silvio Passerini who sent him to study in Florence, in the circle of Andrea del Sarto and his pupils Rosso and Jacopo Pontormo. His humanist education was not ignored, and he met and knew Michelangelo, whose painting style influenced Vasari's.
In 1529 he visited Rome and studied the works of Raphael and others of the Roman High Renaissance of the previous generation. Vasari's own Mannerist paintings were more admired in his lifetime than afterwards. He was consistently employed by patrons in the Medici family in Florence and Rome, and he worked in Naples, Arezzo and other places. Many of his pictures still exist, the most important being the wall and ceiling paintings in the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and his broad, uncompleted frescoes inside the dome of the Florentine Duomo.
As an architect he was perhaps more successful: the loggia of the Palazzo degli Uffizi by the Arno, the urbanistic planning of its long narrow courtyard that functions as a public piazza, and the long passage connecting it with the Pitti Palace, through Ponte Vecchio, are his chief work. He worked with with Giacomo Vignola and Bartolomeo Ammanati at the Villa di Papa Giulio ("[[Villia Giulia") in Rome. Unhappily he did much to injure the fine medieval churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, from both of which he removed the original rood-screen and loft, and remodelled the retro-choir in the Mannerist taste of his time.
Vasari enjoyed a very high repute during his lifetime and amassed a considerable fortune. He built himself in 1547 a fine house in Arezzo (now a museum honoring him), and spent much labour in decorating its walls and vaults with paintings. He was elected one of the municipal council or priori of his native town, and finally rose to the supreme office of gonfaloniere.
In 1563 he founded the Accademia del Disegno at Florence, with the Grand Duke and Michelangelo as capi of the institution and thirty-six artists chosen for members. He died at Florence on June 27, 1571.
As the first Italian art historian, he initiated the genre of an encyclopedia of artistic biographies that continues today. Vasari coined the term "Renaissance (rinascita) in print, though an awareness of the ongoing "rebirth" in the arts had been in the air from the time of Alberti. Vasari's great work was first published in 1550, and dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici; it included a valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in the arts. It was partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568 and provided with with woodcut portraits of artists (some conjectural), entitled Delle Vite de' pił eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori.
His biographies are interspersed with amusing stories. Many of Vasari's anecdotes have the ring of truth, athough some indeed are too good to be true. Others are generic fictions, like the tale of young Giotto painting a fly on the surface of a painting of Cimabue's, which the older master repeatedly tried to brush away, a genre tale that echoes anecdotes told of the Greek painter Apelles. With a few exceptions Vasari's esthetic judgment is acute and unbiased. Vasari did not rifle archives for exact dates, as modern art historians do, and naturally his biographies are more dependable for the painters of his own generation and the preceding one. Modern criticism - with all the new materials opened up by research - has corrected a good many of his traditional dates and attributions. The result is a tendency very often to underestimate Vasari's accuracy.
The work remains a classic, however it may be supplemented by the more critical research of modern days.
Vasari gives a sketch of his own biography at the end of his Vite, and adds further details about himself and his family in his lives of Lazzaro Vasari and Francesco Salviati. The Lives have been translated into French, German and English.