Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vasari on Vasari

Giorgio Vasari is famous for creating the first substantial work of art history, his Vite delle pui eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), but he also wrote a shorter book describing one of his own works. Ragionamenti Sopra le inuentioni da lui dipinte in Firenze nel Palazzo di loro Altezze Serenissime (Florance: F. Giunta, 1588) is a written description of Vasari's three great cycles at the Palazzo Vecchio commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici. The narrative of the books carries the reader through the cycles, room by room, as Vasari lays open the references and meanings of the images in conversational dialogue with Francesco de Medici.

The book was written to give a wide audience to the cycles (which were in Cosimo's private residence) and share the Medici's glory more broadly. Oddly, there are is only one image in the book, a full-page woodcut of Vasari, but words substitute for images in the description of the art. There is an irony there--the art elevates and spreads the power of the Medici family, but the image is reserved to lift the artist. The book shows how the Renaissance was a time of patronage, but also a period where the individual artist gained prominence.

To see the book, and tour with the Medicis, ask for Rare ND2757.F5 V3 1588.

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