Vasari was more of an impresario than a great painter, he could even be called one of the first spin-doctors. His
most enduring legacy was the invention of the term, Renaisssance;
and the publication of his masterpiece, “The Lives of the Artists”,
which set out the critical creative role played by the Medici, and
a Who's Who of artists.
Trained in Florence in the school of Raphael and
Michelangelo, Vasari hit the big time when he was recruited by Cosimo I to manage a
Over the course of 30-years, Vasari supervised the restoration of artistic integrity to the city of Florence, after years of siege
and neglect. Once again, the Medici family were established as the tastemakers of Italy.
Vasari even had a hand in restoring the damaged symbol of the Renaisssance, Michelangelo's “David”. Legend has it that
at the age of 16, Vasari rescued pieces of the statue that were broken off in a riot. Later when the Medici returned to power,
these were bolted back on.
Vasari also oversaw the redecoration of the Palazzo Vecchio. He covered every surface with historical frescoes, detailing the
achievements of the Medici dynasty. By supervising an army of workers Vasari managed to bring the work in on budget, and on schedule,
in a matter of months.
Cosimo I was renowned for being a suspicious and hands-on ruler. He wanted to build central offices for the government departments under
his control, and turned to one of the few people he trusted.
Vasari leveled a narrow patch of ground between the Palazzo Vecchio
and the river, and created one of the masterpieces of Renaisssance architecture. The offices, or uffizi, included a continuous
open-air corridor so that the people of Florence might view the same gorgeous panoramas as their rulers. After Vasari's death this
gallery was filled with Medici treasures, turning the Uffizi into the world's first public art gallery.
Vasari's most enduring achievement was not a fresco nor a building, but a book, the “Lives of the Artists”. In vivid and
awe-struck prose, he placed all the major Italian artists of the previous 200-years in their historical context, detailing their lives
and their works. No one had ever attempted such cultural documentation. Vasari had written the first ever work of art history.
He was careful to place the credit at the feet of the Medici family. Dedicated to his patron, Cosimo I, the book was pure propaganda
- deifying the Medici and their philanthropy - that is still believed to this day. It was also Vasari who christened this movement
the “rebirth”, the “rinascimento” or the “Renaisssance”.
Thanks to Vasari - the spin-doctor - the Medici's place in history was assured.
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