Thursday 30 August 2012

The Historical charcter I just don't get by Mary Hoffman

Giorgio Vasari self-portrait

You know him for his Lives of the Artists, but there was no word meaning just "artist" in sixteenth century Italy. The original title was: Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (1550) and it was arguably the first Art History book along with the biographies it contained.

So far, so good. Or maybe not. Fellow History Girl Michelle Lovric, in whose beautiful Thameside apartment I am writing this post, wants me to say that Vasari was a scurrilous rumour-monger, whose "Lives" has been far too influential.

Vasari idolised Michelangelo, whose long life encompassed his own. Also good.

And his achievements as an architect are superb: The Piazza degli Uffizi in Florence is a marvel of "bringing the inside outside" as achieved first by his great role-model in the Laurentian library in that same city.

Photo - Thomas Mies

The Corridoio Vasariano that snakes from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace is just one elegant zig and zag of an elevated private walkway for dukes and princes. (So much so that I used it in my own Stravaganza: City of Flowers)

Vasari Corridor - photo- Arnold Paul

I've never managed to get into it but here it angles its seductive way across the Ponte Vecchio towards Santa Felicita, from where the de Medici could "attend" Mass without being seen.

But just look at this:

Photo by islodelba

It is the inside of Brunelleschi's magnificent Cupola of the Duomo in Florence (Santa Maria del Fiore). So utterly lacking in imagination or grace. And this:

Photo - Giovanni dall'Orto

The tomb Vasari designed for his hero, Michelangelo, in Santa Croce. It's an abomination, isn't it? I love the façade of Santa Croce and sitting in the Piazza outside drinking coffee but I won't go inside it any more, even though Michelangelo is my hero too.

Because Vasari covered up Giotto frescoes on the wall of the Nave with lots of little altars!

How could the same man have two such conflicting sets of aesthetics? It is beyond me. As is Giorgio Vasari.

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

What's vandalism to us was "modernising" to him. ;-) You want vandals? How about that circus strongman whose idea of archaeology in Egypt was using dynamite to open tombs? And the "discovery"of the library of Asshurbanipal, only they didn't know what all those clay tablets were, with the chicken tracks on them so didn't take a lot of care. Just as well there was a guy in the British Museum who did work it out and found HALF of the flood myth...