Vasari’s life is intimately rooted in the Uffizi Gallery. With five of his paintings in various rooms throughout the museum, he also chronicled the lives the Renaissance artists that fill the Gallery, but even more importantly, he laid the original architectural design for the Palazzo degli Uffizi.
An acclaimed artist and architect of his time, Vasari is perhaps better known today for his invaluable tome of biographies, Le Vita delle più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects) or simply the Vite or Lives of Artists. The book, dedicated to his friend and patron, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519 – 1574), chronicles the evolution of Italy’s Renaissance through the greatest artists of the period.
From its Byzantine beginnings in Cimabue (1240 – 1302) to its zenith in Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) and Titian (1485 – 1576), the Vite helped to establish the phrase, Renaissance, in history. Writing mostly of Florentine artists, he introduced the encyclopedic style of biographies, while coloring the text with anecdotes of the artists’ personalities. While some of the stories have been proven untrue or exaggerated by modern critics, the book has stood the test of time as a bible of renaissance art. Vasari began writing the biographies in 1543 and more than twenty years later, a fully revised edition was published. Already a well connected artist and sought after director of projects, Vasari toured Italy collecting material for the book, making him a bastion of Italy’s impact on western art.
He was a successful architect, spending much of his later years dedicated to that art form, but also an esteemed painter. He began his training with Guglielmo da Marsiglia (1475 – 1537), advancing to the studio of Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531). During this time he befriended some of the most important Florentine artists, such as Il Rosso (1494 – 1540), Pontormo (1494 – 1557) and Michelangelo. He worked mainly in Florence and Rome, but throughout Italy and was frequently commissioned by the Medici family. He painted in a definitive Mannerist style, creating religious works and portraits.
His well know architectural projects included, as mentioned, the designs for the Uffizi palace for Cosimo I de’ Medici, also the loggia of the Uffizi, and the passage from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace. He renovated and remodeled well known churches in Florence and also contributed to the Villa Giulia of Pope Julius III (1487 – 1555) in Rome. He collaborated with many artists, and in 1563 was a founding member of the Accademia del Disegno (Florence Academy of Art).