Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects Vol 1


Vasari introduces himself sufficiently in his own prefaces and introduction; a translator need concern himself only with the system by which the Italian text can best be rendered in English. The style of that text is sometimes laboured and pompous; it is often ungrammatical. But the narrative is generally lively, full of neat phrases, and abounding in quaint expressions—many of them still recognizable in the modern Florentine vernacular—while, in such Lives as those of Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelagnolo, Vasari shows how well he can rise to a fine subject. His criticism is generally sound, solid, and direct; and he employs few technical terms, except in connection with architecture, where we find passages full of technicalities, often so loosely used that it is difficult to be sure of their exact meaning. In such cases I have invariably adopted the rendering which seemed most in accordance with Vasari's actual words, so far as these could be explained by professional advice and local knowledge; and I have included brief notes where they appeared to be indispensable.

In Mrs. Foster's familiar English paraphrase—for a paraphrase it is rather than a translation—all Vasari's liveliness evaporates, even where his meaning is not blurred or misunderstood. Perhaps I have gone too far towards the other extreme in relying upon the Anglo-Saxon side of the English language rather than upon the Latin, and in taking no liberties whatever with the text of 1568. My intention, indeed, has been to render my original word for word, and to err, if at all, in favour of literalness. The very structure of Vasari's sentences has usually been retained, though some freedom was necessary in the matter of the punctuation, which is generally bewildering. As Mr. Horne's only too rare translation of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci has proved, it is by some such method that we can best keep Vasari's sense and Vasari's spirit—the one as important to the student of Italian art as is the other to the general reader. Such an attempt, however, places an English translator of the first volume at a conspicuous disadvantage. Throughout the earlier Lives Vasari seems to be feeling his way. He is not sure of himself, and his style is often awkward. The more faithful the attempted rendering, the more plainly must that awkwardness be reproduced.

Vasari's Introduction on Technique has not been included, because it has no immediate connection with the Lives. In any case, there already exists an adequate translation by Miss Maclehose. All Vasari's other prefaces and introductions are given in the order in which they are found in the edition of 1568.

With this much explanation, I may pass to personal matters, and record my thanks to many Florentine friends for help in technical and grammatical questions; to Professor Baldwin Brown for the notes on technical matters printed with Miss Maclehose's translation of "Vasari on Technique"; and to Mr. C. J. Holmes, of the National Portrait Gallery, for encouragement in a task which has proved no less pleasant than difficult.

G. du C. de V.

March 1912.


My most honoured Lord,

Seeing that your Excellency, following in this the footsteps of your most Illustrious ancestors, and incited and urged by your own natural magnanimity, ceases not to favour and to exalt every kind of talent, wheresoever it may be found, and shows particular favour to the arts of design, fondness for their craftsmen,[1] and understanding and delight in their beautiful and rare works; I think that you cannot but take pleasure in this labour which I have undertaken, of writing down the lives, the works, the manners, and the circumstances of all those who, finding the arts already dead, first revived them, then step by step nourished and adorned them, and finally brought them to that height of beauty and majesty whereon they stand at the present day. And because these masters have been almost all Tuscans, and most of these Florentines, of whom many have been incited and aided by your most Illustrious ancestors with every kind of reward and honour to put themselves to work, it may be said that in your state, nay, in your most blessed house the arts were born anew, and that through the generosity of your ancestors the world has recovered these most beautiful arts, through which it has been ennobled and embellished.

Wherefore, through the debt which this age, these arts, and these craftsmen owe to your ancestors, and to you as the heir of their virtue and of their patronage of these professions, and through that debt which I, above all, owe them, seeing that I was taught by them, that I was their subject and their devoted servant, that I was brought up under Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici, and under Alessandro, your predecessor, and that, finally, I am infinitely attached to the blessed memory of the Magnificent Ottaviano de' Medici, by whom I was supported, loved and protected while he lived; for all these reasons, I say, and because from the greatness of your worth and of your fortunes there will come much favour for this work, and from your understanding of its subject there will come a better appreciation than from any other for its usefulness and for the labour and the diligence that I have given to its execution, it has seemed to me that to your Excellency alone could it be fittingly dedicated, and it is under your most honoured name that I have wished it to come to the hands of men.

Deign, then, Excellency, to accept it, to favour it, and, if this may be granted to it by your exalted thoughts, sometimes to read it; having regard to the nature of the matter therein dealt with and to my pure intention, which has been, not to gain for myself praise as a writer, but as craftsman to praise the industry and to revive the memory of those who, having given life and adornment to these professions, do not deserve to have their names and their works wholly left, even as they were, the prey of death and of oblivion. Besides, at the same time, through the example of so many able men and through so many observations on so many works that I have gathered together in this book, I have thought to help not a little the masters of these exercises and to please all those who therein have taste and pleasure. This I have striven to do with that accuracy and with that good faith which are essential for the truth of history and of things written. But if my writing, being unpolished and as artless as my speech, be unworthy of your Excellency's ear and of the merits of so many most illustrious intellects; as for them, pardon me that the pen of a draughtsman, such as they too were, has no greater power to give them outline and shadow; and as for yourself, let it suffice me that your Excellency should deign to approve my simple labour, remembering that the necessity of gaining for myself the wherewithal to live has left me no time to exercise myself with any instrument but the brush. Nor even with that have I reached that goal to which I think to be able to attain, now that Fortune promises me so much favour, that, with greater ease and greater credit for myself and with greater satisfaction to others, I may perchance be able, as well with the pen as with the brush, to unfold my ideas to the world, whatsoever they may be. For besides the help and protection for which I must hope from your Excellency, as my liege lord and as the protector of poor followers of the arts, it has pleased the goodness of God to elect as His Vicar on earth the most holy and most blessed Julius III, Supreme Pontiff and a friend and patron of every kind of excellence and of these most excellent and most difficult arts in particular, from whose exalted liberality I expect recompense for many years spent and many labours expended, and up to now without fruit. And not only I, who have dedicated myself to the perpetual service of His Holiness, but all the gifted craftsmen of this age, must expect from him such honour and reward and opportunities for practising the arts so greatly, that already I rejoice to see these arts arriving in his time at the greatest height of their perfection, and Rome adorned by craftsmen so many and so noble that, counting them with those of Florence, whom your Excellency is calling every day into activity, I hope that someone after our time will have to write a fourth part to my book, enriching it with other masters and other masterpieces than those described by me; in which company I am striving with every effort not to be among the last.

Meanwhile, I am content if your Excellency has good hope of me and a better opinion than that which, by no fault of mine, you have perchance conceived of me; beseeching you not to let me be undone in your estimation by the malignant tales of other men, until at last my life and my works shall prove the contrary to what they say.

Now with that intent to which I hold, always to honour and to serve your Excellency, dedicating to you this my rough labour, as I have dedicated to you every other thing of mine and my own self, I implore you not to disdain to grant it your protection, or at least to appreciate the devotion of him who offers it to you; and recommending myself to your gracious goodness, most humbly do I kiss your hand.

Your Excellency's most humble Servant,
Painter of Arezzo.


My most honoured Lord,

Behold, seventeen years since I first presented to your most Illustrious Excellency the Lives, sketched so to speak, of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects, they come before you again, not indeed wholly finished, but so much changed from what they were and in such wise adorned and enriched with innumerable works, whereof up to that time I had been able to gain no further knowledge, that from my endeavour and in so far as in me lies nothing more can be looked for in them.

Behold, I say, once again they come before you, most Illustrious and truly most Excellent Lord Duke, with the addition of other noble and right famous craftsmen, who from that time up to our own day have passed from the miseries of this life to a better, and of others who, although they are still living in our midst, have laboured in these professions to such purpose that they are most worthy of eternal memory. And in truth it has been no small good-fortune for many that I, by the goodness of Him in whom all things have their being, have lived so long that I have almost rewritten this book; seeing that, even as I have removed many things which had been included I know not how, in my absence and without my consent, and have changed others, so too I have added many, both useful and necessary, that were lacking. And as for the likenesses and portraits of so many men of worth which I have placed in this work, whereof a great part have been furnished by the help and co-operation of your Excellency, if they are sometimes not very true to life, and if they all have not that character and resemblance which the vivacity of colours is wont to give them, that is not because the drawing and the lineaments have not been taken from the life and are not characteristic and natural; not to mention that a great part of them have been sent me by the friends that I have in various places, and they have not all been drawn by a good hand. Moreover, I have suffered no small inconvenience in this from the distance of those who have engraved these heads, because, if the engravers had been near me, it might perchance have been possible to use in this matter more diligence than has been shown. But however this may be, our lovers of art and our craftsmen, for the convenience and benefit of whom I have put myself to so great pains, must be wholly indebted to your most Illustrious Excellency for whatever they may find in it of the good, the useful, and the helpful, seeing that while engaged in your service I have had the opportunity, through the leisure which it has pleased you to give me and through the management of your many, nay, innumerable treasures, to put together and to give to the world everything which appeared to be necessary for the perfect completion of this work; and would it not be almost impiety, not to say ingratitude, were I to dedicate these Lives to another, or were the craftsmen to attribute to any other than yourself whatever they may find in them to give them help or pleasure? For not only was it with your help and favour that they first came to the light, as now they do again, but you are, in imitation of your ancestors, sole father, sole lord, and sole protector of these our arts. Wherefore it is very right and reasonable that by these there should be made, in your service and to your eternal and perpetual memory, so many most noble pictures and statues and so many marvellous buildings in every manner.

But if we are all, as indeed we are beyond calculation, most deeply obliged to you for these and for other reasons, how much more do I not owe to you, who have always had (would that my brain and my hand had been equal to my desire and right good will) so many valuable opportunities to display my little knowledge, which, whatsoever it may be, fails by a very great measure to counterbalance the greatness and the truly royal magnificence of your mind? But how may I tell? It is in truth better that I should stay as I am than that I should set myself to attempt what would be to the most lofty and noble brain, and much more so to my insignificance, wholly impossible.

Accept then, most Illustrious Excellency, this my book, or rather indeed your book, of the Lives of the craftsmen of design; and like the Almighty God, looking rather at my soul and at my good intentions than at my work, take from me with right good will not what I would wish and ought to give, but what I can.

Your most Illustrious Excellency's most indebted servant,

January 9, 1568.


Motu proprio (et cet.). Cum, sicut accepimus, dilectus filius Philippus Junta, typographus Florentinus, ad communem studiosorum utilitatem, sua impensa, Vitas Illustrium Pictorum et Sculptorum Georgii Vasarii demum auctas et suis imaginibus exornatas, Statuta Equitum Melitensium in Italicam linguam translata, Receptariumque Novum pro Aromatariis, aliaque opera tum Latina, tum Italica, saneque utilia et necessaria, imprimi facere intendat, dubitetque ne hujusmodi opera postmodum ab aliis sine ejus licentia et in ejus grave præjudicium imprimantur; nos propterea, illius indemnitati consulere volentes, motu simili et ex certa scientia, eidem Philippo concedimus et indulgemus ne prædicta opera, dummodo prius ab Inquisitore visa et approbata fuerint, per ipsum imprimenda, infra decennium a quoquo sine ipsius licentia imprimi aut vendi vel in apothecis teneri possint; inhibentes omnibus et singulis Christi fidelibus tam in Italia quam extra Italiam existentibus, sub excommunicationis lata sententia, in terris vero S.R.E. mediate vel immediate subjectis, etiam ducentorum ducatorum auri Cameræ Apostolicæ applicandorum et amissionis librorum pœnis, totiens ipso facto et absque alia declaratione incurrendis quotiens contraventum fuerit, ne intra decennium præfatum dicta opera sine ejusdem Philippi expressa licentia imprimere, seu ab ipsis aut aliis impressa vendere, vel venalia habere; mandantes universis veneralibus fratribus nostris Archiepiscopis, Episcopis, eorumque Vicariis in spiritualibus generalibus, et in Statu S.R.E. etiam Legatis, Vicelegatis, Præsidibus et Gubernatoribus, ut quoties pro ipsius Philippi parte fuerint requisiti, vel eorum aliquis fuerit requisitus, eidem, efficacis defensionis præsidio assistentes, præmissa contra inobedientes et rebelles, per censuras ecclesiasticas, etiam sæpius aggravando, et per alia juris remedia, auctoritate Apostolica exequantur; invocato etiam ad hoc, si opus fuerit, auxilio brachii sæcularis. Volumus autem quod præsentis motus proprii nostri sola signatura sufficiat, et ubique fidem faciat in judicio et extra, regula contraria non obstante et officii sanctissimæ Inquisitionis Florentinæ.

Placet motu proprio M.

Datum Romæ apud Sanctum Petrum, quintodecimo Cal. Maij,
anno secundo.

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