Lecture Notes

Lecture Notes

Dorigen Caldwell (who has published “Mistaking the Pope for a Pig and Other Tales”, see http://www.aah.org.uk/confs/2003aah/2003s11.html

A pleasant ramble through Vasari. Although he is important I would have liked a list of key writers of histories of the artist (from classical to 19thC) and an explanation of why this form of art history was replaced by the German/Swiss art history and the English connoisseurship approaches in the nineteenth century. Also I would have liked key books and articles to read, some thought provoking statements and more jumping off points for further research. No slides were shown, the lecture had no watch, there is no clock in the room and no pens were available for the board.

The 19thC appraised good art based on its similarity to Greco-Roman art, essentially reproducing nature. The ideas originate with Vasari and also are based on “periods”. The “canon of classical tradition” revived in the Renaissance and survived to the 19thC if not in some form until today. There is now some dispute about whether Vasari wrote the whole book. The whole book is huge, 8 volumes, divided into three parts each with an introduction. The first edition was 1550, and the second 1568. He chose to write the history of art using biographies and so celebrate particular individuals – artists. Before this only kings, dukes and generals had biographies written about them (and perhaps poets). Things We Owe To Vasari

1. The elevation of the artist. There are some artists in Vasari that we have no other information about. He was giving artists a certain status, like Pliny’s great heroes. He states this type of history writing is about stories, individuals, mistakes, and he uses the technique to elevates the artist. The artist as an (important) individual, worth writing about.

2. The idea of periods of art starting with the classical, the decline, the intervening period and then the Renaissance. He begins with Cimabue and Giotto. We still think that things got better. He created the idea of progress. This idea continued until modern art. So historians used to talk about getting better. There high point is the High Renaissance. He says the best artist ever was Michelangelo. Other 15thC authors do talk about a classical revival and light and dark periods.

3. Art copies nature. Another thing we get is the idea that we copy nature (and ancient statues) and then we surpass nature. So we have a complete aesthetic viewpoint.

4. The pre-eminence of Tuscan art (he was Tuscan) and even today we start with Florence.

His views and aesthetic judgements were shared at the time, he furthers the role of Tuscan artists and focus on the patronage of the Medici. Art history is young as a discipline and one can trace to the 19th and their model was Vasari. Also 17thC Bellori was based on Vasari. Kind of inherited even today. (Next week Simon takes the other extreme.) He made things up based on anecdotes.17-18thC followed Vasari. Vasari does not mention any women artists. It was hard for women to become artists. He used to been seen as the bible but a lot has proved to be not entirely true. He was an artist and did see a lot of works of art but not all those he describes. Pliny (1stC AD) has the same types of anecdote as Vasari and the same conventions. For example, Appeles could be intimate with King Alexander (whereas anyone else who be killed for doing this). C.f. Michelangelo’s relationship with Julius II and Luduvico Medici.

All have common threads, e.g. all draw young and their fathers always want them to do something different. It was written within very tight conventions. Alberti was a scholar, Vasari was not. He also “embellished” the artists lives to fit their painting style, e.g. dark paint meant a dark personality and explained why they became a murderer. Remember the tortured genius (Michelangelo) is a modern concept. Vasari told the story of Xerxes painting of Helen of Troy – he took the best bits of a number of women. The idea of inspiring on nature was discussed in the classical period. An artist can go beyond nature. English connoisseurship and German Swiss analysis came together to create art history. Connoisseur could discern a beautiful painting and attribute it and so make money. Patronage, iconography placed in the culture of the time. Another branch come from formal values and connoisseurship Based on style and recognition and how much does it cost. It was a way to make a lot of money.

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