The Collector of Lives: Vasari and the Invention of Art by Ingrid Rowland & Noah Charney - review by David Ekserdjian

David Ekserdjian

Portrait of the Biographer

The Collector of Lives: Vasari and the Invention of Art


W W Norton 420pp £23.99 order from our bookshop

Giorgio Vasari is undoubtedly best known to posterity for his Lives of the Artists, a magnum opus that exists in two profoundly and intriguingly different editions, published in 1550 and 1568, but that is by no means all he got up to. He was a major and pioneering collector, above all of drawings, a prolific and genuinely gifted draughtsman in his own right, and an extremely able – though admittedly not exactly inspired – painter. As if all this were not enough, his greatest creative strength was arguably as an architect: among other works, he designed the Uffizi in Florence.

In order to recount the story of his life, Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney follow these various strands in different ways. While their treatment of his life itself and the bigger picture of events in Italy during the period are straightforwardly chronological, there are various focused excursuses – above all concerning Vasari’s biographies of major artists – that are not. The fact that the authors jump about a bit is certainly no crime. Where the book is altogether less satisfactory is in the cursory account it gives of the differences between the two editions of the Lives.

At times, one is reluctantly tempted to wonder how much the authors care about this crucial topic. To take what is admittedly the most flagrant howler, they allege that Vasari’s life of Bandinelli ‘is so virulent that he dared not publish it in 1550 when the artist was

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