GIORGIO VASARI (1513-1574), a painter and architect, whose main distinction rests on his valuable history of Italian art, was born at Arezzo in 1513. At a very early age he became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia, a very skilful painter of stained glass. At the age of sixteen he went to Florence, where he studied under Michelangelo and Andrea del Sarto, aided by the patronage of the Medici princes. In 1529 he visited Rome and studied the works of Raphael and others of his school. The paintings of Vasari were much admired by the rapidly degenerating taste of the 16th century; but they possess the smallest amount of merit, being in the main feeble parodies of the powerful works of Michelangelo. Vasari was largely employed in Florence, Rome, Naples, Arezzo, and other places. Many of his pictures still exist, the most important being the wall and ceiling paintings in the great hall of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and his frescos on the cupola of the cathedral, which, however, were not completed at the time of his death. As an architect he was perhaps more successful : the loggia of the Uffizi by the Arno, and the long passage connecting it with the Pitti Palace, are his chief works. Unhappily he did much to injure the fine mediaeval churches of S. Maria Novella and Santa Croce, from both of which he removed the original rood-screen and loft, and remodelled the retro-choir in the degraded taste of his time. Vasari enjoyed a very high repute during his lifetime and amassed a considerable fortune. He built himself in 1547 a fine house in Arezzo, and spent much labour in decorating its walls and vaults with paintings. He was elected one of the municipal council or priori of his native town, and finally rose to the supreme office of gonfaloniere. He died at Florence on 27th June 1574.
Personally Vasari was a man of upright character, free from vanity, and always ready to appreciate the works of others : in spite of the narrow and meretricious taste of his time, he expresses a warm admiration of the works of such men as Cimabue and Giotto, which is very remarkable. As an art historian of his country he must always occupy the highest rank. His great work was first published in 1550, and afterwards partly rewritten and enlarged in 1568, bearing the title Delle Vite de' più Eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, ed Architettori. It was dedicated to Cosimo de' Medici, and was printed at Florence by the Giunti ; it is a small quarto illustrated with many good woodcut portraits. This editio princeps of the complete work is usually bound in three volumes, and also contains a very valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in all branches of the arts, entitled Le Tre Arti del Disegno, cioè Architettura, Pittura, e Scoltura.
The best edition of Vasari's works is that published at Florence by Milanesi, 1878-82, which embodies the valuable notes in the earlier edition by Le Monnier. The Lives has been translated into French, German, and English (by Mrs Foster, London, 1850). They are written in a very pleasant style, interspersed with amusing stories, and are in the main trustworthy, except some of the biographies of early artists. With a few exceptions Vasari's judgment is acute and unbiassed.