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"Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy" opens at the Spencer Museum of Art
Giorgio Vasari (1511–74), Christ Carrying the Cross (circa 1555–64).

LAWRENCE, KS.- Giorgio Vasari’s Christ Carrying the Cross (circa 1555–64) measures a mere twenty-three by seventeen inches, but the painting’s historical and artistic importance far exceeds its modest dimensions. It is the larger story behind the painting that inspired the Spencer Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy, opening September 15 and remaining on view through December 9.

Often billed as the first art historian, Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) is best known as the author of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, a compilation of artists’ biographies that was among the first of its kind. Vasari was also a successful painter and architect, but his career as a painter in particular has been eclipsed by his literary reputation, according to Associate Professor of Art History Sally J. Cornelison. Dr. Cornelison conducted extensive research on the Christ Carrying the Cross and curated this show with the assistance of Susan Earle, Spencer Museum of Art Curator of European and American Art.

Until recently the Christ Carrying the Cross suffered from a case of mistaken identity; it has been attributed to a number of artists associated with Vasari rather than to the master himself. The recent technical examination, removal of old, yellowed varnish, and conservation of the painting contributed to a greater certainty of the painting’s authenticity. An in-depth analysis of the painting’s history and its relationship to Vasari’s other paintings further confirmed the attribution. Recent research has also brought to light previously unknown or under-explored aspects of the picture, such as the fact that in the early 20th century it belonged to a notorious New York gambler and criminal.

Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy brings the Christ Carrying the Cross into conversation with works on loan from the Nelson–Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Bob Jones University Collection in Greenville, South Carolina, as well as with objects from the Spencer Museum’s rich collection of late medieval and early modern religious art. The exhibition gives viewers the opportunity to explore Vasari’s career as an artist and author and his relationship with the papal court in Rome and the Medici court in Florence. Additionally, it brings together most of the graphic images that inspired the Christ Carrying the Cross, reunites the panel with the painting that hung beside it in the 16th century, and explores Vasari’s relationship with Michelangelo. Vasari & Court Culture also capitalizes on the Spencer Research Library’s extensive holdings of rare, early modern Italian books—which include the first edition of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists and his biography of Michelangelo. This exhibition celebrates a local treasure for the first time since it entered the University of Kansas’ art collection in 1953. It is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to delve into the visual, devotional, and intellectual richness of Renaissance art and culture.

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