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Pinakothek der Moderne marks the anniversary of the second edition of Giorgio Vasari's 'Vite'
Michelangelo (1475–1564), recto: St. Peter (after Masaccio), arm study, ca. 1492. Pen and ink in various shades of brown; red chalk; the figure of St. Peter and the lower arm study later framed in light blue water colours, 317 x 197 mm. Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München © Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München.

MUNICH.- 450 years ago, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) published the second edition of his Vite, a collection of biographies of famous artists from the 13th to the mid-16th century. Compared with the first edition from 1550, the second edition is revised and significantly expanded, and established Vasari’s reputation as an art historian and as the “father of art history”.

In his Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), as the work is titled in Italian, Vasari not only offers a series of biographical narratives but also attempts to organize and systematize them. In the eyes of the Renaissance man Vasari, the art of Antiquity had attained a high degree of perfection, but had then fallen from grace, before experiencing a rebirth ( rinascita ) beginning with Cimabue and continuing into his own lifetime. The biographies reflect the progress that Vasari saw in this period in the artistic achievements of the Masters. Vasari believed that this development reached its initial peak in the work of Michelangelo, whom he revered, where for the first time it surpassed the works of Antiquity. With the success of the Vite , the epochal scheme of Antiquity, the “Gothic”, and the Renaissance became established. Vasari brought the origin of painting, sculpture, and architecture together under the term disegno , for which the English term “drawing” provides an insufficient translation. For Vasari, disegno represents the moment of an artwork’s mental conception, a creative and intellectual act which is of a higher order than the flawless technical execution of a work.

Vasari concluded the first edition of his Vite with a biography of Michelangelo, while at the end of the second edition, four years after the death of Il Divino, he reflected upon his own artistic development. This reflection shows his confidence that, as architect for the Uffizi and court painter for the Medici, he himself was one of the leading artists of his time, one who made an art form out of the critical reflection upon art. This exhibition takes the anniversary of the Vite’s publication as an opportunity to present, alongside a copy of the second edition, Vasari’s own exquisite skill as a draughtsman. Works by Pollaiuolo and El Greco from the Libro de’ disegni, Vasari’s famous collection of drawings, is also being featured. In addition, through the presentation of a major double-sided sheet by the young Master, Michelangelo’s artistic orientation as set out by Vasari in the Vite is being illustrated in a truly striking fashion.

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