Thursday, November 28, 2019

Giorgio Vasari on Lorenzo Ghiberti This text conta Essays

Giorgio Vasari on Lorenzo Ghiberti This text contains a mixture of bibliographical and historical information regarding Ghiberti's life and the circumstances in which he received the commission for the doors for the Baptistery of San Giovanni, next to the Duomo in Florence. It contains factual information regarding the background and training of the artist; the participants and judges of the competition to win the contract; descriptive information about the location of the door, its manufacture and some of the practical difficulties experienced by Ghiberti whilst working on it. The text therefore gives information that is helpful to the historian in understanding some of the facts surrounding the production of art in fifteenth century Florence and the circumstances of production of one particular artistic creation. However, to regard this as a purely objective historical account would be a mistake. Rubin (1995, 2) comments that the components of Vasari's history had generic pr ecedents and parallels in biography, technical treatises, and didactic literature, both classical and contemporary'. Vasari was able to fuse the elements of these different genres in order to situate Ghiberti (and the other artists in The Lives ) within a developing tradition of artistic enterprise and to create a history of art that included aesthetic judgement. Vasari's teleological view of the development of art goes beyond mere biographical and historical description and this aspect of his work is particularly important because it gives the modern reader information about how artists of the later Renaissance period viewed artistic products from an earlier time and also how a theoretical stance towards the nature of art was being developed. Having grown up as the son of an artisan, Vasari had received part of his education in his home town of Arezzo and then spent a part of his adolescence with the Medici family, who were at that time the most prominent family in Flore nce. It was among their children that he furthered his education and was undoubtedly exposed to the humanist curriculum that would have been a part of their education at that time. Although Vasari would not have had a university education, he was nonetheless familiar with the basics of humanist thought. Vasari's own life, therefore, exemplified the way in which art had become a vital part of aristocratic life and education and how it gave practitioners of the arts an entry into the highest parts of society. Whilst earlier generations of painters and sculptors had been regarded merely as craftsmen and had worked relatively anonymously, by Vasari's time individual artists were able to capitalise on their reputations to gain high financial remuneration as well as fame. The text reveals that Ghiberti's father had these two goals in mind when he urged Ghiberti to come back to Florence to enter the competition, which would be an occasion to make himself known and demonstrate his genius' a nd also that, if his son gained recognition as a sculptor, neither would ever again need to labour at making ear-rings'. The ambitious artist was, therefore, able to advance his career and wealth through winning great commissions. Welch (1997, 125) observes that by the mid-fourteenth century a number of Italian artists, particularly in Tuscany, seem to have been aware of the need to promote themselves and their memory, either by writing themselves or by encouraging others to write about them. It is within this tradition that Vasari wrote his The Lives . In classical times, writers such as Plutarch and Pliny had written biographical works about famous men's lives and the Renaissance preoccupation with the revival of antiquity provided a stimulus for this genre of biography that is focussed on the rhetorical practice of praising worthy and famous men, including artists (Pliny's Natural History provided the model for writing about artists of Graeco-Roman antiquity (Welch , 1997, 125)). Ghiberti himself had written Commentaries , a work that included a section on antiquity, another on his own autobiography, and a third on the theory of optical illusion. This is the work to which Vasari refers in the text. Vasari alludes to Ghiberti's use of Pliny as a model and he thus demonstrates that they are all, in their different ways, participating in an ancient tradition of writing about art and

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