Giorgio Vasari, Father of Art History, Paints a First Draft of His Magnum Opus

THE DAILY PIC: A little-known early Vasari hints at the great historian he became.

THE DAILY PIC (#1601): It’s not often I come across Renaissance art on a trek through Chelsea galleries. On a recent reconnoiter, however, I discovered this 16th-century painting, attributed to a young Giorgio Vasari, in the backroom of ACA Galleries, better known for showing neglected modernists.

It’s not wrong – quite – to dismiss Vasari as a master of pastiche: Today’s Pic has obvious debts to Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. But given that Vasari went on to write The Lives of the Artists, the first great work of Western art history, I wonder if we should think of this painting as giving an early hint of his historian’s eye. That is, rather than simply borrowing from his predecessors for the sake of their esthetics, he may be making art that’s about recording their presence in an artistic past that his painting narrates.

In the far background of his scene I think I can just make out a few freestanding columns. Of course those could stand for the Roman world that Saint John and Mary and Christ came out of, and that Christianity superseded. But they could also stand for the Classical culture that lurked behind Vasari’s new conception of the history of “modern” art.

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