Giorgio Vasari’s Libro de’ disegni and the Art of Drawing in Cinquecento Florence
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Moore, Emily Latham
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), both before and especially during the revision in the 1560s of his famous series of artists’ biographies, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori et architettori, cultivated a parallel project: a vast collection of master drawings, so-called by him the Libro de’ disegni (‘Book of drawings’). This extensive collection of graphic art, which also included prints, is often referenced in the 1568 edition of the text, and was used as a means of identifying characteristics of style and, critically, as proof of the artists’ capacity for excellence in disegno. While the Libro de’ disegni has intrigued scholars for centuries, many investigations have focused on a material reconstruction of the collection, a Sisyphean task given that no contemporary inventory of the Libro was drawn up by Vasari or his heirs. This dissertation moves past issues of connoisseurship- attribution, dating, and form- to analyse the collection within the framework of its social and intellectual milieu. This study challenges the understanding of the Libro as one driven by a purely historical ethos, interpreting it instead as a collection aimed at breadth and depth. Using Vasari’s own words culled from the Vite and from extensive correspondence with his close friend and collaborator Vincenzo Borghini (1515-1580), as well as the drawings themselves, as primary evidence, this dissertation presents a new interpretation of the raccolta famosa as one which aspired for both physical and metaphysical completeness, centred around the binary definition of the term ‘disegno’. Chapter One contextualises Vasari’s collection within the early history of drawings collecting in Italy. The historiography of the Libro is outlined, challenging conventional narratives through an analysis of contemporary archival documents. Subsequently, it shall be argued that through the Libro, Vasari strove to erect an inclusive representation of the concept of disegno, one which evaluated both its material and aesthetic possibilities as a ‘drawing’, and its theoretical and intellectual possibilities as a ‘design’. Chapter Two explores the materiality of disegno, by considering Vasari’s unique appreciation for the medium itself as revealed through his writing. His desire to produce a materially comprehensive collection, one which sought to collate every typology, technique and physical iteration of a ‘drawing’, as well as diverse subject matters, styles and genres, is a consequence of this attitude. Chapter Three analyses the collection as a simulacrum of disegno theory. It will examine the various conditions through which he defined disegno, particularly as a faculty of judgement, and how these ideas coalesced into a metaphor for universal enlightenment, and so of the divine. The Libro, in turn, emblematised the virtues of judgement which adumbrate that theory. Chapter Four explores the social and intellectual culture in which the Libro was formed, arguing that several interdependent factors, driven by Vasari’s aristocratic, academic, and artistic ambitions, shaped the collection. This chapter contextualises Vasari’s aims both in forming a vast, diverse collection of drawings and in seeking to document that project in writing. In a broader sense, this dissertation considers the ways in which Vasari’s desire to detach drawings from the artist’s studio and bring them into the context of the academic’s studiolo is evidence of shifting paradigms in how the medium of drawing could be valued as a self-sufficient artform and how works of art more broadly could be used to illustrate a complex epistemological thesis.