Arezzo’s Casa Vasari and the summer of 1548
In the summer of 1548, Giorgio Vasari was thirty-seven years old and a well-established painter. He spent that summer at home in Arezzo, known today as Casa Vasari, headquarters of the Vasarian Archive, a very important collection of private documents and a “mosaic” of written sources on Renaissance art.
Until then, Vasari had worked hard and traveled extensively. He had been in Florence at the Medici court, and had met Michelangelo and Raphael in Rome. He had painted a number of works, including the “Madonna with Baby and Saints” in Camaldoli, three panels for the refectory in the San Michele in Bosco Convent in Bologna, the ceiling of Giovanni Cornaro’s palace in Venice, a panel for the altar in the church of Monteoliveto in Naples…
It was time for him to take care of his own home, as he admitted himself in the autobiographic chapter of his “The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects”.
I made designs for painting the hall, three chambers, and the façade, as it were for my own diversion during that summer. In those designs I depicted, among other things, all the places and provinces where I had laboured […]
I did nothing but the ceiling of the hall […] with thirteen large pictures wherein are the Celestial Gods, and in four angles the four Seasons of the year nude, who are gazing at a great picture that is in the centre, in which, with figures the size of life, is Excellence, who has Envy under her feet and has seized Fortune by the hair, and is beating both the one and the other; and a thing that was much commended at the time was that as you go round the hall, Fortune being in the middle, from one side Envy seems to be over Fortune and Excellence, and from another side Excellence is over Envy and Fortune, as is seen often to happen in real life.
Around the walls are Abundance, Liberality, Wisdom, Prudence, Labour, Honour, and other similar things, and below, all around, are stories of ancient painters, Apelles, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Protogenes, and others, with various compartments and details that I omit for the sake of brevity.
In a chamber, also, in a great medallion in the ceiling of carved woodwork, I painted Abraham, with God blessing his seed and promising to multiply it infinitely; and in four squares that are around that medallion, I painted Peace, Concord, Virtue, and Modesty.
And since I always adored the memory and the works of the ancients, and perceived that the method of painting in distemper-colours was being abandoned, there came to me a desire to revive that mode of painting, and I executed the whole work in distemper; which method certainly does not deserve to be wholly despised or abandoned.
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