As The Guardian reports, the archive of artist Georgio Vasari (1511-1574), who chronicled the lives of Renaissance painters and sculptors in his book Lives of the Artists, will be auctioned off by his hometown. The cache of letters includes 17 from Vasari's friend Michelangelo, as well as letters from five Renaissance popes and Cosimo I de' Medici, the ruler of Florence. Government debt collectors are selling the archive in order to raise money to cover taxes owed by the noble family that has owned the collection for generations. The bidding will start at a mere 2.6 million Euros.
I first became familiar with Vasari's work when I began researching the life of Rosso Fiorentino, the Florentine artist who came to France at François I's behest to decorate the palace of Fontainebleau. Rosso is one of the 130-odd artists whose lives are described in Vasari's Le Vite de' piú eccellenti pittori, scultore et architetti, first published in 1550 (English translation here). An accomplished artist and architect himself, Vasari trained with or befriended many Florentine artists, among them Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, Jacopo Pontormo, and Michelangelo. His book, dedicated to Cosimo de' Medici, presents short biographies of the artists working in Italy, mostly in and around Florence, in the sixteenth century. These biographies are amusing mixtures of fact, personal anecdote, and pure gossip. The book includes a treatise on the technical methods of the times and is considered a classic work of art history.
Rosso's biography, for example, includes an anecdote about his pet monkey stealing grapes from a monastery, a description of the artist's ill-treatment at the hands of the Germans during the sack of Rome in 1527, and speculation about his apparent guilt-induced suicide in 1541...all of which is finding its way into my novel in some form or another. I owe Vasari a great deal, especially for animating his portrait of Rosso with enough personal detail to bring the artist's personality to life, yet leaving enough room for fictional elaboration.
Vasari's hometown of Arezzo will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the chronicler's birthday next year. I certainly hope the Italian heritage minister, who will be competing in the week's auction, will be able to purchase the documents and keep this important part of Italy's artistic heritage in the country.