Gahtan, Maia Wellington, ed., Giorgio Vasari and the Birth of the Museum.
According to editor, Maia Wellington Gahtan, this collection of cross-disciplinary essays provides the first comprehensive account of Giorgio Vasari, the man argued to have significantly shaped the modern museum. In Gahtans Introduction, Vasari is described as a 'writer, collective, procession and festival impresario, exhibitor and architect of the Medici court' (p. 11). Vasari wrote many influential texts throughout his career including Vite, a collection of captioned paintings.
In order to unpack Vasaris significance, the collection is divided into four relatively equal parts. Part I, 'Vasaris Collections', explores the remnants of Vasaris life that all form part of his overall remaining collection. The section begins with an overview of how the homes ofVasari can be viewed as museums in themselves and is followed by two chapters on his other known collections. Vasari's Libro de' disegni, his collection of Old Master drawings, was 'the most noted and documented collection of graphic art as well as the most varied and organic until beyond the sixteenth century' (p. 41). The final chapter in this section focuses on the epitaphs collected by Vasari in his biographies. All three chapters successfully argue that the nature of Vasari's collecting habits, and his conservation and display of artwork altered throughout his life. The three authors also argue that these collections set precedents for future modern collecting endeavours, creating criteria that could be applied to any collection.
Part II, 'Illustrium Imagines', comprises three chapters that all explore the importance of the portrait, delving into the religious, social, and cultural contexts behind Vasaris acquisitions. Artist Paolo Giovio is at the centre of the first chapter and appears in the second as an inspiration to Vasari, imagining the first museums as centres of preservation and notoriety. This context is very important in this work establishing why images and portraits became so valuable during Vasari's time. Rick Scorzas contribution discusses the lengths Vasari went to in order to gain the most authentic image of the pope. Authenticity meant memory preservation: Vasari himself wrote that his text on the images would be 'brief ... because their portraits ... will better illustrate the appearance of these men than any description could ever do' (p. 104). What this section adds to the book is that it really contextualises the importance of the portrait and how a rising respect for portrait painters allowed the development of museums and culminated with Vasari s Vite as a tool of memory preservation.
Logically, the next section of the book, Part III, 'Vasari's Exhibitions', delves further into the art exhibitions themselves. Much attention is given to Vasari's work for the Medici family. It is through the examples given here that a sense of his contribution to modern museums really begins to form. The creation of inventory lists, the planning of display areas, and the creation of themes and stories related to the artwork all link Vasari to modern day practices. This was especially apparent with the Palazzo Vecchio Ragionamenti, which drew visitors into a story told by the artwork. What is most enjoyable about this section is its reference to historiography and the debates about Vasari in other works. Claudia Conforti's chapter on the Uffizi draws on these debates adding a new layer of depth to the article. By communicating the information in this way, it becomes clear how Vasari's legacy has continued to perplex historians, architects, and others.
Finally, Part IV 'Vasaris Museological Concepts and Their Afterlife', brings Vasari's legacy to life, through articles on the establishment of art schools and how his museum practices continued to influence others even after his death.
Overall, Gahtan has edited this work with much care and precision. Readers are led through logical, interesting, and strongly source-focused articles written by Vasari specialists. The constant use of Vasari s Vite and an individual adherence to the main themes of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting tie this collection together and provide well-articulated and researched chapters. This work is a clear example of how cross-disciplinary studies can truly be beneficial in exploring the source material available to a greater extent through different lenses.
Rebecca Lush, The University of Queensland
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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