Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Disegno versus Disegno Stampato: Printmaking Theory in Vasari's Vite (1550-1568) in the Context of the Theory of Disegno and the Libro De' Disegni

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Disegno versus Disegno Stampato: Printmaking Theory in Vasari's Vite (1550-1568) in the Context of the Theory of Disegno and the Libro De' Disegni

Article excerpt

On the back of a letter he had received from Cosimo Bartoli in 1564, Giorgio Vasari compiled a list of ten enhancements to be made to the second edition of Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architettori, which was published four years later by Giunti.1 Most of these intentions were not brought to realization, for instance a project to write about Michelangelo's unfinished marble sculptures. However, the theory of disegno, which is included in the list with the phrase 'Find out what drawing means', was incorporated into the well-known revised version of Introduction to Painting. Again, under point eight Vasari wrote: 'The names of masters of copperplate, German, Italian, and French. The life of Marcantonio must be revised in order to put in all these masters'.2 Vasari fulfilled this aim literally: the chapter Life of Marcantonio Bolognese (Marcantonio Raimondi) basically presents a history of European prints from their beginning until the second half of the 16th century. This text is therefore considered the first historical and theoretical study of printmaking in the history of art. In it, Vasari discusses about four hundred and fifty engravings and about fifty engravers over three generations, from Italy, The Netherlands, Germany and Flanders.3

The topic of Vasari and prints has been examined by a vast corpus of research literature. One should mention for example the well-researched articles by Evelina Borea and David Landau and the contributions to the standard books on Renaissance printmaking by Landau/Parshall, Frank Büttner and of course Michael Bury.4 Robert Getscher has recently published all the texts about prints from both editions of Vasari's Vite, together with illustrations of all the engravings mentioned which can be identified.5 Although Vasari's work is generally recognized as one of the most important sources for understanding the art of printmaking in the Renaissance, the research literature also focuses on the defects in Vasari's texts: no part of the Vite shows such a huge amount of historical mistakes, contradictions, lack of information or technical inexperience as the text about printmaking. For instance, Vasari wrongly attributed Marten van Cleef's monogram "MC" to Martin Schongauer. One should also mention the notorious confusion between Germany and Flanders, since Vasari alternately refers to Albrecht Dürer as German and Flemish. Borea harshly mentions that in some cases Vasari did not know the difference between sculpsit und invenit.6

Why these mistakes occurred, whether Vasari knew the facts about the prints and whether he ignored them are methodological questions about how Vasari used his sources. This problem, of course, concerns the whole compilation of the Vite and both its editions, still representing a research desideratum.7 For instance, the philological heterogeneity of the Vite, especially in the second edition, continues to be discussed. This is an issue which falls together with the problem of errors and incongruities. This heterogeneity was not only caused by the different reviewers of the Vite, such as Vincenzo Borghini (second edition) and Paolo Giovio (first edition), but also depends on the fact that Vasari incorporated received information about artists as entire texts or even entire chapters. In fact Charles Hope has proved that Vasari was a multiple author.8 These aspects of the compilation of the Vite are indubitably relevant to the question of Vasari's view on printmaking. In fact, in this article the subject of 'Vasari and prints' is approached in full consciousness of the problem of heterogeneity in Vasari's Vite. Nevertheless, Vasari must be assumed to be the chief editor of his Vite, and all its texts must be viewed as they were definitively presented with all their contradictions, fully intentionally, to the contemporary reader. This is particularly a question of examining Vasari's thoughts about printmaking beyond a negative list of omissions and errors. …

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