WE BEGIN WITH the interrogation of witnesses. Two men are called to defend the reversal of aesthetic values in their time. The first is Giorgio Vasari, the tireless biographer to whose Lives of the Painters we owe half the facts and most of the figments current on the artists of the Renaissance. The other, Vasari's junior by four centuries, is André Malraux, whose Psychology of Art forms a brilliant brief for the moot values of the modern, neo-mystic taste in art.
Speaking of Masaccio, the great initiator of the naturalist trend in Western art, Vasari states: "The things made before his time may be termed paintings merely, and by comparison his ( Masaccio's) creations are real."
And Malraux, hailing Manet as the initiator of the modern trend in art, asks: "What then was painting becoming, now it no longer imitated or transfigured?" And his answer: "Simply -- painting."
A startling consonance this, between the "painting merely" of Vasari and the "simply painting" of Malraux. Strange also that the self-same epithet should denote scorn in one man's mouth and high praise in the other's, and yet for both bear the same connotation.
For what exactly did Vasari have in mind? That Masaccio's work,