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From Arezzo to the Medici’s court

During all of his life, Giorgio Vasari worked near rich and powerful people but the relationship with the Medici family was the most special one, since his first visit to Florence in 1524, thanks to the cardinal Silvio Passerini, tutor of Ippolito and Alessandro de’ Medici; these last two became his friends, playmates and later protectors when they became cardinal (Ippolito) and duke (Alessandro).

The “Cristo portato al sepolcro” painted in 1532 was dedicated to Ippolito; this is the oldest of Vasari’s early works still visible today and, thanks to Ippolito, Vasari could travel to Rome, ruled by Pope Clement VII, whose real name was Giulio de’ Medici, to study classical art and the works of Raffaello and Michelangelo.

Another important patron for Vasari was Ottaviano de Medici, an influential florentine politician from the 1530s for whom Vasari painted the “Portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent” and the “Portrait of Alessandro de Medici” in 1534, both inside the Uffizi museum.

After the untimely death of Ippolito in 1535 and the murder of Alessandro in 1537, Vasari left Medici’s court, thus suspending the privileged connection with the Florentine family. In a letter from the Vasarian archive, dated 8th March 1550, the artist complained to Cosimo I de Medici for not having been called to his service. Scholars linked this cold reaction by the duke, to whom Vasari dedicated the first edition of his “Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects”, to the deep connections between Vasari and some undesirables such as cardinal Alessandro Farnese and banker Bindo Altoviti.

All of this came to an end in 1554, the year in which Vasari became the favourite artist of Cosimo I and for twenty years he left a mark on the art and on the city planning of Florence with prestigious pictorial and architectural commissions. Among the main works are the renovation of Palazzo Vecchio (from 1555), the design of Uffizi palace (from 1560) in which the whole government of the city was brought together, the foundation of the art and design academy (1563), the creation of the Corridoio Vasariano (the sheltered walkway that connects Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, 1565), the restoration of Santa Croce (1565-1567) and the one of Santa Maria Novella (1566-1568) .

Vasari still visited different parts of Italy in order to gather information with which he improved and enriched his “Lives”; the second edition of his work was printed in 1568 and this one too included a heart-felt dedication to Cosimo I.

Vasari’s last works in Florence, carried out with his trusted apprentices, were the design and decoration of Francesco I de Medici’s small study (1572) and the decoration of the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, ordered  by Cosimo I de Medici, started in 1573 that remained unfinished because of the death of Vasari in 1574. These frescoes were finished by Federico Zuccari.

Giorgio Vasari, Uffizi Gallery and a part of the Corridoio Vasariano on the left, Florence

Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, Giudizio Universale (1572-1579; fresco; Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore)

Giorgio Vasari, Loggia del Pesce, Florence

Giorgio Vasari, Assedio della città di Firenze nel 1530 (1560-1562; fresco, 240×480 cm; Florence, Museum of Palazzo Vecchio)

Giorgio Vasari, Cosimo I de’ Medici tra gli artisti della sua corte (1558; oil painting, diameter 135 cm; Florence, Museum of Palazzo Vecchio)

Giorgio Vasari, Ritratto di Lorenzo Il Magnifico (1533; tempera on board, 90×72 cm; Florence, Uffizi Gallery)

Giorgio Vasari, Ritratto di Alessandro de’ Medici (1534; oil on board, 157×144 cm; Florence, Uffizi Gallery)

Giorgio Vasari and helpers, Presa del forte presso la porta Camollia di Siena (1567-1571; fresco, 760×1300 cm; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Salone dei Cinquecento)

Giorgio Vasari and Jacopo Zucchi, Battaglia di Marciano in Val di Chiana (1567-1571; fresco, 760×1300 cm; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Salone dei Cinquecento)

Giorgio Vasari and helpers, Scene di battaglia (1567-1571; fresco; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Salone dei Cinquecento)