In every respectable text of art history, we find a beautiful chapter dedicated to the works of Giorgio Vasari. We know that he was a talented architect, his is the design of the Uffizi in Florence, a much loved by the Medici court and, above all, the first to deal with the history of the vite dei painters and sculptors of his time.
But what about his personal history? Very fortunately he himself has left us many papers, but alsowe have many documents about his history and that of his family.
Aretinian by birth, Citizen of the World by Vocation
Giorgio Vasari was born in Arezzo on 30 July 1511 to Antonio and Maddalena Tacci; he was born in a large house that you can still see in Via Mazzini. We know the exact date because at the Palace of Fraternita, is kept the precious document of his baptism which occurred in his beloved Pieve di Santa Maria.
The eldest son of a large family, he immediately showed a strong predilection for art and studied under the guidance of Guillaume de Marcillat.
From an early age, he meticulously records all the work entrusted to him by his family and friends. We imagine him as a boy, busy with ink and nib to write the “Ricordanze” a text halfway between a log and a diary.
A source of pride for young Giorgio is the compliment given to him by a distant relative who came to see him from Cortona, a man who is now an old man, but who he respects very much: that man was Signorelli. Perhaps thanks to that encouragement Vasari takes the path which will lead him to the court of Cosimo I dei Medici and to become his favorite architect.
He took refuge in art when in 1527 he lost his father due to a plague and found himself having to provide for his mother and her numerous children. Vasari has a clear goal in mind: to enter the court of the Medici. Only in this way could he satisfy his ambitions. Many years will pass before he succeeds and in the meantime he will find himself travelling: Rome, Naples, Venice.
Then he gets married. But it is not a marriage of love.
Moreover, in the Sixteenth century, marriage is an affair in which love, affection, and affinities count for little while social prestige and economic benefit are fundamental. And indeed, the bride of Giorgio belongs to the nobility of Arezzo. She is Niccolosa Bacci. If her surname reminds you of something you are right. The young woman belongs to the family that in the middle of the Fifteenth century commissioned Piero della Francesca to create the frescoes of the True Cross in Saint Francis in Arezzo. The wealth of the Bacci comes from what we would today call the textile sector. They were tied to the sale of fine cloths and probably to the ford, a dye that was very much valued in the Renaissance.
Pope Julius III
The couple, however, have little in common except the city of birth. To separate them there is not only the statutory, but also nineteen years of difference. When Niccolosa marries Giorgio, she is eleven years old and he is thirty-eight. To propose the union is a person to whom can hardly be said “no”. Cardinal Giovanni Maria Ciocchi dal Monte, the future Pope Julius III who has taken a liking to Vasari. Thanks to him our artist enters a prestigious family and this also contributes to bringing him to the attention of Cosimo I.
The head of the Medici family is suspicious of Vasari because… he is from Arezzo and his city is known for the numerous insurrections. Only in the mid-fifties of the Sixteenth century after the final defeat of the Ghibelline Siena Vasari is definitively accepted in the circle of the Grand Duke’s favorites.
But this is another story.
The House of a True Artist
Let’s go back to Giorgio and Niccolosa. The couple by the choice of the painter do not live together right away. Niccolosa remains in her parents’ home for two years before joining her husband. The house is not the one near the Pieve but a splendid residence in the district of San Vito with a garden and many large and airy rooms all embellished by Giorgio himself with frescoes and pieces of art from his private collection.
Unfortunately, Vasari spends much more time in his Florentine home and leaves his young wife alone for long periods. However, he did not leave her in a neglected place: the library, the gardens, the large reception hall are all for her.
Vasari portrays Cosina, the nickname of his wife, in the charming room of the muses. She is a young blonde with an elaborate hairstyle, a long neck and an elegant pose, perhaps idealized by the artist.
A Marriage without heirs
From the union of the two spouses no children will be born. At his death in 1574, Giorgio named his brother Piero and his sons as his heirs. At the end of the Seventeenth century, when the Vasari descendants became extinct, all his possessions were left as his desire to the Fraternita dei Laici.
There are also many “voices” about Giorgio’s love life, and he does not always seem to have been committed to his wife. There has been much talk of his relationship with one of the servants of his Florentine house and also of a love corresponded with Niccolosa’s older sister, Maddalena. From these relationships, illegitimate children are also born.
Would you like to know more? Discover with a guided tour, by Centro Guide Arezzo, Casa Vasari, the home that still allows us to relive the history between Giorgio and Cosina … and much more