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Michelangelo, Vasari, biography


The life of Michelangelo is set indisputably as the capstone to Giorgio Vasari’s monumental, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori (1568). Cathedral-like in its detail and expanse, Vasari’s collection of biographies is itself a carefully designed and constructed work of art. Its separate parts are crafted with concern for the whole; from its series of individual narratives, a single grand narrative emerges. Buonarroti’s position in this is conspicuous, and purposefully so. In the first edition of the Vite (1550)—his biography, the only one granted a living artist—concludes the work decisively. It is the final entry and the one in which all the separate virtues that had been scattered liberally among artists and across centuries have been collected in Michelangelo’s “divine” person. In the 1568 edition, he is followed by Titian and other artists of his day, a shift that does not compromise his preeminence, but is made for reasons that only buttress his status, as will be discussed further on. Between the two editions, a separate off-print, entitled La Vita del Gran Michelagnolo, was issued by Vasari; the reason for this will also form part of my argument. In all cases, Michelangelo’s superlative rank is beyond question—he represents the pinnacle of artistic, if not human, achievement.