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Vasari's Lives of Piero di Cosimo and the Limits of a Teleological System

Giorgio Vasari wrote two biographies of the Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo: the text published in the second edition of his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in 1568 is a much-revised version of the first, printed in 1550. Both works are profoundly teleological, since they are both based on a misleading notion of artistic progress: the first culminating in the figure of Michelangelo, who mastered all three major arts, and the second ending with the eulogy of the Accademia del Disegno, recently founded (1563) under the political auspices of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. As Alessandro Nova shows in this lecture, Piero’s lives do not fit the theoretical model, and their meaning can be fully appreciated only when they are embedded in a network that connects Vasari’s récit of Paolo Uccello’s biography with his fictional life of Jacopo Pontormo. All three were represented as improper intellectual figures deeply absorbed in their creative process, and their behavior allegedly endangered Vasari’s efforts to promote a new figure of the artist perfectly integrated into the courtly society of his time.​ Recorded on February 18, 2015.