Giorgio Vasari


National Archaeological Museum Gaio Cilnio Mecenate

The Vasari ‘vasai’

and the Arezzo ceramic production in ancient times

curated by Maria Gatto

Exhibition Room / Panel 1

The Vasari ‘vasai’

and the Arezzo ceramic production in ancient times

The origin of the name “Vasari” lies with Giorgio di Lazzaro, who was a “vasaro” (potter) by trade and rediscovered the methods of the red color of Arretina vasa

The National Archaeological Museum of Arezzo is participating in the celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Giorgio Vasari’s death by narrating, through literary references, documents, and artifacts, the connections between the author of Lives and the antiquities of his land. Among these, the Aretine vases and the Chimera hold a prominent place. These are high-quality products of local craftsmanship, refined in technique and cultured in iconographic inspirations, in which Vasari recognized the expression of the Etruscan manner.

The first part of the exhibition allows visitors to enter the world of the Arretina vasa and appreciate them from Vasari’s perspective. These tableware ceramics, typical of Roman Arezzo and extraordinarily popular in ancient times, were part of Giorgio’s experience in two ways: on the one hand, like all Aretines, he was a direct and admiring witness to their continuous discovery in the many city construction sites; on the other hand, his knowledge of the beautiful red vases was mediated by family memories.

The exhibition, small but rich in insights and references, explains the origin of the name “Vasari” and recounts, paraphrasing a passage from the Life of the Ancestor Lazzaro, the extraordinary events of his grandfather Giorgio di Lazzaro, a “vasaro” (potter) and an archaeologist ante litteram, who, thanks to the Aretine vases, established an early precious contact with the Medici family.

The exhibition also provided an opportunity to deepen historical and archaeological research on the site of Carcerelle, on the western outskirts of the city, where the productive vocation highlighted by Giorgio di Lazzaro’s early investigations is confirmed. Here, there is also a small preview of ongoing studies by the University of Molise on the Aretine ceramics of the Gorga collection.

The exhibition concludes with an invitation to search for references to the rich iconographic repertoire attested on the coral-colored vases decorated in relief in Vasari’s paintings.

Gaio and Messer Giorgio

Welcome back!

stage 1

Hello, I am Gaio, and as you might have already guessed, I guide children through the discovery of the Archaeological Museum. These days, an “old” friend of mine has come to visit me: Messer Giorgio. After a long journey, he has finally returned to Arezzo, his city, and we are all welcoming him with great honors! Messer Giorgio was so talented and important that everyone has been talking about him since the distant 1500s. Do you see the book he is holding? The Lives of the Most Eminent Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects… he wrote it, and it contains the stories of all the most important artists from the 1300s to his days. If you are curious to find out what Messer Giorgio has brought here after so long, come to Room 6 and find us!

Showcase / Panel 01

Giorgio di Lazzaro „vasaro“, the Arretina vasa and Lorenzo the Magnificent

From the Vita di Lazzaro Vasari aretino pittore

Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori, Florence, Giunti, 1568

Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects by Giorgio Vasari translated by Gaston du C. De Vere 1912-1915

His life lasted seventy-two years, and he left a son called Giorgio, who occupied himself continually with the ancient Aretine vases of terracotta.

1 • Giorgio, the son of Lazzaro and grandfather of our Giorgio, became passionate about ancient Aretine vases.

and at the time when Messer Gentile of Urbino, Bishop of Arezzo, was dwelling in that city, Giorgio rediscovered the method of giving red and black colours to terra-cotta vases, such as those that the ancient Aretines made up to the time of King Porsena.

2 • In the time of Gentile Becchi (Urbino 1420/1430 – Arezzo 1497), Bishop of Arezzo and first tutor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Giorgio di Lazzaro understood the technique used by ancient Aretine ceramists to create red and black vases.

Being a most industrious person, he made large vases with the potter’s wheel, one braccio and a half in height, which are still to be seen in his house.

3 • He worked on a lathe to create vases over 80 cm tall, which his grandson could still see in his grandfather’s house.

Men say that while searching for vases in a place where he thought that the ancients had worked, he found three arches of their ancient furnaces three braccia below the surface in a field of clay near the bridge at Calciarella, a place called by that name; and round these he found some of the mixture for making the vases, and many broken ones.

4 • It is also said that Giorgio di Lazzaro searched for vases in places where he believed the ancient ceramists had their factories and that, in a field near Ponte alle Carcerelle (focus in the next showcase), at about a meter and a half deep, he found remains of kilns and many ceramic fragments.

… with four that were whole. These last were given by Giorgio, through the mediation of the Bishop, to the Magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici on his visiting Arezzo; wherefore they were the source and origin of his entering into the service of that most exalted family, in which he remained ever afterwards.

5 • Through the intercession of Bishop Gentile Becchi, four vases found intact were donated by him to Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492) and constituted the reason and the beginning of ties with the Medici family.

There is no doubt that Giorgio di Lazzaro “vasaro” recognized the extraordinary nature of Aretine vases: outstanding exempla (examples) to imitate and from which to seek the secrets of the mistura (the clay) in the ancient production sites; magnificent works to be offered as precious gifts to a refined collector like Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Showcase / Panel 02

The Vasari «vasai» and the Arezzo ceramic production in ancient times

The name “Vasari” derives from the profession of “vasaro” (potter) practiced by the grandfather of the more famous Giorgio, Giorgio di Lazzaro Taldi.
Giorgio di Lazzaro Taldi (died in 1507) arrived in Arezzo from Cortona during the 15th century.
Upon arriving in the city, he practiced the art of pottery in a house with a kiln he owned in the district of Berardi a Perini, now Via Mazzini.
For his profession, he changed his original surname Taldi to Vasari.
In the Life of Lazzaro Vasari Giorgio speaks about his grandfather’s work as a potter, his admiration for ancient Aretine ceramic productions, his discovery of Roman kilns in the area of Carcerelle, and the role that Arretina vasa played in initiating the relationship between the Vasari and Medici families. After the discoveries mentioned by Vasari, the Carcerelle were further investigated in 1492 (Marco Attilio Alessi, Libellus de antiquitate urbis Arretii) and at the end of the 19th century (accounts by Gian Francesco Gamurrini and Vincenzo Funghini and excavations by Antonio Guiducci).

Gaio and Messer Giorgio

Arretina vasa

stage 2

Messer Giorgio, just like me, has a great love for ancient things, especially these beautifully red vases decorated with perfectly crafted figures: the Arretina vasa, the vases of Arretium!
In the Lives, Giorgio recounts that his grandfather, also named Giorgio, not only knew and admired these beautiful red vases but, being a skilled “vasaro” (potter), he also knew how to recreate them!
Grandfather Giorgio, much like an archaeologist, also searched the fields near the Castro River for the remains of ancient ceramic factories.
He found many shards, and the only four intact vases he donated to the most important person of his time: Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as the Magnificent.
From Grandfather Giorgio “vasaro” the family took the name “Vasari.”
Hey, wait Giorgio, where are you sneaking off to?
I knew it, he’s gone upstairs…

Showcase / Panel 03

Giorgio di Lazzaro Vasari and the archaeological research at Carcerelle

Men say that while searching for vases in a place where he thought that the ancients had worked, he found three arches of their ancient furnaces three braccia below the surface in a field of clay near the[Pg 55] bridge at Calciarella, a place called by that name; and round these he found some of the mixture for making the vases, and many broken ones.

From the Vita di Lazzaro Vasari aretino pittore. Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori, Florence, Giunti, 1568

Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects by Giorgio Vasari translated by Gaston du C. De Vere 1912-1915

With these words, Vasari recounts the fortunate research conducted in the second half of the fifteenth century by his grandfather Giorgio di Lazzaro at the Ponte delle Carcerelle, providing us with the first precise account of an archaeological investigation aimed at uncovering an ancient Aretine ceramics factory.
The Ponte delle Carcerelle allowed the crossing of the Castro River, which flows through Arezzo and merges into the Chiana, in an area about 700 meters from Porta San Lorentino, along the east-west route that historically connected important urban (such as the Perennius factory at Santa Maria in Gradi) and suburban (Carcerelle and Orciolaia) production areas.
A few years after Giorgio di Lazzaro’s discoveries, Marco Attilio Alessi (1470?-1546?) documented new findings in 1492 in the same area in his Libellus de antiquitate urbis Arretii. These occurred, Alessi recalls, in the presence of Giovanni de’ Medici (1475-1521), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was then a cardinal and the future Pope Leo X.
For the first time in the history of studies on Arretina vasa, Alessi included two plates of drawings of ceramic stamps in his text, almost exclusively referring to the two producers Calidius and Domitius and their workers.
About 400 years later, Antonio Guiducci conducted new research at Carcerelle on the Saracini property: the stamps published by Ubaldo Pasqui in Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità of 1894 once again featured Calidius and Domitius and appeared on plates, dishes, and small cups. Gamurrini (Notizie degli Scavi 1890) reported the discovery of a drain immediately covered in 1888, during the construction of the bridge over the Castro for the Casentino railway.

Calidius and Domitius in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum of Arezzo

Stamps of Calidius can be found in the rich collection of Gian Francesco Gamurrini (1835-1923) delivered in 1885, likely originating from his personal research (Notizie degli scavi di Antichità 1890, p. 66). Additional stamps of Calidius and Domitius have recently surfaced on several dozen pieces (one of which is underfired) from the Gorga collection, formed in Rome and assigned to the Museum in the 1950s. Knowing for certain that Gorga acquired pieces from Aretine excavations and that Calidius and Domitius are documented almost exclusively in Arezzo, it can be hypothesized that the Gorga fragments originate from nineteenth-century investigations at the Ponte delle Carcerelle.
Furthermore, in the part of Vincenzo Funghini’s (1828-1896) collection delivered in 1884, there are fragments of vases and molds with a generic indication of origin “from the Carcerelle,” mainly referring to Cornelius. This is further evidence of the widespread presence of Roman-era ceramic factories in this area.

Gennaro Evangelista – known as Evan – Gorga (1865-1957) was a famous operatic tenor who retired from the stage at a very young age (1899) to devote himself to collecting. Among the various categories of objects he collected, a significant part is represented by Italic terra sigillata, both plain and decorated in relief, much of which originated from excavations conducted in Arezzo in the late nineteenth century. Despite its scientific importance, this collection has remained almost unpublished until now. However, for the past few months, it has been undergoing inventory and study thanks to an agreement between the Direzione regionale Musei Nazionali Toscana and the University of Molise (scientific director Gianluca Soricelli).

Showcase / Panel 04

With very graceful carvings and small figures and bas-relief stories

The Aretine subsoil has always yielded Arretina vasa, almost exclusively in the form of shards, because they originate from production sites or ceramic workshop waste. Over time, factory stamps have elicited admiration, but especially the relief-decorated vases.
In the Middle Ages, the first known citation is by Restoro d’Arezzo (Della composizione del mondo colle sue cascioni, 1282), who provides an extensive review of the figurative themes present on the walls of the decorated vases, attributing them to divine artisans.
During the Renaissance, a renewed interest in this production is documented, thanks in part to Vasari, due to the frequent discoveries in the many urban construction sites.
In the preface of Vite Vasari writes:

To this, moreover, witness is likewise borne by our seeing every day many pieces of those red and black vases of Arezzo […]  with the most delicate carvings and small figures and scenes in low-relief, and many small round masks wrought with great subtlety by masters of that age, men most experienced, as is shown by the effect, and most excellent in that art.

Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori, Florence, Giunti, 1568

Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects by Giorgio Vasari translated by Gaston du C. De Vere 1912-1915

The rich and refined repertoire includes allegorical figures, Seasons, Muses, Cupids, masks, and elements of furniture and vegetation, which may have influenced Vasari’s taste.
Room 6 allows for an in-depth exploration of the historical and technological aspects of this class of ceramics, while Room 7 provides an opportunity to learn about the main subjects depicted on Arretina vasa.

Showcase / Panel 05

In the ancient manner. Seasons, masks, and other figures

The numerous subjects depicted in works of ancient art provided Renaissance artists with a vast repertoire of themes and forms to reinterpret, adapt, and compose. Just as the wall decorations of Nero’s Domus Aurea generated the fashion for grotesques, so did the relief-decorated Arretina vasa offer the people of the sixteenth century a rich and refined iconographic catalogue. This catalogue was a source of inspiration and citation: their abundance and ease of transport also made them easily accessible to artists and collectors, serving as a powerful means of disseminating motifs of classical origin.
In Vasari’s allegories, for example in the Virtù of his Arezzo residence, one can discern a distant compositional echo of the Seasons, variously dressed and accompanied by identifying attributes.

The Chimera Room / Panel 1

Vasari, the Chimera of Arezzo, and the Etruscan manner

“Do you believe that it is in the Etruscan style, as they say? Absolutely certain, and I do not say this because it was found in Arezzo, my homeland, to give it greater praise, but because it is the truth.”

Giorgio Vasari

“The duke, my lord, has returned; and I promise you, now is the time to negotiate his matters well: because until four o’clock he does nothing but personally clean those little figurines found there; and he often lacks entertainment, as not everyone goes to him as they please.”

State Archive of Arezzo, AV, 10 (XLIV), c. 165

With these words, Bishop of Arezzo Bernardo Minerbetti (1507-1574) on January 4, 1554, invited Giorgio Vasari to meet Cosimo de’ Medici: the moment was opportune, as the Duke, intent on cleaning the statuettes discovered along with the Chimera of Arezzo until dawn, was often alone.
The discovery of the Chimera thus marked the beginning of a long period of service to the Medici for Giorgio, during which he was involved in many projects, including the arrangement of the great bronze and the small bronzes from the Aretine cache in Palazzo Vecchio.
In the Ragionamento Quarto, Sala di Cerere della Giornata prima, Vasari explains how he chose to place the small bronzes on the various shelves of a small private room, Calliope’s study. The large bronze statue – “for its beauty and antiquity” – was instead placed in the Sala di Leone X, near the staircase leading to the Quartiere degli Elementi, in a public space of the Palazzo. Here, once the sculpture was definitively identified as the Chimera of Greek myth through comparison with Corinthian coins, it could glorify Cosimo’s role as the new Bellerophon “who today is the tamer of all chimeras” (Giornata Seconda, Ragionamento Terzo, Sala di Giovanni), symbolizing the strength of the Magnus Dux Etruriae and providing mythical and historical justification for his expansionist ambitions.
For its technical quality and the inscription on its right front paw, the Chimera is for Vasari the most evident example of the Etruscan manner, the artistic style of the Etruscans.
In addition to textual and iconographic insights, this part of the exhibition offers a multimedia experience of the Chimera, featuring a full-scale tactile reproduction and a holographic projection of the statue in various stages of restoration.

Gaio and Messer Giorgio

The Chimera of Arezzo

stage 3

I was sure that Giorgio would come to greet his beloved Chimera! This extraordinary discovery was made in our city during his time. The ancient statue was almost immediately taken to Florence, because Arezzo was then dominated by the Florentine Medici family. The lord of Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici, specifically asked my (now also your!) friend Giorgio to place it in his beautiful palace, in a spot where everyone could admire it. What you see here is a copy of the fearsome Chimera, which you can touch: go ahead, try, you aren’t afraid, are you? Messer Giorgio has already tamed it! Well, while he plays with the snake, goat, and lion, I give you this advice: make your life fantastic and don’t be lazy, who knows, Messer Giorgio might pick up pen and paper and add you to his book…

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