Often billed as the first art historian, Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) is best known as the author of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, a compilation of artists’ biographies that was among the first of its kind. The lion’s share of scholarship on Vasari’s life and work is devoted to the Lives, but he was also a successful painter and architect, and his workshop included many of the leading artists active in late 16th-century Italy. Coming one year after the 500th anniversary of Vasari’s birth, this exhibition celebrates the Spencer Museum’s small, but important, Vasari panel depicting Christ Carrying the Cross. The painting belonged to Vasari’s close friend and collaborator Vincenzo Borghini (1515–80), a learned Benedictine monk, philologist, and one of the great Florentine intellects of the period. Indeed, the exhibition reunites Vasari’s Christ Carrying the Cross with its pendant from Borghini’s collection, a painting attributed to Ventura di Vincenzio Ulivieri (called Livo) that depicts St. Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Although they were sold several times, remarkably, the two paintings remained together from 1580, when they were recorded in an inventory of Borghini’s possessions, until they were separated in the early 1950s.
Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy investigates the place Vasari’s Christ Carrying the Cross occupies within Vasari’s career and 16th-century Florentine and Roman court culture. Additionally, it documents the picture’s technique, condition, and recent restoration. The exhibition also brings together most of the graphic images that inspired the panel and it explores Vasari’s relationship with Michelangelo. Capitalizing on the Spencer Museum’s rich collection of late medieval and early modern religious art and the Spencer Research Library’s extensive holdings of rare, early modern Italian books, this exhibition situates the Christ Carrying the Cross within its visual, devotional, historical, and literary contexts. In doing so, it elucidates the significance of a local treasure for the first time since it entered the University of Kansas’ art collection in 1953.
Giorgio Vasari & Court Culture in Late Renaissance Italy is made possible by the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. It was curated by Sally J. Cornelison, Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance Art in KU’s Kress Foundation Department of Art History, with the assistance of Susan Earle, Spencer Museum of Art Curator of European & American Art.
The interdisciplinary scholarly publications related to the exhibition are available in the Register of the Spencer Museum of Art 8, no. 3 (2010-11).