Michael Dirda at the Washington Post:
Today, Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) is usually remembered only as the author of “The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects,” one of the foundational works of art history and a book nearly as entertaining as its models, Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans” and Suetonius’s “Lives of the Caesars.” In its fullest edition, Vasari presents gossipy biographical portraits of seemingly all of Renaissance Italy’s major (and minor) artists, including Cimabue, Leonardo, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and Michelangelo.
As Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney remind us in “The Collector of Lives,” scholars still turn to Vasari as a primary source, albeit with caution: He is hardly what one would call impartial or disinterested. Vasari badmouths his enemies (such as Cellini), while his novella-length account of Michelangelo approaches hagiography. Moreover, rather than verify his facts, he tends to “print the legend.” Did the young Giotto really draw a perfect O when asked to supply an example of his work? Did Piero di Cosimo really live almost entirely on hard-boiled eggs? Maybe, maybe not. Some stories are too good to check. Rowland lives in Rome and is the author of a fine biography of the philosopher Giordano Bruno and of a guide to Pompeii ; Charney, who resides in Slovenia, founded the Association for Research Into Crimes Against Art.