Vasari’s words o’ wisdom

I’ve been re-reading Giorgio Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, but this time the abridged E.L. Seeley translation of the main biographies in what was a three-volume mid-sixteenth-century work. You can read along too, thanks to the digitized edition at Vasari is a standard reference for art historians, and I enjoy it as much for its anecdotal accounts of the lives of Italian artists in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries as I do for its timeless asides on human nature. I’ve gathered a few of Vasari’s observations here: you can hunt down who he’s referring to with a text search, or just enjoy the observations on their own merit:

“He died at the age of seventy-seven, disgusted, it is said, with life, because he had seen the age change so much and new artists obtain honour.­”

“Those who are studying any science find that by conferring together they clear it from obscurity and make it more easy. But some on the contrary have wickedly made a profession of friendship with specious appearance of love, only in malice and envy to defraud others of their conceptions.”

“Avarice has often hindered many who would have risen to great heights if the desire of gain in their first and better years had not impeded their way.”

“It is rarely the case that a man is excellent in one thing who could not easily learn another.”

“It is a habit of Nature when she makes one man very great in any art, not to make him alone, but at the same time and in the same place to produce another to rival him, that they may aid each other by emulation.”

“There are some whom Nature has created little of stature, but with a soul of greatness and a heart of such immeasurable daring that if they do not set themselves to difficult and almost impossible things, and do not complete them to the wonder of those who behold, they have no peace in their lives.”

“Now emulation and honest rivalry are things praiseworthy and to be held in esteem, being necessary and useful to the world ; but envy, which cannot endure that another should have praise and honour, deserves the utmost scorn and reproach.”

“There are some unhappy men who, having striven by labour and study to produce work profitable to others which will keep their names in memory, are prevented by infirmity or death from bringing their work to perfection. And often it happens that their works left unfinished are appropriated by others, who seek thus to hide their ass’s hide under the lion’s skin.”

“He used to say that it was just as prudent to live a quiet life as to be ever struggling restlessly to leave a great name behind.”

“What great use poverty may be to genius, and how it may be powerful in perfecting it.”

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