In concluding my vacation and the excellent thoughts of Giorgio Vasari in his biography of great Renaissance artists, we come to Gozzoli who becomes for Vasari a model of how contentment follows purpose despite personal suffering: “He who pursues the path of excellence in his labors, although it is, as men say, both stony and full of thorns, finds himself finally at the end of the ascent on a broad plain, with all the blessings that he has desired …deliver men from poverty, and bring them to that secure and tranquil state in which, with so much contentment…”9
Vasari reminds one of Confucius when he gets to the three Bellinis: “Who does not feel infinite pleasure and contentment, to say nothing of honor and adornment that they confer, at seeing the image of his ancestors, particularly if they have been famous and illustrious for their part in governing of republics, for noble deeds performed in peace of in war, or for learning or any other notable and distinguished talent? And to what other end… did the ancients set up images of their great men in public places, with honorable inscriptions, than to kindle in the minds of their successors a love of excellence and of glory?”10
Vasari counsels us that poverty need not be an obstacle to personal purpose and accomplishment with the example of Perugino: “How great a benefit poverty may be to men of genius, and how potent a force it may be to make them become excellent – nay, perfect- in the exercise of any faculty whatsoever, can be seen clearly enough in the actions of Pietro Perugino…Riches, indeed, might perchance have closed the path on which his talent should advance toward excellence…”11
But Vasari cautions us to remain humble and seek purpose within our own talents and abilities when he describes Raphael, (know best by philosophers for his immortal School of Athens, one of the most reproduced paintings in history) with this “…no man should aim at super-striving, merely in order to surpass those who, by some gift of nature or by some special grace bestowed on them by God, have performed or are performing miracles in art ; for the reason that he who is not suited to any particular work, can never reach, let him labor as he may, the goal to which another, with the assistance of nature has maintained with ease.”12 Who can deny that we cannot all achieve the height of human creation of this Renaissance master?
I stop here omitting the ultra-famous artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, as well as many others, simply to tease the inclination of the reader to check out Vasari for himself. We are awed that not only did he personally know so many great individuals, a thing most of us will never experience, but that he was able to transform that knowledge into an enduring masterpiece full of perceptive observations on how genius reinforces the meaning of life for us mere mortals.
Thank you for obliging me on my love for art, history, and philosophy.
And yes, it is good to be home…
9 Vasari, Giorgio, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptor, and Architects. The Modern Library. New York, 1959. Page 125.
10Ibid., page 136.
11Ibid., page 177.
12Ibid., page 266.