1867. I suppose you are familiar with the wonderful biographies of the renaissance artists that Vasari wrote. That book, or series of books, is the best known, and almost our only source for the biographies of all the great, and also all the lesser-known artists of the period. It was Vasari who first understood the importance of the anecdote when telling an artist’s story. Serious scholars dismiss the anecdote as irrelevant but they do so at their peril.
1868. Art and art history in the past was the entire province of a specific set of individuals. In ancient Egypt it was the Pharaohs, in the Renaissance it was the church and the priests, in the 20th century it was the wealthy collector, and today it is the tourist. It is the tourist who generates the great energy of current art enterprises, it is for him that all the modern deformed, crooked melting sorts of museum buildings are being built.
1869. It is to the tourist who, as a rule, knows nothing of art, that the anecdote is directed. This is all he cares about. You can be quite sure that for him van Gogh would be unknown if he had not cut off his ear. This importance of the personal detail Vasari understood from the beginning, and he provided almost every one of his biographies with a suitable, memorable anecdote.
1870. One of Vasari’s biographies is about an obscure artist named L'Indaco. Today L'Indaco is almost entirely unknown but the detail he gives us is one of the most important of the time. L'Indaco was a personal friend of Michelangelo. He was neither intelligent nor talented but the great man enjoyed his company and often had him to dinner. Vasari tells us that Michelangelo preferred the company of buffoons and low people and that is what he was like when not at work.