Alex Kadi

Alexandra Maria Kadinopoulou

Alexandra Maria Kadinopoulou

The FOUR books responsible for ALL modern ART

Giorgio Vasari is considered Europe’s 1st Art historian and chronographer. Born in Arezzo, Italy (1511-1574) he found himself in Florence as a boy, experiencing firsthand the lives of great artists in his environment. Michelangelo di Buonarroti (1475-1564) was a teacher and friend of his.

A Renaissance celebrity, Michelangelo worked constantly until the death of his partner Urbino in 1546, from when on he completed very few pieces and destroyed much of his earlier work. All this and much more we know from Giorgio Vasari’s The lives of the Greatest Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors from Cimabue up to recent times”, published in 1550. The book was an instant success and instigated Vasari to found the first Academy of Arts in Florence in 1563, under the protection of grand duke Cosimo I de Medici. Michelangelo was elected as honorary head but died the next year, aged 88.

School of Athens by Raphael

Little did Vasari know, that his collection of biographies and the institution he helped create, served as an example for Fine Art Academies over centuriesHis cultural contribution was not an easy feat, considering that the rest of Europe was neck-deep in the Dark Ages. The Spanish inquisition had begun in 1480, followed shortly by the publication of “Malleus Maleficarum”  in Germany (1486), which caused cruelty and witch hunting well into the 1600’s. An era of blood and Anarchy, out of which, Giorgio Vasari collected and recorded what we recognize today as the height of Renaissance art.  

For 200 years artists copied Vasari’s teachings, his vision of Florence and the struggle to represent and mimick Nature (God’s masterpiece). Throughout this period, traditional European theology held sway over the general population, using violence and the written word. Finally in 1750, the 600-page book “Aesthetica”, pushed artists in a new direction. Written in Latin, it had a limited reading audience, but its effects rippled throughout Europe.

It’s author, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762)proposed that ‘truth’ required 2 fields of knowledge: Logic and Aesthetics. He believed that the human senses offered an untapped field of wisdom, an opinion shared by the Prussian historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), who expanded on the search for truth with “The History of the Art of Antiquity” published in 1764.

Instead of copying masterful Italian artists, he urged the new generations to review Art with logic and aesthetics in mind. His pioneering work suggests the study of the “true antiquity” of ancient Greece, through Roman copies. In their perfection he saw manifest democratic liberty, the sentiment of ancient Athens and its civilisation.

Creators were called upon to re-invent Modern Art as a neo-classicism that suited their times, instead of repeating the ancient ideal. The notion erupted like a bomb in the Art world and beyond. The 5 senses were elevated to a new status, acquiring a logic of their own. One could be fooled by them, but the same went for square Logic, as new discoveries had proved. Moreover, if knowledge could be acquired by the perceived senses, then anyone could obtain it. 

Growing up in the midst of these new platforms for debate, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), sought to redefine Aesthetics once again, relying on this knowledge acquired from the senses. In his 1790 “Critique of Judgement”, he theorizes that true judgement derives from two overlapping systems. He describes ‘reasoning’ as intuition, an individual’s action of creating order out of their senses. Coupled with ‘Understanding’, which he sets as a pre-existing frame of reference and set of rules. i.e. one’s first language. As a result, it becomes widely accepted that wisdom and opinions of value, don’t rely on education and social status.

Closeup of a commemorative postal stamp depicting Immanuel Kant (Germany)

In the century that followed (1800’s), traditional neo-classical art fell out of fashion. Mannerism, Baroque and Rococo were declared over. Centres of modern Art sprouted across Europe: Pre-Raphaelites, Romantics, Realists, Impressionists and Naturalists, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Art Nouveau, all before 1900. Each generation of artists seeks truth and perfection, by studying their past and their present, but Quality also evolves.

Logic & Reason, Intuition and Understanding, all speak the same answer: Ultimately, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is subject to its observer.

In conclusion, Giorgio Vasari, a mediocre painter (by his own account), is the mastermind behind the evolution of European Art, Art criticism and aesthetic values worldwide, that persist to this day. Together with A.G. Baumgarten, J.J. Winkelmann and I. Kant, they set the foundations on which 21st century Art stands.


inspired by the Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo


Share This: