'An ass with precious things in his panniers': John Ruskin's reception of The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects by Giorgio Vasari
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Graham’s single-author journal article (14,500 words including footnotes) examines the response of the Victorian art critic John Ruskin to the important Renaissance text, Giorgio Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1568). The article forms part of the conference proceedings published in the Journal of Art Historiography of the symposium held in 2019 at the National Gallery, London, to mark the bicentenary of Ruskin’s birth, entitled ‘Art for the Nation: John Ruskin, Art Education and Social Change’. An invited contribution to the section ‘Language, Writing and Sources’, Graham’s article makes a close analysis of references to Vasari’s text during three epochs of Ruskin’s thought and career. These are Ruskin’s tour to Italy of 1845, Modern Painters II and III, and Ruskin’s Oxford lectures of the 1870s. The article is based on extensive use of primary sources, namely Cook and Wedderburn’s The Library Edition of The Works of John Ruskin published in 39 volumes from 1903 to 1912, where Vasari is indexed 163 times by the editors. By returning, herself, to ‘the archive’, Graham shows how Vasari’s Lives of the Artists was important for Ruskin’s conception of the Gothic and Renaissance arts of Italy. Vasari’s text was subject to frequent revision during the nineteenth century in the continental art world, with the rise of new archival-empirical rather than literary-anecdotal ways of writing art history. For Ruskin, however, Vasari’s evocative combining of fact and fable gave him rich materials for teaching the practice and theory of art; for developing his own critical register as an art writer; and as a lifelong traveller to Italy. Above all, the biographical format of the Lives spoke directly to Ruskin’s Victorian mindset.
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