Rediscovered hand-drawn portraits in Vasari’s Lives

As a result of a study conducted leafing through 85 copies of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives in Italy, USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Belgium, and Spain, the website ‘Letteratura artistica. Cross-cultural Studies in Art History Sources’ is now displaying about twenty rediscovered hand-made portraits drawn during the XVI and XVII centuries in the page of the books.

In the second edition of Vasari’s Lives (1568), each Life was introduced by an oval medallion with the image of the artist, resulting in 144 portraits (some of which, portraying fourteenth century artists, fictional). Eight medallions were left blank, as Vasari didn’t know the aspect of the artist. This study presents several portraits of Correggio (the most important absence among the eight medallions), alongside portraits of artists not originally intended by the writer from Arezzo, such as the magnificent drawing of Pisanello, now preserved in a copy of the Passerini-Landi Library of Piacenza and copied from a medal of mid-1400 coined by Antonio Marescotti.

For further reading: Giovanni Mazzaferro, Hand-drawn Portraits in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives: New Discoveries, available at

Empty medallion of Pietro Cavallini in a Giuntina specimen.

Portrait of Pietro Cavallini in the specimen Rayner Rare Books 6922 N. 1568 V. 2., courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Portrait of Pisanello in a Giuntina specimen, © Municipal Library Passerini-Landi, Piacenza.

Antonio Marescotti, Medal with portrait of Pisanello, c. 1440-1443, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Portrait of Correggio in a specimen at the Worcester College annotated by Inigo Jones © The Provost and Fellows of Worcester College, Oxford, UK.

Presumed Self-portrait of Correggio (also called Self-portrait of Lord Lee), oil on canvas, private collection.

Posted by Martina Bollini

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