Giorgio Vasari. It’s unlikely you can visit northern Italy and not hear this name. He was a Renaissance painter, architect and writer who left us a legacy of pretty good paintings, great architecture and the tell-all book on those famous Italian painters and sculptors who changed Western art. Vasari’s Lives of the Artists is worth a look if you’re interested in understanding a little more about the real people who created those masterpieces you’ve come to Italy to see.
Vasari was born in the small town of Arezzo, which was an important Etruscan center before becoming part of the Roman Empire, then a free republic around the 10th century, and finally part of the Florence empire in the 14th century. Unfortunately the town was heavily bombed during World War II, but many of its treasures did survive and are worth seeing. The House of Vasari, which he built in 1540, is worth visiting, and paintings by the man himself are dotted all over town.
But the best reason to visit Arezzo is actually a fresco cyclec alled Legend of the True Cross by another of the town’s sons, Piero della Francesco, in the Church of San Francesco. This painting is considered a Renaissance masterpiece and Piero has another smaller fresco in the Duomo of Arezzo. Petrarch the famous poet who invented the sonnet form was also born in Arezzo. The center of town is the Piazza Grande – with a lovely loggia designed by Vasari. This grand square hosts an antiques fair on the first weekend of every month. Even if you don’t get to Arezzo, you’ll have been affected by Giorgio Vasari – he designed the Uffizi and the secret corridor which crosses over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, aptly named the Vasari Corridor.