The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales by Vasari

Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales by Vasari

Paul Barolsky
  • Copyright: 1991
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 148 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-00719-9
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-02615-2

Paperback Edition: $29.95Add to Cart

1993 Honorable Mention, Phi Beta Kappa Book Award

Art history as we know it would not exist without Vasari, and Barolsky shows us that something of the same claim should be made for literary history. He demonstrates the ways in which a literary approach to Vasari's book deepens our understanding of its historical, art-historical, and imaginative character. Why Mona Lisa Smiles discusses Vasari's shrewd, witty, intimate awareness of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio and relates the Lives to the works of Castiglione, Aretino, Cellini, and Rabelais. Barolsky reveals the unexpected fantasy of Vasari, who imagined and then invented artists and works of art, totally fabricating the lives of artists about whom he knew little or nothing. Barolsky traces the myth of Pygmalion through the Lives, demonstrating that Vasari was himself a Pygmalion in words and showing how he wittily played on the names of artists, revealing these poetical fantasies as part of the very iconography of Renaissance art. By approaching the Lives as a combination of genres—biography, history, novella, autobiography, novel, and literary banquet—Barolsky connects Vasari's highly fictionalized history to the modern historical novel. The fictional character of Vasari's book should not be ignored or dismissed by art historians, Barolsky insists, since it is itself a historical document—the record of how a painter and writer of extraordinary sensibility beheld works of art at a particular moment in history. Barolsky's unique approach to the Lives makes this study a valuable contribution to the history of the reception of art.

Paul Barolsky is Professor of History of Art at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Michelangelo's Nose (Penn State, 1990), Walter Pater's Renaissance (Penn State,1987), Daniele da Volterra: A Catalogue Raisonné (1979), and Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art (1978).

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