Giotto Replies to Giorgio Vasari


I’ve been reading and re-reading Giorgio Vasari’s remarkable Lives of the Artists. It is often described as among the most readable and influential art history books ever! Click on the painting to enlarge.

Although Vasari often gets dates wrong and some of his stories are embroidered he writes in a very accessible style. In fact it is his humorous anecdotes about artists that appealed to me first of all; they are a mixture of revealing information about the artists’ methods and projects and more questionable dealings with cardinals, popes and other artisans.

I have started a number of poems – imagining some of the artists replying to Vasari. This gives a lot of scope for different ‘voices’ and I may delevop the poems into a book. Here is the first one.

As I am persuing the book idea I won’t be posting any more poems in the series here because of copyright.


Giotto Replies to Giorgio Vasari

You said the illusion of three dimensions

started with me. This was a heavy burden

to shoulder but I bowed to your good taste

and decorum and the manner

in which you encompassed my perfect freehand circle.

It was more than enough for the tondo 1who asked,

β€œIs this all you can do?” Thanks to you everyone

can see the child Giotto scratching a sheep on a rock

his father’s flock nibbling nearby. Cimabue saw me

too and took me under his wing, the pupil soon

to outstrip the master so you said. Yes, I was ahead

of my time – your refrain became my guiding star.

* *

When the king of Naples watched me at work

he thought I was so ahead of my time he offered

to make me the first man of Naples. I told him

I already was as I lived next to the city gates

where my name went before me.

* *

Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t you talk

of my stunning sense of colour and excellent technique,

again so much ahead of my time, although I seem

to remember something about a sea fret making

the pigments run; you know those frescoes on the walls

of Campo Santo. My fourteen foot angel in St Peter’s

was so ahead of my time you thought it sang, you

saw it levitate, you thought it was made of ethereal paint.

* *

Giorgio, I am honoured you thought I was created

to shed new light on the art of painting. That I was

ahead of my time; but, you know that painting

of St Francis? – you forgot to mention the laser beams

zapping the stigmata onto the saint’s hands and feet


1Tondo in Tuscany can mean both a circle and slow-witted.