The Collector of Lives

Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art

Ingrid Rowland (Author), Noah Charney (Author)

Overview | Formats

In the tradition of The Swerve and How to Live, this vivid biography reveals how a Renaissance scholar reshaped the visual world.

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) was a man of many talents—a sculptor, painter, architect, writer, and scholar—but he is best known for Lives of the Artists, the classic account that singlehandedly invented the genre of artistic biography and established the canon of Italian Renaissance art. Before Vasari’s extraordinary book, art was considered a technical skill rather than an intellectual pursuit, and artists were mere decorators and craftsmen. It was through Vasari’s visionary writings that artists like Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo came to be regarded as great masters of life as well as art, their creative genius celebrated as a divine gift. Their enduring reputations testify to Vasari’s profound yet unspoken influence on western culture.

An advisor to kings and pontiffs—and a confidant to Titian, Donatello, and more—Vasari enjoyed an exhilarating career amid the thrilling culture of Renaissance Italy. In The Collector of Lives, Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney offer a lively and inviting introduction to this pivotal figure in art history, and immerse readers in the world of the Medici of Florence and the popes of Rome. A narrative of intrigue, scandal, and colorful artistic rivalry, this vivid biography shows the great works of western art taking shape under Vasari’s keen eye—and reveals how one Renaissance scholar completely redefined how we look at art.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • October 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24131-0
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 432 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverThe Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art


Endorsements & Reviews

“Ingrid Rowland, a prominent scholar of Renaissance art and history, and her fellow writer and historian Noah Charney, wear their erudition lightly in their gracefully written biography.” — Deborah Solomon, New York Times Book Review

“Readers curious about the making of Renaissance art, its cast of characters and political intrigue, will find much to relish in these pages. This is a lively, highly readable point of entry into an important and fascinating text.” — Cammy Brothers, Wall Street Journal

“[Rowland and Charney's] account of Vasari’s Tuscany, and of the facts (and fictions) that went into his “Lives,” is a fitting tribute to their subject’s biographical achievements.” — The New Yorker

“"[A]n engaging, intricate and mesmerizing gem of a book for those who enjoy reading about the lives of artists and placing the Renaissance within a greater context."” — New York Journal of Books

“Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney give full measure to [Vasari's] artistic skills (and the diplomatic adroitness he needed to exercise them) and place him again at the centre of 16th-century Italian art.” — The Sunday Times

“We are hugely indebted to Vasari for our sense of the personalities behind Renaissance art, and indeed our sense of the link between art and personality. Here we have a vibrant, engrossing account of this often underrated insider, with generous and scrupulous new translations of key passages from Vasari’s Lives. The authors recover the Vasari who is infinitely more than a mere source; the devoted, gregarious, witty, and expansive guardian of a volatile pack of cultural immortals.” — John Stubbs

“An immersive tour of Vasari’s kaleidoscopic world, rich with court intrigue, iconographic riddles, artistic rivalries, Renaissance wordplay, naughty monkeys, and, possibly, even a lost Leonardo. Rowland and Charney have done the epic biographer proud with this affectionate, original life of the artist.” — Stacy Schiff

“Insightful, gripping, and thoroughly enjoyable.” — Sarah Bakewell

The Collector of Lives is a fitting tribute to Giorgio Vasari—a book as entertainingly readable as Vasari’s own gossipy tales. Rowland and Charney put this vital figure in Western culture into new contexts and perspectives, offering compelling insights that will entice and satisfy art amateurs and scholars alike.” — Ross King

“Ingrid Rowland writes about artists of the past with an easy intimacy grounded in the deepest erudition. Her project is one of reclaiming classical art and artists from cant, and bringing them, up close, into our own time. Together with coauthor Noah Charney, Rowland gives us a view of the sixteenth-century art world that is uncannily familiar to a student of modern and contemporary art. Reading this book, we feel we know Vasari—that he is one of us.”” — David Salle

“A refreshingly sharp and original study of the man who almost single-handedly invented the very discipline of art history. Vasari emerges from this book as a visionary, but also as an unscrupulous wheeler-dealer in artistic reputations: a magnificent teller of truths, but also an outrageously inventive liar. Anyone interested in the Renaissance simply has to read it.” — Andrew Graham-Dixon

“[E]ngrossingly heady and detailed…a sharp study of a sometimes overlooked but always vital figure.” — Library Journal

“Rowland and Charney lure readers in with a mystery of Dan Brown proportions. …[A]n exciting read. Rowland and Charney are at their best when explaining the workings of the sixteenth-century art world.” — Booklist

“Absorbing and well-researched… a richly detailed life of this singular Renaissance figure.” — (starred review), Kirkus