Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. 1919
Who is it that establishes what we study as students of the history of art? I have been reading Vasari lately, attempting to come to terms with my deep-rooted distaste for the Renaissance (that is fodder for an entirely different discussion). I am left wondering what it is that makes Vasari such an unmatched authority on all things “Renaissance”. How is it that this man became the single authority on the subject? Were not many of the artists about whom he wrote his close associates and friends? Perhaps if I kept a log on the lives of my artist friends, with all of my invested biases and personal preferences coupled with my admittedly limited scope, I could become the “Vasar” of the early 21st century. Would I be able to insist that my friends were entirely removed from the actual system from which they came?As Vasari did when he venerate Michalangelo to the point of idolatry? Could I suggest that they are entirely removed from the system, which produced them? Could I deny their context?
My contention is this: without Vasari's writings, we would have no time period to reference as the Renaissance. The specific names of artists, like the unknown artisans of the Dark Ages would have continued as unfamiliar iterations of random artistry or craft. Can we, as scholars in the 21st century, trust the ideas of one person as a source upon which we base a study of an entire era of history? Don’t we require more than one source in our own contemporary practice? How can we persist in heralding the Renaissance as the pinnacle of the history of art when it is (quite possible) an a-contextual fabrication from the mind of Vasari?-ALH